I am dreadfully sorry about the enormous hiatus. I have had a time of it. Anyway, here is an update, and it's partially filler, but Chapter 5 is nearly finished, and that will feature far more misery and woe for your entertainment. Enjoy.
Also, I've gone slightly AU from the books: Hagrid did not disappear at the start of the term, as he did in the Order of the Phoenix. A different teacher went in his stead, for reasons that will become obvious.
Chapter the Fourth
No doubt you will take numerous train journeys in your life, as everyone does. As a matter of fact, I am taking one now, crouching underneath my seat and trying to prevent my computer being stepped on as I frantically type out this next chapter of the Baudelaires' woeful tale, while hiding from the authorities who would have me executed.
And if you have taken as many train journeys as I suspect you have, then I am sure you will be aware that sometimes, they drag on, sometimes they seem to speed by as you become acquainted with the people around you, and sometimes unexpected things happen and completely throw you. The Baudelaire orphans experienced all three of these things as the Hogwarts Express hurtled on towards the wizarding school they now knew to be real. The train journey dragged when it started to darken outside, and the scenery turned from picturesque (a word which here means "attractive and somewhat like a picture") countryside to drab, dark hills. It seemed to speed by as the Baudelaires chatted to their new friends the Quagmires, discovering more about the unfortunate events in their lives, then chatted to Neville and discovered more about the equally unfortunate loss of his parents' minds, then chatted to Ginny and discovered the equally unfortunate circumstance of having been possessed by the villain Harry had warned them of earlier: Lord Voldemort.
And it took an unexpected turn when the door to their compartment swung open, and in stepped two new faces. (Of course, the faces themselves did not step in. If you are familiar with figures of speech, and I believe I have already explained this, you will realise at once that I mean two new people stepped in, bodies and all, whose faces the Baudelaire orphans did not yet recognise.)
At this point, dear reader, I urge you to stop reading this tale. Whether or not the two faces were friendly or sinister should remain a mystery to you, one that you push to the back of your mind, much as I urge you to push your ereader off a high cliff or underneath a low piece of furniture in favour of a much cheerier paper book. While the Baudelaires may appear to be making friends, this is perhaps one of the last few happy moments of their lives, and anything beyond this should be left unread.
"I'm starving!" announced a red-haired boy, flopping into the carriage bearing a tiny, shrill owl in a cage. He slumped down next to Harry, grabbing what appeared to be a frog-shaped chocolate from him and biting off its head with satisfaction.
Although the Baudelaire orphans immediately noticed this boy's resemblance to Ginny, the boy himself did not seem to notice them, absorbed as he was in greedily devouring confectionery.
Behind him, a girl with startlingly bushy hair (much like a woman I know by the name of S. Theodora Markson, though that's neither here nor there) clutched a mangy ginger cat, gave the newcomer redhead a glare and plonked herself down beside him.
"Ron, can you even be bothered to notice the new students?"
"Oh," mumbled the boy with his mouth full. "Yeah. 'lo."
"How do you do?" Violet ventured.
"You the Squibs, then?" Ron was spraying crumbs of chocolate now.
"Ronald," the bushy-haired girl was fuming. "They are not Squibs—did you not read Professor Dumbledore's letter? Just because they come from the Muggle world—"
"I know, I know," Ron grumbled, "doesn't mean necessarily they're not magic, and they've been through hardships yeah, yeah, yeah."
The girl, rolling her eyes furiously at him, introduced herself to the Baudelaires and Quagmires, announcing in a bossy sort of tone that she, Hermione Granger, was a newly-appointed school prefect and if they wanted to settle into Hogwarts properly, they would do well to learn the rules and stick to them, unlike some (with a pointed look at Harry and Ron), who thought breaking the rules was a matter of fun.
"Prefect?" Sunny asked, furrowing her little brow.
"A prefect," Klaus said knowledgeably, is a student in a position of leadership…kind of an authority over the others, to remind them of how to behave."
Hermione beamed. "At least someone understands the importance of the role." (This was said with another look at Ron, who, in the fashion of somebody who has been given a position of power and does not care, much like many leaders you may meet, was casually toying with what appeared to be a firework).
Isadora leaned in towards Klaus.
"If we want magic school to go O.K.,
We'd better do what the prefects say," she recited.
"Was that a couplet?" Klaus asked. Still trying to wrap his head around (an expression which means understand, and not that he was trying to turn his head into wrapping paper) the idea of a magical school when a few hours ago he would not have believed it possible, Klaus was relieved to hear something from the more comfortable and familiar world of literature.
"My sister is something of a poet," Duncan said. "As for me, I'm a journalist. I'm planning a research investigation into this school—why we didn't hear about it until now, and what secrets it might hold, and –"
"There will be no investigating secrets while I am a prefect," Hermione cut in, before Klaus had a chance to tell his new friends that his skills as a researcher may have come in handy during the investigation. "We'll all do far better if we stick by the rules—isn't that right, Ronald?"
