AN: I don't own Harry Potter. Hopefully that is a good enough disclaimer for the legal types.

Eli's trip to buy his first-ever wand hadn't gone as well as he had hoped. He had been stuck, on what was supposed to be his day, herding his little sister away from every shop with a bright display because his older brother hadn't bothered. Ethan had gone gallivanting off with his girlfriend at the first opportunity, disregarding the simple, specific instructions their father had left when he'd put him in charge. Eli was still furious after he and his siblings had flooed back home.

Eli left the fireplace for the living room couch and roughly drew out one of his new textbooks, A Standard Book of Spells: Year One, while Ethan set a fire in the hearth with a lazy flick of his wand and Liana settled down on the floor. Eli had only just gotten the cover of his book open when a letter fell over the title page.

Eli eyed his brother, who had dropped the letter without explanation, as if he were an owl, before settling back into his usual place at the other end of the sofa. He picked up the letter with as much distain as he could convey, and, seeing that Ethan was unapologetically ignoring his look and was about to delve into his own schoolbooks, he said, "What's this?"

"A letter from Miranda," he said. "She's meeting us at Platform 9 ¾."

Liana jumped up to see, displacing their family cat from its place on her lap. "Your aunt? But she never sees Ethan off."

"Two missed years is not never," Eli said, pulling the letter out of the reach of Liana and glancing at his brother.

Ethan said, "So it's either third times the charm, or she really wanted to make your first year special."

Eli avoided his eyes and pushed off his half-sister's continuing attempts to steal the letter. "Isn't it your bedtime, Liana?"

But Liana was allowed to annoy Eli for half an hour more before Ethan declared that she'd been awake long enough. He extinguished the fire and left soon after that. However, when Eli got tired of the bland first-year spell book, he just put it down and moved on to his Defense Against the Dark Arts book.

Harry Potter's defeat of Dark Lord Voldemort was covered extensively in an introduction by the book's author, but Eli couldn't find any specifics on exactly how he did it. After skimming most of the chapters and coming up empty, Eli thought, Some textbook, and he flicked the book into a pile with the rest.

Almost in answer, the logs in the fireplace erupted in green flame, and Eli sat up straight. The green flickered once, then died out. Eli slowly stood. Their floo travel was supposed to be restricted, so Eli stared at the white rectangle that had appeared amidst the flames for a moment before he stepped over and picked it up.

Whoever had sent the letter had a flashy taste in delivery methods, but the letter itself was plain. They hadn't even used a wax seal to close the envelope, and the only addressing information was Eli's father's name, Ezra, written in a slanted cursive.

Regardless of the sender's intent, Eli wanted to see what they had to say. He had the suspicion that the letter wasn't sent from the ministry, and, since his father wasn't home, he didn't feel bad about trying to open it himself. After an hour of increasingly desperate attempts, Eli learned that it could not be ripped, steamed, cut, bitten, ground, or salted open by any physical means. It was enchanted to only open for his father.

Eli piled his supplies together, tucked the letter in one of his books, and went upstairs to his room. He packed everything in his suitcase, placing the book with the letter in it at the bottom. He would deliver it to his father when he figured out why it was sent in the first place.

Stepping through the intangible bricks that served as a gateway to Platform 9 ¾ was a disconcerting experience. Eli decided he would close his eyes next time, if they ever took the King's Cross entrance again. He had thought he would like the muggle world, but, with Liana disappearing every other minute and Ethan complaining about the 'assault on his senses', Eli regretted taking the opportunity his father's absence had provided.

The platform was a relief to see, even though the crowd of people waiting for the train to Hogwarts was enormous. There were Wizards dressed in robes mingling with other parents as they waited to see their kids off as opposed to Muggles in suits pushing at him and knocking the carrying cage in his hand that held an increasingly irate cat.

Ethan and Liana came through after Eli, Ethan pulling Liana behind him.

"I was only looking for a bathroom, I swear," Liana said, as she pulled her hand out of Ethan's grip.

"Don't swear lightly, Liana. Especially when you're obviously lying."

"I'm not lying!"

