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Chapter 18 : Back to School
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Back to School
Early on the morning of their departure, at breakfast, Hermione asked, “Mr. and Mrs. Weasley, when you drop us at the Express do you apparate back to The Burrow?”
“Sometimes dear,” replied Mrs. Weasley. “Unless Arthur has ministry cars, then we ride back with them. Arthur likes to see that everything gets properly done. Is that what you want to do?”
“No,” replied Hermione, “I want to enjoy the whole catastrophe!”
Ron laughed and Ginny added to the mirth with a wonderful imitation of Hermione, “Oh! Yes, nothing like the look on a taxi driver's face when Crookshanks scratches long, ragged rips in his pants.”
When the cabs arrived, the family was already standing at the gate. Their trunks were piled two-by-two, one atop the other. Hermione was carrying Crookshanks' traveling basket, empty as Crookshanks was still at school. Ron had Pigwidgeon in his cage, and Harry was carrying his and Ginny's new owl, “Barnaby.” The two drivers got out, gawked at The Burrow and opened the boots of their taxis. Harry and Ron lent a hand loading their trunks. In the first cab Ron and Hermione sat on either side of Mrs. Weasley, Crookshank's basket on Hermione's lap and Pigwidgeon's cage on Ron's.
The driver of the second cab held open the door to the passenger compartment, “So, back to school eh?”
“Yep, first day of term,” answered Harry as they climbed inside. They settled in for the ride with Ginny in the middle. Harry held Barnaby.
When the cab turned onto the paved road toward London Mr. Weasley asked, “How does it feel, going back to school?”
“First and last,” answered Harry with a theatrically mysterious voice and expression. Ginny was better at it but these little dramas were fun.
Both Ginny and Arthur looked at him quizzically.
He explained his play on words, “This is the first time since our first year we've gone to school with nothing but classes waiting. But it's also the last time. We'll be back, we'll be home, and we'll ride the Express again, but this is our last first day. It's like you said when you gave Ginny her watch; it's a new stage of life.”
Ginny added, “It's hard not to be a little sentimental but we're happy Dad. I honestly think we know what we're doing, well, most of the time anyway.”
“I'm sure you do,” answered her father, who was quite sure of his daughter.
The ride to London was uneventful, the two threesomes chatting amiably but without much purpose as each of them followed thoughts that could be spoken with a Muggle listening. When they turned onto the street to the station, now more run-down than when the grand edifice was new, the traffic intensified to an unmoving line long before the entrance.
After a few motionless minutes, Harry got out, sat Barnaby's cage on the seat and said, “I'll go see what's going on, maybe we should walk from here.”
In a few minutes Harry returned. He came to the driver's door and motioned for him to roll down his window. Harry explained so they could all hear, “Some idiot blocked cars, locked his and went who knows where. There's a lorry hauling the car away; we should begin to move now.”
Traffic began to slowly move as taxis, lorries, and cars cleared from behind the just-removed blockade but the road was still jammed and the station was hardly getting any closer. The drivers stopped and helped Ron and Harry navigate the four trunks through the queue of parked cars about half the length of a Quidditch pitch before the station entrance. Ron paid one and Harry paid the other while Ginny and Mr. Weasley ran for trolleys. Hermione and Mrs. Weasley stayed by their trunks and managed their pets.
Then, with two trolleys each loaded with two trunks, owls on top, Crookshank's basket in Hermione's arms, they hurried their way into and through the crowded station, here and there swerving around a Muggle or two. They had to halt in front of the barrier to platform 9 ¾ where an apparently first year family, a mother and son, fiddled with the brand new owl cage on their trolley.
Mrs. Weasley apparently sensed the problem was less about the cage and more about the barrier. She approached the mother, who was considerably younger, closer to the four friends than to their parents, “May I help?”
“Well, I- I don't know about the wall. . . I mean. . .the barrier . . . I guess it's called. You see I'm a, a mu- mu-.”
“Muggle,” said Mrs. Weasley matter-of-factly. “As long as you are with your son, or someone magical, the barrier will work for you. Arthur and I will help you back to the street when the train leaves.” Seeing Ginny point to her watch she took control of the trolley. The first year boy trotted alongside and his mother was more or less dragged along.