Ron was busy eating an unusually-coloured jellybean, screwing up his face, and ignoring her.
"You know who's the Slytherin prefect?" he sprayed half-chewed bits of jellybean in a radius around himself as he spoke .
Harry's face contorted into a scowl. "I bet I can guess."
"Malfoy," he spat, larger chunks of jellybean now spraying across the carriage.
"Gunk," said Sunny at the offending pieces, which probably meant "I may not have been fortunate enough to eat much candy in my lifetime, but I could swear that looks more like snot than candy."
(The youngest Baudelaire was righter than she thought, but given I am trying to eat a meagre spot of lunch as I am writing this, I would prefer not to go into detail. You aren't reading this anyway, given I warned you not to, so it doesn't matter anyway).
"Who's Malfoy?" Violet asked, but even as she did so, the image of the rude, filthy and violent boy they had encountered at the station, who had called them that unusual and yet somehow insulting name.
"A git," Ron said, now stuffing what seemed to be a large and realistic chocolate frog, writhing as it went, into his mouth and using a British term which in this instance means, "a rude, filthy, violent individual whose name was Malfoy."
"What's a git?" Klaus asked.
"Is Malfoy – " Violet began.
"Slytherin?" Sunny asked.
"We met a boy who –" Violet began again, consumed by the hunch that this Malfoy was the boy they had encountered at the station, who had called them that unusual name.
"Look," Hermione cut off their questions, a bossy tone to her voice. "All you Baudelaires need to know is that Malfoy is rude, filthy and violent, and the less time you spend with him the happier you will be."
"And that if you don't get sorted into Slytherin, you're all right with us," Ron interjected through a mouthful of chocolate.
"That Olaf you were talking about," Ginny said, noting the confusion on all three orphans' faces, "would belong in Slytherin House."
"That's a bit harsh—" Hermione began, but whatever she said after that was lost. The Baudelaires were still not quite sure what Slytherin house was, or how it was impossible to end up involved with it, but Ginny had provided them with an explanation they could easily understand. Malfoy, the rude, violent boy they had encountered earlier, was in Slytherin House. People like Count Olaf ended up in Slytherin House. Whatever it was, it sounded to the three Baudelaire children like a place for cruel, filthy, violent, villainous people, and they would do well to stay away from it. (They were quite wrong, of course, but they were not to know, and that would be getting ahead of ourselves in the story. If indeed you are still reading this story, which I sincerely hope you are not).
The Baudelaires had more questions about Malfoy, about Slytherin, and about the strange world they had entered, but then Hermione was off on a tangent about House Elves – an unusually intelligent yet subservient creature you may have encountered in your home, doing your dishes when you were too lazy or selfish to take care of them yourself – and their liberation, and the Baudelaires found they would not get a word in edgeways for a long time.
Hogsmeade Station is a place I have dreamt of for many years, ever since a woman I loved packed her suitcase many years ago while I slept, and disappeared into the night, with this elusive train station in her sights. It was a place, however, that the Baudelaires had never heard of, and their first impression of it was that it was very dark. This, you may realise, is a common experience when you arrive at your destination in the evening, and that seeing a new place in the dark will not give you as accurate an impression of it as you would get from arriving in broad daylight. While Hogsmeade Station is usually quite a cheerful place, a place of excitement for young wizards who know anything about the educational institution they are heading to, a place of magical hustle and bustle, where owners of fantastic beasts concealed in suitcases go one way and traders with cases of a buttery beverage go the other.
To the Baudelaires, for whom this station was yet another unknown, the station's dark shadows reminded them not of the night that surrounded them, but of the mysteries surrounding their journey to their new home. In the past few hours they had discovered an entire world they had never known existed. Had Mr Poe known what they were in for when he had sent them to Kings' Cross Station to find Platform 9 ¾? Violet wondered if they would ever be able to ask him – and if they did, if they would get a straight answer from the banker.
Klaus stepped off the train, Duncan and Isadora Quagmire close behind, and wondered once more if somehow this were a hallucination. Nonsensical magic was something he would much rather have left behind in exchange for a life of simplicity and safety from Count Olaf, and a part of him wished he could wake up and still find himself beside his siblings in Mr Poe's stuffy old house. But then he glanced over at the dark-haired triplet alighting the Hogwarts Express, his thoughts turned to the enormous library Hermione had told him existed, where he could learn more about this strange new world, and the middle Baudelaire wondered if perhaps coming to Hogwarts would not be such a bad thing after all.
And Sunny, her small, boot-sized frame perched on top of Violet's suitcase, clung tight to a luggage tag and wondered if a school for magic would be a suitable place for a baby.
