1 September 1992
It was hard to say goodbye. Dil never thought that he'd be standing at King's Cross Station in London, leaving to go away to school. Away from his friends. Away from his family. Away from Tommy, who had just turned thirteen. It had been a month and then some since he found out the truth about himself, and he still couldn't believe it. A kid that believed in aliens and the Lochness Monster, walked backwards, wore a sherpa hat, and spoke seven different languages was a wizard? Hopefully, he'll have better luck at this school than at the primary school. Maybe he'll make a friend or two.
Just one friend would be nice… One friend, who got him...
Now, his biggest worry was where to find the bloody platform. Sighing, Dil strides toward a conductor, now patrolling the area between Platforms Nine and Ten.
"Oi, sir! Do you know how to get to Platform Nine-and-Three-Quarters?"
A bemused expression appears on the man's face. "Get lost, kid."
Dil's heart sinks, as he pushes his trolley toward a bench. He slumps down and gazes at his wristwatch. 10:55. Five more minutes and he'll miss his train. Groaning plaintively, Dil ponders his next move. Call his parents and beg for a ticket back to East Devon? Wait for someone to help him?
Who was he kidding? No one, sane enough, would help an eleven-year-old kid in a sherpa hat pushing a trolley containing a caged barn owl named Izzy and a trunk. He wished that McGonagall woman had the sense to at least tell him how to get to Nine-and-Three-Quarters, if it existed.
Come on, Dil. Believe. Believe!
"Hello, you look in need of help," a dreamy voice breaks him out of his thoughts. The speaker, a girl with straggly dirty-blonde hair that reached to her waist, stood before him with a pensive gaze in her grey eyes.
The girl motioned at Izzy. "Are you starting at Hogwarts, too?"
Thank the aliens from Alpha Centauri! "Y-yeah. I am. Er...I'm Dil Pickles."
"Luna Lovegood." She takes Dil's hand in a firm shake. "It's a pleasure to meet you, Dil."
"Yeah, er, how do you get onto the platform, Luna?"
"It's really quite simple," Luna said, with a smile of understanding. "Break out into a run at that metal ticket box-" she pointed at the metal barrier dividing Nine and Ten. "-and you're at Nine-and-Three-Quarters."
That girl is nutters, Tommy would be saying right now. However, Dil knew that this was all he had on...if he wanted to get to school.
"Come now," Luna spoke, her voice gentle and assuring. "It's not going to hurt you."
"OK," Dil manages a response. "I-guess."
"Shall we go together?"
With a jerky nod, Dil gets up from the bench and pushes his trolley closer to the barrier. Luna strides up beside him with her own trolley.
"You alright, Dil?" she spoke. "I detect Wrackspurts."
Dil's brow furrows. "Wrack-what?"
"Wrackspurts. They're invisible. They float in through your ears and make your brain go fuzzy. They're quite common."
Dil holds a hand toward his ears, deep in thought. Nodding, he turns to the girl next to him. "Huh...that explains why my thoughts have been jumbled up lately. That and the nervousness. Er…"
"To dispel a infestation of Wrackspurts, Dil, you must think positive thoughts. You'll feel much more relaxed and your brain won't feel...jumbled."
She gazes at the clock on the platform. "Three minutes. We should go."
"OK." Dil felt better. Maybe he'll make it to school, and he'd already met a friend.
"As ready as I'll ever be."
The two ran toward the barrier. Dil shut his eyes, as he ran closer to the metal wall.
Sayanara, I guess.
Positive thoughts, Dil. Positive thoughts! Positive…
"Dil!" Luna's voice echoes in his head. "Open your eyes."
Trembling, Dil opens his eyes and found himself in a most unbelievable place.
He spots an old, 1830s era scarlet, 4-6-0 steam engine up ahead, next to a platform packed with eccentric people, like the McGonagall woman, wearing robes. The overhead sign said Hogwarts Express, eleven o'clock. Cats of numerous colors weave around Dil's legs. Owls screech at one another, with Izzy hopping around his cage excitedly. Dil glances behind him at the wrought-iron archway, where the barrier had been. His eyes made out the words Platform Nine and Three-Quarters.
Dil smiles with relief. I did it. Must be the work of aliens. Not paying attention to the people, parents and students alike, bustling around him, he gazes about the platform.
"Dil, look out!" Luna cries, the dream-like tone replaced by that of concern.
"Are you some kind of idiot? Watch where you're going!"
