AN: Happy Holidays! Its the season to be sharing so I finally put up another chapter. To those that have still been following this story, a big thank you from me. Hopefully, this long break from posting will be the last.
Chapter 33 - The Bridge Club
"First years! Over here."
"That's not Hagrid," Harry scowled immediately, staring at the visage of Professor Grubbly-Plank.
"You think something happened to him?" Ron asked worriedly.
Anya followed her brother mutely as they departed from the Hogwarts Express, moving along the horde of students.
"Well, who do we have here?" a smooth voice reached Anya's ears. Her eyes followed the sound and she gave the speaker a nod.
The Italian fell into place beside her, stretching his arms overhead. "How was your holiday?"
"A family visit back to Italy," Zabini grinned. "Vineyards in Tuscany, shopping in Roma and a nice week at the beaches of the Adriatic."
"Are you sure you didn't ask that question just for an opening to brag?" Nott appeared from the crowd with a teasing grin.
Zabini raised his eyebrows and gave his friend a rude gesture.
"Honestly, that's a possibility," Anya shrugged.
"Beset on all sides," Zabini grumbled.
All eyes turned to face Harry, who had just realised his sister hanging at the back with other Slytherins. She certainly did not miss the suspicious and wary look he was reserving for the Slytherins.
"Any problems here, Potter?" Zabini asked, raising his eyebrows in askance.
"Not unless you're going to start one," Ron snapped, stepping forward.
"Nope," Zabini raised his hands, palms open. "Merely asking."
"Come on, just leave it," Harry muttered.
"Leave it?" Ron gaped. "You can't just let-"
Anya let out a silent sigh and held her finger on her lips, glad that Zabini and Nott had their backs facing her, Ron caught the silent message and promptly closed his mouth. The Gryffindors nodded as they walked away, Anya did not miss the sad look on her brother's face.
"Strange," Nott turned back to face Anya. "Did you do something?"
Anya shrugged and carried on, walking towards the carriages awaiting the students. Having taken the boat the previous time, the carriages were a fresh experience for her. The thestrals that were staring at her ominously gave her a slight chill.
Climbing aboard the carriage, the three Slytherin broke into small talk discussing their summer. Students filed into the Great Hall and the three of them made for the Slytherin table. Settling themselves in the benches, Anya noticed Nott and Zabini eyeing the High Table immediately. Zabini broke into a Cheshire grin and stuck his arm out. Grumbling, Nott placed ten galleons on the open palm.
"Anything I should know?" Anya asked.
"Nothing really," Nott shrugged. "We've just been taking bets since third year on who the new Defence teacher is."
Turning her eyes to the High Table, Anya inspected the new face. A middle-aged woman, she was short, toad-like and dressed in tacky pink. Anya filtered the names in her head to go with the face.
Madam Dolores Umbridge, the Senior Undersecretary to the Minister for Magic. If the Ministry wanted to send one of their own here to teach Defense, an Auror or Hit Wizard would have been better. What was the point of sending a secretary?
As the students all took their seat, the Sorting went by without a hitch though the Sorting Hat's song did leave a wave of buzzing among the students. Dumbledore began what Anya guessed to be the Start-of-Term speech. Halfway through, a distracting sound of 'hem hem' cut across the Great Hall. All eyes were on the source of the sound, Umbridge.
Anya saw the looks of surprise on every, no matter how minute the reactions were, apparently interrupting the Headmaster was uncommon. Umbridge began a speech of her own, Anya could clearly hear the political agenda seeping from each saccharine word. At least now she knew the reason the Ministry sent Umbridge.
"Ain't she a mouthful," Zabini muttered. "All those big words must make her feel grand."
Soon Umbridge's speech ended and the feast started in earnest. Hogwarts food was good and for someone like Anya who had spent the last four days living on rations and potions, it tasted heavenly. The feast ended and the students made their way to their own common rooms, the Fifth Year Prefects leading the groups of First Years who were new to the behemoth of a castle. Despite having spent only a year so far at Hogwarts, Anya found it quite nice to be back. Aside from the initial cramming to make up for the missing three years of magical education, there was a relaxing carefree innocence to being a simple student. Heading towards her dorms, she was greeted with her other roommates staring at something in their hands.
"I could see that Parkinson received it as well," Daphne Greengrass declared as Anya had reached the dorm she shared with the older Greengrass, Parkinson and Davis. "Anyone else?"
"Received what?" Tracy Davis asked in confusion.
