London, King's Cross Station, Platform 9 ¾

September 1st

Benjamin and Dallee wobbled from side to side as they balanced their trunks to load onto trolleys. Benjamin triple-checked his trunks of Hogwarts equipment, the birthday gifts, clothes, robes, and his sketchpad. He folded his Emerson Silver T-shirt and laid it flat beside his two Chudley Cannons jerseys.

"Are you sure you've got enough shirts, Ben?" Harriet asked, reopening his clothes trunk. "Do you have plenty of pants and trousers?"

"Yes, Mum, I've got everything!" Benjamin squeezed her paws reassuringly. "I'm not a little kid anymore!"

"Don't worry, Mother." Dallee patted her brother's head. "I'll take good care of him." She stroked her copy of The Monster Book of Monsters in her main trunk. "Where's my copy of Divining the Future?"

"Got it here, Dall!" Benjamin passed it to her and turned to his father. "Will they have food on the train, Dad?"

Darthian bear-hugged both his children and gave them a coinpurse of Wizarding money. "Yes, they will, my son. Keep your eyes open for a lovely hedgemaid pushing a trolley full of sweets! Trust me, you'll love it. She has quite the candy collection!"

Harriet placed a folded parchment in Dallee's main trunk. "Here's your permission form for Hogsmeade, honey."

"Thanks, Mum," Dallee stuck the permission slip in between the pages of Divining the Future. "Hogsmeade is the wizarding village outside Hogwarts that the Third Years have the opportunity to visit every year," she explained to her puzzled brother. "I'm excited to see what it has to offer! You'll catch a little glimpse of it when we get there."

Darthian glanced at his wristwatch. "10:30! Time to go, kids!"

Dallee closed their trunks and led Benjamin to the entrance to Platform Nine and Three-Quarters. She pointed out a crowd of other Wizarding families running at a thick brick wall. "Watch that, Ben."

Benjamin's eyes widened. "Stop!" He almost shouted out. "You're going to run into-!" His jaw dropped when the beasts and their trolleys disappeared throughthe brick wall.

"That's Platform Nine and Three-Quarters?!"

Darthian nodded and pointed his son towards the brick wall. "That's it! You've seen it before, remember? You saw your sister go through it twice!"

Benjamin shook nervously on the spot. "I remember that – sort of! It's been a couple of years. I never imagined I'd go through it myself!"

"That is your gateway into the Wizarding World, Benjamin!" Harriet proclaimed to Benjamin, massaging his shoulders assuringly. "It's the only thing separating you from your passage to Hogwarts. Go on, sweetheart, it's okay. You're okay."

Benjamin instinctively crouched low behind his trolley. "I don't know! What if I just bump into it? What if it closes on me after everyone else has gone through? I'll just make a bloody fool of myself. Off my trolley, literally!"

His family knelt around him, holding him comfortingly to calm his trembling body. Dallee stroked his cheeks with her thumbs and looked into his anxious dark brown eyes.

"Hey, Ben." Dallee's own sympathetic eyes met his. "It's okay, I promise. All you have to do is run at the wall. I'll run right with you and it'll be over in a second. Come on, baby brother. Just hold my paw."

Benjamin slowly stood up. He took Dallee's paw and gulped. She squeezed his paw to soothe his nerves as they took the point at the front of the crowd. The sounds of the other families cheering him on immediately filled Benjamin's ears, encouraging and supporting him with loud uplifting voices.

"You can do it, boy! It's your turn now!"

"Don't be afraid, little mouse! Jus' close yer eyes, grit yer teeth, an' run!"

"You're almost there! You're right on the doorstep of the Wizarding World! Go on, son, your time has come!"

The Fletchers appeared by the Suntails. Colton and Firiti squeezed Benjamin's shoulders, adding their cheers.

"You've got this, Ben! We're right behind you!"

"That's our Benjamin! It's up to you now, mate! Spur yourself on and leg it to the wall!"

The collective cheers burned away his anxiety and replaced it with flowing adrenaline, spiking his blood and igniting red sparks in his veins and arteries. He clenched his paws around the handle of his trolley, inhaling and exhaling bravely.

They're right! I've just got to do it! No holding back! My dream is right within my grasp! I will go to Hogwarts!

Benjamin steeled his nerves and gripped his trolley a bit tighter. He took Dallee's paw again and pushed himself into a brisk walk. He broke right into a headlong sprint and felt his sister slip from his fingers.

