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Chapter 6: Hogwarts
Sandy Sparkelyn listened carefully as Harry told her his whole story of Knockturn Alley. She took careful notes with a violet colored quill that matched her robes. She had straight and light colored red hair that appeared to be on fire when the light struck it right. Today her hair was pulled up in a knot, but the fringe as usual was just past the brows. Harry had an amusing thought of how the Yanks call a fringe cut, bangs. She had deep sea-green eyes that seemed to smile along with the rest of her. She had high distinct cheekbones that were perfectly concentric and spherical. Her nose was rather slender and the upper lip was rather short with her pearly white fronts often showing. Even through the custom cut robes her shapely figure was clearly discernible. To top it off she was wearing a light and fragrant perfume that tried to cloud the mind. He didn't know if it was his imagination, but she appeared to show more than just professional interest in his story. She would often bat her eyes slightly before smiling and he would forget what he had planned to say in midstream. He wondered about her age – she was certainly older than himself, but not by a lot he thought.
The whole process including the sketch artists had taken all day. He tried to forget Sandy Sparkelyn and thought instead of what Shacklebolt had said over his morning coffee. He wondered what magical properties the staff had. Hopefully in a couple of days he might hear back from them. Shacklebolt had not stated all the issues facing the Ministry on their first meeting but merely hinted at the criminal activity in transit between the Muggle and wizarding worlds. Harry was suspicious that Shacklebolt was still not telling the whole story. The war had clearly left the Ministry drained for personnel and resources. He took a bite of a pastry Kreacher had placed on the table and washed it down with coffee. Surely very soon things would get better he thought.
Mr. Weasley had said to expect an Owl from McGonagall, and Harry had been watching the window in anticipation every morning. Even though he expected the Owl, he still got very excited when a tan and grey Screech Owl landed on the kitchen window sill. Harry read the note while he made the Owl a bit of breakfast from the leftover pastries.
Very pleased to hear you're interested in helping out with
the school project. Be ready to put in some long days, as the
castle is a mess. We have enough dormitory rooms for those
on the list and Imelda Pickersgill will arrange transportation
and shipment for your trunk.
We'll have a kickoff meeting and lunch at the Three Broomsticks
Monday morning at 11:30.
See you there!
Finally the project was getting started. Harry couldn't have been happier. He finished off breakfast and started a list together for everything he would need. He went upstairs to his bedroom and opened the doors of his scant wardrobe. He would need to get a few more shirts and trousers to avoid having to wash every couple of days. A couple of pairs of new jeans would also help out tremendously. When he was living with the Dursleys he'd always had a good supply of hand-me-downs, but he'd given up on this several years ago when everything Dudley had outgrown was still too big for Harry. In any case he was comforted by the thought that the years of hand-me-down clothes were long behind him.
"Master – There's a caller at the door." Kreacher announced as he peeked his head around the door. Harry hurried down the steps and was surprised to see Ginny standing in the hallway.
"Ginny! – come in."
She was dressed in jeans and a barely buttoned jersey top over a coordinated cami.
"Hope I'm not a bother." she said with a slightly nervous look.
"Of course not... we've a little bit breakfast left. Care for any?"
"Maybe coffee Harry – Mum fixed breakfast early."
They walked in the kitchen and Harry motioned for Ginny to take the seat at the end of the long table while he got out a cup and poured Ginny coffee. She took a sip and then looked up at Harry. There was big question marks rolling across his eyes.
She smiled and said, "There's been a slight change with Ron and me... We're taking turns helping George with the store. I agreed to work this week, so I won't be able to make it Friday."
"Oh I see," Harry said slowly.
"Really, Ron and I both are getting bored with staying at home. For me, I think it's the thought, the school may not open. I miss Quidditch – tell me the school will open Harry." she said and then took a long sip of coffee.
"I think the school will open." he said smiling.
"Well, seriously, you must be having some serious Quidditch withdrawals," he said, still in a playful tone.
