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With every minute the train chugged closer to Hogwarts, Tabitha’s heart fell further into her stomach. While Theo was eager to jump into his yellow trimmed Hufflepuff robes, Tabitha could not bear the sight of the scarlet Gryffindor emblem as she pulled her robes from her trunk.

 

“What’s it like being in Hufflepuff?” she asked, trying to sound casual.

 

Theo was delighted by the question. “Oh it’s brilliant! You have to come visit the common room this year. I can show you the Moondew I’ve been growing, I mean, that’s if it’s still alive.”

 

“Right.” Tabitha muttered. She bunched up her robes in her arms and sat back down.

 

“You’re not getting changed?” Theo asked.

 

“Not yet.”

 

She sat, holding her robes, listening to Theo talk about his upcoming Herbology classes, for the rest of the journey. However, as night fell and the train screeched to a stop, she couldn’t put it off any longer.

 

Pulling on her robes, she tried to avoid her reflection in the window.

 

“Hurry up!” Theo rushed her from outside the compartment. “We’re going to miss the carriages. Hey Clarke!”

 

Another Hufflepuff boy appeared in the corridor, greeting Theo with a hearty handshake. Tabitha shrank. She’d never had the ease of making friends that Theo possessed.

 

“Okay let’s go!” Tabitha burst from the compartment. Both boys jumped in surprise.

 

“Uh hiya Tabitha.” Clarke stammered.

 

“Hi!” She said, slightly aggressively.

 

“Um I’ll see you at the feast.” Clarke said to Theo before stepping off the train, throwing confused looks back to Tabitha.

 

“I royally botched that, didn’t I.”

 

“I thought you were quite charming.” Theo chuckled. “Maybe be less enthusiastic next time.”

 

“Thanks.”

 

The pair hopped off the train, following the flow of students towards a long line of ornate carriages, parked amongst the trees, just off the platform. Tentatively, Tabitha approached the last carriage.

 

“Do you still...”

 

“Yes. They’re still there.”

 

Harnessed to the front of the carriage, was a large winged creature. Its body resembled a horse, but its skin was grey and thin to the bone. As Tabitha approached it, the skeletal creature bowed its head, almost in recognition. But Theo saw nothing. He could not see the creature, or the dozens of others attached to the carriages.

 

“They’re called Thestrals. I looked it up over break. I can see them cause I ... cause Mum ... anyway,” she sniffed, “we’d better get in. They’ll still leave without us.”

 

While Theo chatted happily with the other students in their carriage as they made their way towards the school, Tabitha sat silently, watching the Thestral stride gracefully through the night.

 

Hogwarts quickly loomed over them, a towering spectacle that sent a shiver down Tabitha’s spine. A warm orange glow radiated from the castle. Candles bobbed through the air, illuminating their path. Just inside the Entrance Hall, Tabitha could see a small collection of teachers waiting to welcome them back for another year of magic and learning.

 

“Tell your Grandmother all she needs is a touch of Tormentil and it should heal up in no time!” Theo called to a Ravenclaw student Tabitha was fairly sure she’d never even seen before.

 

“Who was that?” She asked as they stepped onto the dewy grass.

 

“Eva.” He stated obviously. Tabitha looked back at him blankly. “Eva Zongsu? She was in our Transfiguration class last year?”

 

Tabitha shrugged. “Nope.”

 

“Wow. No wonder you’ve got no...” He slapped his hand over his mouth before he could finish.

 

“You little ...” she gasped, pretending to be furious.

 

As payback, she quickly jabbed him in the ribs, leaving him slightly winded. He wheezed all the way up to the castle.

 

“Welcome back Miss Helder,” squeaked Professor Flitwick as they walked into the Entrance Hall, “Mr Ainsley, what’s the matter with you?”

 

“Nothing, Professor,” coughed Theo, giving Tabitha a sharp sideward glance. She smiled innocently at Flitwick.

 

The Entrance Hall was somehow grander than Tabitha had remembered. The marble staircase glistened, as though someone, most likely a House Elf, had spent all summer polishing it. More candles lined the walls, illuminated the hall all the way to the very distance ceiling. However spectacular the Entrance Hall was, the Great Hall was still superior. But as Tabitha caught sight of it through the large double doors, her stomach dropped. Theo doubled back to see her, standing between the doors, frozen as students milled in around her.

