• Published 6th Dec 2012
  • 33,901 Views, 1,351 Comments

The Unicorn at Hogwarts. - Saphroneth

Chrysalis sent Twilight somewhere she could never return... just outside Hogwarts, in fact.

  • ...

The Train and the Hat

The Train and the Hat

(revised 13/5/13)

After some discussion, the Equestrians took the western side of the train, the side away from the platform – since that way they would get as much daylight as possible if the train kept going until dark. The train turned out to have compartments rather than being a single rail coach, and the large bench seats on each side were easily large enough that Twilight could sit/lie on one perpendicular to the direction of travel.

That actually rather relieved her. While she knew how Lyra could sit upright, it wasn’t very comfortable when she’d tried. She passed Spike his book and settled down with her own.

It was nearly an hour and a half of quiet, comfortable reading later that the outside world made itself known again, as the door was pushed open.

“Er, hello? Is there someone – oh. Er…” the voice tailed off into uncertainty.

Twilight looked up, and saw a possibly-young probably-male human standing in the doorway. He looked shocked, eyes darting between Spike and herself, and she gave a little wave. “Good morning.”

Apparently that helped, as he blinked and shook his head to clear it before starting to speak again. “Er… good morning yourself. I… sorry, this is hard to…”

“Try closing your eyes.” Twilight suggested. “Imagine we’re human.” It had worked for her the other way around.

The – colt? No, boy – gulped, and then closed his eyes. “O… okay. Sorry, I didn’t mean to disturb you, I was w-wondering if there was space in this compartment.”

Mentally, Twilight pigeonholed this boy’s personality as somewhat reminiscent of Fluttershy – timid, for sure, and probably not very self-assured.

“That’s alright. There’s some space.” Twilight made to nod at the engine end of the compartment, then realized there wasn’t any point because his eyes were closed. “I’m afraid I take up quite a lot of my seat, but the other one is mostly free. I’m Twilight Sparkle, by the way, and my assistant here is Spike. We’re both going to Hogwarts starting this year, at least until we can find a way home.”

Spike waved when his name was mentioned. This didn’t actually do anything, because the boy still had his eyes shut.

“I’m Neville – Neville Longbottom. I’m a first year as well. Er…” Neville opened his eyes, and breathed deeply. “I’m calm, I’m...”

“Are you feeling a bit overwhelmed?” Twilight said sympathetically. “I don’t blame you.”

“Yeah.” Neville shrugged helplessly. “I thought I’d be better off than the muggle-born students…”

“Oh, you’re from a wizarding family?” The unicorn asked, eyes lighting up. “If you don’t mind, I’ve got so many questions for you!” This was the first chance she had to speak to a student who’d grown up here – well, there were presumably some of the professors, but asking what they knew when they entered school would be a question they might find it tricky to answer over a decade after they’d done so…

Neville blinked. “Okay, but I don’t know how much help I’ll be.”

“Come on, sit down.” Twilight nodded to the seat opposite her, next to Spike. “I’d say next to me, but I’m afraid this is as close to how you sit as I can come.”

The boy giggled, then looked mortified.

Spike patted the seat. “Come on, you know what girls are like.” Then he frowned. “Actually, this will be the first time I’ve talked to a boy near my own age in… a long, long time.”

“Apart from Snips and Snails.” Twilight pointed out.

“Yeah, but they’re not exactly easy to have a conversation with. They’re nice, but most of what they talk about is magic.” Spike shrugged. “I’d have a lot more to talk to them about now than last week, actually…”

“Yeah, that’s true.” Twilight looked at Neville, to make sure he wasn’t upset at the conversation passing him by, but he didn’t seem to mind much.

Neville sat somewhat awkwardly, looked over at Spike, and then spent a moment staring at the phoenix perched on the curtain rail. “Is that a…”

“That’s Peewee.” Spike said. “He’s my pet, though apparently he’s also my familiar?” Spike looked slightly unsure. “I never asked, Twilight, what does familiar mean?”

“It’s a kind of magical bond.” Twilight dropped into explanation mode, which was like lecture mode but shorter. “It’s similar to how friendship and partnership create bonds. Originally, you and I had that kind of bond as well as others, but mine transferred to Owlowiscious when he became available. It’s…” she glanced at the boys, and skipped the maths. “…complicated. Anyway, familiar bonds do some strange things and are a bit hard to follow. They usually lead to an animal familiar becoming like the pony – or dragon, or I suppose human – who has them, which can have any number of effects.”

“Would that have affected me?” Spike asked, eyes flicking to the floor and then back to Twilight.

“…don’t know.” Twilight shrugged her shoulders. She wasn’t an expert on familiar bonds, at least not how they interacted with a creature already possessing full sentience.

“That’s… interesting?” Neville said, looking slightly lost. “Does that mean Trevor will have that happen to him?”

“Trevor?” Twilight blinked at the apparent non sequitur. Oh, perhaps he means he has a familiar? That’d make sense…

“Oh, sorry. He’s my toad.” Neville reached into a pocket of his trousers and pulled out a morose-looking toad. “My great-uncle got him for me when I got my Hogwarts letter last month – well, a bit more than that, but… er…”

Twilight took pity on him, and nodded at Trevor. “I’m no expert on animals, but he looks alright. At least he’s easier to handle than some of my friends’ pets.”

