10-year-old Eric Cartman and his mother lived in a small, humble cabin at the top of a hill next to a willow tree. The tree was far from ordinary. Its leaves were so bright that they almost glowed in the moon's light whenever night fell. Fireflies would gather and dance around it and anything planted near it seemed to grow without fail no matter the weather.
Eric watched as snow fell outside, looking up at the twilight sky. There was a gentle knock on his door. When Eric opened the door, he was greeted by his slender blonde friend. The boy was ragged with a smudge of dirt on his nose.
"Eric!" He said. "Let's play in the snow."
"...Naw, Ken." Eric said and walked away from the door, slumping against the wall. Kenny closed the door and watched him amusedly.
"What's wrong with you?"
"Ma ain't home."
"So? She's always late." Kenny said. "Let's go play outside. She always lets you play with us."
Eric groaned under his breath, but gave in and went to get his coat. Kenny's face lit up.
"Yes!" He exclaimed. Eric fought a smile at his reaction.
"How abou' Stan?" He asked and opened the door. He was greeted with the sight of two other kids his age, already molding a snowman. Eric's eyebrows came down. Kenny draped an arm over his shoulder and pointed at the boy with a brown jacket.
"I brought Stan with me!" He said.
"An' HIM," Eric said, shooting a glare at the other boy who was wearing a green hat. He glared back.
"Well, I didn't want to play with you either, fat boy." He said and turned back to molding the snowman. Eric rolled his eyes and walked through the snow to his friends.
"Why'dja bring Kahl? All he does is shove his big nose in them stupid books." Eric said.
"You're stupid!" Kyle snapped, nose red. Eric quirked an eyebrow, but Kenny nudged him.
"It's snowing, so he can't read books." He said. Kyle pursed his lips and looked at the snow in his gloved hands.
"This is so trivial." He said under his breath. Stan looked at him encouragingly.
"Don't say that. Snow can be a lot of fun." He said.
"We don't have time for fun! We're going to school tomorrow and we have to study." Kyle said.
"But we got in already. We don't need to study." Kenny pointed out. He joined them, adding snow to the pile.
"Sure, if you want to be the most unprepared person in class!" Kyle retorted.
Eric crossed his arms.
"What's so special bout school, huh?" He asked. "It's the same school Y'all always been in."
"No! Don't act dumb." Kyle said. "We're going to a *boarding* school. And you're going too."
Stan glanced at Kyle unsurely, his eyes flickering to Eric's face briefly, before looking away.
"...Me?" Eric asked and hesitated before joining the other three in the snow.
"Duh," Kyle replied. "We'll see you there."
The silence didn't last as Stan began talking about his favorite Quidditch team. Eric didn't know what kind of sport that was, but he never asked. His friends went to school in a town he had never been to, and he didn't even go to school at all, so he wasn't surprised whenever they said things he'd never heard of.
Eric met Kenny when he was walking around in his Mother's garden, right near the willow tree. Within the week Kenny had introduced him to Kyle and Stan. He'd never talked to anyone before that except his mother and Uncle since he wasn't allowed to go to town or talk to strangers.
In fact, whenever his mother had guests, he was told to hide in his room and not to make a sound until they had left in the morning. Eric wasn't aware that his mother was unmarried and promiscuous, so he didn't understand why she hid him from strangers. Eric was a child born out of wedlock. Whether she admitted it or not, he was her disgrace. Perhaps it was a good thing he wasn't able to realize this.
Eric's friends were fun to be around and visited him a few times a week, usually after school hours. Kyle, Stan, and Kenny enjoyed making up stories about magic and mythical creatures that Eric enjoyed hearing about. While he heard fairytales about Cinderella and Hercules, his friends would tell him stories about wands, cauldrons, wizards, and castles. He thought those stories were a lot more creative anyway.
Eric looked up at the sound of his mother's voice. How long had he been out here? His mother waved at him from the door, calling him inside.
"Oh... You have to go?" Stan asked. "But we didn't finish the snowman. He doesn't even have a head!"
"We can make a better snowman in my yard." Kenny said with a smile, looking at Eric who stood up and dusted the snow off of his damp knees. He clenched and unclenched his fists, fingers numb.
"Get some gloves," Kyle said, eyes narrowing as he noticed how red Eric's skin was. "Unless you want your hands to fall off."
"Nu-uh," Eric replied. "My hands ain't never fell off from touchin' no snow. Yer stupid."
"You're fucking stupid!" Kyle snapped back.
