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Chapter 5: Chapter Five - Avrille
I entered the Great Hall at seven sharp just as the first wave of students began flowing through the main doors. The Hall itself looked spectacular. Each of the student House tables were set with plates and goblets of gold, and the ceiling above mirrored the night sky with a deep shade of spangled indigo. The students were talking loudly as they entered and took their seats with their fellow House members. Some were staring very blatantly up at the staff table while pointing and whispering behind their hands. Although at first I thought they were gossiping about me, I realized it was much more likely that Lockhart, who had entered right behind me, was the subject of their interest. I couldn’t blame them. By now I was getting used to Lockhart’s ridiculous wardrobe, but for the incoming students, the sight of a male staff member in aquamarine silk robes was bound to cause a stir.
Professor Snape was already seated when I entered and only noted my appearance at his shoulder as I took my usual seat with a sideways glance. I found his position at the table-end puzzling, in the chair he’d occupied during my first breakfast here, because since that time he always sat at Professor Dumbledore’s left hand at meals. At the moment his posture alone was radiating extreme irritation, so I decided not to ask him about it. In one hand Professor Snape clutched the night’s edition of the Evening Prophet, while his other hand drummed at the table impatiently. His jaw was set hard, and his eyes were scanning the incoming students as though trying to seek out someone in particular.
I sat back in my chair with a sigh and continued to watch the students since my table neighbours didn’t seem primed for conversation. Lockhart was for once, thankfully, too occupied to harass me and kept smoothing back his hair while winking at several of the older student girls. Utterly disgusted, I turned my gaze to the other half of the Hall and let my eyes wander along down the Slytherin table. A mass of students had clumped themselves around one boy with white-blond hair, a second- or third-year by the look of him, who was telling some sort of animated story that drew delighted squeals from the surrounding girls at regular intervals. Looking over the Gryffindor table, I tried to pick out the famous Harry Potter. Just then, Professor Dumbledore entered the Hall and swept into his chair at the center of the staff table. The students who were still talking with their friends ceased their chatter and hurried to take their seats as well.
Once all were settled at their House tables, Professor Dumbledore stood back up, silencing the room. As he was raising his hands in greeting, there came a resounding crash from somewhere outside. Many of the students jumped at the noise then began whispering among themselves once more. Professor Dumbledore glanced sideways down the table to Professor Snape, who returned his look with a curt nod and strode from the room out the teachers’ entrance. As bewildered as the students by the noise, I looked to Professor Dumbledore, who had simply raised his hands once more and cleared his throat loudly. The room quieted.
“Good evening!” Professor Dumbledore called out in a clear voice. “Welcome back to another year at Hogwarts! In a few minutes, we shall be partaking in our start of term feast, but as you know, we have an important piece of business to accomplish first. Please put your grumbling bellies aside for a moment, and join me in welcoming our new first-years!”
Right on cue the great oaken doors at the end of the Hall creaked open to reveal Professor McGonagall leading a small line of terrified-looking first-year students. As they filed into the Hall, some waved nervously at older siblings, but most gazed around in an amazed, anxious sort of way. Looking down from my position at the staff table, I couldn’t believe how little the first-years looked and seemed unable to grasp that I could’ve ever been that age once, too. Then again, I hadn’t been that age when I entered school.
Professor McGonagall stopped the procession in front of the staff table and placed the old, patched hat she’d been carrying on a stool directly in front of Professor Dumbledore. Although I’d never seen it, I assumed from reading the first few chapters of Hogwarts, A History that it must be the famous Hogwarts Sorting Hat, which placed incoming students into their respective Houses. I was really looking forward to seeing the Sorting Ceremony since we didn’t have Houses in North American magic schools. I thought it was an interesting concept, but I also wondered if the competitive atmosphere that Houses would inevitably produce was beneficial to learning.
As I was pondering these thoughts, the Sorting Hat startled me by bursting into song. Several of the first-year students had jumped at the hat’s booming voice as well but then relaxed and giggled as they listened to the hat’s rhyme of the four founders of Hogwarts. When the hat had finished its song and the ensuing clapping had died down, Professor McGonagall unrolled a length of parchment and called out, “When I read your name, please come forward, and place the Sorting Hat on your head. Cobble, Nan!”
A little girl with remarkably fair skin and almost perfectly round, brown eyes crept forward and sat on the stool. She hesitantly placed the hat on top of her bushy curls and was instantaneously declared, “HUFFLEPUFF!” With a great sigh of relief, little Nan returned the hat to the stool and virtually ran to her new House table.
