Chapter 9 : A Dream, A Hat, and A Girl
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He could see an outline of a door on the opposite end of the white-washed room right next to a table where three judges sat.
“Welcome, Mister Potter,” said one of the judges. He struck Harry as a much older version of Professor Flitwick. “Are you ready to begin?”
“Yes,” he rasped through his suddenly dry throat. The small man looked to the witch seated beside him.
“I will meet you at your destination,” said the old witch. She rose from her seat and Harry nearly choked when she reached her full height. She had to be nearly six feet ten inches. She looked near seventy and she was thin as a twig. Her pale boney hand slipped beneath her robes briefly as she walked towards him. She pulled out a photo and handed it to him. “You are to Apparate in the alley behind Stone Books in Amesbury,” she explained. Harry watched as the scene zoomed through the town to focus on a rubbish bin in a dark alley. “There is a large brown rubbish bin in the alley with a blue ring marked on the ground next to it. You must Apparate inside that ring—with no parts missing—to pass.
“Do you have any questions?”
“Amesbury, alley, Stone Books, rubbish bin, blue circle…No. I-I think I’ve got it.” The judge briefly smiled.
“Whenever you’re ready, then.”
Harry stared at the picture for a few more moments, firmly planting the picture in his mind. He closed his eyes and concentrated. The sound of the quill taping on the table slowly muted and he suddenly felt as though he had plunged beneath fifty feet of water. Pressure built up on his ears and nose. He kept the image of the rubbish bin and the alley in his mind and ignored the uncomfortable squeeze that engulfed his whole body.
A moment later it was gone. Harry opened his eyes and cursed under his breath. No rubbish bins, no alley and no blue ring.
He was standing on a dirt road near the bottom of a hill, nowhere near Amesbury. He kicked at the ground in fury. All those months of work and practice for nothing. He’d failed. It wasn’t even by a few inches or even a block. He had to be off by a few miles at least.
Totally dejected, Harry started down the slight incline. He barely caught himself after tripping over some rocks. Brushing the wet dirt from his trousers, he squinted into the darkness. It was nearly impossible to see in the moonless night. The lights from a nearby town were blurry and dim, making it impossible for Harry to estimate how far away from it he was.
A stiff cold breeze nearly knocked him to the ground. He cursed again and continued toward the dim lights.
An angry shout pierced through the night and stopped him in his tracks. He squinted in a vain effort to find any sign of life, but the fog was too thick.
More shouts were followed by a high pitched shriek. Harry whipped around, faced the hill and started up. The fog lessened as he moved further up and the darkness seemed to lift as well.
Another scream. A sharp flash of blue light left a glow bright enough to outline a colossal pillar standing at the top of the incline.
“No! She isn’t apart of this!” someone shouted. He was still too far away to make out the voice. A flash of red lit up the old stones again.
When he reached the top of the hill, Harry ducked behind the nearest pillar. The shouts and screams were more numerous and conflicting as more spells were cast. There was one voice he could identify, and it made his blood run cold.
“Not a part of this?” the high, cold voice taunted. Even in the dark, the slim figure and snake-like voice of Voldemort was unmistakable. “My dear, little boy, have you learned nothing since we last met?”
Harry leaned out a bit further from the pillar to better asses his surroundings. The mist was gone and the moon was now shining in the sky. There were more colossal pillars surrounding Voldemort. He could just see the faint outlines of cloaked men standing opposite him.
A swift breeze swept through the stone formation and something dark and soft whipped in front of his face and grazed his nose.
He planted his back to the stone again. A Death Eater was standing just on the other side of his pillar!
“This isn’t their fight, Voldemort!” Harry whipped back around the pillar at the sound of his own voice.
His own voice? Harry surprised himself at how calm he was at the realization that this whole thing wasn’t real. There was no shock, suspicion, fear, or confusion seeing the outline of himself in the middle of the circle of stones. Like his own mind gently reminding him that he already passed is test the morning after his birthday, Harry simply began to understand that this whole thing was just a manipulation to warm him of something.
The next few seconds reminded Harry of the time that Dudley played with the dimmer lights. The whole area slowly lit up. He saw himself chained to the center pillar, Hermione beside him. Ron was lying on the ground… but it was getting too bright…he need to shield his eyes. But he couldn’t move. His arms wouldn’t respond.