"Eric! Dinner!" Liane shouted again.
Eric sighed and looked back at his friends with a sad smile.
"See ya." He said and headed back towards his house. He opened and closed the door behind him, smiling at the smell of his mother's cooking.
"Playing outside in the snow without gloves is bad for your skin, hon," Liane said as she took Eric's coat.
"Heh. Y'sound like Kahl." Eric replied, rolling his eyes.
"Who the hell is Kahl?" A voice asked. Eric looked over and pursed his lips, color draining from his face.
"...Yer here?" He asked his Uncle. The man was looking at Eric with clear annoyance, eating food from his plate like some sort of grotesque walrus.
"B'fore sundown." He said and took a noisy bite from his chicken leg. "You would'a saw, cept you was too busy playin with the snow an' talkin to yerself."
"Hush, Jesse," Liane said quietly and touched Eric's head. Eric seemed annoyed by this but said nothing. "Get your dinner, sweetheart."
Eric made himself a plate of chicken and reluctantly sat at the small table next to his Uncle. Liane came over with two plates of food. Jesse sneered at her.
"Who that for?" He asked. Liane shrugged.
"I thought Kyle might be hungry." She said. Eric's eyebrows furrowed.
"He went home." Eric said.
"Liane, stop toleratin this shit!" Jesse snapped suddenly, making Eric flinch. Liane looked at her brother in reluctance.
"...He's a child. Leave him be, alright?" She asked. Jesse glared at Eric, who refused to meet his eyes.
"How many friends you got?"
"..." Eric hesitated. Jesse made a fist around his fork.
Eric squeezed his eyes shut, knowing what was coming. A fist connected with his face and he fell to the floor, his plate of food shattering and his chair toppling over. Eric gasped as he trembled on his knees, cupping his cheek which stung horribly. That was a lot harder than usual. He stared at his own tooth with wide eyes as it lay on the floor in front of him, his mouth filling with the foul taste of iron.
Liane stood by and watched silently. Eric felt his hair get yanked and his head was pulled back forcefully, his Uncle's cold and unfeeling stare piercing through him.
"You ain't got no friends, Eric. Y'hear me?" He said.
"..." Eric stared back at him, eyes hardened and teeth clenched. His hair was yanked harder and he yelped.
"Y'HEAR ME?!" Jesse screamed.
"Yeah!" Eric shouted, refusing to open his eyes.
"How many folks you know?! How many *friends* you got?!"
"No friends..! I got no friends!" Eric yelled, face burning with humiliation.
"Damn right! You ain't talkin to nobody all day. Yer just as crazy as yer fuckin whore mother!" He yelled and released him.
Eric stumbled away from him and ran into his small room, slamming the door. He leaned against it and held himself, a choked off sob escaping his throat. He barely held that in, mortified at the very idea of his Uncle ever seeing him cry. He could hear their voices from outside.
"...You didn't have to hurt him."
"Who else is gon teach him to be a man? Yer just makin him crazier an crazier every damn day! Stupid bitch. Tellin him those delusions is real! If he's gonna work on my farm, he ain't gonna be talkin to himself like that! Y'hear me?! And close that damn door! Fuckin winds a bitch!"
Eric sat on the floor, wiping his bloody mouth and staring into his lap. This wasn't the first he'd heard about working on his Uncle's farm, but his Uncle hadn't been around for months. He was sure that it wouldn't come up again, just hoping that his Uncle would never come back. His mother's voice was quieter, but he could still hear the conversation.
"...This is so stressful."
"Stressful! Well, who's fault is it, woman? Spreadin yer damn legs for every Tom, Dick, an' Harry round this town. What'd you think would happen?"
"I need you to take him away soon. My friends are getting curious about my home and he can't be seen."
Eric's heart lurched, his skin going numb.
"You owe me money for feedin' him then. Every week. I ain't feedin' him unless I get the money."
"Alright. Just take him."
"Yeah, I'll take the bastard."
"No..." Eric whispered under his breath, standing up and staring at the door. "Ma... Why...?"
He didn't understand why she was talking about him like this, why she would act like he didn't matter to her anymore. Eric began to wonder if she was thinking like this the whole time, just waiting until his Uncle would come back and take him away.
Footsteps began approaching the door. Eric gasped and dove under his covers, trying to control his frantic breaths.
Eric shot up in alarm, knowing that voice anywhere. Kyle stood in front of his door, eyes gentle and full of worry.