The two couples passed through the barrier as they had done so many times before. Steam from the Hogwarts Express carried down the platform from where the engine stood in the tunnel leading to the north-bound rails. In the coolness of the September air, it condensed on the sides of the cars and dripped onto the tracks below. But, where were the students milling around, greeting one another? Why were only the families here?
Mr. Weasley shouted, “Everyone's on already.”
Between the traffic and the first year they were late and the doors were ready to close. They didn't think twice. “Locomotor trunk,” sounded in four voices and four wands guided trunks through the open doors.
Ron's was first on board. Hermione told him, “Ron, that first year isn't going to make it. Go get'm!”
Mr. Weasley helped the other three make room by rushing their trunks and cages into the corrido. Ron ran back to the first year boy who was still holding on to the trolley. Ron bent down to face him, “Hi, I'm Ron Weasley; what's your name?”
“Alright Kevin I'm going to help you get on the train. Run, run as fast as you can to the door where my friends are waving and I'll get your stuff.”
The first year didn't even turn when Ron said “Locomotor trunk” but ran straight for the door where Hermione was waving him on. Mrs. Weasley trotted alongside handing Ron the owl. With the owl cage in his left hand and his wand guiding the youngster's trunk Ron sped up. The doors were about to close. He could hear the hiss as the brakes were released. Ron's long strides caught up to Kevin as the doors began to shut from the front of the train. He guided the trunk into the door, jumped in pulling Kevin with him as his father jumped off. The doors closed behind them.
While the train moved out of the station, they organized their trunks, their pets and Kevin McArdle. Ginny went first guiding her trunk down the corridor. She was followed by Harry guiding his trunk with Barnaby's cage on top. Behind him Hermione had both Pigwidgeon and Crookshank’s empty basket riding on her trunk while Ron brought up the rear guiding their stacked trunks and Kevin's owl. A very wide-eyed Kevin McArdle was keeping close to Ron.
When they passed the Prefects' compartment Hermione took a quick look. It was empty. “No Prefects,” she said, sounding unsurprised.
Ron replied, “McGonagall said they weren't sure who'd return to school this year. There must be a teacher or two on board.”
Ron was right; Professor Sandberg was sorting out an argument about trunks between two girls. They looked like second or third years. In the next car Ginny raised her free hand and when the others asked what she wanted she slowed, then stopped and called back to Ron. “Ron, the compartment just behind me has what looks like three first years, why not settle Kevin in there?” The three moved forward enough to clear the compartment door for Ron and Kevin.
Hermione, Harry and Ginny, their trunks hovering quietly in the corridor, waited while Ron kneeled in the compartment door to be closer to the three youngsters' size. He introduced Kevin to the others and hovered Kevin's trunk into the luggage rack above.
Handing Kevin his owl Ron promised, “See you at the sorting,” Ron returned to the corridor. The parade of trunks continued down the aisle. They walked for most of another car looking for an empty compartment, responding to greetings from classmates, stopping to say a quick “hello” to Neville, who was deep in conversation with Hannah Abbott.
Harry remarked to Ginny, “Hannah was DA, in my year. I'm a little surprised she's back. I didn't think she'd need N.E.W.T.s.”
“Maybe she came back to be with Neville.”
“Maybe,” said Harry, “that'd be nice.”
After entering the next car, Ginny again raised her hand to show she was stopping. A pack of older boys, one considerably larger than the others, was blocking the aisle while they engaged in some sort of animated discussion.
“Excuse me, excuse me please, we'd like to get by” said Ginny. When there was no response she tried again, louder, “EXCUSE ME PLEASE! WE WANT TO GET BY!”
There was no way they could not have heard so with tiny flicks of her wand she bumped her trunk into the rear of the nearest and largest of the boys while she again asked to pass, loudly, but still more or less politely. There was no response. Her trunk's bumps increased her demand for attention.
Suddenly the boy turned around shouting, “Stop that you idiot or I'll hex you!”
The other boys, following his lead, turned to face Ginny with their wands out. Ginny's trunk floated to the floor with a thump as her wand rose. When the three behind her heard it land, they dropped theirs – thump, thump, thump – the owls screeched.