At the sound of his name, a small, mousy-haired boy stumbled forward excitedly and tried to place the Sorting Hat neatly on his head. However, the hat was so big it fell well past the boy’s eyes, hiding his face from the crowd. After a moment the hat called out triumphantly, “GRYFFINDOR!” and little Colin skipped happily over to the Gryffindor table where his new Housemates were applauding him uproariously.
I hate to admit it, but as the Sorting continued, I found my mind wandering to where Professor Snape had gone and the cause of that large crash. Professor Dumbledore had obviously thought it important enough to send a teacher out to investigate, and as for Professor Snape, well, he almost seemed to have been expecting it. It didn’t seem a coincidence that his unusual place at the table provided a quick exit from the Hall.
My thoughts were jerked back to the Sorting with another crash, though much smaller, as Lovegood, Luna tripped over the stool in her haste to pick up the Sorting Hat. After she was declared “RAVENCLAW!” I zoned out once more, anxious for the feast to begin since I had foolishly skipped lunch to read through all of the paperwork Professor Snape had given me.
Finally only one student remained, a petite, freckled girl with flaming red hair that seemed reluctant to remain contained beneath her black pointed hat. As Professor McGonagall called out, “Weasley, Ginevra!” the redhead crept over to the stool while gazing longingly at the Gryffindor table. Three ginger Gryffindor boys, two of them identical twins, waved vigorously at her while she placed the Sorting Hat over her flyaway hair. Immediately, the Sorting Hat proclaimed, “GRYFFINDOR!” and the Sorting was over. As Miss Weasley bounded over to meet, I presumed, her brothers, I heard the door open behind me. I turned to see Professor Snape re-entering the Hall looking fairly pleased about something. He walked down to Professor McGonagall, who was moving the stool and hat to the side, and muttered a few words in her ear. Professor McGonagall nodded briskly and followed him back up the stairs and out through the staff door. Professor Dumbledore watched them go then stood again.
“Since I assume everyone is as hungry as I am, I will not delay the feast with announcements just yet—” the students cheered at this, “—but I do have one word for you: enjoy!”
With that, the House and staff tables suddenly overflowed with food. The hungry students immediately dug in, and none seemed to notice as Professor Dumbledore slipped discreetly through the staff door as well to follow Professor Snape and Professor McGonagall. By now I was absolutely dying of curiosity. Something quite incredible must’ve happened to summon the Heads of two Houses as well as the headmaster away from the festivities. I looked along down the staff table, but no one else seemed to be very concerned. Only Mr. Hagrid met my eye, and he returned my confused look with a shrugging of his massive shoulders before ripping the drumsticks off of a turkey.
As I reached for a warm roll, Lockhart suddenly remarked, “By Jove, I don’t know what all this commotion is about, but I have a sneaking suspicion it has something to do with young Mr. Potter!”
“Why’s that?” I asked, still curious despite my desire to avoid any conversation with Lockhart if humanly possible.
“Well, I don’t see him at his House table, and from what Severus has told me, it seems Harry likes to draw attention to himself. Met the little tyke myself during my Magical Me book signing; practically begged to have his picture taken with me for the Daily Prophet. He seems to have caught the celebrity bug, I’m afraid, but who can blame little Harry, God bless him? He told me himself that he’s my number one fan! Says he wants to be just like me when he grows up!” Lockhart’s face was plastered with a gloating grin.
“Wow, imagine that,” I said blandly. Perhaps sensing he didn’t have my full attention, Lockhart turned to poor Professor Flitwick instead and began recalling the time he had saved a village of Dwarves in Finland from a brood of hungry mountain trolls and inquired if the little professor had any relations in the area. Glad to have been set free from the obligation of forced politeness, I devoured my dinner of turkey and mashed potatoes.
Once everyone was done with dinner, the dirty plates and platters vanished, and a vast assortment of sweets appeared with milk for the students and for the staff, a selection of dessert wines and coffee. As the students started diving for cookies and cakes, Professor Dumbledore and Professor Snape re-entered the Great Hall, both looking quite sombre. Well, to be more accurate, Professor Dumbledore looked sombre while Professor Snape looked as though he wanted to strangle someone. He sat down with his arms crossed and scowled at a chocolate entremet on the table in front of him. He didn’t seem to appreciate missing dinner. However, Professor Dumbledore seemed to relax instantly and joined Madam Pomfrey in a toast after serving himself a slice of custard tart.
“Is … everything alright?” I asked Professor Snape tentatively. He didn’t seem to be in the mood to talk, but Lockhart’s “Potter theory” had piqued my interest.
“Nothing out of the ordinary,” Professor Snape replied bitterly. “Just Mr. Potter receiving his usual special treatment from the headmaster.”
So it did have to do with Harry Potter after all. “What did he do?” I asked.
“He flew a magical car into the Whomping Willow.”