He shut his eyes tight at the last second. The wall passed right through him.

When he opened his eyes, the sight of a new train station materialized in his vision. To his left, a giant red-and-black train towered over him on its tracks, blowing smoke and steam out of its locomotive whistle.

Benjamin started laughing and dancing around his trolley, jumping up in the air and whooping loudly. I did it! I passed through Platform Nine and Three-Quarters! I made it to the other side! I did it!

Amid his shining triumph, his family walked out of the wall behind him. His father picked him up by the shoulders and spun him in a circle in the air. "That's my boy! You did it!"

Darthian put him back down on the ground, and Dallee held him to her budding chest. "You were fantastic, little brother! I almost lost you for a second there!"

"Congratulations, son!" Harriet squeezed her son tightly from behind. "Welcome to the Wizarding World! You did magnificently!"

The Fletchers hurried out of the Platform behind them and immediately scooped up the triumphant Benjamin.

"Oh, yeah!" Colton ruffled his male relative's hair tufts. "That's how it's done, cousin!"

"Come here, Ben!" Firiti kissed him lovingly on his face. "That was amazing! You were amazing!"

"You see, Ben? All it takes is courage!" Aunt Varissa high-fived her nephew. "I'm so glad that the crowd back there helped you. Such warmth and generosity as I have never seen before at Platform Nine and Three-Quarters in so many years!"

"Well, well!" Uncle Kenneth practically bear-hugged Benjamin. "Now you have entered the Wizarding World! Marvelous! Congratulations, Ben!"

Benjamin was whooping at the top of his lungs, pumping his fists in the air. He followed his sister and relatives to the train. "The Hogwarts Express!" He marveled at the enormous 4-6-0 Hall Class GWR 5900 steam locomotive.

Harriet knelt to talk to Benjamin. "Your sister and cousins are going to take good care of you, Ben. Make sure you're on your best behavior, too, and mind your manners. Work your hardest in school. You're going to do wonderfully, we know it. We are so very proud of you and we love both of you with all our hearts. As soon as you get sorted into your House, let us know! Promise us, Ben!"

Benjamin nodded confidently. "I promise, Mum. Every single one!"

"We'll send you both loads of letters every single week with Pocket," Darthian promised, rubbing Benjamin's head and hugging Dallee. "He may be tiny, but he's got incredible strength in him. You'd be surprised at how much weight that Little Owl can carry."

Dallee wrapped her paws around her brother's flat chest. "I'll look after you, my dear brother. Always."

"We'll take care of you," Firiti added, affectionately massaging Benjamin's shoulders. "You're under our protection, sweetie."

"We'll keep you safe, kid." Colton nodded with a wink. "You'll be well protected on our watch."

"All aboard!" called the far-off voice of the conductor.

The Suntails and Fletchers exchanged last-minute hugs and kisses. Benjamin hugged his parents tighter and kissed them deeper than he'd ever had in his life. He gave the same to his aunt and uncle. He never took his eyes off them as he walked to the threshold of the train. Dallee helped him step onboard, and they both leaned out to wave their final goodbyes. When their parents were out of sight and the train turned the corner out of the station, indescribable excitement and anticipation warmed Benjamin's heart.

He couldn't wipe the grin off his face.

At long last, Benjamin Suntail was off to Hogwarts!

The Hogwarts Express

The four mice claimed a compartment to themselves close to the tail end of the train. Benjamin exclaimed at the cozy cushioned red-and-blue sofas, brightened by the big window showcasing the forested countryside in varying shades of green.

"Oh! Bagsy on the window seat!" He instantly plopped himself down on the left-side sofa close to the window.

Dallee wrapped her arm around his shoulders as she settled beside him. "Of course, Ben. The window is yours."

Colton helped Benjamin store his trunks in the overhead and pecked his sister on the cheek. "Here we go again to Hogwarts! Third Year, Fifth Year, and Sixth Year! Come what may, we're ready!"

Firiti held Benjamin's diamond necklace in her fingers and smiled at him. "Third, fifth, and sixth time for us. But it's just the first time for Ben! Are you ready to go to Hogwarts?"

Benjamin puffed out his chest proudly. The diamond necklace glimmered in the sunlight filtering in from the window. "Yes, Firi! As ready as I'll ever be!"