Harry moved up next to Ginny but there was not enough room in the aisle to stand beside her because she was in her dueling stance facing square on to the boys, concentrated, ready. So Harry stood with his right shoulder facing toward the boys, wand before him, Protego ready. Ron and Hermione, maneuvering around their trunks, came forward too. There was no space for them in the corridor, so they stood behind, looking over Harry and Ginny's shoulders. Although the boy, a Slytherin by the green and silver markings of his robes, had been ready to hex Ginny when he shouted, the sight of her wand pointed at his face, and the hint of a smile on hers, was encouraging second thoughts.
No one spoke, no one moved, until the compartment door between the two groups opened and a boy about Harry's size with hair the color of straw leaned into the corridor and looked to his right toward the Slytherin boys, then to his left toward Ginny and Harry.
He spoke with a Welsh accent, “Ah Pritchard, good for you, some early dueling practice is it?” When Pritchard did not reply, the boy neither Ginny nor Harry recognized continued, “Good choice though, Ginny Weasley, Gryffindor Chaser, and a fine hand with a hex I hear.” Pritchard still did not reply but Harry thought he saw him lean back slightly. “Well, if you don't fancy a go at her, you might try her boyfriend”– pointing at Harry – “surely you know Harry Potter; he's something of a name around school. I'm sure he'll be happy to give you a try. He's had a bit of experience, anyway, that's what I've heard.”
By now the straw-haired boy was smiling, almost laughing, and Pritchard was clearly backing away. Ginny's stance had not changed, nor had her wand moved, but Pritchard's companions were quietly slipping into their compartment.
The boy, another Slytherin, didn't let up. “Of course then, that's probably Hermione Granger and Ron Weasley behind them, if you don't feel up to Harry or Ginny. . .” Then, exaggerating a thoughtful expression, “Hummm! Maybe that's not such a good idea either, I hear Granger's got . . .”
He didn't get to say what Hermione had because Pritchard shouted, “Alright, alright, we're moving, just shut it Llewellyn.” So saying, he too returned to the compartment, slamming the door so hard it rattled.
When Harry and Ginny lowered and pocketed their wands, the boy stepped from the compartment door and faced them. He offered his hand, “That's Graham Pritchard, not exactly the brightest candle on the tree, mostly just a nuisance, a Beater. I'm Llewellyn Parsons.”
Harry replied as he shook Llewellyn's hand, “Haven't seen you around, what year are you.”
“Fifth, I was a third year when you left school; last year my parents took me out and taught me at home.”
“Didn't the Death Eaters chase you down?” asked Ginny.
“Oh no, Dad's a retired Quidditch player, Mum stays home, the Death Eaters weren't interested in Quidditch and we live way deep in the country. My Mum went through the Spellbooks with me. With my Dad I mostly fly, we've been flying since my first broom.”
Ron and Hermione had moved around to face Llewellyn; Ron asked, “Are you a player?”
“I'll be on the team this year.”
“How come you didn't play before?” asked Ginny.
The straw-haired boy hesitated, looking at each of the four friends in turn, as if deciding what to say. Then, apparently having made up his mind, “You don't think that a Slytherin and a Death Eater are the same do you?”
“Close,” said Ron
“Ron!” chided Hermione. Then speaking to Llewellyn directly “Is that why your parents kept you out of school, the Death Eaters?”
“The Malfoys. Lucius has never liked my Dad and buying the team for Death Eater kids kept me off the pitch. I wasn't that disappointed though, who wants to fly with a bunch of thugs. Anyway, the cup wasn't played last year. This year should be different though. Actually Harry, I'm looking forward to meeting you on the pitch.”
Harry told Llewellyn that he'd see him around and on the pitch. The four headed a little further down the aisle where they found a compartment and settled in.
“That was fun,” said Harry laughing as he closed the compartment door and stepped around the stack of trunks on the floor. “For a minute there I thought we'd be starting school with a duel.”
“Some nasty tempers there, those Slytherins,” added Ron, “I was hoping to see Ginny's famous Bat Bogie Hex, big flapping bats all over their faces!”
“I could arrange that for you,” said Ginny as she twirled her wand between her fingers. Everyone ignored her.
“Llewellyn seems alright though,” noted Hermione.
