The Sugar Quill
Author: Tapestry (Professors' Bookshelf)  Story: Eshu 2: The Invisible Wall  Chapter: Ch. 1 - Chance Encounters
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The distribution of this story is for personal use only. Any other form of distribution is prohibited without the consent of the author.

Eshu's Daughter

Ch. 1 - Chance Encounters

***

Disclaimer: Hogwarts and the Harry Potter universe belong entirely to JKR and Warner Brothers. I am merely playing in their world and no copyright infringement is intended. Kit, Puck and her friends belongs to me.

Acknowledgments: Kit is Back! After many months off Eshu is back for Kit's second year. I hope you enjoy this new adventure and that the wait was worth it. If you are a first time reader, I strongly advise reading Eshu's Daughter first - you have been warned, LOL. Special thanks to the ladies of the SQ Workshop, as always your encouragement and enthusiasm make writing a wonderful experience. I couldn't do this without you. Thanks also to my readers. I know it's been a while - thanks for caring enough to come back after such a long time!

***

Kit Ellsington pressed the pillow hard over her face and shoved the corners tight against her ears. Tap, tap. Tap, tap. Puck, her pet knarl, growled beside her and Kit echoed the sound, shoving harder. Tap, tap. Tap, tap. With a snarl she flung the pillow against the wall and rolled out of bed.

"I told you I don't want to play! " Kit yelled, ripping back the curtains.

An owl stared back at her, looking just as annoyed.

"Oh, Toby " Kit eased the window open with much less force and patted the owl's feathers. "Sorry. I thought you were that stupid squirrel again. He's woken me up every morning this week."

Toby fluttered past her, landing on her dresser with a clack of talons and Kit shrugged closing the window. "I wasn't ignoring you deliberately."

It took a minute to persuade Toby to let her have the letters tied to his leg, and to spit out the official looking envelope he was carrying in his beak. Kit opened the envelope first, recognizing the large Hogwarts crest on the front of it.

"Book list, " she muttered, dropping the parchment onto her floor with only a glance. The other letters Toby had brought looked much more promising. Kit lay down on her bed and broke the seal on the first while Puck ambled over and began to nibble the edges of the paper. Puck looked like a sweet little hedgehog, and when Kit had first found him in a magical creature shop in Diagon Alley, that's exactly what Kit had thought he was. But Puck was no hedgehog. He had a destructive streak wider than a tornado and was temperamental even for a knarl.

Kit pulled the paper away from Puck and absently rubbed his furry chin. "Ellie says she'll be in Diagon Alley next Saturday if we want to meet up."

Puck grumbled a little and curled up to nap beside her.

"Maybe you don't care, but I haven't seen her or Verity all summer. It'd be nice to do our shopping together. Speaking of which, " Kit broke open the second letter and read it quickly. She frowned at the paper.

"Not a word from Verity except that first week back and this is all she can send me."

Verity had been on vacation for most of the summer in Greece; which probably explained why she hadn't written. But Kit couldn't shake the nagging suspicion that if Verity had really wanted to, she could have found a way to write.

Kit showed the paper to Puck and he opened one eye to glare up at her. "Don't read, " he muttered with his peculiar little chirrup.

Kit flushed and looked back at the letter. At the end of her fist year at Hogwarts she'd discovered she could talk with animals and understand them. But Puck wasn't exactly chatty. He was something more than a pet, she just wasn't sure what. All the same, she loved the little beast. Their relationship hadn't changed much over the summer, despite Kit's new found abilities.

"Sorry. I forget sometimes you're just a knarl. You seem so..." she let her voice trail away.

Puck had both eyes open now, glaring. "Just?"

Kit laughed and rubbed his cheek, ignoring the way he snapped at her fingers.

"Okay, okay, maybe not just a knarl."

Puck got to his feet and made a show of turning so his prickly little butt faced Kit. Kit ignored him. She looked over the scant two lines of the letter again:

My sister is trying to kill me. Can I borrow Puck?

V.

The writing was oddly jagged and messy, as though a child had written it. It was definitely a departure from Verity's usual neat penmanship. Was it a joke?

Kit eyed Puck and felt a smile tug at her lips. "Verity wants to borrow you for a bit."

Puck threw a startled glance back at her. "Borrow?"