 

“Tabitha? Come on. You can’t stand in the doorway all night.”

 

He was right of course, but had anyone really tried to test it? Hesitantly, she stepped through, towards the four long tables, already filled with students, eager for the feast and the new school year. Tabitha noticed Theo waving to Clarke and a small group at the Hufflepuff table.

 

“Okay well I’ll see you after.” He smiled. With a wave goodbye, he rushed over to the Hufflepuffs.

 

Tabitha felt the space around her closing in. The Gryffindor table seemed to stretch endlessly in front of her, and all the students seemed to be people that she’d never seen before. Looking up at the teachers table, she noticed Professor McGonagall exiting out a small side door. She was about to bring in the new first years. Tabitha was running out of time. She noticed an empty spot and hurriedly filled it, not looking anyone in the eyes as she did.

 

Her timing was impeccable. Not long after she’d sat down, McGonagall walked through the wooden entrance doors, trailed by a line of nervous looking first years. But not one looked as nervous as a mousy looking girl at the end of the line. Her eyes were darting rapidly around the room and she kept stopping so frequently that eventually she had to run to catch up with the others.

 

McGonagall reached the teacher’s table and procured a tattered hat from her robes. Tabitha fidgeted with her sleeve as one of the Hat’s seams split open and it started to speak.

 

~

 

You may try to keep your secrets

But I fear they won’t get far

Put me on and I will see

Who you truly are

 

I see all of the Slytherins

Hungry for their goals

They’ll use every inch of cunning

If it means they top the polls

 

Perhaps I see a Ravenclaw

With talent, wit, and smarts

These unique folk are known for brains

But I can see their hearts

 

Of course, I see the Hufflepuffs

Their loyalty’s beyond compare

For those who cross a Huffle’s friend

My message is; beware

 

I can’t forget the Gryffindors

The bravest of them all

They look into the face of fear

And dare to still stand tall

 

To me your head’s an open book

Your heart’s as clear as day

There’s nothing that I cannot see

For I was sewn this way

 

So do not fear the road ahead

And do not try to hide

Before you lies adventure grand

And I will be your guide

 

~

 

Then it sat motionless once again as the hall burst into thunderous applause. Tabitha noticed that in her nervous fidgeting, she’d ripped a hole right through the seam of her sleeve. Under the table, she pulled out her wand.

 

“Reparo,” she whispered. The stitches reconnected themselves, pulling the seam back together.

 

Tabitha looked up to see the raised eyebrows of the Gryffindor next to her. She opened her mouth to explain, when she was interrupted by the call of Professor McGonagall.

 

“Anderson, Micheal.”

 

A small boy with a tight bowl cut scurried up the stairs to have the Hat placed on his head. Not long after it bellowed,

 

“RAVENCLAW!”

 

The boy happily hurried off towards the table of cheering blue robed students. Tabitha watched as student after student was called to the Hat and met with cheers and applause from their new house. Students around her chatted happily amongst themselves with each new Gryffindor, but Tabitha continued to stare at her plate.

 

“Willard, Sophie,” called Professor McGonagall.

 

The mousy girl timidly stepped up to the Hat. She looked as though a strong breeze would snap her in two. Even from a distance, Tabitha could tell she was breathing heavily. The Hat took its time with her. It was thinking deeply about where to place her, and Tabitha could see it scrunching up its face.

 

Finally, it exclaimed, “GRYFFINDOR!”

 

There was a slight pause before the Gryffindors gave a polite round of applause. Sophie Willard however stood frozen. Her eyes were bulging, staring down an extensive table of strangers. Tabitha felt her heart beating faster as she was sure Sophie’s was too. As their eyes met, Tabitha raised her hand and gestured to Sophie, beckoning her over.

 

Seeing her hand, Sophie’s face relaxed, relief replacing the sheer terror. She promptly scampered over to the table and sank into the seat next to Tabitha. The two said nothing to each other, but Tabitha could see the grateful ‘thank you’ shining in Sophie’s eyes. She nodded back. Even with no words, they both understood.

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