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Chapter 1: One
“Are you sure you’re up to this?”
“It’s not going to be like anything you’ve experienced before, Amelia. It’s a big enough commitment as it is, but these days…”
“I can handle it.”
Mum stopped fussing with my Head Girl badge long enough to meet my gaze, and I realised, suddenly, how much she had aged. As if ten years had suddenly caught up with her overnight, weighing her down with fatigue and filling her eyes with apprehension.
“I know you can, sweetheart,” she said with a smile that didn’t reach her eyes, as her maternal faith in me battled with the knowledge that maybe I was facing a challenge I couldn’t meet.
I didn’t let her see my apprehension, giving her a cheerful smile and picking my trunk up off the kitchen floor. “Seven years later and I still don’t understand why we have to go all the way to London to catch a train that stops an hour’s drive from here.”
Although I had gotten my Apparition licence over the summer, Mum still held her hand out to me and Apparated us both to Kings Cross. I think she did it more for normality than anything. That, and the fact she wasn’t quite willing to accept I was growing up and this was the last time she would see me off on the Hogwarts Express for the start of the year.
I ignored the sideways glances of the Muggles as I strode through the station, knowing full well that no matter how much attention I drew to myself by wearing my Hogwarts robes, they would never realise who or what I was. My father’s new wife was evidence enough of that – she thought I was just inventing stories to entertain my half-sister Clara. And Dad wondered why I hadn’t been to visit in two years.
I pushed that thought from my mind as we crossed through the barrier onto Platform 9¾. As usual, it was pandemonium as nearly a thousand students were seen off by parents and siblings. Mum didn’t stick around – she gave me one quick hug, whispered ‘Be careful’ in my ear, and was gone. I didn’t mind – she had to get back to Hogsmeade to open the school and my duties started the moment I arrived on the platform. I walked through the crowds, continually being stopped by parents or students asking questions. In addition to the usual questions (What kind of supervision is there on the train for my children? When does the train get to Hogwarts? Does that badge mean you can give me detention?) one mother pulled me aside and asked what I thought about Harry Potter.
“I’m neutral,” I told her firmly.
“But the Prophet is saying—”
“I know what the Prophet is saying, I subscribe to it. But there are two sides to every story and it would be inappropriate for me to choose one.”
“Do your views reflect that of the school’s?”
“I don’t know what the school’s views are. I know what Professor Dumbledore’s are, obviously, but that has no impact on mine.”
“Listen,” the mother continued, pulling me closer. “It’s my Emma’s first year. She’s my eldest. I need to know she won’t get any dangerous ideas.”
“From my experience, the views of the Ministry aren’t something eleven year olds are likely to spend a lot of time discussing. The Hogwarts curriculum doesn’t cover current events, so whatever the school’s viewpoint is on the return of He Who Must Not Be Named, your daughter won’t hear it in her classes.”
The parents were beginning to disperse and the Hogwarts whistle sounded, signalling it was time for me to board as well. After a quick scan of the platform to make sure no lost-looking firsties were about to miss the train, I entered the Prefects’ Carriage to join my best friend and Head Boy, Oliver Hobbs.
“I think we’re in for a rough year,” Oliver said in an undertone.
I nodded in response, not wanting to pursue the conversation when two dozen Prefects were watching us, and turned to them. “First things first, welcome back to Hogwarts. If you’ve been a Prefect before, I’ve just got a couple of quick notices before you start your rounds. The first is that Filch has asked us to confiscate any Zonko’s or similar products if we see them on the train, and not give them a chance to get through the school gates. The second is that, due to the controversy around whether He Who Must Not Be Named is back or not, I encourage you to keep your personal convictions to yourself and present yourself as neutral. The last thing we want to do is promote division within the school.”
This last statement prompted a flurry of whispered discussion among the prefects, which I quickly interrupted. “You’re free to start your rounds of the train now. Rosters for castle rounds will be owled to you tomorrow. Fifth years, stay here while Oliver outlines your responsibilities as Prefects.”
Oliver shot me a glare – he hated explaining things, and walking eight fifteen-year-olds through the details of Prefect duties was a particularly arduous process – the Prefect Code of Conduct alone was nearly two feet of parchment long.
Oliver introduced us – I had forgotten to do that, I tended to assume people knew who I was – and as he launched into a description of castle rounds I took the opportunity to survey this year’s new crop of Prefects. It came as no surprise that Harry Potter was absent from the group – Dumbledore wasn’t stupid enough to invite that kind of controversy, even if Potter was his favourite student. Instead, the Prefects from Gryffindor were Hermione Granger, the apparent genius of that year group, and one of the Weasleys – I didn’t know his name, but figured I would learn it in time. Hufflepuff’s prefects were Ernie and Hannah, friends of my cousin Susan, but I thought she should have gotten the role instead of Hannah. I didn’t know much about the Ravenclaw prefects, but Oliver had said they were definitely the best choice.
And then there were the Slytherins. Being in Slytherin, you see a lot of obnoxious pureblood kids (It had taken three years of getting top of class before my classmates had accepted that maybe a half-blood was worthy of being in their midst) but this year’s prefects really were little shits – Draco Malfoy and Pansy Parkinson. There hadn’t been a lot of competition, granted – the 1991 intake had held slim pickings for Slytherin – but in cases like that I quietly thought they should take a couple of extra Prefects from Ravenclaw or Hufflepuff and just bypass Slytherin entirely.
As usual, a large chunk of the questions posed by the new Prefects (responsible, carefully selected students in positions of authority, supposedly) were to do with what they could take points off for, particularly from junior students, and how many points they could take from a particular group before they started noticing they were being victimised.
“Say we took points from a Slytherin,” the Weasley boy began. “But they didn’t stop doing whatever it was, so we take more points from them. Then we see them again and they’re doing something different, so we take more points. Then a bunch of their friends are also breaking rules, as we just see Slytherins breaking rules because they’re gits…”
I leveled a glare at him, maintaining the glare until he noticed the house colours on my badge and stared at his feet, looking sheepish. “Misconduct on the part of prefects,” I began, still keeping my eyes on him, “Is determined and punished by myself and Oliver. If we hear about it, we can take points off you. In extreme cases, we can ask your Head of House to have you removed from the position. I should also point out, in response to your comments, that it was Gryffindor who lost the most amount of points last year due to student misconduct, not Slytherin.”
“Right, so I think that’s it for now,” Oliver declared in the silence that followed. “As Amelia said earlier, rosters for the castle rounds will be sent to you by owl tomorrow morning. We’ll have a Prefect meeting in about six weeks’ time, just to check back on how things are going. You’re free to go. And we’ll be monitoring the points you all take from students. We have ways to do that.”
We watched the fifth years file out, and Hermione Granger pulled me aside on her way out. “Don’t worry about Ronald,” she told me earnestly. “I’ll keep an eye on him, and make sure he’s fair.”
“Much appreciated, Hermione.”
She gave Oliver and I another quick smile, promised to make us and the school proud, and was gone.
“Ah, the self-righteous ones,” I commented, leaning back on my chair. “They’re my favourites.”
“They police themselves,” Oliver agreed. “Good call with the neutrality thing about You Know Who, by the way.”
“We can but try,” I sighed. “That’s going to be an impossible task with the newbies though. Did you see them? Harry Potter’s best friends and Draco Malfoy.”
Oliver shrugged. “So who do you believe?”