Kit nodded. "She thinks her sister is trying to kill her or something."

"Smart sister."

Kit scowled at him. "That's not very nice! "

"Doesn't like me. Don't like her. Humans are stupid."

"Well you seem to put up with me at least, " Kit snapped.

"Different, " Puck grumbled, hiding his face in the bedding again. "Mine."

Kit laughed. No use in trying to convince him who was the master in their relationship. Besides, she couldn't help thinking she might not like the answer to that question if she examined it too closely.

"I wouldn't send you anyway, so don't worry, " Kit said. Puck gave a tiny snort.

Looking back at the letter Kit tried to decide how to answer it. With a sigh, she set Verity's letter aside and decided to answer Ellie's instead. That at least would be easy. An hour later, Kit was still having trouble coming up with an answer for Verity.

Finally she scrawled a note almost as brief:

Puck doesn't travel well and I'm not sure how I'd get him to you anyway. Are you all right?

Kit

***

A week later Kit kissed her dad on the cheek and hopped out of their car in front of the Leaky Cauldron. He looked nervously at the dingy door with its cracked paint and the throngs of London shoppers enjoying the unusually sunny weather. The city on a Saturday was a crowded and noisy affair.

"Don't worry dad, " Kit said, smiling. "Ellie and her parents are probably waiting for me inside. I'm not about to disappear on you. Verity says we don't learn to Apparate 'til seventh year anyway."

Her dad managed to look both bewildered and disapproving at the same time. Kit giggled and slammed the car door, leaning down to peer in at him. "Honestly there's nothing to worry about, I could hex anyone that bothers me and Puck would probably – "

"Kit! " Ellie's voice carried over the noise of the crowd and had Kit turning quickly from the car. Ellie stood on the front steps with her parents and her twin brother, Spencer, beside her. Both twins shared the same sandy hair and fair skin. Ellie was dressed like a magazine cover as usual and she'd grown even prettier over the summer, her face filling out more. The two girls had met the previous year at Kings Cross Station and become friends almost immediately.

Ellie jumped from foot to foot, waving as though being attacked by a swarm of bees. Spencer gave a casual wave as Kit looked at him and she waved back. It was too bad that Verity wouldn't be joining them; she'd never sent a reply to Kit or Ellie after her last letter. But it was good to see Ellie again, at least.

A dry cough brought Kit back around to face her father. "I see Ellie's found you first."

"Yeah, I better hurry before she falls off the steps and beaks a leg or something."

Her dad nodded and leaned over to squeeze Kit's hand on the window frame.

"Just be careful. And remember, I'll be back at two to pick you up. Do you have the money mom gave you for books?"

Kit patted one of the pockets on her jeans. "Yep, I'm a rich woman."

"Well, here's a bit extra so you can buy an ice cream or something if you like." He passed her a ten-pound note and Kit stuffed it into her pocket as well.

"Thanks, but you know mom already slipped me some extra."

Her dad laughed. "Guess you really are rich then. Just don't bring home anything alive. Two wild animals in the house is enough to deal with."

Kit pretended to look disappointed. "But there's this man-eating rabbit I've been dying to get."

Her dad snorted and waved her away. "Go on, out of here before I change my mind and drag you back home."

Kit snapped to attention with a salute. "Yes, sir." She spun smartly on her heel and then ran up the steps to where Ellie was waiting with a pained look.

"What took so long, " Ellie whispered as the two girls hugged. "Wouldn't he let you come?"

"No, my dad just worries a lot. I think the whole magic thing still freaks him out." Kit pulled away and said hello to Ellie's parents. They were Muggles like Kit's own parents, but they'd always seemed more are ease with magic than Kit's parents could ever be. Spencer mumble a hello.

"Can we get inside already, " Spencer demanded, "I'm supposed to meet Brennan at the book shop and we're already ten minutes late."

In short order the five of them were inside the Leaky Cauldron and being escorted to the Diagon Alley entrance by the barkeep. They stopped at Gringott's briefly to exchange money and Spencer glanced pointedly at his watch the entire time. Finally they were back out on the street and headed for the bookstore.