Ethan directed Liana over to Eli without taking her hand again, and said, "Alright then. I'm taking Liana to the bathroom. You find Miranda and we'll catch up."

Liana pouted, but she wasn't going to contradict herself by protesting the unnecessary trip. She looked around the platform and stormed off before Ethan could make her follow him. Ethan quickly told Eli where they were supposed to meet their aunt and then chased after Liana before she disappeared in the crowd.

A smile crossed Eli's face for a split second before something crashed into him from behind. He tumbled to the ground along with his magically expanded travel case and cat cage, dragged down by his assaulter.

Eli turned under the weight and half-hit half-pushed a short brunette girl off of him and to the ground. He sat up and said, "What the-"

"-Oh Jesus, I am so sorry. I was closing my eyes, and I was running, and I couldn't stop. Are you hurt? Do you need help?"

While the girl babbled, Eli picked himself up and tried to reign in his anger. He carefully collected a shaken Nigel's cage. "I'm fine. Although I can't speak for him."

"Oh no. I am really sorry." She peeked in the cage. "Sorry Nigel."

"Next time-" Eli picked up his suitcase. "-don't run so far. The transition space is thin."

The girl nodded vigorously, making her already loose ponytail even messier. "Seriously. Not a first impression I want to make often." She started collecting her things, including three suitcases, a backpack, and a messenger bag. "I don't know what's wrong with me today. So many things have been going strange."

"First day jitters, maybe," Eli said, smoothing down his own hair in response to hers. "But I need to find somebody, so if you'll excuse me."

"Oh yeah, sure. See you later."

Eli nodded a goodbye. The girl distractedly waved while trying to balance her ridiculous pile of luggage. She fumbled at the messenger bag and dropped her suitcase again, but Eli left her to it.

Eli took his time finding his aunt, enjoying the casual activity of wizards and the presence of magic around him. He even stopped to buy a newspaper, and sat on a bench while he updated himself on notable events in the wizarding world. The ministry's restrictions on his father's travel meant that he didn't get out much, and he had missed a lot.

By the time Eli did get to his aunt, Liana and Ethan were already standing by the regal blonde woman in silence.

Ethan spotted Eli first. "Eli, it's about time."

"Sorry. I had a hard time getting through the crowd."

Miranda said, "I wanted to talk to you, Elias. You shouldn't have dawdled."

"Well, it's too late now," Ethan said. "The train's about to leave." He picked up his stuff and turned toward it. "Come on."

"Wait," Miranda said. "Your father isn't coming?"

"Not that I know of," said Ethan.

Miranda looked over to Liana. "Then who's taking care of her?"

Eli said, "Father is going to be back any day now."

"Merlin. She can't live on her own. She's nine."

"She'll be fine," Ethan said. "Liana knows how to handle herself for a couple days."

"It was bad enough when you were all together. No, she'll live with my parents."

Liana's head shot up. "What?"

"But she doesn't even know them," Eli said. Liana was his half-sister. She wasn't related to he and Ethan's mother, so she had even less experience with Eli's grandparents than Eli did.

Ethan said, "She's not your daughter. You can't just take her."

"Ezra is lucky I'm not reporting him. He can pick Liana up when he remembers that he has responsibilities."

"You know he can't-"

The train whistled, and Miranda shoved Eli and Ethan forward. "You're going to miss the train. Go, I'm not changing my mind."

"Alright then, fine. I don't care," Ethan said, picking up his and Eli's traveling cases. "Maybe she'll learn how to behave."

"Hey!" Liana said.

"Ethan!" Eli partially agreed with his brother, but Liana didn't deserved to be dismissed. "She doesn't even know them," he repeated.

Miranda said, "Don't worry, Elias. My parents don't hold grudges against nine-year-olds."

Ethan said, "Bye, Liana. Have fun," before disappearing into the train car.

Eli looked between the train and Liana's furious expression, and stepped up into the train. He said, "Think of it like an adventure. A vacation."

"I don't want a vacation."

"An adventure then."

