"No attacks this year either," Hermione said.
"Don't relax until we get into the castle," I said. "An attack at the last minute when we are letting our guard down would be smart."
"So you and Harry can see the thestrels," Ron said. I wasn't sure why he was still talking about that. Surely he'd noticed that we could last year?
Actually, I couldn't even remember whether he'd been in the carriage last year. He'd likely been distracted.
"I saw Taylor murd...er, kill a Death Eater on top of a train," Harry said. "And I've heard her killing them a lot of times."
"I heard her killing them too, and I still can't see them," Ron said. He sounded irritated.
He'd been upset ever since the whole animagus thing, although seeing the difficulty that Harry had in completing the transformation had scared him a little.
He certainly hadn't rushed forward to learn how to do it once Harry had filled him with stories of what it actually involved. Hopefully he'd never need it.
After that debacle, Sirius and I had agreed to never teach more than two animagi at a time, or at least two per teacher, and preferably in different rooms.
I still planned to teach others how to teach; it would be harder during the school year because we wouldn't be able to travel to find a lightning storm, and they were rare in this part of Scotland.
It would probably be better to wait until next summer; no point in having someone put mandrake leaf in their mouth for a year just to prove their loyalty to me.
"Do you want to actually see death?" Hermione asked. She sounded irritated, likely because we were cramped tightly into the carriage.
Only Neville and Luna were actually visible; the rest of us were disillusioned. It likely wouldn't stop the Death Eaters for long, but even a few moments for them to cast the human revealing spell would be enough for me to kill a few of them.
"I go to school with her, don't I?" Ron asked irritably. "You'd think that would be more than enough."
"You shouldn't joke about that kind of thing," Millicent said primly. She'd been quiet throughout the ride. She'd lost a lot of weight over the summer, presumably because she'd continued the exercise regimen I had assigned to her. I would have included her in our group, but her family preferred to keep her with them.
They'd been in hiding in Spain.
Truthfully, I was surprised that they even bothered to let her go to school here; it would have been a lot safer just to move.
"Taylor has saved more people than she's killed," Millicent said. She hesitated. "Unless she's killed some more people this summer I haven't heard about."
"You're keeping track?" Hermione asked, surprised.
"I've got a scrapbook with all the newspaper clippings," Millicent said enthusiastically. "About both the ones she's killed and the ones she's saved."
Millicent still hadn't forgotten Tracey; she took a vicious pleasure in hearing about the deaths of more Death Eaters, especially since they'd uprooted her family during the summers. I didn't tell her about anyone I'd killed where it wasn't public knowledge, of course.
She hadn't had occlumency training yet, after all.
"I'd be interested in looking at your figures," Hermione said. "I've been working to figure out what kind of numbers the Death eaters have, and a casualty list might be helpful."
Even the Ministry didn't have a firm idea of the numbers. Working only from public data, Hermione was going to have a hard time.
"We might be able to cross reference the dead Death Eaters with others in their family who are likely candidates," Hermione said brightly.
"Don't forget that Sirius is a Black," I said. "Despite his mother and his other relatives. If I killed everyone who was related to a Death Eater, I'd pretty much kill the entire pureblood and half blood world."
"The Weasleys don't have any Death Eaters," Ron said indignantly.
"Aren't you related to Draco Malfoy?" Hermione asked.
"Take that back!" Ron protested.
"Your mother showed me your family tree," Hermione said. "Your paternal grandmother was Cedrella Black. That makes you Sirius's second cousin. Draco is his first cousin."
"Why are you looking at my family tree anyway?"
"There's a theory that muggleborn don't actually exist," Hermione said. "I'm trying to prove or disprove it."
Everyone was silent for a moment, and then Hermione said, "Stop poking me."
"You feel like you exist," Ron said. "Don't be so hard on yourself."
"I clearly exist, or I wouldn't be arguing with you," her voice said. "But some people think that muggleborn aren't really muggleborn."
"What do you mean?" he asked suspiciously.
"Some people think that the ability to use magic only appeared once in humans," Hermione said. "And that muggleborn are just the descendants of squibs."
"What, so you could be related to any of us?"
"All of you, if you go back far enough," Hermione said. "I don't know whether it's true or not. I've got my family lineage traced back to a Hector Dagworth Granger, and there's records of a squib by that name."
"But how can we be sure they are the same person?" she asked. "I plan to write a paper on it when I get out of school."
"You mean a paper that you won't get credit for?" Ron asked. He sounded as though she was insane.
"If I can prove that we're all related..." she said.
"It won't make a difference," Ron said. "I hate Malfoy, even if we're related. Maybe more now that I know."
"It might make a difference," Hermione said.
I'd set up a sound muffling spell around the carriage. Hopefully multiple voices from two children wouldn't alert anyone that something was strange.