Dallee counted the coins in the purse. "Okay, I think we've got more than enough money for the four of us when the candy trolley comes."

A soft knock on the glass door interrupted them. Dallee gave the coinpurse to Benjamin and went to open it. Two creatures stood in the hall: a light-tan Ottermaid dressed in a sleeveless green tunic and a pair of slim black trousers; and a short thin brown Squirrel in a plain white V-neck T-shirt and short denim jeans. The Ottermaid looked hopeful, while the Squirrel was rather timid.

"'Ello, excuse us," the Ottermaid greeted Dallee. "But do ya 'ave any extra room? We've been lookin' everywhere an' the front 'alf o' th' train is almost completely occupied."

Dallee nodded. "Yes, we have some room left. Come on in."

"Oh, thank ya so much!" "Bless your heart!" The guests entered inside, and the three mice greeted them.

"Hi, there!" Benjamin waved with his sister's coinpurse. "Welcome in! What are your names?"

The Ottermaid sat on Dallee's right and patted her chest lightly. "Daphne Winters! Pleasure t' meet ya!"

"Mathay Havson," the Squirrel boy sitting beside her awkwardly adjusted ovoid rimless eyeglasses on his face. "You may call me Matt."

Everybeast exchanged paw-shakes and names. Daphne snuggled into the sofa and rested her paws comfortably on her thighs. Matt cleared his throat and leaned forward, bashfully smoothing out his denim trousers and centering the V-neck collar of his shirt.

Benjamin pointed to himself, laying his head on Dallee's shoulder. "Are you going to Hogwarts, too? I'm going for the first time!"

"'Ey!" Daphne pointed cheerfully to herself and Matt. "So are we! First-Years, too! I never 'eard o' 'Ogwarts meself, 'cept from th' tales an' legends me papa told me!"

"First-Years?" Matt repeated in confusion, folding his paws in his lap and looking confused through his glasses. "Is that what the beginner students are called at Hogwarts?"

"Aye," Colton nodded. "That's the name, all right. Pardon my asking, but have you never heard of Hogwarts before, Matt?" He furrowed his brow at the Squirrel.

"Er…no…" Matt hung his head in slight embarrassment. "I haven't. At least not until three months ago. Is it a good school?"

"Oh, yes!" Dallee answered enthusiastically and massaged Benjamin's shoulders. "It's the greatest magical school in the entire world!"

"You'll love it there, Matt," Colton added, winking reassuringly at him and stroking Firiti's hair. "Wait till you see it."

Firiti turned to Daphne and gestured curiously at her. "You're familiar with Hogwarts as well?"

Daphne shrugged innocently, tapping her chin ponderingly. "Eh, a little bit. I know enough from what me wizard papa used t' tell me about it. Me Muggle mum was never interested, though I ain't ashamed."

"Where are you guys coming from?" Benjamin asked curiously, raising his head a tad. "I mean, where do you live?"

Daphne straightened herself on the sofa, placing her paws nobly over each other. "Central London, born an' raised!"

"London! The capital!" Matt mused and sat back. "Me, I'm from Brighton, on the coast of Sussex."

"Sussex!" Daphne tapped her chin again. "You must have a lotta fun livin' near th' coast. I wish I lived near th' ocean! I could swim all th' livelong day!"

"It's a splendid place to be, Daphne!" Matt laughed, running his paws through his curved bangs and smoothing out his bushy brown tail. "Some of the nicest beasts you'll ever meet are there!"

The sound of an approaching cart cut off the conversation. Matt opened the door to reveal a kindly middle-aged hedgemaid standing behind a double-tiered cart.

"Hello there, dears!" she greeted the sextet. "Would you like some candy from the trolley?"

"Wow!" Benjamin squeaked like a mousebabe in a fancy candy store. "So many choices!"

"Are those Licorice Wands?" Daphne pointed out the sweet in question to the hedgemaid, who nodded. "That sounds delicious!"

"Blimey! I've never seen this much candy before!" Matt whistled and examined every inch of the cart. "What should we eat first?"

Dallee bought the candies, and they placed their delectable purchases on the wooden table by the window, a very sugary bunch including Licorice Wands, Pumpkin Pasties, bottled Pumpkin Juice, a box of Bertie Botts Every Flavor Beans, and the iconic Chocolate Frogs. The highly entertained hedgemaid wished them an enjoyable rest of the train ride and left.