"Out." Eric said without hesitation.
Kyle took a step forward and said, "You're bleeding..."
"Stop," Eric said and covered his mouth, body tight with anger and adrenaline. "Get the hell out, Kahl."
"Eric, you gotta come with me. That man is taking you away tomorrow, I heard him say so." He said. Eric threw off his blanket and got up, eyes burning with contempt as he towered over Kyle and grabbed him by the shirt collar.
"Yer. Not. Real." He growled, keeping his voice quiet. "None of Y'all are fuckin real!"
Kyle scoffed, clearly not threatened at all.
"Of course I am you idiot. Don't you get it? You're just like us." He said. Eric looked him up and down.
"I ain't nothin like Y'all," He said. "Specially since Y'all ain't real! Now git b'fore they hear me talkin to m'self!"
"I can get you out of here, away from him!" Kyle insisted and pointed at the door. "They can't see me because they're nomajs."
"Quit talkin' at me!" Eric demanded in a hushed tone. "Go away!"
"We're wizards, dude!" Kyle exclaimed. "We can do magic!"
Eric stared at Kyle blankly.
"You can see me, Eric. That means you're a wizard!" Kyle continued. "There's a spell my village put on all the wizards and only other wizards can see us! You can see us, so you gotta be one too! Now we just gotta take you with us to London and get on the train to Hogwarts!"
"...I dun lost my fuckin mind." He concluded.
"You're not crazy!" Kyle said impatiently.
"Magic ain't real."
"Oh yeah? Then do it! Do magic, magic boy!" Eric challenged, releasing him. Kyle looked nervous.
"...I-I'm not good yet. Not on my own." Kyle admitted. "But only cuz I left my wand at home!"
"The hell is a wand? Yer tellin stories again!"
"They're not stories!" Kyle snapped.
"YER NOT REAL!" Eric yelled.
"AY!" Jesse boomed from the other side of the door.
Eric froze and backed away from the door, his knees buckling as he sat on the bed and clutched the sheets. Kyle didn't hesitate to sit beside him.
"Look, dude. I can't make you come with me. But if you stay here, that guy is gonna bring you to his farm. I heard him say that!" Kyle said and looked at the mark on Eric's face, fists clenching. "I don't want him to hurt you again."
Kyle's eyes went to Eric's window and he walked over to it, turning the latch and pushing it open, climbing out without hesitation. Eric stood up on the bed and his eyes darted from the window to the door. He stared at Kyle's outstretched hand.
"...I *think* you'll fit." Kyle teased with a gentle smile. Eric's heart fluttered, realizing this could actually be real. So many questions floated around in his head, his heart pounding as he took Kyle's hand.
"...Kahl, what if-"
"The fuck are you doin'?"
Eric turned around, eyes wide as his Uncle stood before him. Jesse's eyes went to the window and he tensed up angrily.
"...You goin' somewhere?" He growled and stepped forward. Eric's legs shook and he felt frozen in time. He gasped as Kyle pulled, that motion springing his body into action. He turned and struggled to get outside. Eric's legs were grabbed and yanked hard, pulling him and Kyle both back into the room.
"Git-off-me!" Eric snapped and kicked at Jesse blindly as Kyle fell to the floor. It took the redhead a moment to stand, disoriented from the tumble.
He looked over and realized Jesse had Eric pinned against the wall. It was the sound of Eric's nose cracking and his scream that snapped Kyle out of his stupor. Kyle bared his teeth and squeezed his eyes shut.
An oil lamp from the end table floated in mid-air and slammed into Jesse's head, breaking. Shards of glass and burning hot liquid attacked his face and he cried out, stumbling into the living room. Kyle stumbled over, helping Eric onto his feet and out the window as fast as he could.
Eric could barely see, his vision blurry and breath ragged as he ran through the bushes near his cabin. He felt Kyle propping him up somehow and panting beside him as they fled. The last thing Eric saw was his favorite willow tree before everything went black.
Ca-lack, ca-lack, ca-lack...
There was a steady sound that seemed to pulse from under Eric's body. Voices were muffled as well, but he could still kind of hear what was being said.
"What if he hears?"
"He won't. He's asleep."
"You don't know that."
"Yeah, I do. He's my Pa. He sleeps when I push him off the sofa."
"So his Ma couldn't see you?"
"She never could. She just thinks he's crazy."
"So he was born a nomaj like me?"
"Must be, Ken."
"Nice. We're even more alike now."