Dil snaps out of attention. His trolley had collided with that of a slender, pale boy of about twelve. With sleek white-blond hair, the boy's sharp, pointed features were twisted into a sneer, directed at Dil and Luna. His eyes were grey, like Luna's, but they were cold as ice unlike her gentle, dreamlike grey. The boy wore robes with the school crest identical to the one on Dil's acceptance letter to Hogwarts.
"Well, well," the boy now spoke in an arrogant drawl. "If it isn't Loony Lovegood."
Dil tries to suppress a groan. Oh boy, the male version of Angelica.
Luna only responds with a calm smile. "Hello, Draco."
Two thickset boys also in Hogwarts robes, appear on each side of the boy named Draco. "Loony about to start Hogwarts with her little friend," he kept taunting. He turns to Dil. "Who're you?"
"Dil Pickles, my good man."
The cold grey narrow. "'Dil Pickles'? What kind of name is 'Dil Pickles'?"
"I dunno. What kind of name is 'Draco'?"
Silence. The two cronies, the meaner versions of Artie Ludwick, crack their knuckles simultaneously. Dil gulps. Me and my big mouth.
"Obviously a Mudblood," Draco hissed aside at one of them. Glaring at Dil, he inches closer. "You better watch your step, Pickles...if you know what's good for you." He turns to his cronies. "Come, Crabbe. Goyle."
Dil gazes after the departing trio, with a vacant expression.
"Who was that bloke?" He wonders, as he and Luna, now boarded on the Hogwarts Express, meander up and down the carriage in search for a free compartment.
"Oh, that was Draco Malfoy," Luna responds, retaining a serene tone to her voice. "Don't pay any attention to him."
She spots an empty compartment just ahead and waves Dil over.
"So..." he starts, sitting down. "You know Draco Malfoy from somewhere? You guys go to primary school together?"
"Oh, no," Luna replies, sitting across from him. "Draco is a year above us. We often see each other in Diagon Alley. His father is a Hogwarts school governor and very influential in the Ministry of Magic. You mustn't let him bother you, Dil. He's quite harmless."
"Harmless?!" Dil splutters, stunned at his new friend's oblivious and calm nature. "Luna, did you not see him...and those two big kids? He called you 'Loony,' and me a Mudblood or whatever.
"What is a Mudblood, anyway?"
A trace of sadness appears in Luna's silver-grey eyes. "Mudblood is a derogatory term for Muggle-borns. It's mostly used by the older Pureblood families who don't believe Muggle-borns and half-bloods are acceptable in wizarding society."
"That's rubbish!" Dil exclaimed. "Man, that McGonagall lady didn't mention anything about that!"
"You've met Professor McGonagall?"
Dil nods. "Yeah. Didn't you? How'd you know about Hogwarts… and about Platform Nine and Three-Quarters?"
Luna laughs. "Daddy told me."
"Your dad's a wizard?"
"Um-hmm. I take it, you're Muggle-born. Hogwarts usually sends a member of their staff to deliver their Hogwarts letter and explain to their parents about our world. I suppose Professor McGonagall was a great choice. I've heard she's quite fair."
"And strict, it seems," Dil adds. "She gave my cousin Angelica a run for her money. I don't think anyone has spoken to her like that...ever, well there was Mrs. Guppinshire, her science teacher..." Something out the window causes Dil to trail off.
"What is it, Dil?" Luna questions. "Do you see something? A Blibbering Humdinger?"
"No…" Dil manages to respond, his eyes widening. "I see...a...FLYING CAR!"
A light blue Ford Anglia zooms into view, traveling along above them.
Luna's pale brow furrows. "Hmmm, that's strange. I've never seen a Ford Anglia that has been able to fly. I suspect it has been modified."
"With magic, I suppose," Dil spoke, the pitch of his voice unnaturally high. His mind hammered at him to change the subject. Forget about the bloody car. "Er...Luna, you know about the four houses? McGonagall said they were Gryffindor, Ravenclaw, Hufflepuff and Slytherin, and that a Sorting Hat will be sorting us."
"Precisely," Luna replies, with a smile. "Daddy was in Ravenclaw House during his time at school. I suspect I'll be in Ravenclaw as well. Family members are often Sorted into the same house...although there are some exceptions."
"So, your mum was also in Ravenclaw?"
Dil noticed a distant gaze in Luna's eyes. "Yes. She was."
"I wonder how they Sort Muggle-borns," Dil quickly asks, changing the subject from Luna's parents. "Hopefully, I'll get Ravenclaw. From what Angelica has told me, kids placed in different Houses become enemies. Although, Tommy says different...and that she's making that up..."