Spike shuddered. “That alligator…”

“One of your friends has an alligator?” Neville gaped. “Wow.”

Twilight winced as well, remembering her introduction to the reptile. “Gummy’s still young, so he doesn’t have any teeth yet – not that Pinkie would care much. But he’s got quite a nasty set of gums on him.”

“Huh.” The boy said, with a bit of a stunned-fish expression.

Twilight guessed that meant Neville still felt overwhelmed, and decided to give him a bit of space. With a nod, she went back to her book.

It was about ten minutes later that someone knocked on the door. “Excuse me? Is there room in here?”

Twilight looked around – she was occupying a surprisingly large amount of her side’s seat herself, and between them Spike and Neville, and their bags, more or less covered the other side of the compartment. “Er… depends. We could probably fit in someone small.”

“Nah, if it’s that cramped I won’t bother. Sorry to bother you,” the unknown voice said, sounding fairly understanding about it.

Spike looked up. “Well, they’re polite, at least.”

A voice dimly filtered through the door, saying something about having checked the compartment. A number of others replied, and then were drowned out in a more general murmur as the train began to fill in earnest.

Then the door slid open. “I can’t believe there’s a compartment full this-” the last word, which Twilight absently guessed was something along the lines of “early”, was never said.

“…hello?” Twilight said, giving a little wave at the boy. He looked older than Neville, but she hadn’t got her eye in to tell how much older yet.

The boy rubbed his eyes, and blinked them hard, staring at Twilight. “…bloody hell. Er, guys, there’s a talking unicorn in here.”

“What?” someone said incredulously.

“Come on, Davies, what’s really… bloody hell,” another boy with darker skin than most she’d seen so far said, coming into view. “You’re right, as well.”

A young – girl, not filly, Twilight reminded herself – poked her head in shyly. “Wow. You’re pretty.”

“Er, thanks.” Twilight looked over at Spike, who shrugged. That only drew attention to him, though.

“Lee, is that a dragon or are my eyes playing tricks on me?” Davies said.

“If it is a dragon, there’s something wrong with it,” The other boy, who was apparently ‘Lee’ replied. “Way too small.”

“Hey!” Spike said, stung. “There’s nothing wrong with me!”

Peewee chirped, and the heads of both boys and the girl – no, three boys and three girls now, as more and more crowded into the doorway – swung up to the phoenix, then across to Owlowiscious and down to Neville.

They seemed vaguely disappointed not to find a Manticore or something similar.

“All right, now, come on.” A female voice got steadily louder, approaching from the front of the train “Stop holding things up.”

“But Penelope.” Davies moaned.

“That’s Clearwater to you, Roger Davies. I don’t care if there is a talking unicorn on the train,” the voice continued sternly, “you’ll get to see it at Hogwarts and there’s no need to block the corridor.”

The speaker came into view, slowly pushing back the reluctant half-dozen young witches and wizards by dint of constant admonishment. Twilight noticed she was already in robes, and wore a badge with P marked on it on the front of them.

“Thank you.” Twilight said. “I don’t mind… much… but, well…”

“It’s my job.” Penelope Clearwater turned to look into the compartment for a moment. If she was actually surprised to see Twilight and Spike, she concealed it admirably well in Twilight’s opinion. “The prefects are supposed to keep order on the train as well as at Hogwarts, but I seem to be the only one bothering so far.”

Neville managed a twitchy shrug. “Better than nobody doing it.”

“Hmm… you’re a first year?” Neville nodded, and Penelope gave him a smile and nod. “Don’t worry, it seems a lot worse than it is, when you’re not there yet. Hope to see you in Ravenclaw. Right, come on, you lot – Lee Jordan.” There was a flash of red light. “I hope you’re not planning on messing around with that tarantula again.”

“Never fear,” Lee replied from out of Twilight’s eyeline, with an irrepressible bubble to his words.

“That is for Gryffindors. I hope you’ve at least made sure to get it properly registered, or it’ll be points once we reach the castle.” Penelope pulled their door to, and chivvied the gawkers along towards the back of the train.

Spike looked over at Neville. “You reacted better than they did.”

“Oh, thank you.” Neville looked surprised, but gratified. Twilight wondered if he’d been praised much, since he didn’t seem used to it. Or it could just be that he’s being praised by a creature which, to him, is almost as strange as a talking fish would be to me, she thought flippantly.

That wasn’t the end of it, not by a long shot. Every few minutes the compartment door opened slightly as someone peeked through, then either slammed it shut again or worked up the courage to introduce themselves. Always to Twilight, or to Spike, it seemed – very few took much notice of Neville, though those who did seemed pleased enough to see him. Childhood friends, or acquaintances, by the sound of it.

The train had been moving for a good half hour when the last pair of visitors – twin boys, who reminded Twilight of nothing less than Rainbow Dash in prank mode – finally left.

After spending a few more minutes just to be sure, she finally picked her book up again and opened it to the bookmark, getting down to some serious research again.

Spike put his book down. He liked reading about stuff, sure, but at this point they’d already been in the compartment nearly five hours and he was getting bored.

“Hey, Neville?” he ventured.

The boy looked up from his lap. “Y-yes?”