The door to the train slid shut, and Eli waved through the window at Liana. Liana didn't wave back, and the train gave a lurch and started forward.

Eli caught up to Ethan walking through the isle of the train car. His brother gave him back his suitcase, but otherwise paid him no attention as he searched for somewhere to sit.

Eli watched him while he glanced in a few compartment windows before saying, "Maybe Liana's better off." When Ethan said nothing to that, Eli continued, "She doesn't have Royel like we did."

Ethan turned on him so fast he made Eli step back. "What does Royel matter?" he said lowly.

Eli gaped for a fraction of a second, then matched his brother's tone. "What do you mean, 'What does Royel matter?' He took care of us."

"Are you stupid?" Ethan said, whispering because of the public space, but managing sound intimidating all the same. "I took care of us."

"No. He—"

"He was a house elf, not your family."

"Don't say that," Eli said.

"You still can't see it." Ethan said. "You think he cared about us at all? He hated us. Or don't you remember how quickly he left when the H.E.L.P act was passed?"

"That was—"

"He left, and good riddance. You need to get over it."

Eli didn't say anything, and Ethan watched his face for a moment before letting out a mean scoff and turning away from him. Eli let him continue his search.

As they moved into the next car, Ethan said, without looking back, "We both survived fine and Liana is no different."

Eli didn't know if he expected an answer because he just continued on checking in windows when they were in the next car.

Eventually, Eli said, "Are you looking for your friends?"


He didn't say anything else.

Near the middle of the train, two cars from where they had gotten on, Ethan smiled at a compartment window and waved at his friends inside. He stood straight and turned to Eli. "Go find yourself some other first years. They mostly have compartments in the back."

"What? I thought I was staying with you."

"I haven't seen most of these guys all summer. Sit with someone else."

"But I don't know anyone."

"That's why I said find first years."

Eli didn't know why he was always surprised when Ethan ditched him. He picked up Nigel's cage a little more and said, "Fine."

Eli said a curt goodbye to his brother, and walked away before he could manage to say anything else mean. Behind him, he heard a door slide open and a chorus of happy greetings directed at Ethan. Eli headed for the back of the train.

He didn't even look for empty compartments as he walked. The only thing he was focused on was not jostling Nigel's cage when he heard a commotion in the compartment to his right. Eli had been subconsciously planning on barging in to the very last compartment on the train, but he stopped at the noise, mentally shrugged, and opened the door.

A chocolate frog hopped out. Eli debated for a split second what to do while he turned his attention back on the compartment. In the middle of a heap of papers, hiding under a book, was the girl from the station.

Eli smirked. "It's gone now," he said. "You can get up."

The girl was more frazzled than before. She had redone her hair in low-set ponytails, which were just as messy as the single ponytail had been, and her clothes were twisted. She slowly set the book down and looked at the mess around her. "I only wanted to have a snack while I read."

Nigel hissed from inside his cage, and the girl looked up.

She said, "Oh man you're the boy I crashed into before, I swear I'm usually more composed than all this."

Eli walked in the compartment to fully inspect the damage, and the door slid shut behind him. "I don't think it's really your fault. Frogs are only supposed to have one good hop."

The girl stood up and started cleaning. "No, it's that Algae kid's fault. He gave me the stupid gremlin." She cleared off a seat next to the door and gestured to it. "You can sit down if you want. I'm going to try and salvage my notes."

Eli took his seat and watched the girl sort through the mess. The girl held up the papers for a second, which had small chocolate footprints stamped across them, but then gave up and shoved them all in her bag. She cleared the rest of the seats, stuffing the papers in at random, and sat down with a huff. "I guess this isn't a very good second impression either. I don't know how I'm going to manage magic without blowing myself up."

"Oh you're not that bad. You'll be fine."

"As long as I stay away from chocolate frogs." She sat up straight and said, "New start." She held out her hand. "My name is Natasha. It's a pleasure to meet you…"

Eli shook Natasha's hand, and said, "Elias Steward."

"I'm happy at least some wizards have normal names."

"What do you mean?"

The door slid open with a thunk, and Natasha jumped in her seat.