Brighter and brighter; he tried to close his eyes…his body was frozen.
Harry’s eyes felt like they were on fire. He couldn’t see anything but white light. Then, in the distance, he saw something. Two dark orbs floating towards him.
As the orbs moved closer the pain subsided and Harry realized that they weren’t orbs, but eyes. He could see the faintest outline of the bridge of a nose. But he couldn’t take his gaze off the eyes. They were so blue; a very dark, pure blue. The most beautiful color he had ever seen. He was mesmerized. He felt limp and carefree as the gaze of the bodiless eyes seemed to delve into his very soul.
Prevent this, something whispered in his ear. Prevent this, it repeated. Prevent this? Prevent what?
Prevent this, it whispered again. The eyes faded away as the command echoed in his mind. The light subsided, it was dark again; something touched his shoulder.
Harry woke with a jerk.
“Harry?” His vision was blurry, but he could make out Ron and Hermione’s concerned faces looking down at him. Hermione handed Harry his glasses and Ron helped him sit up against the window.
“Harry,” Hermione began as she sat next to him. “Are you okay?” He nodded as his eyes refocused. The dream was still so vivid. Those eyes…those beautiful, dark blue eyes staring into his soul still hung in his sight every time he closed his eyes.
“I’m fine.” He felt no urge to tell them of the dream. The look in those eyes seemed to tell him to keep it to himself. Ron and Hermione shared a questioning glance.
“Come on, Harry,” said Ron. “What were you dreaming about?”
“Dreaming?” Had he talked in his sleep yet again? “Oh, nothing really,” he answered, hoping that his voice didn’t give anything away.
“Nothing?” said Hermione, unconvinced. “Then what are you supposed to prevent?”
“Prevent?” he answered, trying to feign ignorance. “What are you talking about?”
“You were mumbling in your sleep about preventing something,” said Ron.
“Really?” He shrugged. “I don’t know. I don’t even remember dreaming.” He didn’t dare look at Hermione. Her expression told him she didn’t believe a word he was saying. Making eye contact would only make her press more.
“I’m sure,” she said quietly. As she rose from the seat, she said, “We’ll be at Hogwarts soon and you still need to change.” She left, the unconvinced expression still etched on her face.
“How long until we get there?” he asked Ron, hoping to get off the subject of his dream.
“Last time Hermione checked with the conductor it was forty-five minutes,” said Ron as he grabbed Harry’s trunk from above the seat, “and that was at least fifteen minutes ago.”
Great, he thought to himself. Just great. I missed the whole train ride because of an eerie dream. Marvelous. He pulled out his robes while Ron brought down the rest of the trunks.
“Merlin, I wish Harry would stop trying to do that,” she mumbled to herself as she passed yet another compartment without a sign of Ginny or Neville or Seamus. Three young Ravenclaw girls and two boys in the compartment whispered something about ‘the Head Girl’ as she passed, but she ignored it. “You’d think after six years he’d know that he can’t lie to me.” She huffed in annoyance when her inspection of the next compartment turned up empty. Then again, a small voice whispered in her head, you didn’t tell Harry about your dreams or anything else that has been happening.
That’s different, she argued.
How? It questioned back. How are his dreams any less personal or important than yours?
They aren’t the same, she thought sternly and pushed the nagging voice to the back of her mind. Hermione refocused on her task at hand.
She’d only found Luna so far and, when asked, Luna didn’t know where the rest of the group had gone.
“I know Ginevra and Seamus went somewhere together,” she had told Hermione’s retreating figure.
Of course they did, she’d thought at the time, mentally rolling her eyes. Those two hardly survived the summer apart, of course they’re together. She sighed, and opened the door to the last car.
“Probably snogging each other senseless,” she muttered, stepping through the door. As soon as she shut the door behind her, Hermione suddenly felt very light headed. Reaching out to the wall for support, the train car began to spin. She rested her forehead against the wall and closed her eyes. Breathe, she told herself, in and out. She slid down the wall before her legs gave out.
She sat there for a moment, trying to breathe evenly. Her chest felt heavy, like a ten pound weight was pressing down on her lungs forcing her to take shallow breaths.
Why was this happening? It had to be the fourth time since Diagon Alley that she had felt short of breath and light headed. Each time it seemed to get worse and last longer.
Then, as suddenly as it came, it was gone.