"I think George is doing better," she said changing the subject.
"You think, getting ready for the start of term has anything to do with that?"
"Oh yes – definitely," she said after a sip.
"How's your Mum?" he asked softly.
"She's doing good – still catch her coming out of Fred's room and crying, but I think she's doing better."
"How's Ron – just bored?" he asked.
"Well yeah... and concerned with Hermione I think. I see him re-reading her letter. He's worried she's never coming back," she said then laughed.
"There's not enough books in Australia – she'll have to come back," Harry said and they both laughed.
She noticed the letter on the table, "So what's your plans for today?"
Harry picked up the letter, "Finally got the note from McGonagall – The Hogwarts project is starting Monday."
"That's great Harry. Wish I could go," she said with mock regret.
"I'll ask McGonagall – maybe they have room for one more," he said teasingly.
"Are you mental – Mum and Dad would never let me go."
"Well... now I wish they would," he said, making an effort to catch her eyes.
"So... are you staying till fall then?" she asked as she tried to hide her concern.
"I'll be coming back on some weekends – and I'll have Owls too," he said with encouragement.
Looking around, Ginny took notice of the fresh paint, "The kitchen looks great Harry – did you do all this?"
"Aw... no – Kreacher did most of it," he said.
Harry gazed at Ginny's hair which was pulled back and gathered behind her, but still falling nicely on her shoulders. The chit-chat was beginning to slow and she could sense his concentration was falling elsewhere. Ginny was biting her lip anxiously.
"Well... I better be going Harry. I told George I had to run some errands. Wouldn't want to be late on my first day!" she said smiling.
"That would never do," Harry said, playing along.
They got up and Harry followed Ginny to the front door. Ginny paused and stood at the door petulantly as she reached back for the handle.
Harry reached for her other hand and then gave her a short kiss.
"See'ya Harry – get the school ready!" she said walking out the door.
Harry was the feeling the best he had been in years. The rest of the week went well – he was able to find the extra clothes he needed and obtained most of the items he had on the list. He stopped by George's shop to say goodbye to Ginny before leaving for Hogwarts. She was busy with a bunch of kids but finally broke free for a few minutes to talk. He was running a little late and hurried to the Cauldron to meet up with Ron. There was a good crowd in already – Seamus was talking to Dedalus, Ron was there talking to Neville whom Harry had not seen for a while. Michael Corner and Anthony Goldstein was sitting just down from Neville.
"Hey Ron – Neville!"
"Hey Harry," they both replied.
"So Harry I hear you're going to help out on the Hogwarts project," Neville said.
"Yes I am Neville."
"Well so am I Harry – Michael and Anthony are going too," he said beaming.
"Well that's great Neville," said Harry.
"Hannah – a butterbeer please," Ron said pointing to Harry.
"Any news from Hermione, Ron?" asked Harry.
Ron shook his head.
"You'll hear from her soon, I'm sure," Harry said with an effort to keep spirits up.
"Stopped by the shop and saw Ginny. I thought you were setup to help George?" Harry said smiling.
"We're taking turns – next week, It's my turn!"
"I'm buying everyone at the table here a Firewhiskey!" Dedalus said beaming.
"It's going to be one of those nights."
By the end of the evening they were all singing school songs and feeling no pain. Neville said he was taking the train Sunday and they were all looking forward to getting started. Harry said goodbyes and gave Ron one last bit of encouragement before leaving. It had been a hell of a week.
Neville being as good as his word was boarding the train when Harry went to leave his trunk Sunday. Neville turned around to see Harry. Harry had originally planned to leave his trunk on the train and apparate to the Three Broomsticks on Monday, but Neville was doing his best to convince him otherwise.
"Harry – you got to take the train. It might be our last time out to the castle," Neville pleaded.