"Then perhaps this Tommy is correct," Luna said. "Sometimes the closest friends people make at Hogwarts are in different houses. The four Founders first started out as friends."
"Wicked," Dil said. "So, if we're placed in different houses, we'll still be friends?"
Luna's grey eyes sparkle. "Of course, Dil."
The Hogwarts Express approaches the Scottish border, as Dil and Luna change into their school uniforms, black robes with the school crest. Separated from his new friend in a compartment with two other first year boys, Dil's thoughts buzzed. As the boys chatted excitedly about someone named Harry Potter, Dil wondered how Tommy and the others were doing. Tommy, Phil, Lil, and Kimi would all be starting third form at the local secondary school, and Chuckie, fourth form. Susie and Angelica would be in fifth form. He missed them all, even Angelica! Shaking his head at the thought, Dil turns to leave the compartment. Someone taps his shoulder. Dil whips around to meet the gaze of one of the boys, the smaller one with mousy brown hair. He was holding Dil's sherpa hat.
"You dropped this."
Dil takes his hat from him. "Oh, thanks, mate."
"No problem." The boy then continues talking to his companion, as Dil slips out of the compartment. Wearing the school robes and hat, Dil gazes wistfully at the sherpa in his hands.
"Dil?" He hears Luna's voice. He glances at his friend with an expression of discomfort.
"What's the matter?" she wonders.
Dil sighs. "This'll sound so stupid, but I feel different without my sherpa. I'm just not Dil Pickles without it."
"I see what you mean," Luna spoke, in a gentle tone. It was then that Dil finally noticed a slight Irish lilt in the girl's cheerful and dreamy voice. "Come, I have an idea."
She directs him back to their compartment. Dil stood nervously as Luna grabs her wand.
"What're you doing?" he burst out.
"Relax." Luna takes his hat and points the wand at it. "Daddy taught me. Reducto!"
With widened eyes, Dil watches as his beloved sherpa shrinks to the size of a coin. He remembered that day in Diagon Alley, when he got his school supplies surrounded by magic. He had read about it in books, heard his mum and dad read stories about it as a baby. Seeing someone perform magic...real magic before his eyes, changed everything.
"How- how can I change it back?"
Luna smiles. "Get your wand, Dil."
Shaking, Dil reaches inside his knapsack and pulls out the stick that now tied him to the wizarding world. Eleven and a quarter inches, with a core of unicorn hair, wood made of rowen, and pleasantly springy, the wand still felt odd in his hands.
"The engorgement charm is quite simple. Simply...engorgio." The hat grows to its normal size. "You try."
Dil repeated the process, leading his new friend to beam with delight at how quickly he had learned. Shrinking the sherpa again, Luna takes it and attaches it to a piece of string. She gently places the handmade pendant around Dil's neck. "There you are. You're still Dil Pickles...but Dil Pickles, the wizard."
Dil Pickles, the wizard. "And when I go back to the Muggle world-"
"You change your sherpa back to the original size and wear it, as usual."
Dil grins. "Wicked! Thanks, Luna." He sits down and reaches into his knapsack for his notepad. "I want to show you something. My alien expose."
"Ooh! What are aliens?"
Dil shakes his head. "You have so much to learn about the extraterrestrial, Luna Lovegood. You see, I've been doing research...spanning the last three years-"
He begins talking, with Luna listening attentively. No laughing. No blank stare. No expression of confusion. Dil's heart lifts, knowing he had made the right decision to attend Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.
A voice echoes throughout the compartment, stating that they would be five minutes from their destination and to leave their luggage on the train for it would be taken to the school separately. Dil balks at this, but Luna didn't seem worried. The train comes to a complete stop as Dil and Luna join their new schoolmates out on the dark platform. Dil figured it must be evening by now. The students huddle together in the cold darkness, shivering as a chill blew through.
A light appears in the darkness.
"Firs' years! Firs' years over here!" Dil hears the cry of Hagrid, the gamekeeper who brought Dil to Diagon Alley comes into view. He liked Hagrid; he thought he was a cool bloke who talked about dragons...who exactly existed. The exalted Dil believed he was one step closer to proving the existence of aliens. Well, he thought.
Dil and Luna link arms, as they and their classmates follow Hagrid down a steep, narrow path. Dil's stomach twisted into a knot, as they kept walking. No one spoke much. Some of the smaller first years slip and stumble in the pitch blackness.
