05. Do you believe in Magic?
"Peruvian Viptertooth claws, ten galleons each. One of the rarest potion ingredients out there," advised Mundungus Fletcher, nudging my ribs with his elbow in an overly friendly manner.
And so I had found myself waiting downstairs with a small trunk full of texts and a variety of clothing while the rest of the children prepared to ready their materials prior to our journey to Platform 9 ¾. How that existed, I may never know.
Mundungus 'Dung' Fletcher was a small, squat man with an unshaven face and loosely hanging hair. He smelled of whiskey and garbage, both of which I would probably have expected of such a character. Fletcher was useful, though, with a history a shade lighter than my own.
"Really?" I asked, stroking his ego, "Those must be quite difficult to acquire. You wouldn't happen to have any, say, luck potion, would you?" I had skimmed across the term when browsing through Potions ingredients and it was intriguing, to say the least.
A flash of greed flickered in Fletcher's eyes. "Fifty galleons and I could get you enough to last three days. Might take a bit to get together, but I could mail it to you within a few weeks," he offered in a low whisper.
The little thief's eyes quickly scanned the room, no doubt checking for any of the other Order members.
I gave him a wry smile and brought my mouth closer to his ear. "Get it to me within this week. It'll be worth your while," I said softly, pressing a small bag of golden coins into his hands.
I felt his grip instantly tighten around the bag and his eyes bulged slightly. He turned to me with a greedy smile, his eyes alit with anticipation. Fletcher's eyes glanced down towards the bag before his mouth hung open slightly.
"Harry, this is, what, a hundred galleons?" he asked, perplexed. "I'm not sure if I can get you that much, kid, Felix Felicis is a rare thing to come by."
I inclined my head, "I'm aware, Mr. Fletcher. Consider it a payment of gratitude. Take a night to yourself," I said, patting his shoulder. "I'd like it if we could do business like this more often, wouldn't you?"
Fletcher nodded slowly, pulling me further into the foyer, into a corner where an umbrella stand lay alone.
"What do you need, kid? I can get it, for the right price of course," said Fletcher in a quiet whisper, looking over his shoulder every few moments to check for others.
I smiled amusedly, "I want nothing but your friendship, Mr. Fletcher. Over the year I will need certain items and information, some of which may be confidential. I'm sure I could rely on you. As one friend to another?" I asked smoothly. I met his brown eyes meaningfully, piercing into his mind itself.
He nodded carefully, "What type of stuff will you be need? I know some people that may be able to provide somethin'…" he trailed off.
I needed sources within the Order of the Phoenix and the lower crowds of the Wizarding World itself. Mundungus Fletcher was a man only too well positioned to complete both tasks for me. He not only held the apparent favor of Dumbledore, but was also involved in some of the deeper, darker circles of wizard kind. A snitch, and a damn good one if I could become his puppeteer.
"You misunderstand me. I want you to gather information, anything that you might happen to hear in passing. Especially in passing around certain areas," I said, an inflection in my tone.
Fletcher winced and backed away slightly. "No can do kid, I owe Dumbledore big. He'd have my head if I went around blabbing what I hear," said Fletcher nervously. I deftly reached into my pocket and withdrew a galleon, flipping it in the air as one would a coin.
"Consider who your friends are, Fletcher," I said coldly. I dropped my voice to a whisper, "Do you really think the Order will be kind to you when this is over? I've seen the way they look at you, they don't value what important information you provide."
Fletcher frowned and eyed the galleon in my hand hungrily.
Let me give you a piece of advice. Money talks, and there's nothing in the world that money can't buy. Some people say that money can't buy you friends -- I beg to differ.
He shook his head quickly. "Can't do it kid, I owe Dumbledore too much," he said; I could hear the anxiety in his voice. His will surprised me for a moment, I had expected him to accept more easily.
I changed my expression into a friendly smile, "My apologies, Mr. Fletcher. Good luck in your sales -- as you said, Peruvian Vipertooth claws are a Class-B Non-Tradable Substance," I noted smoothly, turning my back on Fletcher and beginning to walk away.
I let my coins jingle in my pocket, I could practically feel the labored breathing of Fletcher behind me. Maybe it was because I was walking directly into the room where some of the Order of the Phoenix members were conversing, especially one Alastor Moody.