“Know any… I dunno, card games?” Spike’s hands waved as he tried to be general about it. “Anything would do, really.”

“Oh. Er, there’s exploding snap, but I don’t have a pack. Grandmother thinks it’s too dangerous.” Neville’s voice trailed off into a mumble with the last sentence.

Exploding snap?” Spike’s eyes glinted. “What’s that like?”

“Well, you put cards down from a face down pack, and when two that are the same are put down, you call out ‘snap’… and it explodes.” Neville accompanied his explanation with gestures.

Spike nodded. “Sounds fun. Pity you don’t have a deck, I’ll have to get one. Any others?”

The human boy frowned, thinking. “Well, there’s gobstones… I don’t know much about that one. My great-uncle tried to explain it to me, but grandmother stopped him and said it was rude.” Neville’s face lifted. “There’s chess, though. I have got a set of that.”

He pulled his trunk down (with help from Spike) and took out the chess set, then laid it out on the compartment’s table.

Spike watched the thirty-two miniature soldiers… well, some of them were castles, but that didn’t seem to change anything… as they marched to their positions. “Neat. How do you play?”

“It’s like normal chess – you don’t know that?” Neville’s lips moved as he tried to work out how to put it. “Okay, er… I think I remember how it works. Um… the pawns can move one square forward at a time, and they attack diagonally. There’s some other rules about them… can they move twice if they want to the first time?” he nodded to himself. “Yeah. And the rest of the pieces move and attack the same way. Rooks in straight lines, bishops in diagonal lines, the queen in both, and the knights… kind of jump.”

“Okay…” Spike looked at the board. “What about that one?”

“That’s the king. You have to keep him safe. If he’d be able to be attacked next turn, you have to save him – if you can’t, you lose.”

“Right.” Spike shrugged. “I’m sure I’ll pick it up.”

“Yeah…” Neville looked nervous, and fidgeted a bit. “I’m still learning, to be honest… the good thing is that wizarding chess pieces don’t make illegal moves. Actually, they sometimes shout advice…”

“Okay then. Let’s have a game. Who goes first?” Spike looked from one side of the board to the other. “They’re identical…”

“White does. I’ll be black – that is, if you don’t want to-?” Neville winced, thinking he’d perhaps been too presumptuous.

“That’s fine. Right… er, you?” Spike tapped a pawn in the middle of his line with a claw.

The pawn looked up at him, and managed to look unimpressed. Quite eloquent, for ivory.

“Forwards two spaces.” Spike ventured, crossing his claws.

With a silent sigh, the pawn trudged forwards.

Neville blinked. “They were never this bad-mannered with Grandmother. Er, king’s knight… forward and left?”

“Take the bishop! The bishop!”

“No!” Spike’s remaining knight said, shouting over the pawn. “The important one is that one there! The queen!”

Spike looked at the board, and tried to work out what would happen if he made a move. “Er… wait a minute. I can’t take the queen.”

“Not this turn! But if you move me over there, then I can get her!” the Knight said, waving his morningstar.

Spike shrugged; it seemed to make sense. He ordered the knight over. Neville quickly ordered his bishop to capture the knight, who had the good grace to look vaguely apologetic as he was smashed to bits by a mace.

“I told him.” The pawn sighed.

“Oh. Any chance we can still win?” Spike asked. It seemed like the pawn knew more than he did at the moment…

The pawn looked back at the rest of the white chess pieces. One bishop, two other pawns, and the king.

“If one of us pawns makes it to the other side of the board, we get promoted to something better. That’s about it.”

“Well, let’s give it a go.” Spike shrugged.

The pawn saluted.

Spike had to admit, talking game pieces really helped you get into the game. He felt a bit like a captain in charge of an army.

The door slid open. “They’re saying all down the train there’s some sort of animal in this department. Oh, and it looks like they were right.”

Spike looked up from the game, and saw Twilight putting her book back down again. The person who’d spoken (in a tone of deep contempt) was a blond boy. He was short, about the same size as Neville, and had two extremely large boys behind him doing what Spike could only think of as a loom.

“Hello.” Twilight said, politely. “I’m Twilight Sparkle. What’s your name?”

All three of the newcomers blinked, though the one in front recovered quickly. “Draco Malfoy. And you,” he turned and looked at Neville, “Must be Neville Longbottom. Father made sure I’d recognize all the proper families.”

“Proper?” Twilight asked.

“Proper wizards. Who know our culture.” Draco sounded as if it was obvious. “Not like you’d know, I suppose. It’s bad enough they let muggleborns in, but at least they’re human.”

Spike stood up quickly, chess game forgotten. “Hey! Twilight’s smarter than you are, I bet!”

“Spike!” Twilight said, shooting him a glance.

“I doubt it,” Draco said, his whole tone carrying years of practice at sneering. He’d have fit in well with the worse part of the advisory parliament. “Everyone with a basic magical education knows unicorns are beasts, not beings. Well, Longbottom, it’s nice of you to care for the livestock, but I’m sure you know who the right sort are.”

Neville looked down, not saying anything.

After a few more seconds, as if waiting for something, Draco stepped back and slid the door closed.

The moment it was, Spike turned to Neville. “Who was that?”