"Well... don't get too attached. I don't think he's going to get into Gryffindor. He passed out. That's not very brave."
"Stan, it wasn't like that. That man was like... the scariest nomaj I ever saw. He-"
Kyle froze mid-sentence when he saw Eric's eyes staring back at him. He gave the boy a cautious smile.
"Uh...Hey. Are you feeling better?" Kyle asked.
Eric's eyebrows pulled and he struggled to sit up, beginning to take in the things around him. What kind of a question was that?
"No." He replied in a mumble. Kenny smiled wide.
"Are you excited?" He asked.
"Wha-?" Eric was struggling to keep his head up, not wanting to think about anything else yet.
"Going to Hogwarts, dude." Stan piped up.
"The *school* stupid." Kyle chuckled.
"Yer stu...pid." Eric's eyes widened and he finally took a good look around. He was in a carriage and there was a snoring man sitting next to Stan. Eric seemed to be a mixture between very alarmed and very excited.
"You should probably thank Kyle. I mean he-" Stan began, but Kyle put a hand on his shoulder.
"Give him a second." He said softly. Kenny glanced between Eric and Kyle. Eric looked torn, his hands gripping his bloodied shirt so hard his knuckles were white. He looked out the window behind him, eyes far away.
Eric met eyes with Kenny.
"I was hit a lot too. By my nomaj folks." He said quietly. Stan and Kyle looked at Kenny with surprise. Kenny never opened up about his life before the orphanage.
Eric's face paled slightly, but he didn't look away, so Kenny decided to continue.
"It might not feel like it now, but... we're all going somewhere really safe with lots of food and we're gonna learn a bunch of stuff that's gonna help you protect yourself when you go back." He said and touched Eric's shoulder. "You want that, right?"
Eric stared at Kenny's hand and swallowed the lump in his throat. These boys... his only friends, they cared about him more than he ever thought anyone could.
"But my Ma..." Eric trailed off, his heart pounding and stomach churning as he wondered if she'd even care. She wanted him gone, didn't she? No... She even said she was stressed. She didn't mean it, she couldn't have.
"When we see my Pa, he'll send someone from Hogwarts to tell her you're okay. I promise." Kyle reassured. Eric felt relieved at those words and nodded slowly.
Kyle looked at Stan.
"We're still an exception to the no magic outside of school rule, right?" He asked. Stan shrugged and looked at his Pa who was asleep.
"I think it should be okay." He said. Kyle turned to Eric and took out a wand he was hiding under his shirt.
It was a long wand, a little over ten inches in length. It was also a beautiful color, a combination of green and silver. The carvings were intricate and carefully woven into one another. Kenny and Eric looked at it in surprise.
"My Pa gave me this for my 10th birthday. He's a wandmaker. And I've been practicing spells with him for months!" Kyle boasted and pointed the wand. Eric's eyes went cross-eyed in confusion as he stared at the tip of the wand so close to his broken nose.
"Episky." Kyle said confidently, and Eric's nose glowed before readjusting itself and cracking back into place. Eric yelled out in intense sudden pain, holding his nose.
Stan's father shot up in awakened alarm. Kyle hid his wand.
"What?! What's happening?!" Randy looked around wildly.
"Pa. It's fine."
"But I heard a-"
"You were dreaming. Again." Stan replied. Randy stared back at his son for a few moments before adjusting his bright blue robes and clearing his throat.
"...Well. I'm going back to sleep." He replied. "I had to wake up early to get you ready."
"Yeah, I know. You said that three times." Stan said in annoyance. Randy leaned back against the wall, snoring again seconds later. Kenny, Stan, and Kyle turned to each other and began snickering.
"He wouldn't be so tired if he wasn't at the tavern all night." Stan muttered to Kenny. Eric blinked away pained tears, rubbing his now healed nose which no longer hurt.
"Feel better?" Kyle asked. Eric smiled a little at him.
The carriage ride was several hours long. Everyone fell asleep during it except Eric. He couldn't stop staring out the window at all of the scenery, amazed by the beauty of the nature around them. He'd never been away from his cabin, never mind on a tour of the countryside surrounded by friends.
The carriage seemed to move unrealistically fast, and only when Eric peered at the front did he see that the clacking of horse hooves made no sense. There were no horses at all! The cabin was... pulling itself. At first, Eric wondered how that was even possible, but nothing these last few hours should have been.
When they arrived at whatever their destination was to be, Randy irritably hurried them all out of the carriage mumbling about catching a boat. They walked at Randy's heels.