She cautiously stood up, keeping her hand on the wall for support, and wiped her forehead with the back of her hand.
Cold sweat, that was new. The small corridor was still clear of students and Hermione hoped that no one had seen her.
She found Ginny and Seamus in the last compartment, and—much to Hermione’s surprise—they were not snogging or doing anything of the sort. Ginny was fast asleep, wrapped up in Seamus’ arms. He was absentmindedly playing with her long auburn hair while staring out the window.
Hermione suddenly felt a pang of jealousy as she watched the two of them. Was it really only five months ago that she and Ron were in the same position? Even with all their rows, the quiet times in the common room and library were so intimate and comfortable…she had felt wanted.
You didn’t have to end it with Ron. That snarky little voice was back. Yes I did, she replied. “Yes, I did,” she repeated softly.
“Did what?” asked a familiar voice from behind.
“Nothing, Harry,” she said without turning around. He closed the remaining distance between the two of them and stopped when he saw Ginny and Seamus in the compartment. He looked from the couple to Hermione and back. There was a feeling of regret that touched her features, Harry observed.
He opened his mouth to ask her if anything was wrong, but decided against it. It would be a pointless thing to do. She would just shake her head and say “I’m fine, Harry” even though there were a hundred things wrong.
It’s the same thing you do, as small voice whispered in his mind. “I found Neville,” he said instead. “He and Luna parted when he lost Trevor. He’s back getting his trunk now.”
“Hmm? Oh…good…thanks.” She still hadn’t taken her eyes off of the couple. Ginny had just woken up, and Seamus greeted her with a small kiss. Harry smiled. Even in the midst of all the chaos; the death, here was a sign that life and love would go on: A small little oasis of peace and calm in the middle of a war.
“They look so happy,” she said. He nodded in agreement.
“And if we want it to stay that way, we better tell them to break it up before Ron gets here.”
She frowned. “I wish he’d get a grip about all this,” she said, turning around. Her expression had changed to one of annoyed frustration. “They’re happy, for Merlin’s sake. Why can’t he accept that and be happy for them?
“You got over it,” she added.
“Yeah, I did, but it took me a long time, remember? And I’m not even really her brother. Ron is.” She sighed.
“Brother or not, it has almost been a year, and Seamus has done nothing to Ginny but make her happy. When they fight, even if it is over something superficial, they take the time to genuinely make up. They listen to each other. They work at their friendship as well as their romantic relationship…”
“Is this about them, or you and Ron?” Her eyes locked with his. Bingo.
“I’m sorry, Harry,” she said. Her lips turned up in a weak smile. “I suppose I got a little carried away with myself.”
Harry returned her smile and glanced back up the car. “Look, you better break them up. I’ll head off Ron and tell him I found you. Meet up at the carriages?” She nodded and knocked on the window pane.
The confines of the train made determining the number of returning students sketchy at best. At Hogsmeade station, Harry got the first glimpse at how many would be taking the carriage ride to the castle. Even in the dark, he could tell the Great Hall wouldn’t be as full as years past.
“Firs’ years! This way! Firs’ years!” Hagrid’s booming voice carried over the heads of the students. His lamp lit up his scruffy, scarred face. A pang of guilt rushed over Harry as he noticed Hagrid’s left arm hanging limply at his side. Even for a half giant, six simultaneous stunners to the arm will leave damage.
The memory of Hagrid’s sacrifice was as clear to Harry as if it had happened only the day before. It had been such an easy, quiet day….
A soft blanket of snow covered the small village of Hogsmeade, framing the little shops and cafés with drifts and icicles. It was a day worthy of holiday cheer; as if the fates decided to ignore the danger and the war to give holiday shoppers a picturesque look at how life used to be. It was the middle of the afternoon, and swarms of Hogwarts students were running in and out of shops, their arms full of bags and wrapped parcels. The only evidence of war was the occasional sight of an Auror patrolling the streets and shops.
Harry knew there were more around the village than just those few in uniform. Hogwarts and Hogsmeade were surrounded by them. There were even a few who patrolled the halls at night and Professor Larken had some of them demonstrated different defensive spells in class. With all of that protection, Harry—after much pleading from Hermione—relaxed and tried to block out all thoughts of Voldemort and the danger that seemed to be waiting around every corner. When he, Ron and Hermione walked into Honeydukes, all negative thoughts were left with the ice and snow outside. The sight of bitter cherry smoke bombs—Make Your Enemies Smoke From The Ears!—and super sour lemon drops—So Sour Your Lips Will Actually Twist!—made Harry suddenly feel eleven years old again.