Dallee gave a Chocolate Frog each to Benjamin, Daphne, and Matt. "Look here. These frogs are made of real chocolate!"

"Frogs?" Matt asked somewhat dubiously. "Made of chocolate?" He carefully opened his decorated pyramidal plastic container. "Why, that's got to be the most ridiculous thing I've ever – whoa!"

He jumped in surprise as a moderately-sized chocolate frog figure sprang out of the box and landed in his lap, croaking rhythmically. It suddenly sprang high into the air as Matt moved to grab it. It hopped from Daphne's lap and between the Suntails onto the table where it spilled the other candies on the compartment floor. Firiti drew her beech wand right as it launched from her lap onto the door.

"Accio Frog!"

The Chocolate Frog rocketed from the door and streaked towards Firiti, who caught it in her other paw. Gripping it firmly, she returned it to Matt, who had been rendered momentarily speechless by the awe-inspiring display.

"That's magic?!"

Firiti nodded and held up her beech wand. "Classic Summoning Charm. A handy spell in any situation. You'll learn it in your Fourth Year, kid."

"Oh, what a mess." Benjamin gathered the candies that the Frog had spilled all over the compartment floor. "It'll take forever to clean this up."

"Here, Ben, I've got it." Colton pointed his holly wand at Benjamin's pawfuls of Every Flavor Beans. "Besides, I think you should stay away from those. Who knows what flavors you'll accidentally end up eating? Don't want you to get sick on the first day of school. Anyway…Pack!"

The Beans levitated from Benjamin's palms and collected back into their colorful box, forming rows and columns of multicolored confections. The Pumpkin Pasties and the Licorice Wands lay down in a clean vertical row together.

"Reparo," Dallee fixed the shallow dents and tight cracks in the bottles of Pumpkin Juice and passed them around.

The First Years could only stare in transfixed speechlessness.

Five more runaway frogs later, everyone delighted in the thick rich taste of pure chocolate. At the bottom of the packs lay pentagonal collectible cards of famous wizards and witches throughout history.

"Lonna Bowstripe!" Dallee showed her card of the massive Badger famous for being able to shoot a spell dead center in an excess of 100 yards with his wand.

"Yes!" Colton held up his card, his face glowing. "Skor Axehound, the Chieftain of the Rogue Crew! I've been searching for him for ages!"

"Polleekin the mole seer!" Daphne squealed and hopped in her seat. "Beautiful!" She bit off a piece of her Licorice Wand and sighed dreamily. "Wow! That is th' sweetest licorice I 'ave ever tasted! Papa wasn't kiddin'!"

"I've got Nightshade, myself." Firiti indicated. "She's best known as the seer for Swartt Sixclaw."

Benjamin raised his eyebrows at his card, fascinated. "Ould Zillo the Bard, a member of the outlaw otterclans. Huh! That's very interesting!"

"Mine is Grissoul, seer of the Juskarath Tribe," Matt concluded. "I wonder if pulling him means that I should be expecting something important in the future." He creased his forehead, a tad pensive, though he quickly brightened up. "That was a lot of fun, wasn't it?"

"I'm surprised ye've never 'eard o' any o' these figures," Daphne remarked to Matt as she took a hearty bite out of her Frog.

Matt rubbed the back of his neck nervously, and his ears drooped in shame. "Yeah…I haven't heard these names before at all. I've never known this world or Hogwarts or witches or wizards or anything until I received my letter. Until now." Matt hung his head, his face crestfallen, his voice tentative as he turned away, rubbing his arms together.

"You see…I'm Muggle-born."

He was greatly surprised by the other's mutual sympathies.

"Bein' Muggle-born is nuthin t' be ashamed o', Matt," Daphne patted the little squirrel gently on the back. "It takes great courage t' admit it. Ye are a brave squirrel for confessin' yer blood heritage. I'm a half-blood meself, an' I'm proud o' it! We'll both be part of 'Ogwarts whether we believe it or not!"

"The four of us," Dallee pointed to her mice family. "We are purebloods. Magic is in our bloodline and has been for countless generations."

"As Daphne said," Colton added, stuffing the last of his Frog into his mouth. "There is no indignity in a Muggle-born background. Please do not think of yourself as lesser, Matt. You belong at Hogwarts."