"How?" Eric asked.
"What?" Kyle said.
"How d'ya catch it? A boat? What's it do?" Eric tilted his head to the side. Stan laughed under his breath.
"You never heard of a boat?" He asked. Eric shook his head.
"...Wh... A boat. The wooden thing people ride in on top of the water to get from place to place? Boats!" Kyle explained in annoyance.
"Never seen one," Eric replied. "How d'ya catch it?"
"It's an expression, dude." Stan chuckled as Kyle pinched the bridge of his nose. "It's just a thing people say."
"...Oh." Eric said, still very confused.
"How far is this school?" Kenny asked.
"Very far." Randy mumbled, clearly annoyed by the children.
"Maybe we'll be traveling forever." Kenny snickered.
"Shh, quiet." Randy approached a man near the pier. Kenny made a face to Randy's back, getting a laugh out of Eric and Kyle. Stan rubbed his own arm.
"Sorry about my Pa." He said.
"He ain't that fun," Eric said.
"He's just dumb and has a headache from too much whiskey," Kyle said. "He smells like it too."
"I wanna taste whiskey!" Kenny said.
Eric walked over to the docks. The sound of waves crashing on the shoreline was all around them. It was very late in the afternoon, but there were no people around except Randy and the man he was speaking to. Kenny walked over to stand next to Eric and took a deep breath in and out.
"This is pretty nice." He said with a bright smile on his dirty face. "It smells salty."
"That's because we're right in front of the ocean," Kyle said, joining them with Stan. "The salt from the water gets all mixed in the air. We're in New Jersey."
"I... Never seen anythin' like it b'fore," Eric whispered, mesmerized. "It's so... Hah. I ain't seen nothin this nice."
"Me neither." Kenny agreed. "It's so much better than home."
"It's alright." Stan shrugged. "I'm already homesick."
"Fuck that," Eric said and walked closer to the shoreline, looking down and watching the waves crash. A pleasant shiver went down his spine and he smiled to himself.
"What's up?" Kyle asked, approaching him.
"Never goin' back..." He said quietly. Kyle looked back over his shoulder, noticing that Stan and Kenny were walking back over to Randy. His gaze returned to Eric and he smiled.
"Well... Then let's keep going." He said and gently took Eric's hand. Eric looked down at their hands and then back to Kyle, his cheeks bright pink. Kyle was already walking away, Eric's hand tight in his while he pulled him along.
They all began to pack into a tiny fisher's boat as Randy took a swig from a flask in his robe. Stan shook his head disapprovingly at his father, sitting next to Kenny and watching Kyle pull Eric into the boat. He quirked an eyebrow.
"Why are you holding his hand?" He asked. Kyle looked over and let go immediately, pursing his lips.
"I was just making sure he wouldn't fall in the water." He said. Kenny snickered loudly.
"Yeah, that's pretty gay," Randy added. "Don't hold hands with other dudes like Kyle, Stan."
"Pa!" Stan scolded. "Kyle's not gay."
"I was just helping him!" Kyle insisted. Eric looked confused by this entire interaction.
"What's wrong?" He asked.
"Nothing!" Kyle snapped and crossed his arms, face burning red. Eric smirked a little bit.
"Hah... Yer face is lookin like yer hair now." He teased. Kyle glared at him and swatted Eric's hand away from his hair.
"Alrigh! H'lo first time riders!" The man spoke loudly and removed his brown hat, revealing his aged gold eyes and balding head. His voice was boisterous and scratchy, grabbing everyone's attention. "My name's Trevor Milligan! My Pops and his Pops has been sailin' wizards across these seas for generations! I learned everything I know from my Pops and boys, I hope yer ready to embark on a wondrous journey through miles and miles of ocean-"
"Yeah, hey, Millie?" Randy interrupted, his eyes hooded and cold. "How about we stop yabberin' and you just tap the boat?"
"...Hmph. Wiseguy." Trevor mumbled before turning and taking out his brown and crooked wand. Eric wondered to himself if every magic person had one of those sticks, vaguely remembering all of those stories Stan and Kyle would tell him about wizards.
Trevor tapped the front of the small rowboat and it began to move. Eric looked like he was in a state of constant bewilderment.
"All the things takin us places move emselves?" Eric asked.
"Yes." Kyle replied.
Kenny's eyebrows furrowed.
"Not the carriage." He said.