A burst of laughter escaped me by accident. Professor Snape glared at me.
“But … Oh.” I sobered instantly. “I thought you were joking,” I said, with an apologetic grimace.
“Unfortunately not,” he replied coldly.
“I’m so sorry for laughing—” I began, but Professor Snape cut me off.
“—Please do not trouble yourself, Mistress Asphodel. You’re new here, but I’m sure you will soon see for yourself that there are two sets of rules at Hogwarts: those for Harry Potter, and those for everyone else.” With that, Professor Snape rose and stormed out of the Hall for the final time. After he’d slammed the door behind him, I sat back in my chair feeling horrible. Without even knowing him, I was already disliking this Harry Potter, not only for being an avid Lockhart worshiper but also for pissing off Professor Snape just when I was starting to think we were getting on well together.
As dessert was winding to a close, Professor McGonagall came back to the table after presumably dealing with her student. As soon as she was settled, Professor Dumbledore stood and called out in a clear voice, “If you will forgive me, I have a few start of term announcements to give before I lose you all to your dormitories.
“First, the first-years are to note that the Dark Forest is always forbidden to all students, except for when I’m in the mood to allow the Heads of House to send some of you out there for detention. Also as usual, our caretaker, Mr. Filch, has asked me to remind you all that magic is forbidden in the corridors and also that an extensive list of banned items can be viewed in his office in manuscript form. Last, it is my privilege to introduce two new members to our Hogwarts staff this year.
“Professor Gilderoy Lockhart—” Professor Dumbledore pointed an upturned palm to Lockhart, who rose and gave a flourished bow and mile-wide smile, “—who will be filling our empty Defence Against the Dark Arts teaching position.” With these words a sea of whispers swept through the room. I’d heard rumour that the previous Defence Against the Dark Arts professor had met with some sort of fatal accident last year, and that the position was said to be cursed.
Professor Dumbledore paused pointedly until the room was silent. “Also, Mistress Avrille Asphodel, who is a graduate from the Berkshires School of Witchery and apprenticing under Professors Snape and Sprout this school year. You will undoubtedly encounter her observing several of your classes, and I expect she will receive the same respect that would be shown to any Hogwarts teacher.”
I stood as Lockhart had done and gave a small wave. I sat down quickly, for it was very unnerving to suddenly be the sole focus of hundreds of appraising eyes. Someone near the back of the Hall gave an approving whistle, which caused almost all of the students to dissolve into giggles. Professor Dumbledore needed only to furrow his eyebrows for the Hall to be as silent as a steel trap once more.
“Thank you. I wish you all a good, sound sleep to prepare you for the start of the rigorous lessons your professors have spent all summer devising for you. Let us all do our best to make this school year a great one!”
With a resounding cheer, the students leapt from their seats and swarmed out into the entrance hall. It was utterly amazing how quickly the Hall emptied. Deciding to heed Professor Dumbledore’s advice of a nice, long night’s sleep, I left the Hall through the staff door.
I heard, “Mistress Asphodel!” just as I was about to climb a back staircase that would bring me quickly to my rooms. I turned to see Professor Sinistra, whom I had not encountered since my first breakfast at Hogwarts, rushing up behind me.
“I wanted to talk to you before now, but I couldn’t track you down!” She held out her hand to me, which I shook. “I’m Lavinia. I know we were introduced by Professor Dumbledore the other day, but I wanted to do it again all the same.”
“Thanks!” I replied appreciatively. “Call me Avrille.”
A bright smile lit up Lavinia’s face. “I’ve only been teaching here a few years myself, so I fully remember how frightening it can be starting out here. There were no staff members my own age when I apprenticed, so I had no one to connect with. I just wanted to let you know that if you’re ever bored or homesick or anything, I’ll be around if you need to talk.”
“That’s so nice of you! I really appreciate it. I admit I’ve been feeling a little lonely since I’m used to being surrounded by girls at school.”
Lavinia pulled a small silver watch out of her pocket and checked the time. “I would love to talk some more right now, but I really need to go and finish up my lesson plans. I always put it off until the last minute. Maybe we can meet up at breakfast tomorrow? I would love to hear how you like the school so far.”
“Sure thing. I’ll be looking forward to it.”
With one more beaming smile and a spirited flip of her gorgeous, long ebony hair, Lavinia headed back down the corridor. I watched her go, my hand still resting on the marble railing of the staircase. I knew I should get to bed as well, but I was still a little upset over how I’d accidentally annoyed Professor Snape at dinner. I really wanted so much for him to like me. If only there was something I could do for him …
A sudden thought occurred to me. Checking that I still had the ingredient storeroom key in my pocket, I turned away from the stairs leading up to my room and headed back in the direction of the dungeons.