"Yeah!" Benjamin commented, also swallowing his chocolate. "Somebeast would have to be really thick to judge you for who you are, Matt!"

Matt sat up inches straighter and beamed as bright as the noontime sun. "Thank you for understanding. That does mean a lot to me. You have no idea how good it feels to be accepted for who I am. Thank you." He put his paws on his hips again, this time noticeably more pridefully. "When I get to Hogwarts, I'm going to be brave about telling everyone about my Muggle-born status! I won't be afraid! I'll be proud of who I am!"

"That's the spirit, kid!" Colton raised his palm, and Matt happily high-fived it.

The Squirrel carefully removed his glasses from his face. "Are we allowed to use our wands on the train, too? I want to know if there's a spell that can clean this dust and smudges off."

Dallee brandished her hornbeam wand. "Do you have your wand? The one you got from Ollivanders Shop in Diagon Alley? Why don't you take it out, and I'll teach you the useful Siphoning Spell? Just point your wand at your glasses, and say, Tergeo!"

Matt dug his paw into his right trouser pocket. "I've got my wand right here." He plucked it out and showed it to the others. "Vine, 14 inches, dragon heartstring. Mr. Ollivander told me that my being Muggle-born won't make any difference to my magic. Please work…" He pointed his wand at the lenses of his glasses, squinting a bit to see properly. "Tergeo!"

The spell funneled off the dust and smudges from the ovoid rimless lenses. Matt laughed and raised his polished glasses for the others to see, to their applause for his first success at magic.

"It worked!" Matt proclaimed, placing the pair back on his eyes and gasping at the spotless clarity of his vision. "It really worked! My wand obeyed me! I cast the spell on the first try! I can see so much better now! Thank you, Dallee! I'll never forget that spell, I promise!"

Daphne and Benjamin continued to use the Siphoning Spell to remove their thin fingerprints from the door and window, respectively. Their walnut and alder wands likewise obeyed them, to their great astounding. The older students happily acclaimed them.

Firiti crossed her legs and observed the beginner witch and wizards. "Daphne, Benjamin, Mathay, I am more than positive that you three will make fine students at Hogwarts."

"By the way," Colton playfully nudged his sister in the side. "You're an O.W.L. student now, aren't you, Firi?"

"Hmph!" Firiti pouted and poked her bottle of Pumpkin Juice in her snickering brother's stomach. "Don't remind me, you big bullying git. Do I look like I'm ready for my O.W.L.s to you?"

"O.W.L. student?" Benjamin furrowed his brow, and Daphne and Matt both shook with anxiety.

"Ordinary Wizarding Levels," Colton detailed for the youngsters. "Fifth-Year exams. You don't need to worry about them right now." He grabbed one of the last Pumpkin Pasties. "I'm in my Sixth Year now, a bloody N.E.W.T. student, that is. Nastily Exhausting Wizarding Tests, that's what they're called." He shuddered and shook his head skeptically. "Rubbish. I'm not looking forward to it."

"But you passed all your O.W.L.s, didn't you?" Firiti leaned on her brother's shoulder.

Colton chewed meditatively on the Pasty. "Five Outstandings, three Exceeds Expectations and two Acceptables." He swallowed and nuzzled his sister's cheek. "Don't worry, Firi. How about we help each other study, huh?"

Firiti tapped her brother teasingly on the nose and drank deeply from her Pumpkin Juice. "Brilliant idea, brother. But just don't do it at your own expense, all right?"

"You have nothing to worry about, yourselves," Dallee assured the three future Hogwarts students. "As long as you have your own back and look after yourselves, you'll be able to achieve great things."

"I agree!" a new voice spoke from the door. Everyone turned to see a silver-gray Fox leaning relaxed against the glass frame. He wore a large black robe with dark blue trim, a stark contrast to his glossy fur.

"Lemme tell you sumthin', mates," the Fox elucidated to the children. "Everybody else on this train once stood in the same position where ya are now, beginners at Hogwarts. We were nervous, anxious, clueless outta our minds. Mental! Yet, through hard work, determination, perseverance, persistence, and sheer dumb luck, we've made it far. We've succeeded where we wanted to. You can do the same. Give it everything you've got, and you will see loads of amazing things happen. Aye, there's magic at Hogwarts; but there's magic inside you, too. It's up to you to know where to find it, and decide how you choose to use it."