Kyle and Stan looked at him like he was crazy, both asking at the same exact time, "What?!"
"The carriages always move by themselves, Ken." Stan said with a soft laugh. Kenny shook his head, lips pursing as though he'd just been told the sky was green.
"No way guys!" He exclaimed. "It was pulled by a black horse that looked slimy. And its got wings like a bat!"
"Ha... You're not even trying, dude." Kyle said as he leaned on the boat with a smug smile. Kenny bristled.
"I'm serious." He said.
The others stared at each other, now feeling a bit uncomfortable. Kenny was always the person who cracked jokes and laughed things off. Why was he so angry?
"Are you sure?" Stan asked.
"Yes!" Kenny said. There was a pregnant silence.
"How bout if magic just look different to everyone." Eric suggested, all eyes now going to him. Kenny scowled.
"If that was it then other people should see it. I'm the only one." He said and crossed his arms.
"Maybe you ain't," Eric said. Kenny's eyes brightened.
"You could just be tired." Kyle suggested.
"I'm just crazy, Kyle?" Kenny demanded. "Eric could be right! What if other people see it too? I'm not crazy!"
"That's not what I said!" Kyle exclaimed. "People see things when they're sleepy! That's not crazy!"
"Boys!" Randy snapped, rubbing his temples. "Shut up. God. You sound like a bunch of girls."
They quieted. A few moments passed where all that could be heard was the gentle rocking of the boat. The boat then jutted forward, hitting something abruptly. The boys stumbled forward in their seats and looked alarmed.
"All ashore kids!" Trevor announced, once again animated as he smiled at the boys, clearly ignoring Randy who was already getting off the boat.
"Hold on, I thought we were traveling all the way to London!" Kyle said, bewildered. Trevor beamed.
"That's right! And here we are! A few blocks away from the Leaky Cauldron, best dang hole in the wall I've ever been to," He advertised. Randy motioned the boys to follow him as they got up and off the boat. Trevor glared at him. "No tip?!"
"For tapping a boat?" Randy deadpanned. "Nope. Already paid for my tickets. Thanks though."
"Wh..! Well, screw you too then! I just carried you folks halfway across the world! Magic ain't mean it ain't special! I'm one of the only wizards in the whole world who can-" Trevor started, but Randy was already walking away.
Kenny and Stan followed Randy down the road, but Kyle hesitated. Eric watched as Kyle looked back and frowned at the sight of Trevor who slumped against his boat and looked like he wanted to hit something. Kyle dug into his pockets, pulled out a shiny galleon and ran up to Trevor holding it out.
Trevor stared at Kyle in shock, not taking it.
"That's too much, kid. You're sweet but..." Trevor trailed off. Kyle put the galleon on Trevor's knee, balancing it.
"My Pa taught me all the stuff I know too. I thought your magic was really cool," He said and met Trevor's eyes giving him a kind smile. "Thanks for getting us here so fast."
Trevor smiled back, hand squeezing around the galleon.
"Kyle! Get over here!" Randy called. Kyle looked back and pulled his bag onto his shoulder, waving goodbye to Trevor. Trevor held his hand up in a silent goodbye, still unable to speak.
Eric was a little away from Kenny and Stan, staring at Kyle sort of blankly. Kyle slowed down when he met Eric's eyes and gave him a look, not able to ignore the fluttering in his chest.
"What?" Kyle asked with an awkward smile.
"...Nothin." Eric decided on, walking ahead. He didn't know why watching Kyle do that made him feel good, but it seemed weird to mention, so better that he didn't.
When they caught up to the group, Eric really started to take in his surroundings. There were tons of people around them now and they all looked intensely preoccupied. The alleyways seemed to thin out as they approached a shabby, dulled building. People that walked by seemed to pay it no mind and Eric suspected that maybe they just couldn't see it.
Eric followed as Randy opened the door, and his mouth dropped open. People in pointed hats and colorful robes were boisterously talking with one another at tables with huge mugs full of glowing liquid in their hands. One man was singing a song to his friend drunkenly, another pointing their wand at a notebook as their pen wrote on the paper by itself!
Eric was ripped out of his stupor when his shoulder was nudged roughly. He looked up at Randy who looked down at him in annoyance.
"Close your mouth, kid. You look like a fish."
Eric pursed his lips self consciously but took comfort in the fact that Kyle, Kenny, and Stan seemed equally amazed at all that was around them. The bartender nodded over at Randy.