“He said he was Draco Malfoy.” Neville said slowly, thinking hard. “Grandmother said something about the Malfoys… she often has trouble with his father, Lucius, in the Wizengamot. And he’s the head of the Hogwarts board of governors, I think.”

Twilight sighed. “I hate politics. At least, when they’re happening now and not safely in the past.” It looked like her assessment about the boy was right – he would fit in well with all the ponies who practiced politicking in Canterlot, most likely by dint of long training.

“I don’t much like learning about it.” The boy shrugged. “But I suppose I have to – Grandmother says that Longbottoms don’t abandon their duty.”

Twilight nodded. She could certainly respect that. "It sounds like your grandmother’s important to you.”

“She is…” For a moment, Neville looked terribly sad. “She… brought me up, after my parents…”

Twilight felt tempted to give him a hug, but wasn’t confident enough of how socialization went among humans to be sure it was alright with such a recent friend.

“… I know it’s inadequate, but… I’m sorry. For bringing it up, I mean,” she said finally.

Neville shrugged, but stayed silent.

Twilight tried a different tack. “What does ‘livestock’ mean, by the way?”

“Er…” the boy’s sadness was replaced by embarrassment. “It means… cows and horses and pigs and stuff. Farm animals.”

“So?” Twilight asked. “I know a few cows. They don’t tend to borrow many books, but they’re nice enough.”

“Well… none of our livestock animals are… smart, and they’re… they’re what’s used for food, a lot of the time. They’re just…” Neville trailed off helplessly, unable to find the words.

Twilight nodded to herself, having realized the context. It was a major insult, of course it was. He was calling them the most insulting thing he could.

“He’s…not very nice, is he?” she said, considerably understating the situation.

“Well, it’s pure blood manners – the kind that Grandmother doesn’t approve of, but some people do.” Neville said, looking down again. “They think the only people whose opinions matter are other pure bloods – that’s why he was polite to me, and that’s why he was so nasty to you.”

“I wish Rarity was here.” Twilight muttered. “She knows this kind of thing better than me.”

There was a rattling around mid-day, and someone knocked on the compartment door. With a quick burst of telekinesis, Twilight pulled it open, and saw a much older human (woman, she thought) than the rest of the ones on the train.

“Afternoon – oh!” the woman gasped, looking at Twilight and patting her heart. “Goodness, you gave me such a fright.”

“Sorry.” Twilight shrugged awkwardly. “I can’t really help it.”

“Bless me. Well, it takes all sorts, I suppose.” She shook herself slightly. “Anything off the trolley, dearies?” With that, she pulled her trolley back slightly so it was visible to everyone in the compartment.

It was piled high with food, mostly sweets. Spike looked eager straight away, and Twilight thought wistfully of Pinkie’s snacks from Sugarcube Corner. It was tempting… but they didn’t have any money with them, and she had to decline.

“Don’t worry.” Neville said, suddenly digging into a pocket of his clothes. “Great-aunt Enid gave me some money as a gift, and-”

“Please don’t feel you have to-“ Twilight tried to interrupt.

“No, I insist.” Neville said, clenching his fists for a moment. “I couldn’t possibly spend it all, and… well, I’m sure I’ll get more than I can eat, anyway.”

“Don’t argue, Twilight!” Spike pleaded. “I want to see what magical sweets are like!”

“Well… alright, then.” Twilight said, as reluctantly as she could – which wasn’t much. It had been a long time since breakfast, and sandwiches suddenly seemed boring.

In the end, they mostly got the more interesting things. Neville said the Cockroach Cluster was a bad idea, and after realizing one of her customers was an herbivore the lady helped them pick what would be most safe.

Spike insisted on five bags of Every Flavour Beans, even after being warned about them, and started off with what turned out to be turpentine and ketchup.

Twilight and Neville shared a moment of cross-species empathy. Draconic eating habits were weird.

“Oh no – Trevor!”

Twilight looked up again, this time from a pumpkin juice. (It was nice that the wizarding world had a drink like that.) “That’s your – toad, right?”

“Yes! I’ve lost him! I’ve looked all around the compartment – I don’t know when he went missing – he could be anywhere on the train!” Neville said, breathing fast and looking on the edge of a tearful panic.

“Right.” Twilight put the half-finished drink back on the table. “Come on, we’ll go look.”

The boy looked immensely grateful. “Thank you. Sorry, I just-”

“Don’t apologize.” Twilight said firmly. “I’d like to think we’re friends, and friends just help each other. That’s how it works. I should know.”

Spike stayed seated. “I’ll make sure no-one comes in and messes with our stuff. Especially not that Draco person. Hey, Owlowiscious, you up for a game of chess?”

The owl flapped his wings. “Who.”

“You.” Spike pointed.

Owlowiscious gave the dragon an inscrutable look. “Whoo-o?”

“You, you featherbrained… okay, we’re not doing this again. I know you know what I mean.” Spike pouted.

Twilight giggled, and then looked apologetically at Neville. “Sorry, I know you’re worried about Trevor.”

She manoeuvred carefully out of the compartment, and pulled the door to after Neville followed her. “Right, we can start at the front, or the back, or head in one direction from here and keep going.” She hovered one of her notebooks in front of her, and began writing. “Which would you prefer?”

Neville looked lost.