"Carver Darkclaw!" Colton jumped to his feet to greet the Fox.

Carver Darkclaw grinned and pulled the Mouse into a strong bear hug. "Hey, Cole! Good to see you!" He patted Colton heartily on the back and then hugged Firiti and Dallee together, blushing lightly as they planted sweet kisses on his cheeks.

"Lookee here, mates!" Carver pulled out a corner of his robe. Upon it was pinned a silver-blue badge with a cursive letter P embellished in the center.

"Whoa!" Colton's eyes grew rounder than Galleons. "You're Prefect!"

"You're a Prefect, Carver?" Firiti gaped in surprise at the Fox. "Why didn't you tell us?"

Carver released the mice and shrugged. "I wanted to surprise you, I guess? Wanna know who's my partner?" He winked knowingly with a sneaky smirk.

"Don't tell us," Dallee guessed, rubbing her chin thoughtfully. "Annie Slates?"

"Aye!" Carver threw his paws up in the air comically. "That's her! Our fine gal, Annie!"

"I knew she'd be picked!" Firiti nodded and sat back down. "Oh, she's a right smart girl, Annie is. She'll do so well as Prefect. I'm sure you two will work perfectly together. Will you give her our congratulations for us?"

Carver nodded and smoothed out his robes. "I most certainly will." He stepped back to let a female Ermine First Year pass by on her way to the bathroom, before hanging his arms over the window. "Anyways, I was just makin' my rounds, checkin' to make sure everythin' is goin' well here. No trouble, I hope? Do you kids need anythin'?"

Benjamin perked up and hopped off his sofa to approach the Fox. "Carver, do you think we'll be good enough wizards for Hogwarts?"

Carver stared sincerely at the Mouse. "Ye must be Benjamin, aye? Dallee has told me a lot about ye." His face turned solemn; his voice was mentor-like. "Ask yerself this question, Benjamin: do ye think you'll be a good enough wizard for yerself?"

Benjamin averted his eyes, thinking deeply. Matt and Daphne also took a quizzical gander at each other, both wondering the same thing.

Finally, Benjamin met Carver's eyes. "Yes, I do. I mean, I don't know yet. I don't know if I'll be a good enough wizard for myself."

"Ye know what, Benjamin?" Carver reached out and patted the Suntail boy's head. "That is a perfectly normal feelin'. That is the correct answer. I promise ye will discover who ye are at Hogwarts, that's what it's for. What ye an' the other First Years are feelin' an' thinkin' is natural. I once felt like that, too, as did your family. Always remember: Hogwarts choose you."

"Hogwarts…chose us?" Matt gasped, holding his Pumpkin Pasty halfway to his mouth.

Carver nodded assuringly. "Indeed, it did, little squirrel. It sent ye its acceptance letter in the post, didn't it? The fact alone that ye crossed the barrier at Platform Nine and Three-Quarters means ye answered its call."

"So, if we give all o' our best," Daphne asked. "Does that mean we'll succeed an' fin' ourselves, too?"

"Indeed, otter miss," Carver bowed his head to her courteously. "Yet, ye must experience it for yerself."

The awestruck wizards and witch-to be gasped and stared wide-eyed at each other, their faces pure portraits of excitement.

Carver pulled his arms out of the window and stuffed his paws into his robes, his face radiating encouraging anticipation. "Anyway, sumthin' to think about. Colton, best of luck with yer N.E.W.T.s. Firiti, we can study together for our O.W.L.s, have no fear. Dallee, take good care of yer brother." The Fox shuffled his trainers and made to take off down the hall.

"Wait, Carver!" Daphne jumped to her feet and called after Carver. "Before you leave, would you please honor us with a magic spell?"

Carver chuckled at Daphne. "I'd love to, miss, for ye an' the beautiful ladies here." He drew his wand from his robes and traced a circle in the air. "Orchideous!"

A bouquet of brilliant daisies burst out from the tip of his wand. He deftly caught it in his other paw and presented it formally to Daphne, who practically swooned as she gratefully accepted it. Carver conjured two more of the same for the smitten Dallee and Firiti.

"Steel yerselves, witches and wizards! The time draws near! Hogwarts is calling! Answer it!"

Benjamin, Daphne, and Matt nodded in agreement with one another as Carver left. The signs told true. It was close!