“Yea, he did,” agreed Harry, “I wonder how he flies.”
“Really, really well,” said Ginny, emphasizing the “reallys.”
“OK, what's it you know?” asked Ron.
“Well, remember what McGonnagal said, 'smarter and a better flyer than Malfoy.' I'm guessing Lywellyn's dad is Alfredoc Parsons, a famously acrobatic Chaser for the Chudley Cannons. Retired in 1980. Llewellyn said that he and his Dad flew together almost every day. He was born in 1983 since he’s a fifth year now.” Raising her hands and shrugging her shoulders to emphasize her conclusion. He's been training with a pro his whole life.”
“Slytherin might be tough this year but we don't know they've anyone else who can fly,” added Harry.
The Express began to move much faster, having passed the London suburbs into open country. Each of them reached for a hand-hold to balance themselves while the train gained speed.
“Time to put these away,” said Hermione as she pointed her wand at Ron's trunk, the last to arrive and thus the top of the pile.
“What say we get our school robes on now, while we put the trunks away?” asked Harry.
Ginny replied, “We've got the whole ride.”
“Yea, but let's get the feel of it, I mean, being back at school.”
Ron opened his trunk and got out his school robes. Then, using a Hover Charm placed his trunk on the out-board side of the luggage rack. Each followed in the order the trunks were stacked, Hermione, Harry, then Ginny.
In a matter of minutes their trunks were stowed and they were dressed in their school robes. Ron and Hermione lounged on the seat facing forward. Ron's long legs stretched across the compartment as he slouched in his seat. Hermione had one leg tucked beneath her and was looking out the window, yet to start reading the book on the seat next to her. Ginny and Harry sat together on the other bench, her back resting on his shoulder, her legs stretched along the seat and the latest Witch Broomstick in hand.
The ride to Hogwarts was what rides to Hogwarts would have been without distractions like arguing whether Malfoy was a Death Eater, spying on him, or dealing with Dementors. The cart came. It seemed late because they were very near the front of the train. Pumpkin Pasties and Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans were still fun, if overly sweet. They enjoyed these, along with chocolate frogs of course, as much because they'd forgotten wizarding confections as for their taste.
Before they boarded the train they hadn't talked about their expectations. In fact, they hadn't thought about much more than what they needed to get ready. Yet, in some recess in each of their minds this was certainly the trip to school they wanted. Having enjoyed learning spells in the summer, there was no foreboding about lessons. Nothing awaited them but friends, Quidditch and time with each other while Hogwart's magic tended to their needs. It was a magic of its own, a ride back in time toward a youth the wizarding war had stolen and their own growing up had very nearly left behind. Perhaps it was this corner of their minds that made it easy to accede to Mrs. Weasley's notion of big decisions.
Arrival offered no disappointment. There, at the end of the platform, lantern in hand, was Hagrid in his huge, shaggy coat calling for the first years. Kevin and the others were already milling around him. The four waved, yelling that they would see him at the feast. He waved his massive hand and smiled his usual unaffected grin.
Even the weather welcomed them back to school. There was a queue for the carriages, people standing about because so many more could see the Thestrals now. The night was so clear and the stars so bright that they lighted the landscape as the thestral-drawn carriages traversed the Hogsmeade road, through the gates, and to the base of the stairs leading to the castle doors and the Great Hall. After they disembarked, they stood at the base of the stairs and watched the flood of students cascade upward over the stone steps before joining the stream themselves.
When they entered the Great Hall and turned toward the Gryffindor table Ron said, “Let’s sit up front, I want to see Kevin get sorted.”
Once seated, while they waited for the sorting to begin, they looked down the table to see who else had returned to school. Ginny kneeled on the bench for a better view. There was Dennis Creevey, his brother's camera on the table beside him. Andrew Kirke, who had not been the best Beater, had returned; so had Jimmy Peaks, who had not been too much better.
“Demelza's back,” noted Ginny, “two Chasers.”
Part way down the table they recognized Angus Matlock, Eloise Midgen, Jason Swann, and Romilda Vane. A little further, closer to the doors and on the other side was Jack Sloper.
When Ginny pointed him out Harry concluded, “We're doing OK with Beaters, Kirke, Peaks and Sloper aren't Fred or George but they can play.”