We all became silent again.
"I think it's lovely," Luna said dreamily. "Will you let me brush your mane?"
Her hand was stroking where Harry's shoulder should have been.
No one had told her about our animagus transformations; she shouldn't have known.
"I... don't know what you're talking about," Harry said quickly.
I'd pressed on them the importance of secrecy. Our animagus forms were only useful if they were secret. Once they were known, they would be useless.
"It's all around you," she said. "Like a halo. I didn't know I was in a menagerie."
"I did," Ron muttered. "Everybody's mental."
Was he actually trying to help? I was actually pleased by the attempt.
"Brave Gryffindor," Luna said. She stared up at the sky. "It's like most of you belong on a flag. Brilliant Ravenclaw, a wise old bird. Some of you don't quite fit, though."
"Oh?" I asked neutrally.
"Digger in the garden, without the mean streak," she said. "Not a Hufflepuff; braver than that, but just as loyal."
Neville had been really loyal, even at times when it would have been easier not to.
"But you aren't a snake," she said. "It's surprising really/"
"I'm an American," I said, as though that explained anything.
"It's probably the worms," she said. Her voice sounded different, and her eyes were glazed. "Twenty years to the end of the world."
"What?" I asked. The silence around us was deafening.
"Did I say something?" Luna asked. She looked confused.
"What did you mean the end of the world?" I asked.
"I don't remember saying anything about that," she said. "I just remember talking about Harry's hair."
I felt a chill down my spine.
My real fears had nothing to do with Voldemort and everything to do with Scion. He'd destroyed a lot of worlds before we'd finally stopped him. Being trapped on one, even twenty years from now wasn't something I was looking forward to.
I needed to keep working with the others on occlumency; eventually I was going to have to transform the entire society if we were to face an attack.
Hermione had seemed to get the message about not talking about her suspicions, at least, and once I'd managed to get the rudiments of legillimency from Snape, I'd begun teaching her occlumency.
I'd had two months to get them up to snuff, and I'd worked as hard as I could. In the meantime, I'd done everything I could to keep Hermione from all known legilimens, especially Snape.
I'd included Ron as well, always teaching him at Neville's. He hadn't yet been to Sirius's house; none of them had except Harry. I didn't feel comfortable simply inviting guests over to someone else's house.
Teaching Ron had given me insights into his character. I'd had glimpses into his memories, of his petty jealousies, of his doubts about me, some of which, surprisingly weren't unreasonable.
I'd also seen genuine loyalty toward Harry.
It made me slightly more charitable toward him, and it made me have a talk with his brothers; they were causing genuine psychological damage to him, and continuing to do so would only make things worse.
It wasn't enough for me to bring him into my inner circle. Harry and Hermione had been hardened by battle. Ron was just a regular kid who'd made a bad choice in friends. I wasn't sure that his loyalty would survive being faced with a Death Eater.
It was impossible for anyone to know until they were faced with genuine danger. Training helped, but some people were constitutionally unable to adapt.
I'd taught Neville and the Twins occlumency as well. I planned to teach as many of the people in my muggle group as possible, and I planned to have the better ones working as my co-teachers. Hermione was already starting work on legillimency, and she'd teach the others.
Being included in something had helped a little with Ron's jealousy, but flashes of it still occurred here and there. We were all trying to help with it, but his flashes of irritability were starting to make me irritable.
We were all silent after Luna's declaration, the only sound the creaking of the wheels and the sounds of the thestrel hooves.
I'd tried looking into Luna's mind on the train trip, while everyone else was distracting her. It seemed that her mind was chaotic enough that I couldn't make heads or tails of it; it was almost as though she had her own version of a natural occlumency shield.
It was comforting; even if she knew things she shouldn't, I wouldn't have to worry about her revealing anything accidentally.
We were tense until we finally stepped inside the school.
Being seated for the feast, I noted that the defense teacher's position was vacant. Lockhart was doing well currently; apparently he was on tour in Asia. I suspected that he intended to be out of the country until the whole Voldemort situation was resolved.
Draco sat down next to me.
That was unusual of him; usually he was a lot more careful to keep at least one student between us. He too had been doing well; he'd taken my advice and had become a lot quieter over the past couple of years. He was riding on his own accomplishments in Slytherin.
"There's not going to be any Quidditch this year," he said.
"Oh?" I asked.
"Have you ever heard of the Tri-Wizard tournament?" he asked.
"I'm muggleborn," I said. "So no."
"They shut it down two hundred years ago after several people died," he said. "But they're bringing it back!"
"What?" I asked flatly.
"It's a competition between Durmstrang and Beauxbatons and Hogwarts," he said. "Dangerous, but with big rewards."
"Really. Why would they be bringing it back now?"
"There's been concern by the international community about the Dark Lord," Draco said in a low voice. "Even though some people say he's been on the run for a while."
"So they're trying to reassure the rest of Europe that everything is under control by having a death sport?" I asked incredulously.
"I'm sure they'll try to make it safer," he said, impatiently.
"I can't believe that Minister Bones would so something like this," I said. "Not when things are going well."
"It wasn't her," he said. "It was a couple of lower officials. She wasn't even involved."
"What kind of things are involved in this?" I asked suspiciously.
"One task per school," he said. "They used to have kids fighting monsters, although my father says that's unlikely to be the goal now. I hope they don't make it too easy?"
"Planning on trying out?" I asked.
He shook his head.
"You think I'm going to be in the running?" I asked.
"Might be fun for Slytherin to represent the school, wouldn't you say?"
I shook my head.
"I don't plan to do anything like that," I said.
"Grand prize is a thousand galleons," he said. "That's nothing to me, but you..."
It was a nice amount, but if I participated there was every chance that the Death eaters would try to sabotage the event to have me killed. It would be best to simply stay out of the whole thing.
"Hey," I said. "It's the new students."
"You know, Professor Snape has given orders for the prefects to give a speech about you this year."
"Most of them have likely heard about you, but there are always some that think they can make comments because they come from a good family."
He sounded so superior to all of that.
"And what are they going to say?"
"The truth," he said. "That your boggart is that you are going to murder us all and that bothering you will do the rest of us a favor."
"Professor Snape says that it's good to cull the dunderheads early, lest they breed stupidity into the next generation."
"Isn't it a little late for that?" I asked.
Draco shrugged. "I wouldn't know. Does that mean I'm stupid?"
I stared at him.
Making fun of himself? That showed a level of self confidence that I wouldn't have expected from him.
"The Sorting is starting," he said. "Want to bet on which house the kids are going to get sorted to?"
They'd already sent one kid to Ravenclaw. I shrugged. I didn't have anything better to do, and I wasn't allowed to sit by any of my real friends, other than Millie, who was talking animatedly with a second year and sitting on my other side.
The Sorting Hat was reciting some kind of poem; it did this every year. It was awake now; I'd have to get to it soon before it fell back asleep again.
"Sure," I said. "That one looks kind of shifty...Slytherin?"
"Slytherin!" the hat shouted.
"One for me," I said.
"Looks weak," Draco said. "Scared. Hufflepuff?"
"HUFFLEPUFF!" the hat said.
"I'm not sure," I said about the next one. "Could be a Ravenclaw, but he doesn't look very confident."
"Hufflepuff then," he said.
It was a little disturbing that we were right two thirds of the time. Sometimes it was because Draco knew the families the kids were in and the houses they were likely to go to, but just as often there were things in their body language that cued us in.
Sometimes we were entirely wrong.
"You've been pretty talkative today," I said when the sorting was finished. "Is there a reason for that?"
"The Dark Lord is on the retreat, and your people are on the rise? Isn't that enough?"
"You still think I'm going to be a contestant," I said. "So you want to be a trainer?"
He shook his head. "Campaign manager, maybe. You've been in the papers a lot recently; this will make you even more famous."
"You don't think being seen in the papers next to me would be a bad idea?"
He shook his head.
I pulled out my wand and cast a quick muffling spell under the table. He noticed immediately.
"Is it because someone told you to get close to me?"
"I can't confirm that," he said calmly. "Or deny it. I can say that I haven't been asked to do anything but keep tabs on you."
"And you don't think I'll explode your eyeballs for that," I said.
He turned a little pale. "That was you?"
I shrugged. "I can neither confirm nor deny that. I'm not even sure which incident that you're talking about."
"There were more than one?" he asked, looking horrified. He shook his head, and his face became more composed. "I figured that if you know what I'm doing, and I'm up front about it, then you probably won't do anything horrible to me."
He had been watching me.
Everyone around us reacted to an announcement by Headmaster Rowle. I dropped the muffling spell.
Everyone was staring at the door, which had been flung open dramatically as a man stepped inside.
He stumped his way down the aisle, until he was standing directly over me.
"Hello Moody," I said. I sighed. "I suppose you're teaching Defense this year."
My voice rang out in the silence.
Everyone was staring at him as though they'd never seen him before. Surely they had; he'd been to the school several times investigating me.
The new kids were horrified, but that made sense. His eye probably took time to get used to.
"That's Professor Moody to you," he said. He then finished stumping his way to the head table.
"As always, Miss Hebert seems to know things one step ahead of the rest of us," Rowle said wryly. "Welcome your new Professor."
No one clapped, so I sighed and forced myself to do so. The clapping afterward was sporadic.
After that, Rowle proceeded to explain the rules of the tournament.