Benjamin later went out into the hallway to find a bathroom for his sticky sugary paws. A few Prefects patrolling the train generously pointed him in the right direction. The door to the bathroom opened as he reached it, and a yellow-brown Ermine stepped out.

"Oh!" the Ermine jumped in surprise as she saw him. "You startled me!"

"Sorry, miss!" Benjamin stepped back apologetically. "I didn't know you were still in there. I only needed to wash my paws." He showed her his paws coated in chocolate and sugar.

The Ermine stood aside and gestured to the bathroom door. "Go right ahead. I was on my way out."

Benjamin methodically washed his paws and mouth in the sink and frowned at the unnaturally sorry drenched state of the rectangular glass mirror. The Ermine was standing patiently against the wall as he came back out.

"Some idiot threw water on the mirror and faucet and made a mess everywhere. Do you know who did it?"

The Ermine shrugged back defensively. "It wasn't me; I can tell you that. Probably a First-Year just like us. Somebeast who had a little too much fun cleaning their paws, I'll warrant." She offered her paw. "Wotcher, I'm Severia Avelle-Livenworth."

"Benjamin Suntail," Benjamin gladly shook Severia's delicate paw. "I think I've loosely heard of the Avelle-Livenworth name. Do your parents work for the Ministry of Magic?"

Severia showed her fangs and nodded slyly. "Aye, that they do! My mother is Aria Avelle-Livenworth, one of the Ministry's top Aurors! My father Daxter Livenworth works in the Department of Mysteries. Curious stuff."

She raised her nose haughtily in the air and looked Benjamin firm in the eyes, smirking. "Mark my words, Benjamin. I plan to be the best witch in my family, and graduate top of my House every single year! I want to become a prominent name in the Ministry of Magic just like my parents! I don't give a Fire Crab's arse who gets in my way! Suffice to say I don't fancy anything less than the best!"

She pulled her wand from her robes. "Matter of fact, I've already been practicing a spell, to get ahead of everybody else. Observe, Benjamin." Reopening the bathroom, she waved her wand in a simple S pattern. "Scourgify!"

The water was siphoned off the mirror and faucet faster than the blink of an eye, and they gleamed shiny and spotless as new.

Benjamin laughed and clapped his paws together. "That was amazing, Severia! It'll be clean now for the next creature who uses it." He closed the door and nodded at Severia. "You'll succeed at Hogwarts with that attitude. I don't doubt that."

"What about you, Benjamin?" Severia pocketed her wand and palmed her chin, watching the Mouse interestedly. "What do you plan to specialize in at Hogwarts?"

Benjamin scratched his head thoughtfully and walked back down the hall. "I've always been interested in astronomy. I would love to learn to be an astronomer at Hogwarts."

Severia nodded in agreement. "That sounds like an exciting career, Benjamin. Can you please answer an astronomical question for me? My parents have debated this for ages." She put her paws in her pockets and followed him. "Will the Sun become a black hole in the next one billion years, or will it not?"

Benjamin walked with her. His face lit up at the opportunity to be asked this hot topic. "The answer is no, Severia. The Sun will not become a black hole at the end of its lifetime. Why? Because it's not big enough. Allow me to explain.

The Sun lacks what is called a companion star, a member of a binary star system to consume mass from to reach the appropriate size of a black hole. Instead, in the next one billion years, the Sun will burn out its hydrogen fuel and then start burning helium. Astronomers predict that it may become a red giant, and then a white dwarf."

Severia's eyes widened, the unexpected answer having enlightened her. "Really? Is that true? I never knew that. Now, though, I wish I did know that earlier. Well, guess what? When I'm at Hogwarts, I'll make an astronomical discovery that nobeast else has found yet. I'd better write to my parents what you told me, so they can finally end their bogus debate. Again, thank you, Benjamin."

They stopped at her compartment. Severia placed her paws on the sliding glass and turned around to face Benjamin. "Good luck with your astronomy, Benjamin. I truly mean that. Even so, I plan to be the best witch in our Year. I'll leave everyone else in my dust. I dare you to try to catch up to me."

Benjamin smiled confidently back. "Confidence can get you far enough, Severia. But without the brains to back it up, you won't step another foot down the road."

Severia sneered from ear to ear once more. "Depends on who paved the road, Benjamin. Rest assured; I plan to pave it myself. You'd better know how to walk it. See you at school."