Twilight decided for him. “Alright. We’ll start at the front.”

To make sure the evasive toad didn’t accidentally slip past them, Neville kept an eye on the corridor while Twilight was asking people if they’d seen Trevor.

It was interesting, going down the train like that. Amazing as it seemed, there were people who hadn’t come to have a look at the rumoured unicorn, and to discover her not only entirely real but politely asking whether they’d seen a missing pet was… confusing, to most of the older students who’d dismissed the idea.

The younger ones who just hadn’t heard at all, though, reacted somehow better. Perhaps because they weren’t as used to what was “normal” in the magical world.

And, for some reason, half the girls offered to brush her mane. Twilight felt vaguely offended – she didn’t take as much pride in her appearance as Rarity, but she thought she’d done all right that morning.

“Right, this one next.” she said, pointing. Neville duly knocked on the compartment door for her.

“Come in.” a voice said. It was fairly high, but had a different colour to it – so, probably a young boy. Twilight was working on recognizing them, so she didn’t make too many mistakes or wrong assumptions.

As the door opened, she saw there were two boys – about the same age as Neville? One of them was taller, but she’d already observed more size variation among humans than there was among most ponies – and neither of them was in robes yet. They reacted with astonishment.

“Bloody hell…” one of them muttered, the taller one. “Fred and George weren’t joking.”

“Hello.” Twilight said. “Has anyone seen a toad? I’m afraid Neville’s lost one.”

The taller boy shook his head dumbly.

The shorter one, with black hair, apologized and said they’d not seen one. Twilight, however, was more surprised by his forehead.

“…is that a cutie mark?” she gasped, realizing in the back of her mind she was sounding like Pinkie. “I hadn’t realized humans had them! Where do other people have theirs?”

The boy had sighed on seeing her focus there, but was now just confused. “A what?”

“A cutie mark – I know boys like to call them emblems sometimes, but it’s the right… term…” Twilight trailed off. “You don’t know what I’m talking about?”

“No.” the boy said flatly.

“…oh. So, what is it? Does it mean you’re skilled with… lightning magic, or something?” Twilight asked.

“I don’t know.” The boy said, sighing. “I didn’t even know about magic until a month ago.”

“But you’re Harry Potter!” The redhead said to the now identified Harry. “I still don’t get this, how can you not? You’re a legend!”

“Harry Potter?” Neville said, craning. “H-hello…” He seemed to want to say more, but couldn’t work up the courage.

“Harry Potter…” Twilight mused. “I think I read something… yes, the Potter family were mentioned as an example of a hereditary seat on the Wizengamot. So you’d be descended from Charlus Potter?”

“I don’t know. I hardly know anything about my family.” Harry shook his head, frustrated. “I thought my parents died in a car crash until a month ago.”

“What’s a car?” Twilight asked. “Is it like a chariot?”

Even Neville looked surprised at that.

“Oh… sorry… I’m new here.” Twilight shrank down slightly. “Don’t mind me… I’ll find out later.” She forced a smile. “Anyway, Neville and I must keep looking for his toad-”

“Excuse me.” A pompous voice asked from the direction they had been going. “Is this your toad, then?”

Twilight looked over, and stepped back slightly as another prefect, with blazing red hair like the taller boy in the compartment, came down the train, with-

“Trevor!” Neville said, delighted. “Thank you, sir!”

“Oh, don’t call him that…” the taller boy of the two in the compartment said, exasperated. “Come on, Percy.”

“I don’t have to take that insubordination from you, Ronald,” Percy said.

“Insubordination?” Ron moaned. “I’m your brother, it doesn’t count.”

“Oh!” Twilight looked between the two boys. “Were those hyperactive twins part of your family as well, then? So hair colour is genetic?”

She kept talking, explaining, as all four wizards looked at her in confusion. “You see, where I’m from – well, among ponies, anyway – mane and coat colour aren’t very important, genetically. There’s usually a slight resemblance, but it’s not very much at all – a friend of mine comes from a mostly drab coloured family of earth ponies, and she’s bright pink. And my brother’s white and blue.”

“Ponies?” Ronald said, incredulously. “Why call yourselves ponies? You’re a unicorn.

“Not everyone is. I’m a unicorn pony, yes, but there are also pegasus ponies and earth ponies. I know you have larger animals called horses, but…” Twilight trailed off. “Never mind. Oh, I forgot to introduce myself. I’m Twilight Sparkle.”

Ronald snickered.

Percy looked disapproving. “I should think you can’t talk about amusing names, Ronald Bilious Weasley.”

“Perce!” the younger sibling groaned. “You know I like to be called just Ron! Even Mum calls me Ron… sometimes…”

“If you like being called Ron, I’ll do that.” Twilight said. “We’re used to shortened name forms in Equestria.”

“Is that from the root Equus, meaning horse or pony?” Percy asked.

“I suppose it… must be.” Twilight answered, uncertainly flicking an ear. “I didn’t give it much thought when I arrived, but that I speak the same language really is a quite remarkable coincidence, isn’t it…”

Percy nodded, frowning. “I’d love to see if you had any magical effect lingering on you… I’m doing Arithmancy, you see.”

Twilight smiled. “Oh, interesting. I’ve looked into that a bit, but haven’t really had the time to make a proper study – we only turned up on Tuesday.”