"Oi! It's the Americans!" He announced in an accent that Eric found very strange. Suddenly the bar was considerably quieter, and many eyes were on them.
"Yeah, uh... Where's Dagwon alley?" Randy asked, fidgeting a little. Everyone burst out into obnoxious laughter with random strangers making comments.
"Here what he said, mate? Dagwon!"
"What the bloody hell is a Dagwon?"
"Dagwon?!" The bartender mocked, climbing out from under the bar. He put an arm around Randy's shoulders. "Where's yer cowboy hat partner? Yer in the wrong saloon!"
There was even more laughter. Randy scowled and shrugged the man off trying not to grind his teeth.
"Very fuckin funny." He growled.
"Oi, don't curse in front of the children mate." The bartender nudged Randy teasingly. "Isn't it quite hard to raise them with your sister?"
Randy shoved the guy angrily amid the laughter. He stumbled and waved him off wiping tears of laughter from his eyes.
"Ahh... I'm only joking. Can't have some fun with the American wizards?" He said.
"Hey! We're just as good as the wizards here!" Stan snapped.
"Don't talk to em, Stan," Randy said while putting a protective hand on his shoulder. "We'll find where we gotta go."
"It's through the back door," A voice piped up. Randy looked over and met the eyes of a robed older woman. She stood up. "Shall I show you the way, dear?"
Randy didn't hesitate to walk towards her with the kids right behind him. The rest of the people in the bar seemed to slowly lose interest and return to their own groups.
"My name is Ferine. Sorry about my husband." The woman apologized. "He's quite the comedian when he's had one too many."
"He's a fucking asshole." Randy grumbled.
"I'd appreciate it if you watched your language. You aren't making a very good example for Americans." She said sternly. "George and I have been expecting you for a while. The travel must have been just awful for the children, so painfully slow indeed."
"Uh... Not really." Randy deadpanned. "It was like a five-minute boat ride."
"*Five minutes?*" She scoffed. "What a nuisance."
The children exchanged strange looks.
"Is that a long time to wait here?" Kenny asked. Ferine laughed in a chirpy sort of way.
"Oh, my little dears you have so much to learn. The wizarding world is the most progressive in London." She said. "Wait until you try the floo system for the first time! And going to Hogwarts, how exciting!"
"Floo?" Stan repeated. "Won't we get sick?"
Ferine looked as though she'd just seen a little baby coo in a carriage. She reached over and pinched Stan's cheek.
"Aren't you precious?" She cooed and turned to Randy. "Well then, let's see you off. We wouldn't want you to be late on your way to the express train."
Stan rubbed his throbbing cheek as he followed Ferine and his father out the back door of the bar. They came to a stop in front of a brick wall.
"Do you know the sequence?" She asked Randy. He grunted as he took out his wand and studied the wall for a moment.
"...I think I remember what he told me," He said and began hitting the wall one brick at a time. Ferine covered her mouth as she watched him, trying not to laugh. Randy looked at her, pausing. "What?"
"Must you smack it with such cruelty?" She said, her eyes glinting with amusement as she took Randy's hand and began to help him tap the wall. "It's not a child in need of a spanking. Let each movement be guided by your wrist."
When the wall began to fall away, Ferine smiled at Randy.
"See?" She said.
"Yeah, I went to Ilvermonty lady. I don't need a lesson." Randy grumbled and walked through. Stan and Eric didn't look back, but Kenny and Kyle waved goodbye to Ferine who still had that smile on her face. Eric looked over his shoulder as the wall reformed behind them, a warmth filling his gut.
"Holy shit..." He mumbled to himself as if finally realizing he was no longer in a dream.
The world behind the brick wall was like nothing Eric had ever experienced before. He found out there was a lot of things that you need to go to a magic school. Several books, a cauldron, robes and a hat, an optional pet, and of course a wand.
Eric had no money, but neither did Kenny, so he didn't feel as left out when Kyle and Stan got pet owls. Kyle purchased a beautiful brown owl that was named Leyore. She had reddish spots on her wings, white feet, and green eyes like him. Stan's owl, Lemia, was apparently the sister of Kyle's owl and looked exactly the same, except her feet were light brown and her eyes were icy blue. Stan and Kyle were all excited about them, holding their cages tightly.
"Them birds gon poop a lot." Eric grumbled and Kenny nudged him with a chuckle. Stan rolled his eyes.
"Don't be jealous. Maybe one of you will find a rat in the street." Kyle said, petting Leyore through her cage. "They let you keep rats as pets too."