"Wait," called Fletcher exasperatedly. I paused, turning to view him expectantly.
"I can't give you all of the Order's information, but I can get you some of the stuff in other circles. Corporations, business, some of the crowd in Knockturn Alley. Maybe even some death eaters if I get lucky," he said quickly, stammering slightly.
I turned back to Fletcher and the edges of my lips turned into a predatory smile. I withdrew a smaller bag from the insides of my robes and tossed it lightly through the air, lobbing it towards the thief.
"Thank you Mr. Fletcher, I'll be in touch." I said with a touch of authoritative power in my tone, the way Vanzetti used to command those beneath him. With a flourish of my jacket, I set off down the hallways, in search of the kitchen.
I'll be honest, Pumpkin Juice is damn good.
With a small glass of said juice in my hands, I walked back to the foyer. I had developed an informant, one that would hopefully keep me in check with the activities of the real world. I could tell Albus Dumbledore would be less than enthused to include me in his war -- after all, he had offered me safety, not a position on his team.
At least now, I felt I had a purpose. It was simple really, most people in the world do it without even realizing.
My circumstances were a little different than the average bear's. The threat of an over looming, vengeful force did hamper any innocent endeavors that I may pursue. Who knew how far Voldemort's tendrils of influence spread? He had played this chessboard longer than I had, he was far more developed.
But what was I doing?
I was gaining control of the life I lived -- gathering pieces of my puzzle. I wouldn't be caught sitting down letting big boys play with all of the cards, boys such as Dumbledore, Voldemort, and Fudge. I wanted a piece of the pie as it were, a part of the power that was up for grabs.
And when I got that influence, then what? Even I can't tell you. I like to think a few steps ahead, not miles ahead. Life changes too much far too quickly. I don't care if there are seers or prophets in the realms of magic, my life isn't written in stone. I've ended too many to believe that.
I took a sip from the cool, orange drink in my hand and leaned against the wall where the paint wasn't peeling. The assortment of Weasleys moved rapidly up and down the stairs, some of them hefting large trunks while two identical twins seemed to levitate them with their wands, as if a string attached their wandtip to the luggage.
"Harry, can I talk to you for a moment?" asked a voice to my right.
I turned, my gaze passing through the thickets of Weasleys, especially the crowd around the youngest boy who had received a prefect's badge. My eyes landed on Sirius Black himself, the very man that I had been hoping to avoid. I vastly dislike dealing with emotional adults, and the way his eyes watered every time he saw me was more than enough for me.
The man himself was standing in the doorway of the kitchen, shaggy black hair falling loosely down his face. Eyes stared back into my own, cold and as lifeless as the winter. Black was a man who had lived through mentally trying times, and he wasn't great at coping with death. Half of me wanted to pretend I didn't hear him, the other half thought he might one day be a viable resource.
I like to go beyond holding the cards on the table. I want the dealer on my payroll, as many people as I can playing for me, and a rigged hand. If someone wanted to show me their hand and motivation early in the game, who was I to refuse?
I inclined my head towards Black and followed him into an adjoining room. He led me into an official looking dining room, faint light shimmering from a dusty, golden chandelier. Tapestries covered one wall, depicting ancient figures in a setting of battle with one side being the obvious victor. Black pulled out one of the chestnut chairs and took a seat at the head, I remained standing.
Neither of us said anything for a few moments, Black was content with simply watching me for several long moments. I returned his gaze equally, forcing him to look away after a trice.
"You look just like them, you know. Just like both of your parents. They were both very good friends of mine," he said sadly, a reminiscent gleam in his eyes.
I arched an eyebrow, "I'm sure you'll find that I'm very different than my biological parents, Mr. Black. I prefer not to follow any genetic similarities," I stated with a hint of coldness.
If Black caught it, he shrugged it off. Instead, he pressed forward.
"I know you like to stay alone Harry, but if you ever need help, I'm here for you," offered Black, leaning forward in his seat.
I might've felt touched once upon a time, in a land far, far away. In another life I might've smiled and hugged the man, telling him that I loved him as a father. Let's wake up to the real world, Sirius Black was an available resource -- nothing more.
"Should I require you aid, Mr. Black, I will request it," I replied coolly, "Is there anything else?"
Black recoiled as if I had just struck him with the most deadly blow I could wield. He hadn't realized that he was just a business endeavor to me. Sure I would use him later, a desperate man is a valuable resource. Maybe when he had controlled himself -- emotional men were worth nothing to me, their conscience would get in the way of any goal I held.
"I wouldn't mind if you called me Sirius," he said quietly. "If you ever want to know about your parents, you can always come to me." He shifted uncomfortably in his seat, eyes scanning the room and watching everything but my own.
I chuckled mirthlessly.
"Mr. Black, I would have hoped you would have realized by now," I said, amused. "The Potters meant very little to me. I'm afraid I don't possess the lasting bonds of friendship that you do."
I turned around and began to walk away when I heard his meek voice sound again, his chair scratching the wooden floor as he stood to face my retreating back.
"James asked me to take care of you if anything happened to him or Lily…I swore that I would" said Black softly. He shifted his weight on the balls of his feet while I turned my head around, eyeing him with a hard gaze.
"If you want to help me, Mr. Black, help yourself first. Death happens in life, it's the natural cycle -- accept it and move on," I remarked uncaringly, turning my back to the man and walking away at a brisk pace. I left Black staring at my back, a profound and almost shattered expression upon his face.
Am I heartless? Probably. Life isn't a Disney story, not one with wonderful heroes and family reunions. This is real life, where people stab you in your sleep, rape your children, and toss you in a river when they're done with you. If these wizards thought I was going to be a misunderstood, kindhearted boy, they were quite wrong.
Well, maybe they wouldn't quite understand me at first. In time, they might.
I entered the foyer to find a waiting party, composed of all the students under the wing of the Order of the Phoenix waiting for me. I had a lurking suspicion that some of them were listening to my conversation, judging from the rather profound solemnity of the troupe.
The corners of my lips twitched into an amused smirk.
"At your leave, Mr. Moody. The ticket provided reads 11:00 AM," I commented wryly, flicking my left wrist upwards to check my watch. "Currently, the time is 10:25:39. I would prefer not to be late."
Moody growled something indiscernible at me before taking a swig of something from his hipflask and hobbling towards the door. I followed suit, lifting my luggage up on the way while the rest of the group followed behind me. I picked up a spare umbrella out of the stand and propped it open, holding it over my head as I exited into the stormy morning.
Rain fell down over my head, pattering against the fabric of the umbrella with measured consistency. It soaked into the ground, doing little to flood the cold, hard cement. I stared upwards, drops fell down against my face and cascaded through my lips. The sun was hidden behind clouds, the moisture thick in the air. I inhaled deeply.
The best stories, begin with the rain.
A short walk later found me within the King's Cross station, one that I had frequented many times over the years. Half of me doubted that the "Hogwarts Express" could be one of the trains that readily traversed the lines, I usually kept a good eye for stuff out of the ordinary.
And so you would expect my surprise when I saw the young Ron Weasley disappear through the brick arches between Platforms Nine and Ten. And I mean he disappeared, as in the kid seemed to mould with the wall itself.
"Potter, you're up next. Straight through the barrier, no fooling around," growled Moody.
I met the wizard's gaze evenly, watching his prosthetic eyeball with certainty. I swept by him, pushing my trolley towards the brick wall, albeit suspiciously. The tip of the metal cart punctured brick and moved through it as if it was simply water.
My body was the last to follow through the portal, and I felt the barrier for myself. It was like a soft curtain of silk that let itself be parted by my very being. The layers moved to the sides and I leaked into the pores of the magical world. I pushed out the other side and raised an eyebrow in interest.
The Wizarding world never ceased to amaze me.
On the other side of the barrier to Platform 9 ¾, lay the hidden society that had been veiled by the normal world. Bustling students with similar trolleys moved rapidly around the grandiose platform, all followed by worried parents and siblings. The bright red steam engine that was the Hogwarts Express lay docked, a conductor near the head with a small, metal whistle in his mouth. I could spot the youngest Weasley son in front of me, the trolley of Hermione Granger behind me.
My eyes flickered down to the small ticket that lay in my fingertips. The Hogwarts Express, from Platform 9 ¾, Kings Cross, London. So this was it, the realm of magical wizards within the lands of London itself.
I stepped forward, quite used to boarding trains and subways. I followed the flow of traffic and worrisome parents until I found the luggage compartment, where I gladly stored all my excess items.
"Harry," greeted a familiar voice from my side. My head turned, as did those of Hermione and Ron. I was met by the same figure as the young lady who had greeted me in Diagon Alley -- one Daphne Greengrass.
"Daphne," I returned equally. "To what do I owe this amorphous pleasure?"
A small, pleased smile graced her lips as she walked towards me, with the same aristocratic grace. "A small offer," she said lightly, almost innocently. "A compartment. That is, if you haven't found one yourself."
Friend or foe, which one was Daphne Greengrass? In the immortal words of those philosophers long past: keep your friends close, and your enemies even closer. Either way, I was never one to let a possibly powerful ally slip between my fingertips.
I inclined my head, "After you, Daphne."
I began to follow the young witch before a hand of long fingers gripped my shoulders. I turned around slowly, eyes watching the red-headed captive of my shoulder. I cast him a questioning glance.
"You shouldn't go with her, mate, she's a Slytherin. Around here, well, let's just say they're not the most trustworthy bunch," advised Ron slowly. I met his eyes with my own, lazily narrowed yet with all the same wintry intent.
"When I desire your advice, Mr. Weasley, I will request it. Until that time, I would prefer if you kindly removed your hand," I said frostily. The spindly fingers quickly retracted, obvious disappointment and barely withheld outrage on the boy's face.
My feet moved forward, walking alongside the young witch who had invited me into her domain. My eyes watched the passing compartments with interest. The students seemed to vary in age from their youngest and most excitable ages of their lower teens to the more relaxed counterparts of older adolescence. A small trolley of sweets and other assortments of snack-foods moved from compartment to compartment slowly, an old lady with gray locks of hair managing the cart.
Daphne stopped after a few more steps and slid open one of the local compartments, its door rattling against the sliding threshold. She stepped inside first, taking a seat by another girl while a tall, dark skinned boy sat across from the two girls. I awkwardly entered the compartment and stood for a moment, waiting to be introduced.
Never introduce yourself first, it makes you seem arrogant. That's how Vanzetti ran his life, that's how I'd run mine.
"Tracey, Blaise. Meet Harry Potter. Harry, Tracey Davis and Blaise Zabini," introduced Daphne, motioning to each of the individuals in turn. Contrary to popular methods, handshakes were not exchanged. In fact, only a vague greeting sounded from each of the two individuals.
The young Tracey Davis was a small girl, wheat-blonde hair flowing down to the mid back. Two surveying, cerulean, eyes watched me carefully; her slightly sharpened nose scrunched up occasionally as she read a small pamphlet in her equally dainty hands. Somehow, I had the feeling that when she was reading her pamphlets, her eyes were never on the paper itself. They scanned me with utmost precision, taking in every meticulous detail; analyzing me.
The taller, darker, and quite male Blaise Zabini didn't survey me over a pamphlet. His brown eyes held mine with a strange certainty, only flickering to the side for a moment when I met his gaze with my own. His robes fell loosely around himself and for the first time I noticed that all three of the occupants in the compartment were of green and silver markings -- the house of Slytherin.
Cunning, witty, known for their guile.
"Ever play a game of chess, Potter?" asked Blaise, reaching to the luggage shelf above his seat to remove a small, ornate box. He opened the box and the pieces seemed to find their position by themselves, I could've sworn I heard them whisper.
The edge of one side of my mouth twitched into a half-smile.
"Once or twice," I returned evenly.
I'm not going to say I'm the next Bobby Fischer, but I've played my fair share of games. Vanzetti encouraged the game, to him it was a way of showing me how to consider every option laid out in front of me. To watch the angles, to see how carefully life must be played.
He placed the chessboard in the small space between us, the white side to himself while I was given the black side. Offensive, interesting.
"They say the headmaster is the most powerful wizard in the world," began Blaise nonchalantly, making his first move, a relatively basic start. The king's pawn.
"Power is subjective," I replied, similarly moving a pawn. "It is merely a form of comparison to those of the current era. Kings are powerful because those around them are weak."
A flash of surprise flickered through the boy's features. Out of the corner of my eye, I caught the motion similarly mirrored in the expression of the young Tracey Davis.