“We need a third Chaser.”
“Dean's back.” Harry asked himself how he felt about that. “He was on the run last year; we could use him at Chaser.”
He looked at Ginny who shrugged, “That's three, he's good. Look, Seamus and Parvati are back, they must need N.E.W.T.s too; they're in your year. Padma is back, next to Michael Corner at the Ravenclaw table. Do you suppose they're dating?”
No one answered. They'd spotted Luna.
Luna had apparently been one of the last ones off the train, or maybe she had just decided to walk. When Ginny stood and waved to her as she turned toward the Ravenclaw table, she skipped a little as she returned the greeting. She said hello to Anthony Goldstein, who had fought with her, Neville and Ginny in the DA. If he was back, he too had ambitions that required N.E.W.T.s.
While Luna took a place at her table Ginny surveyed the rest of Luna's housemates, “Ravenclaw better have some fifth and sixth years who haven't played before, or some pretty talented youngsters, because their team is gone – completely – none left. In fact, have you ever seen the tables so empty, it looks like a lot of kids didn't come back.”
The Quidditch conversation might have gone on longer but Hermione interjected, “Hagrid's not back, I wonder if something's delayed the sorting.”
The four all turned to the head table. There were Professors Slughorn, Flitwick, Sprout, Mullens, Sandberg, and Madame Pomfrey. All the chairs but Hagrid's were filled.
“Professor McGonagall is in Dumbledore's chair,” said Ron, “I wonder who'll lead the sorting?”
They didn'tt have time for much speculation because the sorting hat, sitting on the three-legged stool as it was every year, began to chant:
When the dark time passes,
The light time follows.
Let us remember those,
Who do not share the light.
The room remained attentive neither applauding nor returning to their conversations.
Ron guessed, “That must be how they're starting this year.”
Ron guessed right because coming through the doors to the Great Hall were the first years lead by Rubeus Hagrid. He had been wearing his aging coat on the Hogsmeade platform but was now attired as none had ever seen him. Beneath a plain, dark brown jacket he wore a turtle-neck sweater the same tan color as his pants. The four friends had seen the pants he was wearing in the Arcade Street clothes store, except, of course, not so huge. They were decorated by the rivets and thickly-sewn seams of the many pockets. The brass buckle of his wide leather belt was shaped like a Hippogriff. Everything was clean and fit well.
What was most unbelievable was his shoes. Nothing that could fit Hagrid's feet could be anything but immense but compared to the great floppy boots they remembered this pair was merely peaking from beneath the cuff of his pants. Perhaps Madame Maxine had magicked Hagrid a new wardrobe, or even done some transfiguring work on his hair. You couldn't say he had anything like a haircut, it was more like a mane, but it was reasonably tidy.
The first years followed. Some looked a little frightened but all were alternately keeping their eyes on Hagrid and gazing around, fascinated by the long tables, the thousands of candles suspended in air and the ceiling's magically-clear rendering of the sky. Everyone in the room remembered that moment, their first view of the Great Hall, their arrival at Hogwarts.
When Hagrid arrived at the head of the hall he stepped up to the platform before the podium and stood next to the three-legged stool. Reaching into his inside pocket and removing a scroll that could have fit in no one else's jacket, he turned to the first years saying, “Lin' up 'ere. Good! When I call yer name, go right ter ta stool. I'll put the 'at on yer 'ead an' you'll be sorted.”
He raised the scroll and read the first name, “Abigail Ashforth.”
Abigail Asforth was a petite but very pretty curly-haired girl. She stepped forward and more or less climbed the stool. The hat had no sooner fallen down around her ears when it said, “Gryffindor!” She hurried to the table taking a space next to Hermione who put a welcoming arm around her.
One by one the first years sat on the stool. One by one they were sorted. One by one they joined the house that would be theirs for the seven years of their life at school.
When Hagrid called, “Kevin McArdle,” up he stepped, with a quick look toward Ron.
Hagrid placed the hat on his head, the waves of his light brown hair holding it above his ears. “Gryffindor!” Kevin jumped the steps and ran to the Gryffindor table taking a seat next to another first year who was sitting next to Ron.