Severia reentered her compartment. Benjamin chuckled assuredly to himself.

"Don't worry, Severia," he whispered to the closed door. "I've been walking that road for ten years."

Hogsmeade Station

The Hogwarts Express continued its course into the night, drawing ever nearer and nearer to its legendary destination.

Benjamin had fallen asleep in Dallee's lap several minutes ago, peacefully dreaming colorful visions of space. His mind's eye saw blankets of shining stars and illustrated constellations, planets spinning on their axes, fleeting streaks of comets passing by, and the occasional meteorites crashing on planet surfaces.

He barely understood what it meant.

He woke from his slumber half an hour later and turned onto his back to look into the captivating teenage pink eyes of his sister. The siblings exchanged kisses, and she helped him sit up straight.

Firiti was stretched horizontally across the sofa, immersed within The Standard Book of Spells, Grade 5 and tracing spell outlines with her wand, her feet against the wall. Colton was standing on the couch organizing the contents of his main trunk in the overhead bin. Daphne and Matt were having an intellectual conversation about histories of each witch and wizard on their Chocolate Frog cuddled Benjamin close to her and lovingly stroked his ear tufts.

She removed the charmed Horologium from his trunk. He pressed the small button on the device's underside to convert it to its analog clock form and adjust it to the Scotland time zone. The planets, stars, and constellations drifted to their respective places in the night sky of the Scottish Highlands.

The train drifted into Hogsmeade Station exactly on schedule. Benjamin, Matt, and Daphne pressed their eager surprised faces against the glass, craning their necks to detect something in the distance.

"I don't believe it…Am I seeing what I think I'm seeing?!"

"Is…is that it? We've arrived? Yes, we have!"

"I must be dreamin'! No, I ain't dreamin'! This is it! We made it! We're 'ere!"

Dressed in their school robes, the sextet climbed out of the train and onto the sidewalk. Firiti pointed out a burly golden Wildcat standing near the ticket booth, holding an orange lantern and a lit wand.

"This way here, First Years! Follow me, please!"

"Go on, Ben." Dallee urged him to go follow the Wildcat.

"What?" Benjamin turned around, his brow furrowed in confusion and worry. "What about you? Where are you going?"

"We'll be traveling a different way, by carriages," Colton explained with an indicative wink. "But you three get loads of breathtaking scenery."

"It's okay, Ben. We'll meet you there. Go on, you'll be fine. You're safe." Dallee hugged Benjamin before he tentatively broke away to heed the call.

The Wildcat tipped the short-brimmed leather cap on his golden head at the crowd of new students gathering around the light of his lantern. "Aradir Dordrac, Keeper of Keys and Grounds at Hogwarts at yar service! It is a tremendous honor te meet Hogwarts's fledglings! I've been doing it fer years and it never gets old! Now, if ya'd be so kind as te follow me, we can get our official transport te tha school underway."

They traversed a shady path to the edges of an enormously vast dark lake. A vast fleet of small boats sat around the edges of this lake. Dordrac waved his wandlight and lantern over this fleet.

"Three te each boat, please! Three te each boat, thankee!"

Benjamin, Matt, and Daphne piled into a boat. Matt on the stern side instinctively gripped the lantern pole, thinking to hold on for his life. Daphne in the middle happily ran her paws through the water, as if imagining herself swimming in its calm flowing waves; the daisy bouquet rested safely in her lap. Benjamin sat at the bow in wordless wonder and curiosity. The boat pushed right off the bank and dipped into the water.

It sailed at a moderately passive speed, taking its time to traverse the smooth waters of what was known as the Black Lake. On either side stood steep sloping mountain ranges spreading as far as the eyes could see, and farther beyond. In the far distance, a mythical magical castle emerged from the thick fog, growing larger and larger with the decreasing distance as the boats drew closer and closer.

This castle towered mightily over the students as their boats smoothly turned a corner to stop at a small landing stage on the other side of the Lake. Dordrac climbed out of his boat first and directed every other one to ensure that each student got out safely. After a rapid headcount, he relit his wand and his lantern, swung on his heels, and led the way through another mysterious path.

Benjamin's jaw dropped at the astonishing sight materializing in the fog, Daphne's eyes grew as round as the full moon, and Matt gasped out loud breathlessly.

They read the immortal words engraved upon the magical stone.

Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry