See Chapter One.
Harry watched on as the Slytherin table erupted into a relatively sedated round of applause but then the Slytherin's never welcomed their new members with the same gusto as Hufflepuff or Gryffindor. Harry watched as Ava pulled the hat from her head and moved towards her new house but not before looking back at the Gryffindor table and meeting Harry's eyes. She looked unsure and scared and Harry quickly schooled his features into a more supporting expression and smiled at the girl and nodded.
With a small nod in return, Ava made her way to the Slytherin table and sat with the other first years that had congregated at the end of the table. As Harry watched them and indeed the other first years from the other houses as well, look around the Great Hall with wonder on their faces and Harry looked around and remembered just how spectacular the Great Hall really was.
The main doors that led into the great hall were large enough that a full grown troll could comfortably fit through them and in each of the four houses were arranged parallel to each other and formed isles that flowed down the Hall and to the teachers table that sat on a raised platform so that the teachers could look out across the entire hall. Behind the teachers table arranged on the wall were large portraits of the most notable previous headmasters and mistresses. The largest was a combined portrait of all four founders and while they moved, unlike the other portraits in Hogwarts they had never been known to speak or move to other paintings. Above the portraits there was a large window, which allowed much of the Hall's natural light and during breakfast they were thrown open so the owls could deliver the post.
Naturally suspended in midair around all the tables were candles of various size that never seemed to burn down or drip wax and that was something Harry had always been grateful for, the owls caused more than enough of a mess when they arrived in the mornings. By far the Halls most notable feature however was the ceiling and which as everyone in the wizarding world knew that reflected the outside sky. Tonight a full moon hung from the ceiling and stars dotted it, a thick bank of clouds covered the ceiling however and they were thick and pregnant and seemed to promise rain, muting the light that the stars and moon provided.
Tonks squeezed his hand slightly and Harry came back to himself, realizing that he had the same expression of wonder on his face as the first years did, as he looked around the Great Hall. Looking at Tonks she gave a Harry a questioning look with a small smile on her face, at the smile and look of wonder that Harry had on his face previously. Harry squeezed her hand back and shook his head lightly before leaning over and kissing her lightly and chastely, very much aware of his surroundings. When the two parted the sorting had been completed, Professor McGonagall was gathering the Sorting Hat and wrapping up the parchment she had the names of the first years and was looking at the pair. Harry though that he saw a brief, thin smile flash across her face before giving the pair a stern almost parental look, Harry nodded and it was returned by the Professor before she returned to the teacher's table.
Once Professor McGonagall had taken her place at the teachers table, Professor Dumbledore rose and unlike all the years before as he rose his wand was in his hand. With barely a flick of his wrist, all the flames from the candles and torches in the hall wooshed as it rushed towards him, moments before the teachers table was engulfed in flames, he flicked his wand again and the flames formed a spinning balls in front of him. The students who were at first panicked, were now watching on eagerly, mesmerized by the powerful display of magic. The ball of flame began changing shape and formed that of a phoenix before Dumbledore clapped his hands and the flames showered out across the students, in small embers. The embers turned blue and were enveloped in glass balls that hovered and moved up and down the aisles and amongst the students and when combined with the glow from the moon and stars the Great Hall was bathed in a pale blue light.
Dumbledore began laughing at the stunned and awed expressions that the students wore, his eyes were sparkling and his smile was wide.
"Good evening one and all. To our old hands welcome back and to our new hands, you are most welcome. Before we lose our self to this glorious feast here are some words to ponder. Success isn't the result of spontaneous combustion but you must tend to your own kindling and set yourself on fire. Now everyone tuck in,"
There was appreciative cheering and applause, though for the demonstration, speech or food, Harry was not able to tell. All five tables suddenly groaned under the weight of the feast and Harry reached for a steak and kidney pie, while the sounds of eating, chatting and laughter filled the hall. As Harry ate his eyes wandered back to the teachers table and he saw Professor Flitwitck chatting away to Professor Sinistra while Professor Sprout reached across them for a plate of potatoes and she was covered in more than her usual layer of dirt, winding its way around her shoulders and arms was a plant that was covered in thorns with red and gold leaves that seemed to also reach for the potatoes before Sprout slapped it away.
Next to Sprout was Snape and he looked the same as he always did, expect he no longer appear to have the usual amount of grease in his hair because unlike previous years his hair flowed down past his shoulder. Gone to was his usual sever look and while he certainly didn't look cheerful or approachable he did not appear as though he wanted to hex everyone in sight. As if sensing Harry's gaze, Snape's eyes met Harry. As the man gazed on his son's rival, his face tightened and his usual sneer marred his face.
As Harry looked at Snape though he sensed something more, there seemed to be a difference to the man, a fragility that was not something that he had ever seen in Snape before. It was in the way he moved, the sudden tensing and wincing, as if he was in pain and doing his utmost to hide it from the world. As Harry continued to study him, Snape's glare grew steadily more and more severe before Harry was no longer able to meet Snape's eyes and broke off, taking a deep draught of pumpkin juice.
Eventually the main courses were replaced with an array of deserts and Harry had to admit that the elves in the kitchens had really outdone themselves this year, far surpassing their previous lofty standards. As the feast began to wind down Harry, who was feeling warm and comfortable, looked over to see Ava surrounded by the other Slytherins and she seemed to be adjusting and so far the other Slytherins seemed to be treating the girl like any other newcomer and Harry only hoped they would not give the girl a hard time and Harry vowed to keep an eye on the small girl.
As the final morsels were devoured and the remainder vanished from the plates, leaving them once again gleaming, Dumbledore once again rose from the teachers tables and clapped his hands together, which sounded more like a cannon blast, the sound echoing of the walls and bringing silence to the Hall.
"Another magnificent feast done," he said with a jovial smile on his lips, "Now before bed a few start of term notices. Our first years should remember that the Forbidden Forest is as the name suggests forbidden to all students. To some of our older students who have yet to fully grasp the notion a word of caution, this year our Care of Magical Creatures Professor has gotten permission from the Ministry to import some creatures that he has described as interesting for our OWL and NEWT students to study,"
At this Harry looked over to Hagrid who Harry had not seen looking so happy and excited since Norbet and Harry immediately knew that the threat of bodily harm and maiming would be a real and ever present danger in Care of Magical Creatures this year. He looked at Tonks to see her looking vaguely green, while even the Twins looked pale and unwilling to find what now lurked in the depths of the forest. As if unaware of the change of mood in the Great Hall, Dumbledore continued on.
"Mr Flitch has always asked me to remind you that magic in the corridors is not permitted, along with a rather extensive list of activities and items, all of which can be found attached to his office door and to whoever covered his office with posted notes containing the list may I congratulate you on a rather brilliant illustration of the lists' length?"
Many students laughed here and the Twins looked rather smug, as they were undoubtedly the culprits of the endeavor and Harry recalled that at the end of the last year they had turned to muggle pranks because they had said that it provided them with an additional challenge. Harry wondered if the trend would continue or whether they would change tactics again, to keep the facility on their feet. He also decided he should have a quite word to the Twins about leaving the first years, from all the houses alone while they adjusted to life at Hogwarts.
"And finally I am very pleased to introduce our new Defense Against the Dark Arts Professor, Madam Umbridge, who is here by Mistry appointment and who I am assured is more than capable of teaching you all despite her complete lack of prior experience and knowledge,"
As he finished his smile only widened as he insulted their newest Professor, causing whispers to erupt and the more astute students, as well as all the Ravenclaws noticed that Dumbledore had not refer to her as a Professor. The women in question looked positively apocalyptic and Tonks with a handful of other students laughed.
"It's about time someone cut that hag down to size," she said, "She has had an overinflated opinion of her worth for decades,"
"Quidditch tryouts will be held in the second week of term, as always direct you enquires to Madam Hooch,"
As Dumbledore paused the students could see their newest Professor had risen to her feet, not that you could tell due to any real difference in height. She clearly wanted to make a speech of some sort but Dumbledore simply continued on.
"I would also like to congratulate our newest prefects and heads - ,"
" – first years are reminded that should they need any assistance finding their way or any question around rules to seek out a prefect or head boy or girl,"
Here Dumbledore stopped and for the briefest of moments a look of anger flashed across his face. Harry was sure that most students would have missed it but Harry was coming to know the man and his moods well and Harry certainly would not want to be in Umbridge's shoes at the present moment.
"Delores," Dumbledore said curtly, "Surely during your tenor at this fine establishment, you learned that interrupt someone while they are talking is incredibly rude?"
"Thank you Professor Dumbledore," she said as if she had not heard him, in a voice that sounded breathy as if the sheer act of standing had exhausted her. She made her way to the front of the teacher's table and stood in front of Dumbledore and Harry felt a powerful rush of dislike as she showed such a lack of respect to the Headmaster.
"Now I am sure you will all be pleased to hear that I am here with Mistry support and approval, to ensure that the Defense class is taught properly and safely instead of the shall we say spotty attempts at the subject previously but when you have a werewolf teaching you what else can you expect,"
At her reference to Lupin, Harry's hatred and blood pressure both shot up and he began fingering his wand under the table and the only thing that was stopping him from cursing the woman was Tonks' hand on his and a stern look from her.
"I am here with Mistry approval and recommendation to ensure that you are all fully nurtured to your fullest potential, in a safe and structured environment, using only Ministry approved methods. In light of recent terrorist attacks but a small band of unorganized and unified individuals, your safety and education in how to correctly defend yourself could not be of more importance to us,"
Harry's already gritted teeth began to grind together as Umbridge continued to drone on and on, always spewing the same rhetoric and hyperbolism. Harry looked out across the teachers table and saw that Professor McGonagall looked as though she had swallowed a lemon, Hargid seemed torn between confusion and outrage, while Snape continued to regard the proceedings with a blank coolness.
Umbridge continued to drone on monotonously and Harry felt his eyes glaze over and his attention wane. He came back to himself as the Dumbledore took her place and dismissed the Hall and for the first time it was up to Harry to take the first years to the common rooms and for the most part he let Hermione do it her own way, not because he didn't care about them but because she seemed so utterly convinced that the way she was doing it was completely correct and any deviation would not be allowed. Harry quickly discovered this when he suggested that they take another route to the common room and she just glared and told him she didn't think it was appropriate to take the first years from the normal routes, even though Harry knew from long wandering that his way was considerably faster.
Once the first years had been safely seen to their dorms, Harry made his way back down to the common room and found Tonks waiting for him with a small smile and open arms.
"How did it go?" she asked softly as they curled together and she kissed his head softly
"Could have been better but no one hexed me so you know not the worst day I have ever had," he replied softly
She chuckled lightly at his cheek before the two of them fell into an easy and comfortable silence.
"Where are you staying?" he asked softy.
"I am in the seventh year's girls dorms. This should be an interesting year for you," she whispered
"Oh you mean just for a change?"
His cheek this time earned him a sharp poke in the ribs.
"Why in particular this time?" Harry queried.
"Umbridge," she stated simply.
"What do you mean love?"
"She is a ruthless, heartless, brutal harpy and it is enough to suspect that she is overly corrupt. She is obsessed with maintaining her own political power and sway. Since her own power is tie irrevocably to Fudge's she is brutal when it comes to anyone that opposes Fudge. She tries to cover it up by dressing in pink and has unhealthy obsession with cats. Umbridge is also fanatically prejudiced against part humans and is almost singularly responsible for the werewolf legislation, that makes is virtually impossible for werewolves to gain any form of meaningful employment and I wouldn't be surprised if she tried to run off Hagrid before the year is out,"
"The hag can try," Harry muttered.
"She will more than likely try to provoke you as well honey. From where she is sitting you are Fudge's biggest threat, aside from Dumbledore. From where she sits free speech, dissent and anything against the Ministry's official view point simply isn't acceptable, so watch out for her,"
"I will baby but for now I need to do my rounds," he said to her, kissing her briefly and retrieving the Marauder's map from his trunk before closing it and cast a complex array of wards around it. He wouldn't trust Ron or Hermione not to just help themselves to his invisibility cloak one evening.
As Harry made his rounds, he almost felt that he had an unfair advantage, as he discovered couples celebrating their reunion and more than one lost first year, who had been separated from the main groups. He didn't assign any detentions or take any points, not even from the Slytherins. The couples seems embarrassed to be caught and there was no way he could blame the firsties for being lost. As he escorted them back to their various common rooms, his mind turned to Fleur and he felt a prang of longing and after he had handed the rounds over to Hermione he decided on an impulse to visit the Owlery and send Hedwig off with a letter for Fleur, telling her of his trip back, Ava, his run in with Ron and most importantly Umbridge.
As Harry entered the Owlery which was in the West Tower, he noticed with a smile that nothing had really changed and the normality was oddly comforting to him. The circular stone room was rather cold and drafty, even on the summer night. This was largely due to the fact that the Owlery had no windows with glass on them, so that the owls could come and go as they pleased. At the end of room there was a long table, filled with quills and ink pots so that students could compose their letters. The mess was another matter and it was caused by hundreds of owls, were too much even for the elves to clean. Soiled straw and skeletons, mattered the ground and the smell was something that simply could not be described.
Still as Harry finished his letter and sent Hedwig on her way he looked out over the lake and the Forbidden Forrest, lit by the full moon and stars, he felt for the first time that he felt he was truly at home.