Harry suddenly had a flash of memories and emotions - his first trip through 9 ¾ with the Weasleys, sharing a booth with Ron and eating chocolate frogs, meeting Hermione and her using Oculus reparo to mend his glasses, meeting Remus Lupin after the Dementor scared him senseless, Draco Malfoy hitting him with Petrificus Totalus and Tonks fixing his broken nose.
"Neville – you're right. Let's go!" he said as he pulled himself up on the train step.
The two reminisced about their many train rides to the castle and talked at no end about their early school years, never letting the gloom and depression of the war years dampen their spirits.
"Harry, how long do you think it will take to repair the castle?" asked Neville.
"I'm not sure how badly it was damaged – and after the battle, I was too numb to take full notice."
As the day's light began to fade the train began to slow as it pulled into Hogsmeade Station. Hadgrid could be seen waiting for the train as they made their way to the landing. The two jumped down and quickly made their way up to Hagrid. He was beaming as he spotted Harry and Neville.
"H'airy – Neville... It's so good to see the both of you!"
"It's great to see you too Hagrid – great to be back!" said Harry.
"Yeah – good to see you Hagrid!" Neville added.
Looking around Harry could see a large motor coach parked at the end of the landing.
"What, no Thestral pulled carriages tonight Hagrid," quipped Harry
"It's not a regular term is it now – we've had to improve the road to allow supply trucks Harry," Hagrid shot back.
As Harry and Neville followed Hagrid they could see that only a small part of the castle appeared to have lights showing. A small crowd of people began to line up in front of the motor coach door.
"We'll have your trunks up shortly – you fellers go ahead and get settled in. Gryffindor house is in pretty good order – and I know you two will appreciate that!" Hagrid said.
"Filch will be able to tell'ya a little more when ya get there," he added.
"See you Hagrid!" said Harry and Neville together.
The evening air coming off the Black Lake was cool but felt good. The two waved to Hagrid and got in line for the coach. As they approached the entrance hall of the castle, Harry could see Mr. Filch and Mrs. Norris at the bottom of the stairs. Mr. Filch was doing a fairly decent job of sorting the guests into what houses were available.
"Gryffindor and Hufflepuff houses were the only two houses fit for habitat. Slytherin house had been completely underwater and the Ravenclaw tower had a wall blown away." he explained.
Harry and Neville chuckled at the news of Slytherin house.
"I've divided this group into two houses as you can see by the list here on the wall," as Filch pointed to the list.
"The Great hall is not fit for service and a small meal will be served tonight in the house common room you're assigned to. The rest of the meals will be served in Hogsmeade," he explained.
"These two gentlemen will be serving as guides and assistants until you're familiar with the state of things around here," Filch said while pointing to the two young men.
"Even If you're familiar with the castle, please follow the guides here. Some structures have been damaged and haven't been made safe yet."
The two young men were carrying a sign for each respective house. Neville and Harry gathered around the Gryffindor group and then made their way through the Grand Staircase on a circuitous path to the common room. The stairs were not magically moving as before, but appeared to be locked in place. There was obvious damage to one wall and a huge canvas was draped over the hole to keep the weather out. The guide stopped the group in front of the fat lady portrait.
"You won't be using a password, since this is not a regular school term," said the guide, "Just say – open please."
The fat lady opened the portrait and group entered the common room. Harry thought the room looked perfectly ordinary with no signs of damage from the battle. The group gathered together in small groups and engaged in pleasant chit-chat before the meal was brought up. Harry and Neville were delighted to hear they would be staying in their old room along with Anthony and Michael.
"Blimey – this is what the Gryffindor common room looks like," Michael said.
"Yeah, not too bad," added Anthony.
The four of them mingled with the group and enjoyed the meal. Harry and Neville were anxious to see their old room looked and decided to say goodnight to the common room crowd. Upon entering their room, Harry and Neville positioned their trunks at the end of the old bunks they had used for so many years. For them – this was just like being home. A little later Michael and Anthony joined them and they exchanged school stories and took part in all manners of frivolities until the morning hours. As desperately as they tried to turn in early, it just wasn't going to happen. Someone would bring up something else to say or another story to tell.