“We?” Ron said, having been barely paying attention.

“Spike and I – and Owlowiscious and Peewee, as well.” Twilight made to gesture to them, but then remembered they were all back in the compartment and felt a little stupid. “Oh, Spike is my assistant, and the other two are our familiars.”

“Bet they’re better than Scabbers.” Ron said glumly. “Stupid rat, doesn’t do anything.”

Percy rounded on Ron. “Ronald! Scabbers was my pet before he was yours, and I was perfectly satisfied with him.”

“Trade you for Hermes.” Ron quipped back.

“Ah…” Percy put on an expression which Twilight thought was an attempt at magnanimity. “I’ll decline, thank you Ronald.”

“Yeah, I figured…” Ron muttered, snapping his fingers idly.

“So, is that owl yours?” Twilight asked, pointing to the snowy owl cage and then to Harry.

“Yes, she is.” Harry said. “Hagrid got her for my birthday.”

“That’s nice of him. My friends say it’s good to have a pet – or, familiar, if you’re a mage.” She giggled. “Actually, we had a lot of trouble picking a pet for my friend Dash. She’s so fast, she wanted a pet that could keep up with her – and she chose a tortoise in the end.”

Ron blinked. “She did what?”

“Well, she learned there’s more to choosing a pet than it being cool. You want loyalty, too.” Twilight said, not missing a perfect opportunity to mention a friendship lesson.

The boy looked contemplative at that.

After a few seconds of silence, Percy spoke up. “Well, I’d better get back to the Prefect’s carriage. Hope to see you all in Gryffindor.”

Neville just looked more nervous at that.

“Shall we head back to our compartment?” Twilight asked. “Now we’ve found Trevor, I mean.”

“Y-yeah, sure.” Neville nodded, cradling Trevor.

“Alright. Nice meeting you,” she nodded to the boys.

“Yeah, thanks.” Harry said.


“Yes, sire, but what should we actually do?” the knight said, frowning up at Owlowiscious along with the rest of the black pieces.

“Hoo!” the owl repeated, spreading a wing and gesturing regally.

Spike rolled around on the floor of the compartment, laughing. The scene had been going on for half an hour, and it was still just as funny as when it started.

The chess pieces didn’t speak Owl.

“Who-hoo, hoo,” Owlowiscious said pointedly, turning to gaze at Spike.

“Alright, alright…” Spike clamped down on another giggle, and clambered back into his seat. “What did you want to do?”

“Hoo,” the owl nodded.

“Right. Er, he said… Queen’s pawn, forward one.” Spike translated.

“Finally.” The foot soldier muttered, stepping forward.

Examining the board, Spike picked out a move for his own pieces to make. “Okay, my right hand knight’s pawn, move forward two!”

“On it, sire!” the white man-at-arms said, running forwards past the Bishop’s pawn Spike had moved a half hour ago..

“Hoo-whoo. Hoo.” Another wing gesture.

The black pieces looked expectant.

“He said, Queen forward and left… oh.” Spike stared at the board.

Owlowiscious looked smug.

“How did you do that? That was a checkmate in two turns!” Spike shook his head. “Right, there’s no way I’m falling for that again. Come on, back in place!”

“I hope you do better this time, sire,” one of the rooks said loyally.

“He could hardly do worse…” the king muttered.

“Oi, none of that!” Spike snapped.

A few moves into the second game, Twilight pulled the door open. “Hello, we’re back!”

“Hoo-whoo.” Owlowiscious boasted.

Spike glared at Owlowiscious. “Smug owl. That won't work the second time.”

“Right, we’re getting to Hogwarts fairly soon… we should probably get our robes on.” Twilight levitated her trunk down, opened it, and then slipped the robes on quickly. “Need any help, Spike?”

Spike shook his head. “I’ve put clothes on more than you have, I do know how they work. I’m not a baby.” He fiddled with the robe fastening, trying to get it to hang comfortably. “Wearing it every day will take some getting used to, though.”

Neville blushed. “Er, could you two go out while I get changed?”

Twilight looked lost for a moment, then got it. “Oh. Oh, sorry, I keep being confused by the culture… with us, it doesn’t really matter, but I know it does for some, so…” she trailed off in a cloud of cultural embarrassment.

She slipped out of the compartment again, along with Spike, while their new friend got changed. Luckily for them, nobody else was in the corridor in this carriage – it felt awkward enough just standing there outside a door as it was.

Neville let them back in after a couple of minutes, wearing his plain robes like the others, and the group spent the rest of the journey alternating between books, chess and stopping escape attempts by Trevor.

The train came gliding to a stop in the early evening, with the sun starting to slip slowly behind mountains to the west. The three of them gathered up animals, books, bags, notes, chess board and (at Twilight’s insistence) rubbish, and joined the general movement towards one of the doors.

Twilight and Spike were the focus of even more attention than before; with a majority of the girls coming close to squealing over how “cute” they looked in their robes.

The unicorn was twitching nervously by the time they were out on the platform, and had lifted Spike onto her back to make sure he wasn’t trampled too badly. At least, that’s what she said. Spike suspected it was more just to make sure they weren’t separated – but that was bad enough, so he agreed whole-heartedly.