"Jus' round this bend...yeh'll get yer firs' sight of Hogwarts," Hagrid calls over, causing Dil to jump. The narrow path opened suddenly onto the edge of a seemingly giant lake. Perched atop a cliff on their other side, was Dil's future school. A great castle with numerous turrets and towers, Hogwarts was like nothing Dil had ever seen before.
"Whoa! Wicked! This is where we're going to school?"
Luna merely smiles at him.
"No more'n four to a boat now!" Hagrid cries.
A fleet of little boats sat in the water by the shore. Hagrid took one boat for himself due to his larger than usual size. Dil figured Hagrid had been abducted by aliens and was made into a giant due to an experiment gone wrong.
Luna and Dil were followed into their boat by two first year girls.
With Hagrid's cry, all of the little boats moved off at once as if by magic. Everyone made sounds of awe as they grew closer to the castle towering over them. They were carried along a dark tunnel and Dil wondered if they were underneath the castle.
They stop at an underground harbor and clamber out toward a passageway in the rock. They walk up a flight of steps and finally stop at the huge, oak front door. Hagrid knocks three times and the door swings open revealing a very familiar person.
It was Minerva McGonagall, the strict deputy headmistress that had come to Dil's house and told him and his family that he was a wizard. He wondered if she recognized him at all.
"I will take them from here," she spoke to Hagrid. Professor McGonagall then led the anxious first years through the entrance hall. The stone walls were lit with flaming torches, causing Dil to feel as though he had been transported back several centuries. She led them into a small chamber down the hall.
"Welcome to Hogwarts," Professor McGonagall spoke to them, her stern eyes scrutinizing the first years before her. Before you take your seats in the Great Hall, you will be sorted into your houses. This ceremony is important, as your House will be like your family during your time at Hogwarts. You will share classes with the rest of your House, sleep in your House dormitory, and spend free time in your House common room.
"The four houses are Gryffindor, Hufflepuff, Ravenclaw, and Slytherin. Any triumphs will earn you house points. Any rule-breaking and you will lose points. At the end of the year, the house with the most points is awarded the house cup.
"I shall return when we are ready for you. Please wait quietly."
She leaves the chamber. Dil exhales a deep breath. Most of the first years were silent, save for a few now whispering anxiously to their companions.
"Quite intense, eh?" Dil murmurs.
Luna nods. "Um-hmm. Quite."
"You think we'll both end up in Ravenclaw?"
"It's possible, Dil."
"I wouldn't worry about the houses," a voice tinged with irritation spoke up. One of the girls that rode with Dil and Luna in the boat stands defiantly near them. With long, curly brunette hair and sharp, aristocratic features, the girl peers at the two with gleaming amber eyes.
"What do you mean?" Dil spoke.
"Exactly what I mean, oh clueless one. Don't worry about the houses. In the early days, the Hogwarts founders handpicked students for their houses that value the same characteristics that they value themselves. Gryffindor valued bravery and nerve. Hufflepuff, hard work and inclusion. Ravenclaw, wit and uniqueness. Slytherin valued..." The girl breaks off with a shudder.
"Ambition," a red headed girl spoke up, with a fire in her brown eyes that reminded Dil of Kimi and Lil. He recognized her as the other girl that rode in the boat with him and Luna. "And in my opinion, pure-blood supremacy."
"Exactly." The brunette said, with a nod. "I'd rather chew off my own toe nails than to end up in Slytherin House."
Dil nods. Heh, Slytherin must be the evil house. Angelica would be a perfect fit. "I just hope Luna and I are in the same house. What about you guys?"
"Gryffindor," said the redhead. "All my family's been."
"Anywhere but Slytherin, obviously." The brunette rolls her eyes to the ceiling. "I was unfortunate enough to come from a family that were all sorted into that wretched house."
Dil wondered if the girl's family was among the pure blood wizards and witches that hated Muggle-borns. He opens his mouth to introduce himself, when Professor McGonagall returns.
"We are ready. Form a line and follow me."
With that, the stern witch led the line of first years toward the Great Hall. Dil, his legs heavy as lead, walks directly behind a confident Luna. The brunette and redhead follow behind him.
The Great Hall was lit by thousands of candles, floating in midair over four long tables, laid with golden plates and goblets. So much for the stereotype of bad cafeteria food, Dil thought. The teachers all sat at a long table along the top of the hall, where the first years came to a halt in a line facing the older students. Dil's stomach churns, as he gazed at the older kids staring and scrutinizing him and his classmates. Not for the first time, Dil yearned for Tommy's company and moral support. He felt Luna take his hand in his own and squeeze it tightly. Dil turns to her and grins. At least I have Luna. Oh, please, please let us be in the same house.