They all four slept late and Harry was awakened by rustling in the common room. After throwing on his house coat and slippers he went down to see they were serving coffee and pastries. Grabbing a little coffee he quickly turned back upstairs to his room to cleanup and finish dressing. Since very little of the castle had been visible the night before, they all thought a walk in the morning light would be the first order of business. All four got dressed and slowly walked around the castle grounds, pausing to look at the impact of the battle. Clearly in the daylight the damage inflicted was much more dramatic. Many areas were marked off with what looked like yellow crime scene tape. The great spire on the astronomy tower was partially blown away. The hole in the Grand Staircase Tower was much larger from the outside. Large holes were visible in the walls of the Great Hall, with boulders and chunks of stone inside the hall and laying about on the grounds below. The clock tower was a mess and the paved courtyard was scattered with a plethora of stone and boulders. Everywhere they walked there was debris and the ruins of destruction. As they walked along the outer grounds, they came upon a sight that would surely trouble Ginny. The Quidditch pitch was totally destroyed and burned to the ground. Surely, they wouldn't start a school year with Quidditch, Harry thought.
"It's a little worse than I remembered," Harry said breaking the silence.
"It's a total wreck," added Neville.
The groups began to converge on the Three Broomsticks for the lunch and the kickoff meeting. Long tables were laid out with settings and everyone was encouraged to take a seat. Headmistress McGonagall sauntered in while pausing to personally greet and say hello to many in the group. At last she stood by a small podium at the end of the room.
"I wish to thank all of you for taking the time to be with us here today. The war has been a long ordeal for us all, but I know today by the faces looking back at me in this room, that we will prevail in our efforts to return Hogwarts to duty by this fall," she said before a good round of applause.
"Our goal for this summer is not to completely rebuild the school – I think we can all see that would be impossible. What we must concentrate on achieving, is making ready all four houses and dormitories along with the classrooms, Great Hall and kitchens," she added.
Headmistress McGonagall continued to speak on how they would divide up in teams and be directed by professional and construction experts. She introduced the castle historians and professionals that would manage the operation. She concluded, by once again by thanking everyone for their participation and civic mindedness. Everyone gave the impression they enjoyed the speech and a big round of applause followed.
"Is there any questions?", she asked.
A small Witch Harry didn't recognize raised her hand.
McGonagall pointed her way, "Yes Gladys?" she said.
"Headmistress, what about the castle being able to repair itself?" she asked.
"I wondered when someone would ask that. Yes, the castle does have the ability to regenerate itself structurally. This has been documented after previous disasters," she said then paused, "unfortunately just the foundations of the stone structure are effected – for the safety of the inhabitants during an extended siege, for example."
"Now, to some degree that process has been taking place, but we have used charms to slow this process for several reasons. First, the castle acts at times as if it has a mind of it own – it might not reconstruct itself in its original form. We want to oversee and assist this process in a way that will be beneficial for a school and not just a defensive structure."
"Anymore questions please!" McGonagall said while looking around the crowd.
"Now – without further ado, please enjoy your lunch," she said with arms outstretched and a smile.
The crowd enjoyed lunch and everyone appeared enthusiastic about the project. The groups gathered round and met with group leaders and set up tasks to start work on. Harry, Neville, Michael, and Anthony were in the same group and would begin work to restore the Great Hall. The house-elves were helping with the kitchens while another group would work on the lower areas affected by the flooding. The Slytherin common room extended to some degree under the Black lake. The windows there were under water and light from them gave the room it's famous greenish tint. At some time during the battle, a window was broken and the lower areas of the castle flooded slowly. Because walking to Hogsmeade was necessary for their meals, it was considered a priority to get the Great Hall and kitchens back in shape as soon as possible. The groups would rejoin later and commence work on the Slytherin common room and dormitories.