"Fuck off, Kahl," Eric said. "Aint nobody wanna pet rat."
"I might." Kenny said with a shrug.
"Fuckin gross." Eric replied, shuddering at the thought.
"It's probably for the best if you don't, Ken." Stan chuckled. "One of our owls will probably just eat it."
"I guess you better teach those guys to have self-control then." Kenny pointed at the owls.
"They're girls." Kyle said. Eric and Kenny laughed loudly and Stan looked alarmed.
"What?!" He exclaimed. Kyle quirked an eyebrow at that.
"Didn't you read the label, dude?" He asked.
"I thought they were brothers!" Stan said.
"Girls!" Eric exclaimed through his laughter, leaning on Kenny for support. "Holy shit."
"Girly owls with girly names for girly girls." Kenny added.
Their next stop was a place called Flourish and Blotts. It was a library of sorts, and Eric was immediately disinterested. Kyle, however, was beside himself.
"Look at this place!" He exclaimed while walking through the seemingly endless halls with thousands of books on either side with beautiful and intricately woven covers.
"Smells weird." Eric mumbled.
"No, it doesn't! It smells like knowledge." Kyle beamed hand gliding across the bindings stacked together. He turned to Stan with a chuckle. "How are we ever going to find the books we need? There's so many."
"Pa preordered them I think." He replied. "And I'm glad, cuz it does smell a little weird."
"See?" Eric said, leaning on a table.
"You're just mad because you can't buy any of it." Kyle taunted.
Eric got red in the face and he tensed up, shoulders coming together and hands balling into fists.
"I ain't even like books! Books gon get made bout me 'stead uh me sittin' round an' readin' em!" Eric said.
"Like anyone would write a book about you!" Kyle scoffed. "Maybe about how fat you are!"
"AY!" Eric said over Stan's laughter. "I ain't fat!"
"You're so fat, dude." Kyle said.
"We're done. C'mon." Randy said, dropping heavy bags into Stan and Kyle's hands that immediately crashed to the floor. He looked back and rolled his eyes. "I'm not carrying your books."
Kyle and Stan exchanged an annoyed glance while struggling to lift their bags. Eric watched them in amusement and sauntered over, pushing them away. Before Kyle could yell at him, Eric was lifting both of their bags over his shoulders with ease. There had to be ten thick textbooks in each. Kyle's eyes widened in shock as Eric walked out behind Randy, following close behind.
"How're you doing that, dude?" Kenny said in admiration. Eric beamed and glanced over his shoulder at Kyle in a cheeky sort of way before meeting Kenny's gaze.
"I do liftin' better than readin'." He said. Kyle's face burned red with irritation.
"I like being smart better than being stupid!" He retorted.
"Yer *real* smart, Kahl," Eric said. "An' weak like a girl."
Kyle blinked rapidly at the insult while Randy let out a laugh. Stan looked between Kyle's face and his Pa, before rushing forward and taking his bag back from Eric.
"I can lift mine." He mumbled. Kyle attempted to take his own bag from Eric as well, but he held it out of Kyle's reach. Kyle gritted his teeth and crossed his arms. He remained quiet, clearly embarrassed. Eric couldn't help but tease him the whole way.
Eric waited outside of the other couple stores because Randy was getting annoyed at his constant bickering with Kyle. It wasn't Eric's fault Kyle got so loud and mad from a little teasing. He just liked how short Kyle was, how easy it was to hold things out of his reach and how funny his expressions were. But it was all in good fun.
This wasn't fun though, just waiting for his friends to come out of some other cool store with new things that Eric couldn't get for himself. Kenny couldn't get much either, but Randy was definitely buying him some things for school. Eric wasn't exactly supposed to come along, so he wasn't getting anything he needed. Instead, Randy said he would have to use hand me downs and old books from the school.
But... Whatever. This was still way better than being at home.
Eric looked up, meeting eyes with a kid that was his age. He had a fancy blue hat on and steely brown eyes.
"Hi." Eric greeted. The kid walked over and stopped in front of him, looking him up and down.
"You're from the Americas." He observed.
"Yeah," Eric said, eyebrows coming down. "That a problem?"
The boy shrugged.
"Only if you're a git about it." He said.
"The fucks a git?" Eric asked. The corner of the boy's lip upturned just a little bit.
"An annoying person. The kind that I don't like to talk to." He said. Eric paused, pursing his lips.
The boy offered his hand. "My name is Craig."