He would never forgive himself for letting his guard down.
They hadn’t been in Honeydukes for more than twenty minutes when it started. One shout. One terrified, blood chilling shout and Hogsmeade began to panic. One shout then two, the sound traveling down the street like the dull roar of an oncoming tidal wave. Harry, Ron and Hermione were out the door of the shop in only a few seconds, their selected candies forgotten on the floor.
The three of them didn’t wait to ask what was going on; panic like this didn’t need explanation. Their wands out and ready for action, Harry saw a large crowd of people running down High Street, not caring to look who was being trampled. They ran up the street and Harry yanked a small third year boy back out of the path of the panicked people.
“Get back to Hogwarts as fast as you can.” The boy didn’t need telling twice. He nodded and was soon a fading figure sprinting towards safety.
“STUDENTS BACK TO HOGWARTS!” Hermione’s magically enhanced voiced boomed from just behind Harry and Ron. Zonko’s was quickly emptying and Ron had already made sure Honeydukes was clear, but that still left many, many shops. Too many.
The members of the DA and several other older students were soon by the trio’s side, waiting for orders like a unit of soldiers looking to their general.
“Fan out through the streets in groups of no less than three. Go through the shops and the streets. Find every student you can and get them behind the gates of Hogwarts,” Harry ordered. Seamus opened his mouth to say something, but Harry cut him off. “NO,” he snapped, making eye contact with everyone in the group. “Don’t even think about fighting the Death Eaters. Get the students and get out. I don’t want to see anyone dueling. Stun, dodge, hide, but don’t hang around. Do what you need to do to get back to Hogwarts, that’s all. Got it?” They all nodded, though some reluctantly. “Let’s get out of here as fast as possible.” The group quickly dispersed, leaving Ron and Hermione looking to Harry, waiting for instructions on what they would be doing.
“You two stay back and make sure no one hangs around to do something stupid.
Everyone has to get through the gates. Search every nook and cranny of the shops closest to Hogwarts. Some students might hide there.”
“And where are you going?” asked Hermione, her posture giving away her annoyance at being told to stay back.
“I’m going further up the street to find Kingsley, let him know what we’re doing and help out.”
“So you get to…”
“WE DON’T HAVE TIME TO ARGUE, HERMIONE!” Her mouth snapped shut. “Just do what I say and we can finish this dispute later.” He left up the street before she could say anything else. The cracks and pops of disapparating witches and wizards filled the air, mixing with the screams and sounds of spells hitting buildings. The memory of the Department of Mysteries failure flickered in his mind for a moment. He couldn’t let that happen again.
Harry found Kingsley and another Auror at the fence that guarded the Shrieking Shack. A group of Death Eaters had entrenched themselves behind trees and a large boulder. Ginny, Colin and Seamus were guarding a group of younger students and firing their own shots, trying to stay under cover behind some of the large trees near the fence. After dodging a few well aimed stunners and planting some of his own into the unusually large group of Death Eaters, Harry joined Kingsley in his fight.
“Well, well, look who’s joined us! It’s wee Potty!” one of the masked men jeered.
“What the hell are you doing here, Potter?” he puffed after blocking three stunning spells.
“Looking for you and for more students who hadn’t got to Hogwarts,” answered Harry as a yellow jet of light barely missed his ear. “Ginny! Get them out of here!” he yelled over his shoulder.
“Where can we go?” she shouted back. As soon as he opened his mouth to answer, a Death Eater came from behind and choked him in a strangling head lock. No matter how hard he tried or which way he moved, he couldn’t get a hold of the Death Eater in the way Professor Larken had taught him so he could flip him over his shoulder. The man was just too big.
But the holder was soon ripped from his body. The Death Eaters shouted in surprise. Harry was roughly pulled to his feet. “You all righ’, Harry?”
“Hagrid!” The Death Eater’s spells began to focus on the half-giant. Harry fired back as Hagrid knocked the closest ones to the ground. “Hagrid, you’ve got to give us cover long enough to get the younger students into the Shrieking Shack.”
“You’ll have all the time yeh need, Harry!” he shouted back and he flung one Death Eater into a tree trunk.