The air was crisp and cool, a comfort after the relatively close air of the train. Both Equestrians breathed deeply, relishing it.

“First years, come on! Over here. Don’t worry, come with me, firs’ years.” Hagrid raised a lantern, and shook it. “Come on, over here. Hey, there’s Twilight and Spike, come on, you as well. I know you were here this morning, but all firs’ years come this way, it’s tradition. Come on. Leave those bags and stuff over here, the elves’ll take them up. Come along. First years!”

‘This way’ turned out to be boats by the shore of the lake, big enough for one Hagrid or four first years. Twilight took up… a little more space than normal, so Spike stayed on her back to make up the space. With that, Neville and a girl called Sally-Anne Perks could fit in as well, and once the rest of the boats were full Hagrid did… something.

It actually made Twilight suspect he was concealing a wand somewhere. Certainly there was something unusual about that umbrella.

She could see why they did this, though. Despite the inconvenience, despite the occasional splash of cold lake water… seeing Hogwarts towering over the lake was breathtaking.

“Canterlot’s better.” Spike muttered, sounding defensive.

“Well, better or not, this is our home for now.” Twilight pointed out.

“Yeah.” Spike shrugged an agreement.

Talk turned to the Sorting as the first years waited outside the Great Hall to be called in. Twilight realized that, despite the amount of research she’d managed, none of the books had actually explained how the Sorting took place – it seemed to be some kind of in-joke among attendants.

“Fred and George said we have to wrestle a troll.” Ron said, nervously shifting from foot to foot. “Hope they were joking…”

“Spike?” Twilight asked. “You’re the one who read the book about Fantastic Beasts. Trolls?”

“Bad news.” Spike replied. “Big, strong, magic resistant.”

“Hope it’s not, then.” Twilight fretted. “Oh, what if it’s a test? I haven’t studied…”

“There is no need for studying, Miss Sparkle.” McGonagall said, walking in. “Though it does you credit to think of it so early in the year. If you’ll all come along, please.”

As it turned out, when the Great Hall was in use for a feast it was much more impressive. The teachers were all sat along the high table, apart from a few who Twilight couldn’t see and a missing spot which was probably the deputy head’s.

Candles floated in their hundreds over the four long tables, casting an even light, and the enchanted roof showed a beautiful starry vista.

There was also the little matter of several hundred students staring at them.

Twilight looked for something to distract her, and noticed a large, beaten-up magician’s hat on a stool in the middle of the clear area. It looked like what Star Swirl’s hat would be by now if it was never washed or darned.

Then it started to speak. In fact, it started to sing.

Both Twilight and Spike had become caught up in Pinkie’s infectiously enthusiastic songs before, and were quite used to them breaking out around her (or sometimes when she wasn’t even there), so this wasn’t much different.

“Could do with more than one singer.” Spike said.

Twilight chuckled, and replied “Would you volunteer?”

“No chance,” he shook his head emphatically.

The content was interesting, though. It seemed that the hat was a self-aware artefact (Twilight immediately cast a mage-sight spell, and saw the hugely complex twining of magic around the hat – it seemed to be connected to the castle itself, in fact) that picked where people went based on their personalities.

“I wonder if that’s what they do instead of cutie marks here…” she mused.

Spike shrugged, blinking a bit. Twilight thought it was probably tiredness, since they’d been up since five.

Once it had finished, the Professor explained it would be alphabetical in order. While Hannah Abbot (one of the ones who’d been squealing about Twilight) was being sorted, Twilight asked her about how they’d handle Spike – who only had a single name.

“We use full name, surname first if applicable. What is his full name?” McGonagall stressed.

“Spykoranuvellitar – that’s S, P, Y, K-” Twilight began.

“No need for more, Miss Sparkle,” the professor forestalled her. “That – Bones, Susan! – that puts him in order right after yourself. Thank you for addressing that issue before it came up.”

Twilight watched the next several children be Sorted. It was interesting through the mage sight – the hat seemed to send a signal to the castle wards, which changed the colour of the student’s robes and tie to match. Presumably it also added them to some of the conditional wards.

Neville took the longest, spending almost thirty seconds before being declared a Gryffindor. His face was pale as he walked shakily over to his new House, but he did manage a wan smile.

Harry took nearly as long, but the cheering was intense. It made Twilight feel like there was some important detail she’d missed… and it made her feel sorry for him, as well. It was too reminiscent of the times ponies had expected something special from her in the first days she’d been Celestia’s protégé.

Then it was her turn.

There was widespread whispering and pointing as she trotted up the hall, and more when she levitated the hat to get it on her head.

Hmmm. Most unusual. It’s not every year I get someone who is already an adult. But you’re new to this world, I see. Strange, indeed.

Are you the hat? Twilight thought. How do you operate? Is it like the Elements of Harmony? Or some kind of pure sentience? Perhaps operating using the mind of the wearer to think? Why are you connected so directly to the ward scheme – isn’t that a potential weakness? Or am I missing something? If I were to-

Slow down! There was a soundless chuckle. Well, you’re intelligent enough for Ravenclaw, and loyal enough for Hufflepuff too, that’s for certain. But… hmmm… goodness. That is most impressive. Well, for someone who stares down gods and demons, charges hydras and faces dragons there’s nowhere to go but GRYFFINDOR!”