Daphne waved the scroll in her hands to answer the question, Pansy Parkinson herself was reading through a scroll of her own. Clearly Tracy did not receive one. Anya gave her bed a glance and found a scroll as well.
"Me too," said Anya as she picked up the scroll, unrolling it.
Ms Anya Seryy,
Your presence would be graciously accepted in a small supper held in my office. Do not worry about Mr Filch, this letter grants you permission to leave the common room after curfew.
Madam Dolores Jane Umbridge, Senior Undersecretary to the Minister for Magic
"Meeting with the new professor, joy," Pansy grumbled. "I wanted my beauty sleep."
"Don't be daft," Daphne rolled her eyes. "She's not meeting us as a professor, see how she addressed herself. She's meeting us under her capacity as Senior Undersecretary."
That caught Pansy's attention as her sleepiness vanished in an instant.
"What does she want us for?" Pansy asked.
"We'll find out," Daphne said nonchalantly, already opening her trunk and picking out her best robes. It seemed she had a guess regarding the purpose of the supper.
Anya sighed, Nathaniel's tutelage forcing her to mimic Daphne's actions, though she was less bothered in picking her robes. Upperclass details was not her cup of tea, she would rather just get it done with. Soon the girls, barring Tracey, left their dorms. Heading to the common room, Anya could see several other Slytherins coming from their dorms. Graham Montague, the new Slytherin Quidditch Captain in his Sixth Year, was one. There was a Seventh Year as well and many Slytherins younger than her.
Start young, that's a good idea.
Fifth Year wise, aside from her dorm there was Zabini, Nott, Crabbe, Goyle and Malfoy. Zabini looked like he would rather be anywhere else, Nott simply went to Daphne's side and the pair left the common room together. Pansy let out a giggle as she went to Malfoy who left the common room with Crabbe and Goyle flanking them.
"Do we have to go?" Zabini frowned.
"Choice words for someone who picked out his best robes," Anya remarked.
"I could say the same for you," Zabini countered. "Aren't you the girl whose out-of-uniform attire is pants and a Muggle sweatshirt?"
"Touche. But we do have a Ministry lady to please."
"We have to go don't we?" Zabini groaned, following Anya out to the dungeons.
A short walk took them to Umbridge's office, Anya stepped in and observed her surroundings. Pink, prim and proper, with many pictures of cats. The other students were there, all from Slytherin. Cozy armchairs with accompanying tea tables formed a large circle around the centre of the office. Madam Umbridge sat on the grandest armchair among the circle, daintily holding onto a cup of tea. Some of the Slytherins had already taken their seats, others were still hovering around.
"Welcome, dearest children," she simpered. "Please, take a seat."
Anya and Zabini looked at one another and followed her instructions.
"Come now, no need to be shy. Have some snacks," Umbridge waved at the confections that were placed on pink plates on the tea table. "I was just congratulating dear Graham here on his new position as Quidditch Captain. He reminds me so much of his father, Anton Montague, a fine Chaser as well."
"And Miss Parkinson," Umbridge beamed at the girl. "Such a pleasure, how is your mother doing? We were classmates back in Hogwarts as well."
"She's well," Pansy smiled softly. "She does speak of you often."
"Good things, I hope," Umbridge laughed. "And Draco Malfoy, truly an honour. I meet your father oh so often at the Ministry, you show every sign of following his footsteps."
"Of course," Malfoy grinned. "I'm a Malfoy after all. I do hope the Ministry is treating father well."
"Naturally," said Umbridge. "The Ministry will alway hold such important men in high regard. And Goyle, you have my deepest condolences, dragon pox is truly tragic and your father did not deserve it."
Anya stared at the bulky boy who she had personally made fatherless in a graveyard earlier this year. Goyle looked downcast, even Crabbe awkwardly patted his friend's back.
"Miss Greengrass, truly enchanting. You remind me of Isabel so much."
"You knew my mother?" Daphne asked, tilting her head in curiosity, so much like Astoria. But Anya could see the cold skepticism in her eyes and a shrewd look that contrasted from Astoria's playfulness.
"Not personally, but we shared many mutual friends back at Hogwarts."
"Then perhaps I should introduce mother to you," Daphne smiled. "I've wanted her to bring me to the Wizengamot quite often, but she always refused. Maybe having her meet you would open her mind."
"Of course," Umbridge grinned, Anya could see the hunger in her eyes. "Maybe I could let you meet Richard Tottle, he is quite an influential man in the Wizengamot."