“Ginny! Seamus! Get them to the Shack!” Colin blasted through the fence and took the lead in front of the other students. Ginny, Seamus and Harry took up the rear, blocking spells and sending their own.
“Come on, Harry!” called Ginny as they got the last of the third and fourth years into the old house. He lingered back. Something made his stomach twist as he watched Hagrid fight off the Death Eaters.
Then, like a slow motion movie, he watched in horror as six stunners hit Hagrid’s left arm, point blank. He hit the snowy ground with such force the Death Eaters lost their balance. Kingsley and the other Auror took the opportunity and subdued the remaining Death Eaters, but the damage was done, and Harry knew it was his fault.
“Harry?” A soft voice brought him out of his memories and back to the present. Hermione touched his arm and gave him a curious look. She followed his line of sight and soon understood.
“It’s my fault, Hermione,” he said. “If…”
“If what, Harry?” she asked impatiently. “Don’t even start to blame yourself for it! He came to help. He would have stayed whether you were there or not; whether someone asked him to or not. You know him; he will do anything for the students of Hogwarts.
“You know him, Harry,” she repeated softly. They stood there for a moment longer, Harry watching Hagrid’s large retreating figure and the limp arm that awkwardly swung at his side.
“Come on, Harry. Ron is holding a carriage for us and we’ve got to get to the feast.” He followed her to the line of Thestral driven carriages and saw Ron’s tall figure holding the door open for the last carriage.
“Hurry up there mates! We can’t hold everyone up!” Ginny and Seamus were already inside. Ron jumped in next to Ginny. Harry turned to Hermione to help her in, but she was still staring at the Thestrals.
Even in the dim lamp light, Harry could see that she was very near crying. “Hermione?”
“I never thought I would see them,” she said simply. He reached out and gave her arm an affectionate squeeze.
“I hoped you never would,” he replied. “Come on. Let’s go.” She took his offered hand and soon they were bumping along in the carriages as the invisible animals took them back to Hogwarts.
Seated once again at the Gryffindor table, Harry took the opportunity to see who had returned to Hogwarts. His first glance was at the Slytherin table, hoping he wouldn’t see…but he was there. The platinum blond Draco Malfoy was sitting between Pansy and Goyle, his perpetual smirk pasted on his face. Harry scowled at him. Why did Dumbledore let him back to school after what he did last year? And why did Malfoy want to come back? He looked up to the head table and studied the Headmaster. Albus Dumbledore may be the wisest and most powerful wizard in the world, but he trusted people too much.
“I wonder who is going to teach Defense this year,” said Ron, his gaze surveying the head table.
The Ravenclaw table looked like it lost a few of its members; Padma was gone. Harry’s insides twisted thinking about the Patil twins. Hufflepuff had lost a few too. Slytherin had lost the most, though that wasn’t much of a surprise. Gryffindor had faired pretty well. There couldn’t be more than two or three who didn’t come back. Other than Colin and Parvati…he suddenly had the urge to retch. They would never be coming back. Ever.
“There’s Hagrid. The first years should be here soon,” said Hermione. Hagrid filled one of the empty chairs. Professor McGonagall’s empty seat was on Dumbledore’s right, but the seat to his left was still empty.
Harry quickly scanned the rest of the head table looking for a new face; no one new. Had Dumbledore been unable to find a replacement? His stomach twisted again at the thought of Professor Larken.
“Hey, who’s that?” asked Ron. He was practically lying on his plate looking down towards the very end of the table. Before Harry could see who he was talking about, the doors to the Great Hall burst open and Professor McGonagall, at her brisk pace, lead very wet and very nervous looking first years between the Ravenclaw and Gryffindor tables.
“It must have just started to rain,” said Hermione, looking up at the enchanted ceiling. Harry looked as well and saw that dark clouds were dumping rain down from the ceiling.
The stool was set in front of the small crowd of first years. The group looked larger than the previous years’ groups. Professor McGonagall placed the Sorting Hat on the stool and stood back.
A tear opened up at the brim and it began to sing.