Ellie's parents decided to wait outside Flourish and Blott's after seeing the crowd of people clogging the store. Inside, harassed looking attendants milled through the crowds, answering various questions and fetching books from the tall shelves or from under tottering piles. It seemed noisier than the previous year, as though someone had turned up the volume on a stereo too loud. Near the front of the store a crowd of people stood packed around some sort of display. Most of the noise seemed to be coming from there and Kit stood on tiptoe trying to see what all the fuss was about. She just wasn't tall enough though and gave up after losing her balance and crashing into Spencer.

"Watch it, " Spencer said, rubbing his shoulder. He was staring at the display as well, and barely seemed to register that it was Kit who'd knocked into him. "Wonder what they're all gawking at."

Spencer began to shove his way toward the display. Kit was tempted to follow, but Ellie was tugging on her t-shirt and in a moment Spencer had disappeared into the crowd.

"Did you bring your book list?" Ellie asked, "I can't seem to find mine."

Kit pulled the paper out of her back pocket and handed it over.

"Oh good, I hate to ask Spencer, he's such a pain these days. Too busy for me, I suppose."

Kit frowned at Ellie. "Busy doing what?"

"Being the world's biggest arse. He's gotten really good at it." Ellie glanced around and then leaned close to whisper in Kit's ear, "Just wait till I tell you what that git did to me this summer."

"What?" Kit leaned forward, intrigued.

"Not here, someone might hear. Besides, I want to get out of this place; there are too many people. I've been trod on twice already. Let's get our books and go."

Kit nodded and the two began hunting for an attendant to help with their list. They located a small mousy looking man who seemed to be hiding behind a particularly thick stack of books on vanishing spells.

"Excuse me, sir, " Kit said, before the man could slink away. "Can you please help us? We need two sets of Hogwarts second year course books."

A look of relief replaced the attendant's sulky expression. "Certainly, certainly! " He beamed. "Second year's a good one. Just let me have your list and I'll have those books for you in a pinch."

Ellie handed over the paper and the attendant glanced at it, more out of habit than necessity it seemed. His smile dissolved into a horrified grimace."But - but second years aren't supposed to take Care of Magical Creatures."

"Oh, we'll only be needing one of those, please, " Kit hurried to say.

The attendant just stared at her. Kit shifted uncomfortably. "I have the headmaster's permission. Is the book restricted or something?"

The attendant's shoulders slumped. "Monster Book of Monsters. One copy. Right." With a small glare at Kit the man began edging toward the large crowd at the front of the store. Kit stayed close on his heels, certain the attendant was trying to sneak away.

"You're studying monsters?" Ellie asked, hanging onto the back of Kit's shirt so the two of them wouldn't get separated.

"Guess so. Seems a weird title for a book if you ask me, " Kit said, dodging around a large woman in puce robes.

The attendant, meanwhile, had made it to the front of the store. Kit watched, bewildered, as the trembling attendant pulled on thick gloves and grabbed a fat walking stick from behind one of the checkout counters.

"Out of the way, " the attendant shouted over the crowd, using his stick to shove aside people that didn't move fast enough. Kit hurried after him. The crowd parted to reveal a giant gold cage in one of the windows.

Kit stumbled to a halt, staring at the cage in amazement. Books, dozens of them with bright leathery green covers, were fighting amongst themselves. They snapped and threw themselves at one another, and a few were throwing themselves at the bars of the cage, trying to get to the people staring at them from a safe distance.

The attendant raised his stick like a sword and thumped the cage hard. There was a deep clang and a few of the books fell back, away from the tiny bared door. He swung the door open and reached inside, making a blind grab. The books leaped at the man's hand, snapping their pages furiously and trying to pummel him. With a frantic cry, the man used his stick to beat them back and snatched desperately at one of the books. It didn't come easily. The book shuddered and flexed, trying to wrench itself free of the attendant's grip. He clung tighter and used his stick to knock the other books crowding toward him away. With a sob he pulled the captured book free and slammed the door shut. The crowd around him cheered and a faint blush brought color back to his pale face.

The attendant had to drop his stick in order to hold the Monster Book closed with both hands. "I need some rope, " the man called, his voice hoarse. Another attendant materialized from the crowd with a thick length of packing twine.

"Good job, Horace, " the new attendant said, with a taunting grin. "We'll just let you get the books for the rest of the day, shall we?"