"That would be very much appreciated," Daphne nodded. "Thank you, Madam Umbridge."
Anya raised an eyebrow, Daphne guessed correctly as to the purpose of this supper, and was already making use of it. Umbridge was here to meet and connect with potentially powerful or connected Slytherins. Well, taking Crabbe and Goyle into consideration, who Umbridge gauged to be potentially powerful or connected.
Madam Umbridge began to start sharing stories about the Ministry and the various people she had built relations with. A few members of the Wizengamot here, a Head of Department there and some contacts in various businesses. She had a substantial set of connections to offer to the Slytherins.
"Uh... Professor Umbridge," a Third Year asked. "Not implying anything, I'm very glad for your hospitality, but I realised that everyone here is a Slytherin."
"Well, Slytherin was my old house," Umbridge explained affectionately. "So we wouldn't want any nasty Gryffindors or dumb Hufflepuffs, do we now Ella? We Slytherins should stick together."
"Are these kinds of teacher-student groups allowed?" a nervous Second Year asked.
"Of course they are," Umbridge waved the question away dismissively. "When I was a student here, the Slytherin Head of House - Professor Slughorn - had a gathering of students as well, much like this one. Simply bringing back an old tradition."
"Was it fun back then?" Malfoy asked. "Slughorn was a friend of my grandfather Abraxas, I heard Slughorn was a great potioneer."
"Well, I was never that excited about joining these things when I was younger, so I wouldn't know," Umbridge coughed hastily.
"So you weren't invited," Malfoy raised an eyebrow slightly.
"No, I wasn't but that's beside the point," Umbridge said hastily. "How about you, Pictor? I heard your father's business is booming."
Anya heard a soft snort from Zabini as Umbridge diverted the topic of the conversation with a tinge of annoyance and jealousy in her voice.
"There went that tiny shred of respect I had for her," Zabini muttered with a grin.
Looking around, Anya could see that Umbridge had managed to charm most of the Slytherins. Well, a more apt phrasing was that Umbridge managed to make most of them tolerate her for the sake of the benefits she offered. The ambitious Slytherins like Daphne were not passing up on the chance of making important connections and the more naive Slytherins were still savvy enough to know a chance for favouritism when they saw one.
"And of course, Ms Seryy. How rare is it for a fine lady so far away come here for schooling," Umbridge smiled.
Anya noticed the growing attention on her, as though it was the first time her housemates had seen her. Not that it was their fault, with her solitary behavior, she had always been seen as a wildcard in Slytherin.
Raising the cup of tea in her hands, she gave a small smile. "Well, Hogwarts is one of the top Wizarding schools of Europe. My family and I wouldn't be settled for anything less."
Chuckles of agreement came from the other students, Umbridge giggled. "Of course, and imagine my surprise when I met the Russian Head of Auror Forensics."
Anya hid her grimace behind a mask. That was the reason she was invited here? Because Aleks and Dimitri paid her a visit before the Fourth Task of the Triwizard Tournament with Aleks pretending to be her uncle? Coercing Aleks to step into a high profile environment, she was going to have words with Dimitri.
"Why, I did not realise that it would be your uncle," said Umbridge. "Him, a high ranking Auror. You, a Triwizard Junior Champion. It seems greatness is just in your family."
Maybe not joining the Triwizard Tournament and just taking the Fourth Year exams like a common person would have been the better idea. It was not the first time the though crossed her mind.
"Thank you for your kind words," Anya nodded.
"Of course, I'm sure many of us are hoping you can give us some insight into this whole Black Mark fiasco. Surely your uncle would have told you something."
If she had knut for every time Astoria said that, Anya was sure she could buy a bottle of butterbeer. She met Umbridge's eye and she could see the cold calculative gaze, the woman was accessing if she was worth keeping and trying to see if there was any good information to be picked up from her.
Did she want to play along? Definitely not. Did she want to keep her choices open in case Nathaniel had a task for her that could use this window, or wanted to directly use this window? Unlikely, but unfortunately possible.
Anya cursed under her breath, the things she had to do. "He did say that we, the Russians, would be here for the long haul. The Black Mark did take a long time for the Aurors to flush out from Russia, the same could be said for Britain."
Anya had immediately decided then that all she would ever give was a token effort. If Umbridge wanted to cast her out from this group, she could not be more pleased.