To divide young minds among the noble houses four
I do not judge for myself
The qualities sought by each founder are present in each person
The qualities they desired the most, I find
The Founders Four believed that not all of time would be a peace
So they gave me a brain,
To listen and understand with little strain,
The qualities possessed within your minds,
To help set you each in line,
So before I divide in quarters
I ask you to listen closely:
For many a time, throughout the ages
Men and Wizards have fought
In darkness, light, caves and cages
But few have seen what lingers now
Magic has awoken and found itself abused
And it will no longer bow or be amused
For now unity is needed
I separate you because I must
And among yourselves, you must find trust
But know this:
Gryffindor in his courage
Ravenclaw with her knowledge
Slytherin in his nerve
And Hufflepuff in her loyalty
Saw that anger and evil might come in time
Thus this school must remain undivided
Hold to your friends and remain united
For this may be my last song
The Great Hall was silent. Not a whisper or murmur floated through the hall. Harry looked to Dumbledore. His expression revealed nothing but curiosity. The Headmaster nodded to Professor McGonagall, she unrolled her parchment and began to call out names.
“Arthur, James!” A small blond boy from the middle of the group nervously walked to the stool and put on the Sorting Hat. The brim fell over his eyes. The Great Hall began to buzz as soon as the boy left the stool after being declared a Ravenclaw.
“Can you believe what the hat said?” Dean said to Harry from across the table. “What did he mean by the ‘last song he sings’?” Harry shook his head.
“I have a feeling that you won’t like the answer to that, Dean.”
“Magic has awoken and found itself abused,” Hermione whispered to herself. “What in the world could that mean?” There was a clatter of a goblet hitting other dishes, and she looked over to the other side of Harry and saw Ron craning his neck to look down at the end of the table again.
“What are you looking at, Ron?” asked Harry.
“That girl,” he answered, still practically lying flat on the table. “The brunette at the very end of the table.”
“Ron! You’re making a scene!” Hermione hissed at him.
“The one at the very end?” Neville was now looking as well. Several more Gryffindors joined them and were causing such a scene that several Ravenclaw and Hufflepuff students turned their attention from the sorting to look down the Gryffindor table.
“Yes! The one who just looked at her watch.” Harry could see her now. Her hair was up in a loose pony tail. Every few seconds she checked her watch. The boy across from her said something and she looked up at him. He jerked his head down towards their end of the table and she glanced down the table.
Seamus, Neville, Ron, Dean, Ginny and several others quickly sat back on the benches and pretended to watch the Sorting.
“What’s the big deal about her anyway, Ron?” asked Harry. Ron’s brow was furrowed and he shook his head.
“I can’t really place it, but I know I’ve seen her somewhere.”
Harry just shrugged and turned back to the Sorting. Reynolds, Clarice was being sorted now. A few moments under the hat and she was declared a Gryffindor. He clapped with the rest of his house mates.
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen that girl here before,” said Hermione to no one in particular. Harry glanced back down the table. The girl was checking her watch again.
“I haven’t either. She sure seems to be in a rush about something,” he said when she checked her watch no more than five seconds later.
“Willis, Alice!” was the last to be called and she joined the Gryffindor table after a few minutes under the hat.
“Fifty first years…that was a much bigger group than I thought,” said Ginny.
“Funny, really,” replied Neville. “Lots of first years are sent here, but some of the older students didn’t return. I thought Hogwarts was going to get a really small incoming class this year.”
“At least they will make up for those we lost,” said the boy who was sitting on the other side of Ginny.
Harry immediately thought of Colin Creevey and Parvati Patil, and he suddenly didn’t feel like eating.
Dumbledore rose from his chair after the hat and stool were put away. “We have much to talk of tonight. But first, tuck in!”
Even with the most delicious looking food placed before him, Harry didn’t have much of an appetite. His thoughts were still with Colin and Parvati.
He poured himself a glass of ice cold pumpkin juice and tried to push away the images of their terrified faces from his mind.
“For pete’s sake! This is driving me nuts!” Ron muttered. He was still staring down the table at the girl.
“Hey…Ron…hey! Watch where you’re putting those chicken legs!” Harry picked the drum stick off his lap and put it in his table. “What is wrong with you, Ron? Why does this girl interest you so much?” Ron finally tore his eyes away from the girl at the end of the table and stared at Harry.
“She’s never been here before, Harry. Not in any house and most certainly not in ours. I’d remember that.” Harry could almost feel Hermione roll her eyes behind him at Ron’s last statement. “Aren’t you the least bit curious about who she is and why she has suddenly appeared at Hogwarts?”
“Sure I am, but you don’t need to gawk at her from the other side of the table.”