Excitedly he said, “I'm in your house Mr. Weasley."
“Yes you are,” said Ron, “welcome to Gryffindor Kevin.”
Ginny looked at Harry and Hermione in turn, “Looks like Ron has a new friend.” They all laughed but Hermione continued smiling.
With the sorting finished, the room, some already famished, turned to the podium as Headmistress McGonagall walked forward and placed her hands on either side of its slanted top. When she looked around the room, everyone's attention flew to her. To start her first term as Headmistress she had adopted robes of forest green, intricately embroidered with leafed vines but the tall conical hat she always wore had not changed nor had her stern expression. The war had aged her. She had lost Dumbledor, friends and friends' children she had known from birth. Those who fought the Battle of Hogwarts knew her expression showed resolve.
Ron whispered, “I know how old she is, you won't believe it, Mum told me.”
“Well, let's hear it,” said Hermione.
“Sixty three at hernext birthday, it's October 4th 1935. Think of the Death Eaters she dueled.”
Harry added perspective, “If you think of Dumbledore, it doesn't seem that old.”
She began her start of term speech. "My friend and colleague Albus Dumbledore had an expression he frequently used during the dark times at Hogwarts. 'You deserve to know.' It was a wonderful way of expressing our responsibility to treat you as the adult members of the wizarding community you will soon become. When you leave Hogwarts, you are adult in every way wizarding peoples recognize. Many of you will marry soon after you leave us and many of those who leave this year will be mothers and fathers before the first years sorted tonight take their O.W.L.s. Happily, what I will talk about tonight is quite the opposite of those dark times."
Their Headmistress stopped, took in the less-than-full house tables, and assured herself of the Hall's attention. "You deserve to know that while the castle was cleansed of curses and the physical damage was fully repaired before school began, we – the teachers of Hogwarts – have commenced but have not finished what has been only rarely seen in this school's history."
Next she spoke a single word, “Change.” It rippled through the surprised assembly as raised eyebrows, quizzical expressions and shrugged shoulders.
"Each class this year will change. Each of us has taught for many years. We share certain notions about how young people learn. We will put these into practice. For the most part, we will be emphasizing practice, lots of practice."
Many didn't know how to take this. Was “practice” another word for “homework?” Yet, homework was forgotten, when she said, "We have also agreed that the social order of the school should change to give you experience with skills you will need in the adult word. We will thus make more time for organized social experience, clubs, parties, dances and such."
The castle nearly vibrated with the intensity of the thoughts running through the minds of all but the youngest students. Eager to hear more; not wanting to spoil anything, whatever it turned out to be, the room did not explode into excited conversation; it just felt like it might.
Sensing the excitement their Headmistress waited just a moment before continuing. “However, you also deserve to know that Quidditch for this year is in an awful pickle.”
Some in the room, the four friends among them, recognized this as humor from their usually serious transfiguration teacher. They understood that she intended to get the feast underway in a festive mood. But no one doubted her intent when she considered her next thought and nearly laughed.
"I know that for many of you Quidditch, snogging and eating are the essentials of life. Therefore, we intend to do our best to help you enjoy them, except of course for the snogging, which I am sure we can leave to you in confidence that it shall be very, very well done."
This heightened the laughter that had not stopped since her mention of “Quidditch, snogging and eating.”
Hermione, her voice low, her hands animated, told the table around her, “This is great. This is how to start a term.”
Everyone agreed, Harry adding, “Can you believe it's McGonagall?”
Professor McGonagall continued speaking when the volume of laughter and conversation settled down. "We have one of the smallest classes in a long time. Many 6th years and a number of the 5th years have not returned. We lost too many in battles and some simply moved on with life beyond their education. We do have an additional number of 7th years whose studies were lost to the war, and we will be calling on them to serve the school. Indeed, we hope that every student will step forward to take some place in student life. We must restore the Quidditch tradition at Hogwarts. After Wednesday, there will be no homework for the rest of the week so that each house may meet to discuss how they wish to select their house team."