The station was packed with youngsters in the strange black robes the Baudelaires' new friends were wearing, darting to and fro and heading quite cheerfully towards the most horrifying sight the three orphans had ever seen. A row of carriages stood stationary – a word which here means 'quite still', and not, as many people mistakenly think, 'notepads and pens' – tethered to hideous, bony horses, their dark frames sinister against an already dark night sky.
"Equestria," Sunny said, which probably meant something along the lines of "I'd rather take my chances with Olaf's troupe than with those horses," and her siblings were about to agree with her, and question why Ron, Ginny and the others were heading so casually towards the apparent death traps, when Harry stopped dead in his tracks.
"Do you see that?!" he asked incredulously, turning to Ron and Hermione. "What's pulling the carriage?!"
Relieved someone else was showing concern, Klaus spoke up. "I've never read about horses like those before…are you sure they're safe?"
Ron and Hermione gave the pair of them a look as though they'd grown two heads (that, little children, is an expression, as clearly nobody had actually grown two heads. This may have been a magical misadventure the Baudelaires were on, but multiple heads won't factor into it until much later, I assure you.)
"The carriages are pulling themselves, Harry. Same as they always do."
"But –" Harry began.
"But –" Violet added.
"But –" Klaus concurred.
"Neeka – " Sunny piped up.
"Oh, they've always been there," Luna interjected, serene as always, and the Baudelaires were in the middle of turning to her to demand what she meant when a strange voice rang out of the darkness.
"Firs' years! Firs' years this way! Oh…an' you Baudyliars and Quagmires too! I got orders from Professor Dumbledore that yeh're to come with me!"
"Dumby!" Sunny shrieked, one of Mr. Poe's muddlesome misnomers finally explained.
The Baudelaires turned to see the most enormous man they had ever encountered. Twice as wide as Olaf's henchperson who was neither a man nor a woman, and perhaps as tall as if someone had stood Count Olaf's tall frame on Mr Poe's shoulders, with a bushy beard the bald man with the long nose had would have envied ferociously, a man who could only be described as a giant stood before them.
"Hah!" he boomed, beaming as well, and beaming and booming, leaned down towards the oprhans. "You lot mus' be the Baudylairs and the Quagmires! I've 'eard a lot about yeh!"
"Nosame," Sunny muttered, which might have meant "I wish I could say the same."
"What my sister means," Violet said, erring on the side of politeness with her translation, "Is that we're not really sure what's going on."
"Well," said the beaming, booming giant, his beam widening and his boom increasing in volume, "I'll TELL yeh what's goin' on! The name's Rubeus Hagrid – keeper of keys and grounds at Hogwarts." He spat on his hand and held it out, grabbing Violet's own hand before she'd had chance to offer it in return, and shaking so vigorously the eldest Baudelaire feared her arm might be ripped out of its socket. "AND – your official tour guide of this evening, as I escort you to yer new home!"
Words can be a powerful thing. They can be the incantations that cause a feather to rise from a table, the arrows that wound with their hurtfulness – or they can symbolise something someone is desperate to experience once more. It had been a long time since the Baudelaires had truly had a home. Their last place of residence, Lucky Smells Lumbermill, had felt more like a place of unjust employment and slave wages rather than a home, and the homes they'd had before them – Aunt Josephine's rickety old house and Uncle Monty's mystical reptile collection – had been homes for such a short time that it was as though they barely counted. Count Olaf's house, though they had sojourned with him for rather a longer time, had been so vile, sinister and filthy that it could never have been a home, no matter how long they stayed, and so all three Baudelaires found themselves thinking back to the days when they still had a real home – their parents' home in the city, which was now a pile of ash and rubble. And even though they were apprehensive (a word which here means 'nervous and cautious') about coming to a school of magic they had never heard about, after only having just discovered magic even existed, and even though it was a school and not a house with their parents on the doorstep, and even though their new friends were walking without fear towards the most hideously wicked-looking horses they had ever seen, the Baudelaires felt a glimmer of hope. They were surrounded already with friends who accepted them – friends, they knew, thinking of Harry and the Quagmire triplets, who understood what they had suffered in their short lifetimes better perhaps than anyone else could. They were going to a place where they might finally be able to invent, read and bite to their hearts' content, while learning a whole host of new skills beyond their wildest dreams. And with the exception of Malfoy and his goons, everyone the Baudelaires had met so far had treated them with kindness.
And so, with the Quagmires by their sides, and a gaggle of excited eleven-year-old young wizards in front of them, and Hagrid the beaming, booming giant, the Baudelaires stepped into mercifully safe-looking boats, with no hideous steeds attached, and set sail.
If you are foolish enough to continue reading, next chapter will (I promise), feature such woes as a Sorting Ceremony, a delicious feast, and a mysterious disappearance.