“I wasn’t gawking,” he protested.
“Then what would you call staring at a girl and creating such a scene that half the school is now wondering what could possibly be so interesting at the other side of the Great Hall?” Hermione asked.
“Alright, fine, you win. I’ll stop staring. But I’m going to talk to her before we go to bed tonight. I know I’ve seen her before.” He turned back to his plate and started to pile up some more mashed potatoes.
After dinner was served and the desserts were cleared away, Dumbledore rose from his seat once more.
“Welcome to another year at Hogwarts! There are a few things we must discuss before you all go tumbling off into the land of dreams. First, as always, the Forbidden Forest is off limits to all students. Second, Mr. Filch, our caretaker, would like me to remind you that magic is not allowed in the corridors and that all items from Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes fall catalogue are on the list of banned items. For full details on all items on that list, see Mr. Filch.
“Now onto more serious issues. No one is to travel outside the castle after dark unless escorted by a teacher. There will be no wanderings of the halls after hours. Those who are caught doing so will be severely punished. Also, Hogsmeade visits will be allowed this year…” The Great Hall buzzed with excited murmurs and whispers. “BUT,” Dumbledore held up a hand for silence, “visits will be restricted to fifth years and above.”
Shouts of protests and “that’s unfair!” quickly filled the hall. Dumbledore held up his hand again. “For those whose memories seem to be a bit rusty, I will only mention last Christmas.” His voice, though calm, reverberated with sadness. Harry saw Hagrid awkwardly move his arm and the awful feeling of guilt seep through his veins again. The protestors quickly quieted.
“Teachers will be escorting those older students who choose to go to the village. Shops and cafés will be restricted. More information will be available to you the weekend before the first visit.
“Due to recent events, the Ministry cannot spare the extra Aurors as it did last year. So I must implore all of you to be on the look out for each other. When outside the castle walls, stay in groups of no less than four.” Dumbledore suddenly made eye contact with Harry. He knew what that look meant. Not even with an invisibility cloak.
“As for Quidditch, unless further precautions and protections can be made, there will be no tournament this year.” Even Harry groaned at this announcement. Quidditch was his only outlet, the only thing in his life that made him feel normal. “These are dark times. Sacrifices must be made. Heed the words of the Sorting Hat. Unity is our strength in times like these. I look to our new Head Boy and Girl, Ernie Macmillan and Hermione Granger, and to our House Prefects for leadership and unity. They are put in place not only to make sure you are following the rules,”—again Dumbledore caught Harry’s gaze—“but to help you.” Hermione sat a bit higher in her seat and Ernie puffed his chest out. He was certainly going to be fun to deal with.
“Now, off to bed with you.” Ron stood up so fast he nearly knocked Harry off the bench.
“What are you doing, Ron?”
“I’ve got to find that girl!”
Hermione bristled. “You are still a Prefect, Ron! You’ve got to help lead the first years back to the Gryffindor Tower.”
“Ginny and John can do it. If I don’t find out who that girl is, I won’t sleep at all tonight.” He was gone in the crowd before she could say anything else.
“Ooh, he really frustrates me sometimes.” Only sometimes? Harry thought. Ginny and John Reynolds called for first years to follow them.
“I’m going to catch up with Ron. What’s the new password?”
“Mozart? Isn’t he…”
“A muggle composer,” she finished for him. “Yes he is. And don’t ask me why our password is a dead composer. It’s what the note said this morning.” Harry just shrugged his shoulders. “Wait up for me in the Common Room when you get there. I have to talk to Professor McGonagall first.” He waved in answer and disappeared into the crowd.
Hermione spotted Professor McGonagall behind the head table, near the door leading to the corridor that contained the professors’ quarters. She waited beside Professor Dumbledore’s high backed chair for McGonagall to finish speaking with Professor Flitwick. Professor McGonagall caught her gaze and gave her nod that told her “I’ll be done in a moment Ms. Granger.” Ernie soon joined her.
“What a year this is going to be, eh Hermione?”
“I can only hope it will be better than last year,” she replied. The professors finished their conversation and Professor McGonagall turned to the Head Students.