Twilight jumped as the last word was shouted to the hall. She took the hat off shakily, and walked over to the red-and-gold table – noticing the miniscule flare of magic which colourized her clothes and added the griffin crest.

There were some empty seats next to Neville, and she took one of those before turning to watch Spike.

Ah, you’re from the same place as Twilight.

I am… Spike thought, nervously.

You’re more like the others I sort than she was, though. I’m more used to preteens.

You are?

Yes, I am. Now… hm. Interesting. Loyal to friends – that sent a dark memory flashing through Spike’s mind, from during Discord’s attack, with himself wearing the cloud-and-bolt necklace of the Element of Loyalty – and brave as well. You’ve grown, recently at that. And it is never easy to resist peer pressure. But there’s that acquisitiveness as well…. Anything you want to say?

Yes… I’d want to be with Twilight. But… if it would be better for me to go into another house, I don’t mind. Spike gulped, but nodded firmly.

I see that you would. Well, my mind is made up. That you’d be brave enough to be be away from her makes me confident enough to put you in GRYFFINDOR!”

Twilight gave Spike a hug as he joined her. “Well done.”

Spike leaned into it. “Thanks… I think that hat is very wise.”

“You do?”

“Yeah.” Spike grinned. “It makes decisions that make me feel better, but I don’t understand them.”

“Sounds about right.” The Weasley twins said in unison.

“Well, we-”

“-are doing well this year.” They continued, swapping who was speaking mid-sentence.

“Twilight, how are they doing that?” Spike asked, pointing.

“I don’t know…” Twilight replied, and released him.

“That’s the twins for you.” Percy said, butting in. “Been like that for years. Oh, it’s Ronald’s turn!”

“Why don’t you call him Ron?” Neville asked, suddenly. As Percy turned to him, he shrank back, but rallied. “He said he prefers it.”

“It’s the job of older brothers to annoy younger ones.” Percy answered, completely seriously.

The twins looked at him as if he’d grown a second head.

“Which is why these two are getting above their place,” he continued, before breaking off to congratulate Ron as the Sorting Hat’s shout echoed through the hall.

The Sorting concluded with a boy who went to Slytherin, and then the Headmaster stood up. “I would like to say a few words…”

“Oh, no.” Spike muttered. “A speech. I hate-”


“-what?” the dragon broke off in confusion.

“Blubber! Oddment! Tweak! Thank you.”

Spike’s mouth hung open. Several of the other first years looked similarly pole-axed.

Twilight blinked for a moment. “That makes me think of what Pinkie would do if she ever had to give a speech…”

Further discussion was interrupted by the materialization of the feast. Twilight noted that, despite the short notice, both she and Spike had had their peculiarities properly catered for. Including a side dish of Every Flavour Beans for Spike… which was frankly amazing work.

Maybe they’d asked the trolley lady.

“That looks good.” Ron said, already digging into his own food and nodding at Spike’s. “Why don’t we get a roast that big? Can I have some?”

“Probably not a good idea.” Twilight said. “Spike… eats rocks.”

“Wow, there’s amethyst in here!” Spike exclaimed, as he pulled out a small blue stone that had made his knife grate, and then popped it into his mouth with a crunch. “Lovely.”

Looking up, he saw half the table staring at him. “What?”

“You seriously eat rocks?” three people asked at once.

“Yeah. Why?” Spike asked, puzzled. “Diamond dogs eat rocks, so do dragons.”

“Different world, Spike…” Twilight reminded him. “Remember, they think dragons are large, unintelligent and carry off entire cows.”

“Oh, yeah.” Spike snapped his claws. “Sorry, still getting used to this.”

“Where did you come from, actually?” a girl asked. “I’m Alicia, by the way.”

“Well, we were at my brother’s wedding, and his fiancée was being… weird. Really weird. I tried to warn people, but nopony believed me,” her voice caught slightly at the memory. “And she cast some kind of spell on me, and the next thing we knew, we were landing in the Forbidden Forest.”

Twilight could tell from the expressions on peoples’ faces that the explanation hadn’t helped. She had a quick drink of pumpkin juice to wet her throat, then started explaining about Equestria.

“Well. There’re no humans at all, in the world we’re from. There are ponies – unicorns,” she indicated her horn, “pegasi and earth ponies – and those are the most common species in the country we come from.”

“She’s Princess Celestia’s personal student!” Spike said, before returning to his meal.

“Princess?” several people asked. Including what appeared to be a ghost. Twilight decided to ignore the transparent person unless he became an issue.

“Thanks for making it even more complicated to explain, Spike.” Twilight said sarcastically.

“Any time!” Spike gave her a claw-up and a wink.

“Right…” she ran through what she was planning to say. “So, Princess Celestia is…”

Author's Note:

Sorry this took so long. I blame university, other fics and not getting quite the same snap for this chapter as I did with others. It's tricky to write something "new" about the train journey, after all - hope I managed it.
Twilight and Spike went to Gryffindor because they have both done some insanely brave things - or, in some cases (i.e. season three events), have the potential TO do them since this diverges at S2E25.
That chess game there is what's called a Fool's Mate. It's the shortest legal game of Chess. Beginner's mistake, but then Spike IS a beginner.

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