Horace glared and quickly bound the struggling book so tight that the cover was bowed. "Here you are miss, " he said, almost throwing the book at Kit. "I'm going on break now. You'll have to find someone else to help with your other books."

Before Kit could thank him, or say anything at all, the man scurried away. Spencer and his best friend, Brennan, shoved their way toward Kit and Ellie, while the rest of the crowd turned back to the golden cage.

"Those books are bril! " Spencer said. "Can I borrow yours till we get to Hogwarts, Kit?" He was looking at the Monster Book like it was some secret treasure.

"Not a chance, " Ellie snapped. "And I'll tell mum if you try to buy one."

Spencer scowled at Ellie. Kit just smiled at the two of them and didn't say a word. The rest of their afternoon's shopping was much less exciting. By the time two o clock rolled around Kit was stuffed with ice cream and tired from wandering through all the shops. The Monster Book, tucked securely in one of her shopping bags, had almost completely slipped her mind.

Seeing her dad's car, however, reminded Kit of the book's presence. She glanced at the bag holding it with a guilty frown. It wasn't exactly alive though ... and in any case, it had been on her list. Still, when her dad asked how the shopping had gone, Kit neglected to tell him about her unusual schoolbook. Biting books were not something he'd appreciate.

***

The following Sunday, Kit shoved her luggage cart ahead of her as she tried to locate Verity and Ellie among the students crowding platform nine and three quarters. The Hogwarts Express sat gleaming in the dull light of the station, inviting students to find seats inside the long chain of train cars. She hoped they hadn't boarded without her. As usual she was running a bit late. And as usual Puck was entirely to blame.

It had taken her a while to break up a fight between the knarl and her Monster Book this morning. She'd only left the book out for a minute while she packed her schoolbooks in her trunk. A minute was all it took for Puck to decide the Monster Book needed a lesson in manners.

Kit sighed. "Do you see them?" she asked, exasperated.

Puck growled and Kit decided to take that as a 'no.' He was balanced precariously on top of Kit's trunk.

"Don't be a brat. It's your fault I'm late so you might as well help me find Ellie and Verity."

Puck said a rude word and Kit stumbled to a halt, shocked he even knew it. "Late, " he reminded with something suspiciously like a smirk.

Kit scowled at him and shoved the cart forward so violently, Puck had to scrabble with his claws to keep from falling off. There'd be fresh scratches on her trunk for sure.

She found Verity standing near the front car a few minutes later. Verity was shorter than Kit with long brown hair and dimples in her cheeks that peeked out whenever she smiled. Like Ellie, the two had met on the train the previous year and the three girls remained friends despite Verity being sorted into Slytherin house and Kit and Ellie becoming Hufflepuffs.

Verity's arm was heavily bandaged from elbow to wrist, and the white linen stood out starkly from the black school robes she was already wearing. Kit abandoned Puck long enough to rush forward and pull Verity into a hug, being careful not to jostle her too much.

"What happened?" Kit demanded.

Verity shrugged. "I told you Luvena was trying to kill me. She snuck a chimaera pup into our room. The thing attacked me in the middle of the night."

Kit's mouth dropped open. "You're joking! "

"I wish. The brat claims she thought it'd make a good pet. As if. And mum and dad didn't even punish her because she's been acting like a hosepipe ever since, bawling every time they look at her." Verity's hand clenched, going as white as the bandages. "As soon as my arm's better I'm going to strangle her with it."

"That's awful, " Kit said. "I can't believe your parents let her get away with it."

Verity rolled her eyes. "Oh, it's pretty standard. Lovely Luvena never does anything wrong. She's everyone's darling. It's sickening. She'll be starting Hogwart's next year. I could almost wish Slytherin on her, but then I'd be stuck with her all year, so I hope she gets sorted into another house. Like Hufflepuff."

Kit looked insulted. "If she's as bad as all that, she'd never end up in Hufflepuff. We're not a bunch of back-stabbing, lying bullies."

Verity flushed. "Sorry, got a bit carried away for a minute. I didn't mean to insult your house." She eyed Kit with a smirk. "Any more than you meant to insult Slytherin, I'm sure."

"Come off it, you know you hate the rest of your housemates. They made last year horrible for you."