“As Head Students, you two will be expected to attend meetings with the teachers once a week. Your first meeting is tomorrow morning at nine, right after breakfast. There is some information that you must be aware of.” Hermione stole a glance at Ernie. He kept his countenance, but his face had gone a bit white. McGonagall’s expression softened. “It isn’t anything dangerous, but you do need to know about it. Also, as I am sure you know from being Prefects, your common room is on the fourth floor through the portrait of Silas. The password is ‘dormir.’ You may change it when you like. Just make sure I know what the new password is.” Hermione smiled at the mental picture of the large portrait of the lazy Great Dane. “Your rooms are located at the top of your House towers and they are connected to your common room.” She looked at them both rather seriously for a moment. “Professor Dumbledore trusts you both very much. This year, more than any other, we need unity between the houses. I want this to be one of your top priorities.”
“Yes, ma’am,” said Ernie in his annoying pompous fashion.
“Good. Now, both of you to bed. I expect you to be prompt tomorrow morning.”
“We won’t forget, Professor.”
McGonagall surprised them both with a small smile and left through the door behind the head table.
“I’m really quite tired Ernie. Let’s worry about head duties tomorrow after the teacher’s meeting.” It wasn’t entirely a lie. She was tired. But she also had the awful feeling that she was going to have one of her ‘episodes.’
“Oh, well…” He seemed at a loss for words. “Then I’ll see you at breakfast.” He moved to leave but stopped. “Hermione? Are you feeling alright? You look a bit pale.”
“No, I’m fine. I’m just…” He caught her before she hit the floor.
“You are not fine, Hermione. Maybe you should go to the Hospital Wing.”
“NO!” she snapped. “I mean, no thank you,” she said after she saw the concerned look on his face. “I really am fine. I guess I’m just much more tired than I thought. I’ll be alright in a minute.” He stayed with her until she no longer felt faint and woozy, but he refused to let her go to Gryffindor tower alone. They parted ways after she gave the Fat Lady the password and she didn’t miss the look of worry etched in his still boyish features. She gave him a warm smile and thanked him. Maybe working with him wasn’t going to be so bad.
“There you are!” she heard Harry call out from their favorite spot by the fire. Ron was sitting in the large plush chair, his arms crossed and his brow wrinkled.
“What’s wrong with him?” she asked Harry. He looked over at Ron, who still hadn’t taken his eyes from the fire.
“He couldn’t find the girl. He said he took every shortcut he knew and that there was no way she could have beat him here, but she never showed up. He’s been staring into the fire ever since.” Hermione rolled her eyes, but gave Ron a sympathetic look.
“I’m sure you’ll see her tomorrow Ron,” she soothed. “Tomorrow is Saturday, Ron, I thought you would be happy as a lark that we don’t have classes.”
“I am happy,” he said running his hands through his hair. “I just want to know who that girl is! I’ve seen her somewhere. In a newspaper or something! I just know it!”
She rolled her eyes. “We’re all tired. Maybe after you sleep you’ll remember.” He sighed.
“Oh all right. You’re right, as usual. Maybe I do just need to sleep. I’ll see you both tomorrow,” he went up the stairs still muttering to himself about “knowing that girl from somewhere.”
Harry looked at Hermione and noticed something for the first time. “What happened to your necklace?” Her hand went to her neck.
“Oh! I don’t know.” That was odd. “I don’t remember ever taking it off.” She frowned. When did I last have it on?
“Maybe you packed it away,” he offered.
“Maybe…” And yet, she wasn’t entirely sure she had worn it since they returned from Diagon Alley.
Harry yawned and stretched in his chair. “I must be more tired than I thought,” he said, stifling another yawn. He stood up and stretched again. His nap on the train put a kink in his neck. “Going to bed?” She hesitated but nodded. “Walk up with me?” She smiled and they went up the brief flight of stairs before it split off to the girls’ dormitories. “Meet you for breakfast?”
“Only if it is a bit early; Ernie and I have to go to a meeting at nine, right after breakfast.” He grimaced at the thought of getting up early on a Saturday.
“How about breakfast if I’m up? If not, we’ll just meet here when you’re done with the meeting.”
She gave him an amused smile. “Sure.”
They their ‘goodnights’ and Hermione disappeared behind the door.
Lying in bed later that night, Harry listened to his stomach growl and he wished he had at least eaten the rolls. Ignoring the soft snores of his classmates, Harry fell asleep.
Post Note: Love it? Hate it? Did the sorting hat song work okay? I'm horrible at rhyming so I know it was rough. Critique and comments are very very welcome. Please review!
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