"Most interesting," said Umbridge. "Sad to hear that, but I'm sure we could all make the most of this moment."
The rest of the supper went by without any problems and Anya could not be more relieved when she was finally able to head back to her dorm. They had all been invited into Umbridge's own group of sorts, the Bridge Club. Anya was planning on doing her best to avoid as many meetings as possible, she had better things to do.
"Bridge Club," Astoria snickered. "I've never heard of anything more stupid than that. I hope you have fun."
"I think it was something she copied from the previous Head of Slytherin, Slughorn into Slug Club," said Anya, picking out another helping of bacon for her breakfast. "I heard that was the name of the group the old Head of Slytherin used to have."
"Yeah, my dad was in it, actually," Astoria picked up her copy of Daily Prophet. "And unlike this pink party, his group is actually quite respected even in the Ministry."
"Don't remind me."
"Another Rita Skeeter article, go figure," Astoria rolled her eyes as she flipped through the pages. "I'm pretty sure Potter is unrecognisable under all the mud that is flung at him."
"What is it this time?" Anya asked, eyeing Harry from her periphery vision.
True enough, her brother was holding onto a copy of the Daily Prophet, fist shaking as he gripped the paper so tightly his knuckles turned white. Around him, other students were casting furtive glances at him, some were even pointing.
"Just another theory on why he is so mentally unstable," Astoria scanned through the article she was reading. "Something to do with possible stress from the lack of parents causing him to become more attention seeking."
"Let me see," Anya took the offered newspapers and read the article. It was distasteful, worse than the articles last year. The angle changed from a pitiful, overinflated hero to a straight up lunatic.
"Do you really think he's being real?" Astoria asked, staring at Harry. "About Voldemort?"
"What do you think?" Anya asked. "You're good at judging characters."
"I don't know him well enough," Astoria pouted defensively. "How do you expect me to form a conclusion?"
"Then your guess is as good as mine," said Anya as she finished her meal. "I have to get going, the first period is Transfiguration and we all know how strict Professor McGonagall is."
Snape scowled, he hated surprises. During the first war, surprises usually meant that someone died. It was a grim notion that had carried on until now. He treasured the predictability of everything around him.
Anya Seryy was anything but predictable. Or rather, Anne Potter as he had found out this spring, at the end of the Triwizard Tournament. Dumbledore had asked him to keep an eye on the girl ever since her peculiar attitude and aptitude towards combat in the Second Task.
He was not the spy of the Order of Phoenix for no reason. Figuring out another person could mean the difference between life and death, Anya was readable. He could tell she had fought many times, too many times. The cold demeanor during the Second Task, how she savoured the adrenaline when she sent Viktor Krum sprawling in the snow. The dead, haunting gaze etched in her eyes despite what smiles she could put on in the company of her housemates.
It was clear cut, she lived through a war and fought in it. Snape grimaced at the image of her eyes. Now that he knew her identity, it was obvious she shared the Potter brat's eyes. They both had Lily's eyes.
And to see that cold, dead emotion in Lily's eyes disturbed him. Those emerald eyes should have a lively sparkle to it, just like Lily and just like the brat. He could imagine how Lily would be if she ever found out that this was the fate of her daughter, she would have torn the world to shreds to right this wrong.
Another part of him gnawed at his bones, something was not right. Black threw the accusation at Dumbledore about leaving her, an offhand remark he picked up quickly.
Would Dumbledore leave a child to death? He did not doubt it. Would Dumbledore have a reason for it? He did not doubt it. He simply hoped there was a perfectly good reason for Lily's sake.
A glance at the clock in the Potions classroom, the Ravenclaw had finished their Charms and the Slytherins, their Transfiguration. They should be coming anytime soon.
As if one cue, the doors of the classroom opened and a stream of blue and green entered. Snape scanned the back of the crowd and saw the Potter girl- no, Seryy. No child of James would ever be so calm and collected. He had noticed the Potter brat trying to get close to the girl for some time, but thought of it as a random flight of fancy. Now, the reason was obvious.
Dumbledore had told him to do his best to keep the twins apart before the start of this term. It seemed strange, but he knew Dumbledore had his reasons, the old man was an enigma of his own. Every strange instruction Dumbledore had given in the first war had later helped to keep Voldemort from winning, he could only assume that this was no different.
If that was the game Dumbledore was playing, it would explain why for the first time in his teaching career, Gryffindors did not share Potions with Slytherins. It was a refreshing change, he did not have to settle fights between the Lions and Snakes in his class. On the downside, he would have to suffer through a joint Gryffindor-Hufflepuff class.