"They're not all bad, " Verity defended, "and the ones that are stopped bothering me as soon as I learned a few extra hexes from dad. Self-preservation is a Slytherin trait too, you know."

Puck made a chirruping noise from beside Kit's elbow and she glanced down at him.

"Where?" Kit asked, forgetting for a minute that no one else would have heard him say Ellie's name.

Verity looked at Kit, curiously. "Where what?"

Kit dropped her eyes and pretended to examine the scratches Puck had left on top of her trunk. "Sorry. I was just wondering where Ellie is."

Verity still looked puzzled, but she glanced around the platform obligingly.

"I don't know. I haven't seen her- " her voice broke off as her eyebrows shot up. "Hecate's hat! "

"What?" Kit asked, spinning to see whatever had Verity acting so weird. She saw Ellie and Spencer arguing a short distance away, headed in their direction. "Oh good, she's found us."

"-hid it, I know! " Ellie was snarling at Spencer as they came to a halt in front of Verity and Kit.

"Don't get your knickers in a twist. I didn't touch it, " Spencer snapped. "I swear. Gryffindor's honor."

"Hi, Ellie, " Kit offered tentatively.

Ellie scowled hard at Spencer. "I better find it in my trunk or you've had it." She turned to face Kit with a pained smile and Spencer took the opportunity to disappear back down the platform.

"What was all that about?" Kit asked.

Ellie blushed. "Nothing. I just – well I can't find something and I just know Spencer's hidden it from me. Or done something awful with it."

"What'd you lose?" Verity asked.

Ellie's face turned the bright red of a cherry. "mmmmbra, " she muttered.

"Your what?" Kit leaned forward to hear her better.

Ellie glanced around, before finally whispering, "My bra."

Kit's eyes dropped automatically to Ellie's previously flat chest. Only – well it wasn't flat anymore. In fact, the difference was rather startling and Kit wondered for a minute how she could have missed that.

Verity giggled and Ellie glared at her. "It's not funny! If you must know I caught Spencer with it a few weeks ago, he was using it as a sling shot. Thought it was really funny, until I walloped him over the head a few times. Git. I hate boys."

"Yeah, well they're going to love you, " Verity said, giggling harder.

Tears filled Ellie's eyes and Verity stopped laughing. "I hate this! " Ellie said, her voice raw. "I just woke up one morning and suddenly all my shirts were too tight and there are these things there. And they're huge! "

Kit hugged her. "It's not that bad Ellie, " Kit said in a soothing voice. "Could be worse, you could have woken up with giant warts all over your face or something."

Ellie just sobbed into Kit's shoulder and Kit looked helplessly at Verity over the top of Ellie's head. "What do we do now, " she mouthed.

Verity shrugged. "They're not that noticeable, Ellie, " Verity insisted. "And I bet you won't even be able to tell when you put your robes on."

Ellie gave a little hiccup and pulled away far enough to look at the two of them hopefully. "Really?"

"Sure! " Kit said, nodding so hard her head was in danger of falling off her shoulders.

"Yeah, " Verity agreed. "And anyway, all the other girls are going to be jealous."

Ellie looked interested.

"Come on, " Kit said, squeezing Ellie's arm. "Let's find a compartment before they're all full. It's almost time for the train to leave."

Ellie nodded absently, and continued to watch Verity. "Do you really think they'll be jealous?"

"Guarantee it, " Verity said with a grin. Kit shook her head at the two of them and went to retrieve Puck and her trunk.

"Serena, " Puck chirruped. This time Kit managed not to answer and Puck glared up at her.

Kit searched the crowd where Puck had been looking and found Serena. She was dressed in a drab grey dress and scowling at the students jostling around her. Her dark hair fell in lank black streams to her shoulders, and she wore annoyance like a cloak. Kit plunged forward, dragging her cart and Puck behind her.

"Serena! " Kit called, waving to get her attention.

Serena glanced toward her, and then tried to pretend she hadn't seen Kit. She was attempting to edge onto the train when Kit finally caught up with her.

"Hey there, " Kit said with a determined smile. "Did you have a good summer?"

Serena raised an eyebrow and didn't answer. Kit plunged on anyway. "I'm glad I caught you, we can share a compartment. Ellie and Verity are here already too."