The groups all worked tirelessly to achieve their goals of the first week. The days were very long, but they could all see their progress growing before them and it was a good feeling. Within a matter of days the Great Hall was shaping up very nicely. One of the outside walls had been damaged badly and many of the roof timbers were missing or broken on that side. They would all magically lift together, while one or more would help guide the pieces into place. A few more days on the kitchens and the house-elves had the meals coming out again. The first evening meal served was followed by a round of cheers and toasts to all.
Harry felt a great sense of accomplishment and pride on their repair of the Great Hall. Cosmetically, it still needed a lot of work, but at least it was functioning as a proper dining area again. He'd always felt a strong connection with that part of the castle. It was of course the first room that the first year students saw as they waited to be placed into their houses by the sorting hat. Who could ever forget their first experience with the sorting hat and the Welcoming Feast.
Another day was starting, and this was the first morning Harry and his group would be treated to a full breakfast in the Great Hall. The group had just settled around the table and had started in on coffee as the toast, eggs, and sausages were magically floating to the tables. Post to the castle had arrived by Owl, but then delivered by a courier. On this morning, the Owls were making their normal post run through the Great Hall.
"Harry, what are we working on today?" asked Neville, "I hope it's not Slytherin house."
"Dunno Neville... Might have heard we'll divide our groups between Slytherin and Ravenclaw Tower."
"I hope it's Ravenclaw!" injected Michael.
"Yeah, me too!" said Anthony.
A large barn Owl swooped low over the table and dropped an envelope at Harry's place at the table. The envelope was addressed simply as 'Harry Potter'. He opened the envelope to read the note.
We know a little something about the staff now. Imelda Pickersgill
gave us a few strips of paper and reported you have a box of them.
We need the strips Harry – I'll explain later. If you could, meet
me with the box tomorrow at the Three Broomsticks. We'll talk
about it over lunch.
If there's a problem, please Owl back and we'll make other
Sparkelyn coming here – no way! He thought to himself. The personal secretary to the Minister for Magic wouldn't come if it weren't important. Besides, it would be great to have lunch with her. Harry couldn't get the thought off mind and had trouble sleeping that night. At the crack of dawn the next morning he disapparated to Grimmauld Place and got the box of ribbons out from under the china dresser. He was back for the morning breakfast in the Great Hall before being missed. Much to the relief of Neville, Michael, and Anthony the group had been assigned to work on the Ravenclaw tower. Excusing himself for lunch he apparated to Hogsmeade a little before twelve o'clock and walked to the inn while taking the time to enjoy the cool air and collect his thoughts. The Three Broomsticks had been used mostly by the students in the school year and had come to be known for the butterbeer and drinks rather then the food. Since the castle kitchens had closed down, Madam Rosmerta had made an effort to greatly improve the dining at the inn.
Taking a deep breath, he pushed the door open to the Three Broomsticks. As usual the light in the dining area was dim and smokey. His eyes required a little time to to adjust, but in a few seconds he had spotted Sandy Sparkelyn. The red hair was clearly visible at the small table in the corner. She noticed him immediately and in a professional way, stood up, and was ready to shake his hand when he got to the table.
"Thank you for coming Harry."
"Sure Sandy... no problem!"
There was something different about her, and he quickly realized she didn't look as tall as usual. Glancing down, he could see she was wearing flats instead of heels today. Normally she appeared to tower above him, but without the heels her height was much more manageable, and she was almost eye to eye – still maybe a bit taller. She took a seat on the left-hand side of the table, and Harry grabbed a chair opposite on the right. She looked curiously at the box as he placed it on the table.
"How the construction project going?" she asked as she motioned to the waitress to come over.
"Very good," he said, "We've got the Great Hall and kitchens working again. It shouldn't be too long before the Ravenclaw Tower is structurally sound," he added with as much professionalism as possible.