Most of them were slow as a rock, especially Longbottom. How difficult was it to get a potion right? He was not demanding them to alter potions or invent new ones - those required a vast web of knowledge and skill to accomplish. He only needed them to read the instructions and follow them like a functioning human being, any failures in essay was tolerable as it did not result in students taking a trip to the Hospital Wing and another incident report to submit to McGonagall whom he was sure was equally tired from seeing another report.
It was times like these he was sure he was surrounded by imbeciles. Hopefully a Ravenclaw-Slytherin class would not be too disappointing.
The Ravenclaws doubled their speed and hastily sat at the front of the class, the Slytherins quickened their pace slightly.
"This is your OWL year, one of the key milestones of your life. I believe I do not have to stress the importance of this year."
He was greeted with nods. Good, he would not have to waste so much time talking, Ravenclaws and Slytherins had a mindset he appreciated.
"Put in your due diligence and I will ensure that you will be rewarded."
Snape meant it, these were Ravenclaws and Slytherins, a small degree of faith was entitled.
"Indulge in slothfulness and I will ensure that you suffer my displeasure."
His cold gaze swept across the class and even the Slytherins shuddered under it. He met the eyes of all his students as he looked, most averted his stare. Finally, he looked at Seryy.
She met his gaze unflinchingly, Snape masked his grimace. It was not James' bravado, which he had seen so often in the brat and hated with a passion. Neither was it Lily's bravery, which he had respected and admired. She was simply empty, simply observing him. He would begrudgingly yet proudly attribute it to the Slytherin cunning, but he also knew it was something more sinister.
Oh, how Lily would have raged if she saw her child in this state.
"Open your books and turn to chapter twenty. We will continue where we left off last year and begin on the types and effects of various mind-altering ingredients. By the second half of this lesson, we will begin brewing a Draught of Peace."
The rustle of pages filled his ears as his first class of the term started. He tore his gaze away from Seryy as his heart sighed. He had no ill will towards the girl, he would simply do his duty.
"Are you serious?"
"No, I'm Ron."
"No, seriously, you have got to be joking."
"What do you mean, Harry?"
"What do I mean?" Harry repeated with an affronted tone, staring at Hermione. "Look at this timetable. It has never been like that before."
"I don't know what you mean," Ron chortled as they walked towards their first class, having just received their timetables from Professor McGonagall. "Binns, Trelawney and Umbridge in the same day, sounds like the bad deal we get each year. Thank Merlin for Herbology or we would just be getting bad teachers today."
"We're paired with Hufflepuffs for Potions," Harry exclaimed in disbelief and outrage, earning a venomous glare from a passing sixth year with yellow trimmings on his robes. "When has that ever happened?"
"The only ray of sunshine this year, honestly," Ron chuckled.
"We don't get any classes with the Slytherins?" Harry sighed in frustration.
"We do," Hermione replied. "Care for Magical Creatures and Divination."
"It's not that, I don't get any classes with Anne."
Ron and Hermione shifted uneasily, giving Harry sympathetic looks.
"Come on mate, it's not like you'll never see her," said Ron bracingly. "There's always opportunities to meet up. Family is family, trust me I live with Fred, George and Percy. Well, lived with Percy."
History of Magic went by like a blur haze and Herbology always seemed to fly by for Harry. Professor Sprout released them from her class with a twelve inch essay and they headed off for lunch. Between the classes and the classrooms, not once did Harry walk pass the Fifth Year Slytherins. Only when they were at the doors of Great Hall did he see them coming from the opposite direction.
"We're even at opposite ends of the castle," Harry muttered.
"Harry, don't overthink it," said Hermione. "It's probably just a coincidence."
"Well, coincidence is garbage," Harry grumbled, taking a seat and grabbing his lunch. "Who decides the timetables anyway?"
"The entire teaching body I suspect," answered Hermione.
Harry grumbled in discontent at the answer, this year was already bad enough. Voldemort was back, the whisperings directed at him increased tenfold and he was the butt of the joke for Rita Skeeter's articles. Anne was planning on returning to Russia after the OWLs and apparently their chances of hanging out together was stymied by a timetable?
Harry snorted angrily. That settled it, he was going to take every extracurricular time he got to spend with her. If that resorted to snooping around in the invisibility cloak, then so be it.