"I should hope so, " Serena said. "The train leaves in five minutes."

"We'd better find a compartment in a hurry then, " Kit said, grabbing Serena's arm to keep her from sidling away. Kit turned and waved Ellie and Verity over. Verity frowned at Serena and gave Kit a disgruntled look. Kit frowned back and mouthed "Be nice." Verity frowned harder.

Ellie, now back to her usual happy temperament, bounced over. "Hi, Serena."

"Hello, " Serena said with a grudging nod. She tugged at her arm, trying to wrestle free of Kit, but Kit just hung on tighter.

"Serena's going to share a compartment with us, " Kit announced. Both Serena and Verity looked on the edge of mutiny.

"Great, let's go snabble one before they're all gone, " Ellie said, blissfully unaware of the growing tension between Serena and Verity.

Verity was rubbing her wand pocket and Kit decided to get the three of them moving before anyone did something rash. For some reason Verity had always disliked Serena, and by the end of the previous school year that feeling seemed to have intensified. Serena on the other hand seemed as indifferent to Verity as she was to so many things. Like living and breathing and actively participating in the human race. It was really quite maddening sometimes. But Kit had decided to befriend Serena the previous year, and she'd stick to it if it killed her.

Puck gave a demanding little snort, drawing all eyes down to him. He launched himself at Serena and she barely managed to catch him, wrenching her arm away from Kit in the process and dropping her school bag.

"Puck, " Kit scolded. Puck, of course, ignored her, nuzzling against Serena's hand.

"Bored, " he chirruped. "Too much talking."

Kit bit her tongue to keep from answering him. Puck turned and eyed her shrewdly. Kit didn't trust the mischievous look he was giving her. She scooped Puck away from Serena, barely registering the other girl's disappointed look, it had only lasted a moment in any case.

"You should cage him, " Verity said.

Puck growled and Kit tightened her hold on him, slipping him into his pouch.

"There isn't a cage built that could hold him, " she said, the tiniest hint of pride coloring the words.

Verity shook her head. "Bet my dad could find one, " she offered. Verity's father worked for the Ministry of Magic in the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures. He probably could find a cage, Kit supposed, but she wasn't about to ask for one. Puck did just fine with his carrying pouch. Bars and knarls were not meant to mix in her opinion.

"No need, " Kit said, patting the pouch and setting off another series of annoyed growls from Puck. "We'd better get on board."

The four girls scrambled onto one of the train cars, and Verity managed to restrain herself when Serena edged in front of her into the empty compartment they found toward the back of the train. Kit let out a little sigh, wondering just how wise it was insist on Verity and Serena sharing the same compartment for such a long trip. It was debatable which, if either of them, would be leaving the compartment in once piece.

***

As the afternoon wore on and the train steamed north, Kit, Ellie and Verity found increasingly inventive ways to pass the hours. By the time dusk fell the girls had settled into an energetic game of bubble bounce. It was rather like playing marbles five feet off the ground, only the bubbles had the added benefit of exploding with a loud pop and a shower of sparks when they hit in mid-air. Points were given based on the size of the explosion and the violence of the attack.

After several rounds, Verity was in the lead, despite the fact that her bubbles had a disconcerting habit of heading toward Serena at the last moment. Kit had been able to deflect the bubbles away for the most part, but inevitably one slipped by and smacked into Serena's upturned book. The explosion was both loud and quite colorful. Serena's eyes reflected the red and silver sparks as she slammed the book down. Verity slapped both hands over her mouth but laughter slipped past anyway.

"That was deliberate, " Serena said with quiet menace. Verity stopped laughing and glared back, her entire body tensing as she began to reach for her wand.

"I'm sure Verity didn't mean to, " Kit offered quickly, placing a hand on Serena's arm. Serena looked at her hand as though it was a spider to be squashed and Kit snatched it back.

"Hardly, " Serena said.

Before Verity could offer up a defense, something Kit doubted she'd do in any case, the train shuddered and began to slow. Kit glanced out the window, startled that they'd arrived already. It was a welcome distraction, however. She'd rather not have to act as a human barrier between two annoyed witches. Serena frowned and looked at the window as well. Verity actually pouted before standing to grab her bag from overhead.

"We're too early, " Serena muttered.