"I'm sure you're dying to know about this," she said pointing at the box.
"Have to admit," he said and then smiled, "I am curious."
"What are you folks having today?" the waitress asked.
They quickly ordered from the lunch special menu and quickly got back to the business of the ribbons and staff.
"Well, it turns out the staff is quite a relic actually. It's not just a wizards staff, but also doubles as a magical version of a message staff – an ancient coding device," she said before taking a deep breath, "The Spartans used a device of the same design, except without magic – that is, as far as we know. They called it a Skytalệ I think – yes, rhymes with Italy."
"Well – okay, but how does it work?" Harry said.
"Well – you wind the long strips around the cylindrical section and write in columns. Only a staff of the same size will allow the message to be read back. The message staffs were made in pairs – one for a commander in the field and the other in Sparta for instance."
"So how's the original different from the magical version?" he asked.
"The letters of the message doesn't appear at all until the strip is wound around the staff," she said.
"So, you think these have been used recently?" he asked.
"It looks like it – that's why we need the rest of these," she said as she glanced at the box, "They may provide us the first clues into this trafficking business."
"Well, I'll certainly be interested to hear your find," he said, "The Ministry, is it really as understaffed as everyone says?" he added.
"Yes... every bit as much Harry," she said, "Kingsley is very upset with the state of things. It's like we're being tested. Last week he was furious with the staff showing up in the States – this week its bottled Hinkypunks in Baghdad."
The waitress came walking up carrying a large tray with their lunch. They ate soup and sandwiches and sat silently for a few moments as they enjoyed the food. Gradually the conversation got a little more casual as Sandy's air of professionalism drifted away.
"You went to Hogwarts – right?" Harry asked.
"Sure," she said and then smiled.
"Either I didn't notice you or you must have finished before I started."
"May have finished just as you got there Harry," she said without elaboration. "You miss school Harry?"
Harry hoped he wasn't being perceived as childish. Today Sandy was wearing her hair long, but pulled back and gathered behind her. She was wearing a kind of Tunic like sweater that was gathered at the waist with a thin belt. There was no robes to hide her full figure today.
"Well, I grew up without a proper family," he said slowly, "The school was – well like a home to me. Then we missed all of last year with the war. So... the short answer is yes, I miss school and Quidditch and those kinds of things."
She looked up at Harry and seemed moved by this.
"I can understand how you feel – really I can," she added, "You were good at Quidditch – right?"
"A fair flier I guess – helps when you have good teammates," he said with reflection. Pondering over her question, he had a thought. "Tell me – did you play?"
"What – Quidditch?" she said with a slight smile.
"Yeah, Quidditch, did you play."
"Well, it's a long story really – for one year – yes," she said with a touch of embarrassment.
"Why'd you quit – If it's okay to ask?" he said.
She dropped her head and laughed to herself.
"I was dating a guy on the team – we broke up and I never went back out the following year."
"Do you still fly?" Harry asked with a twinkle in his eye.
"Aw... no, not in years," she said with a smile.
"Well, it's like riding a bike – you never forget how, you know."
Harry had never owned a bike, but it felt like the right thing to say.
She laughed at this and said, "Yeah, maybe you're right. Of course it's not the flying, but the falling I'd be worried about."
Once again the conversation slowed and now most of the meal was gone.
"Well... Harry I enjoyed lunch, but I'd better be getting back. " she said as her eyes rolled upwards in the sockets, "I'll let you know when we find out more about the messages, and I know Kingsley would like to see you."
"Well sure... yeah, let me know about the messages, and I enjoyed lunch!"
She picked up the box and started toward the door. She paused and looked back.
"If I were you, I'd have a butterbeer before I went back to the castle," she said smiling, "See ya Harry."
She was wearing leggings under the Tunic sweater and he could see she had attractive legs to match the rest of her shapely package. The thought of going back to the castle now seemed dreary.
"Butterbeer please!", he said as he caught the eye of the waitress.