Among the older students, Dil spots a few misty silver figures. Ghosts. Wicked, this school has everything!
The Sorting Hat, a pointed wizard's hat worn and dirty from age, twitches on the stool in front of the first years. To Dil's disbelief, the hat began to sing.
The hall burst into applause once the hat finished its song, with Dil shaking his head. Professor McGonagall steps forward, holding a long roll of parchment.
"When I call your name, you will put on the hat to be sorted. Allen, Henry!"
A trembling blond boy stumbled out of line, puts on the hat, and sat down.
The table on the right cheers as Henry went to sit down. The ghost of a plump little monk waves at him.
The table second from left clapped as the small raven haired girl joins them.
The first new Gryffindor was the mousy haired boy from the train. "Creevey, Colin" waves at Dil as he joined the table on the far left, now exploding with cheers and whistles.
The sorting continues, and Dil starts worrying as the alphabet grows closer and closer to the Ps. He wonders what would happen if the hat failed to put him in a house. Would he have no choice but to take the next train back to London?
An arrogant looking dark-skinned boy swaggers to the stool and placed the hat upon his head. Within seconds, the hat screams "SLYTHERIN!"
Dil utters a snort, as the boy went to join the table on the far right. Draco Malfoy shakes Kieran's hand, with a confident smirk on his face. It should be Angelica House, not Slytherin House.
Dil's thoughts return to his own worries. Some kids were sorted within a few seconds like Henry Allen, the Hufflepuff, and the Harper bloke. But sometimes it took a little longer, like with Colin. What if it took ages...like the whole evening to sort him?
Dil's face pales at the sound of his new friend's name. "Good luck, Luna," he offers, weakly.
She smiles. "Thank you, Dil." She then glides to the stool and places the hat on her head. Dil watches anxiously as she sat on the stool.
Dil claps with the Ravenclaw table, as Luna strides over to join her new housemates.
Sighing heavily, the brunette at Dil's other side clumps to the stool and sits down. She places the hat on her head. A couple of minutes pass by and Dil was curious of what the hat would shout.
Dil swallowed. Poor Carolyn. With lips pursed and a blaze in her amber eyes, Carolyn strides toward the Slytherin table, as her classmates now cheer loudly. She ignores the offered hands and slumps down far enough away from the others.
A few more kids were sorted and then-
At last! Dil strides toward the stool, heart hammering in his chest. Colin and Luna offer waves from their respective tables. The redhead, yet to be sorted, smiles his way. Dil then sits down and drops the hat over his head.
"Hmm," said a small voice in his ear. "Difficult. Quite difficult. A Muggle-born, I see. Plenty of courage. Not a bad mind either. There's talent, I see. Where do I put you?"
Ravenclaw, please, please. Ravenclaw.
"Ravenclaw, eh? Are you quite sure? I see different. Oh, yes, you have a wit about you and you possess the qualities of wise, old Ravenclaw. Well, I see a brave one, with a lot of nerve. Oh, yes-"
Wait. No. Well, Luna said we'll be friends no matter what. I'm not that brave, am I?
"You are brave at heart, young one. You ought to know... Well then, you shall be put in- GRYFFINDOR!"
Dil exhales a sigh. Well, at least I got put into a house and I don't have to go home and face everyone, including Angelica. A cheer erupts from the Gryffindor table as he strides toward an empty seat next to an excited Colin.
"Cool! Welcome to Gryffindor. I'm Colin Creevey."
The redhead was the second to last to be sorted, as McGonagall calls "Weasley, Ginevra!" Dil quirked an eyebrow. Weasley must be a wizarding name like Lovegood.
The redhead rushed toward a pair of mischievous twin boys about the same age as Chuckie, who had flaming red hair like her. Colin clapped as his companion "Nigel Wolpert" was also made a Gryffindor. Professor McGonagall then rolls up her scroll and takes the Sorting Hat away.
Dil doesn't join in the conversation between Colin and Nigel, as he peers across at the Ravenclaw table in search of his friend. He and Luna finally link eyes. She smiles and waves. Dil waves back, forgetting the sinking motion of his stomach. Surrounded by a bunch of Tommys in Gryffindor, he now wonders why he wasn't placed in Ravenclaw with Luna. He could have insisted the hat on sorting him in Ravenclaw, but had been intrigued by the thought of Gryffindor and bravery. Was he brave? Maybe not like his brother, but it was a possibility. Obviously, that hat could see it.
Dil was in for an interesting experience at Hogwarts and he intended to make the most of it.