Ellie paused in the middle of straightening her robes and looked at her watch.

"She's right. Unless the train is faster than last year we've still got about an hour."

"Maybe we're taking on more passengers, " Kit said.

Verity shook her head and shoved her bag back into place. "Can't be, the train only picks up at King's Cross, everyone knows that."

"And yet we seem to be stopping, " Serena said.

Verity just glared. Kit ignored them both and got up to check the corridor. Perhaps someone else knew why they were stopping. Kit had just stepped into the deserted corridor when the lights suddenly flickered and went out. Ellie screamed from inside the compartment and Kit swung back toward the open door.

"Oh shut up, Ellie, " Verity ordered in an exasperated voice. "The lights'll come back in a minute. There must be some trouble with the engine."

Something shivered up Kit's spine and raised goosebumps all across her arms. Puck growled in his pouch at her side. Kit turned slowly to face the dark corridor. It wasn't deserted any longer. Her eyes strained to see in the inky black. After a moment the darkness seemed to ease a little and Kit was able to make out a towering figure several feet away. It reached almost to the roof of the train and seemed to suck all of the darkness of the corridor into itself. Kit's wand was in her hand so quickly she might have conjured it.

"Who's there?" She asked, proud of the way she kept her voice from cracking.

The thing didn't answer, but it glided forward until she could reach out a hand and touch it if she was crazy enough to try.

"Bad, " Puck growled.

"I know, " Kit muttered back. She wasn't sure what to do, but she knew somehow that she couldn't back down. "I'll use my wand on you if I have to, " she threatened.

The thing seemed unimpressed. It drew a deep breath with a sound like wind rattling through bare winter trees. Kit raised her wand higher.

"I mean it, I'll turn you into a gnat if you don't leave."

The thing considered her, it seemed to bend forward slightly as though to get a better look. Kit stood firm as Puck growled even more fiercely. The figure moved it's hooded head to look past her at the open compartment and Kit was suddenly conscious of the low whimpering that someone was making within. A shiver shook Kit and made the wand waver in her hand. She could feel the thing's desire to get in that compartment. It liked the whimpering and wanted something even worse, she was certain.

Heat tingled up Kit's arms and shot down to her fingertips. She felt as if a fire had been lit in her chest and it burned hot and hard, driving back the darkness, the fear. She wanted to attack, to fling herself at the figure and rip and tear until it was nothing but a heap of rags. She would destroy it so completely not even a memory of the creature would linger.

Her muscles were tensed to spring when something silver shot past her and seemed to drive the figure back. As quickly as it had appeared, the dark figure melted back out of the corridor, and the silver light continued it's rapid journey into the next train car. Kit wanted to scream with frustration. She was trembling with the need to attack and her quarry had just disappeared.

"Kit?" called a low voice from the compartment behind her, "Kit are you out there? Are you all right?"

Kit carefully put away her wand and turned toward the voice. The lights flickered back on and the train gave a sudden lurch as Kit stumbled into the compartment. It seemed smaller somehow.

Ellie was huddled in a corner, still making those awful whimpering sounds. Kit only spared her a glance; Serena seemed to be in more serious trouble. She sat staring straight ahead and gulping air like a bullfrog, as though she couldn't breathe. Her skin was so pale Kit could see every vein in the hands she clutched together at her chest.

Kit dropped to her knees in front of Serena and pried her hands apart, rubbing them as though Serena had frostbite.

"I'll take care of Ellie, " Verity said in shaky voice, the same one that had drawn Kit back into the compartment.

Kit just nodded, incapable of words yet. Slowly, Serena's tense muscles began to loosen and she stopped gulping air. Kit continued to rub her hands, hoping the human contact was getting through to wherever Serena was right now. Serena blinked and her eyes dropped to take in Kit kneeling in front of her. She focused with bewildered intensity on Kit's face.

"Your eyes, " Serena whispered, sounding as though she'd swallowed sandpaper, "Your eyes are..." Her voice trailed off.

Kit smiled gently, squeezing Serena's hands. "I know. They change color."

"No, " Serena said, her voice gaining strength. "They're like a cat's, yellow with slits."

Kit dropped Serena's hands and shoved quickly to her feet. "What?"

"Like some great cat's, " Serena said in a wondering voice.

***

//
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