The boy standing in the doorway said, "Hey, Nat. Look who I found."

A girl moved into the doorway behind him, and said, "Are these your friends?"

"Algae," Natasha said. "I told you I don't know anyone here."

"Yeah, I know. This is Imogen. Imogen, meet Nat."

Imogen nodded at Natasha, and Algae seemed to realize that Eli was there.

He puffed up and said, "Hi. I'm Algernon Agrippa Skylark. Who are you?"

"Elias Steward."

"Nice to meet you," he said, smiling broadly. He turned back to Natasha. "How'd you like the frog?"

"It was horrible," she said.

He frowned, but Natasha scooted over to give him room to sit, apparently forgiving him. He sat down next to her, and Eli moved to let Imogen sit.

As she did, Natasha said, "Where did you two find each other?"

The girl idly checked her nails. "I was just standing outside my compartment when Algernon walked by and asked if I needed a seat. I don't actually know him."

Algernon said, "Then we're all in the same boat, unless you and Elias Steward here know each other."

Imogen looked Eli over and said, "No..." Then her eyes caught on something on the seat beside him. "You read the newspaper? Did you hear about Governor Winslow?"

Eli looked at the paper he had gotten back on the platform, to buy a second of time. He had been reading it so he didn't look ignorant, but he'd never heard of some random Governor. He said, "Winslow. Winslow. I'm having a hard time placing the name."

"He's the Governor of Education, well, was the Governor of Education, I guess."

"Oh. Of course."

Algae said, "Oh I know what you're talking about. My dad said they arrested him for misusing school funds. My dad's an Auror."

Natasha said, "A wizard cop? Did he arrest him?"

"Well… no. I don't think so. But he could know the people that did."

Imogen said, "It's not just the school funds the ministry is worried about. Governor Winslow is the one who maintained the contracts on the creatures of the forest. They have to appoint a new Governor before the contracts break."

Algae frowned at the girl across from him, and said, "I've never heard of any contracts."

"You don't think the acromantulas stay in the bounds of the forest because they're peaceful, do you?"

Natasha broke in. "Did you say tarantulas?"

"Acromantulas." Eli said, relieved that he had something to contribute to the conversation. "They're basically tarantulas the size of cars, except they rely more on their pincers to crush you than their venom."

"And you say these things live in what forest?"

"The one right next to the school." Algae said, back to his smiling self. "They call it the Forbidden Forest, but I think sometimes they make the really bad kids do detention in it. At night."

Imogen said, "Well they probably won't do that anymore."

Eli said, "And Acromatulas usually look for easy prey, so they probably won't attack the castle."

"But watch out if you're walking alone," Algae said, "They can really… jump!"

A tarantula-sized frog went flying at Natasha, who squealed and struck out blindly. Algae laughed, but the chocolate frog kept hopping and soon they were all defending themselves from its attacks.

"I charmed it to have more hops. Isn't it cool?"

"No!" Natasha threw her bag away when the frog landed on it, and the compartment floor was filled with her papers again.

"Oh come on. It will run out in a little bit."

Imogen smacked away the frog as it sailed through the air towards her, and it landed on Natasha again. She squealed in frustration.

Imogen said, "Did someone help you alter the enchantments?"

"Nope. I have my own wand now, so I don't need anyone to help me anymore."

Eli reached past Imogen and threw open the door, and the frog sailed into the aisle.

Eli slammed the door shut after it, and said, "No more frogs."

Algae said, "They really aren't-"

"Or I'm going to kill you," Natasha said.

"Fine, but you didn't even give me the chance to show you what happens when there's a bug in the room," he said. "Hey, maybe that's why it likes you, Nat. Get it? Gnat?"

Natasha said, "Very funny, fungus. Now help me clean up."

As Algernon picked up Natasha's papers again, he commented on the notes she had taken. She had gathered as much information she could on the wizarding world, and had an endless serious of questions about its workings. For the rest of the train ride, Algernon, Imogen, and Eli answered all they could, and time flew by. The four of them were in the middle of a conversation about Natasha's muggle life when the train lurched to a stop.