The Quidditch fans in each of the houses were looking up and down their table, thinking of who could play as their Headmistress went on. "You also deserve to know that the tradition of student leadership has been so interrupted that we have only today decided on the posts of Head Boy and Head Girl. I am proud to announce that Ronald Weasley and Hermione Granger are thus appointed. They have served Hogwarts and the wizarding world with courage, skill and dedication and have enough experience as Prefects to preserve the system. Your house masters will appoint Prefects at your first house meeting."
The appointment of Ron and Hermione caused some talk. It was unusual for both to come from the same house, much-less to be one of the couples the whole school recognized. Nonetheless, the sounds reverberating around the hall generally signaled approval.
"Finally, we must warn the assembly of those matters of such import that they must be restated every year. First and foremost, Mr. Filch, our caretaker, reminds you that nothing purchased at Weasley's Wizard Wheezes is permitted in the castle. There is a list posted on Mr. Filch's door and for several yards further down the hall."
The Headmistress had to stop this time because the laughter was so loud none would hear her. It was a minute or two before she could conclude. "The entire staff wishes to remind you that should you wish to avoid an awful death it would be wise to remember that the Dark Forest is off limits to students. These important notices thus delivered, in the words of my illustrious predecessor, ‘tuck in'."
This time laughter merged with conversation. Then, when the tables filled with something for every appetite, the sounds of a festive meal perfected the pleasant cacophony. There were great roasts of meat and fowl with potatoes to satisfy those who needed filling. Salads of vegetables, salads of fruits, to satisfy those who did not wish to feel too full, and deserts to amaze every taste.
After Ron delecatly spooned the last little rim of chocolate pudding from his bowl, Hermione took charge. “Ron, we'd better go see that the first years have someone to show them the way. Harry, Ginny, can you take our first years up to Gryffindor Tower.”
Harry and Ginny stood and organized the first years. Because they had taken seats at the fron of the table, they were close by. “Follow us, keep your eyes on the steps, there's a couple that disappear. If the stairs move, don't step, just hold the rail until they stop.”
Ron and Hermione crossed the Great Hall. Hermione stopped to ask Michael and Luna if they would manage the Ravenclaw first years. Ron walked to the Slytherins and asked Llewellyn to do the same, while Hermione called over to Hannah Abott, “You've been a Prefect can you get your youngsters up to your common room? Go ahead and pick someone to help.” Hannah waved her agreement.
An hour later they were in the Gryffindor common room, the first years settled in. Most of the Gryffindors, full from feasting and tired from their early starts and the day's excitements, had retired to their dormitories. A few of the older Gryffindors were still at tables or in the armchairs by the fire, letting the feast and the day's events digest.
Harry was standing in the center of the room grinning and looking pensive when Ginny, smiled brightly, her brown eyes alive. “Harry Potter you're a sentimental fool.” She skipped twoice, laid her hands on his shoulders and her forearms on his chest, then kissed him. Not really a snog, but full of meaning, a kiss between lovers. Finished, they stood there laughing. When Ron and Hermione joinoed them, they turned to face them, both couples holding hands.
Ron teased, “You're mental. What's this about?”
Hermione knew, “That's where they kissed after the Quidditch match two years ago. This is where they started.”
Laughing, Harry pointed with his free hand toward the wall of windows, “And, Hermione was right there grinning like she knew all along. Ron, you looked like someone had bashed you over the head with a bottle of butter beer.”
“I did know,” said Hermione. “Every time you looked at her I knew.”
Ron, looked a little embarrassed, “She's my sister!”
Hermione took Ron's shoulders, one hand on each, and turned him to face Ginny. “Ron look at your sister. She's smart, she's beautiful, she's talented, she’s of age and, well look!” She reached over and took Harry's hand from Ginny's, “It's Harry's hand and she wants his touch. They're in love.” To emphasize Hermione's point Ginny took Harry's hand back before Hermione finished. “He's our best friend and he'd die before hurting Ginny. She's with Harry. They're happy. Aren't you happy?”
Without hesitation Ron brought her hand to his lips and kissed it, “I'm happy, for that and a whole lot more!”
Harry and Ginny looked at each other. Their eyes said they thought the same. It was both very un-Ron-like and very much Ron. The courtly gesture was quite unlike his usual expressions, but Hermioine was the princess in his fairy tale and the gesture said how he felt.
Both couples kissed goodnight and climbed the stairs to their dormitories.
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