I vaguely registered the train's movement beginning, a small lurch that was followed by an increase in pace. Some of the younger children from adjacent compartments could be heard shouting farewells to loved ones, parents and siblings alike.
A small chuckle left Blaise's mouth, "Some people even say the Minister is powerful," commented Blaise offhandedly, undertones lacing his voice. His fingertips pushed a knight forward, the character of which grumbled in response.
I gave him a half-smile, I had read the article myself. Boy-Who-Lived Supports Minister, by the notorious Rita Skeeter. A front-cover page with the firm handshake between myself and Fudge had hit the Daily Prophet the following morning.
As a rule, I don't like my picture being taken. Pictures can place you in the wrong hands if you're not careful -- you might have not known that your old school friend would one day become a crime associate. It could raise doubt about yourself, and essentially, weaken your support.
"A puppet is only as powerful as the puppeteer, Mr. Zabini," I remarked, amused. "Veiled comments do not suit you. If you desire a direct answer, you need but ask."
A faint smile curled on the boy's features while he made another move, to which I responded with in kind.
"I like him already, Daphne," said Blaise wryly, leaning back into his seat, "Name's Blaise, Blaise Zabini." He offered out his hand, which I accepted in a firmly gripped handshake.
Some people might relax, and accept his friendship without another word. We had traded words for words, ideals for ideals. My position had been challenged -- tested -- and I had succeeded.
I motioned towards the chessboard in front of us, moving a bishop to force his queen into a rather precarious position.
"And what of you, Mr. Zabini? Should the Minister be most powerful? Or the Wizard who is most apt?" I asked slowly. The young wizard's expression grew clouded, his eyes flickering over to Daphne for the barest of moments.
As soon as it had come however, it was gone, leaving a completely calm, collected individual. He simply smiled gregariously and pushed a piece forward.
"Neither," he replied evenly. "Power is far too intangible. It moves too quickly to be captured by only one man." The look in his eyes told otherwise.
I smirked. I liked this guy. Some people you just like off the bat -- Blaise Zabini had some of those qualities running through his blood. Wit, class, and ambition.
The young Tracey Davis lowered her pamphlet in measured motions, folding it away and tucking it into an inside pocket of her robes. She watched me again with that same utmost analytical certainty, weighing me as if I was a prepared recipe.
"You seem to know a lot for being a recluse to the Wizarding world, Potter," remarked Tracey. "Rumor has it that you discovered you were a wizard less than a year ago."
"I keep my eyes open, Miss Davis," I responded smoothly, capturing Blaise's knight with my pawn. "It's important to watch how the pieces move."
A small, wry smile quirked on her lips, "And what piece are you? The knight perhaps? Or maybe the bishop?" She motioned towards the chessboard in front of me.
I chuckled lightly, drawing my eyes away from the board to watch the blonde girl. Her eyes met my own, and for the first time, I noticed that hers were sparkling with amused interest.
"I am but a pawn, Miss Davis," I replied, a half-smile curving on my lips.
"An interesting choice," prompted Daphne, her brow crinkling somewhat as a knowing expression was etched into her features. "The pawn is perhaps the most coy piece on the board, critical only at the end of the game."
I inclined my head indulgently, that was the point I had been after. A pawn is one who can change to any means: the influential Queen, the clever Knight, the sly Bishop, or the coy Rook. A pawn can topple an army, if simply placed in the right positions.
Blaise chuckled quietly, "But after all, this is just chess," he remarked offhandedly, lazily moving a piece to threaten a lowly pawn .
I offered him a mechanical smile, moving a piece and placing his king in a threatened position. The young boy countered deftly, relocating his king to the back row.
Time continued forward, conversation grew to more casual levels as I stared outside the window, watching fens pass through the window. Ferns became shrubs, shrubs became trees, trees became forests, and I was lost to the conservative nature of Wizards around me.
A few short hours later, found the Hogwarts Express pulling into a small station. Very contemporary with a backwater town feel. The clouded sky had given way to a more darkened night, the sun replaced by a luminescent moon. The faint smell of pine trees and forest found its way to my nose, filling it with the scent of nature rather than the poignant aroma of the city.
The train station that I exited out of was old fashioned -- from the old stone floor to the bricks arches that led to the pathway that would take me to the school itself, it simply exuded an early seventies feel.
In the distance I could make out a large, burly figure rallying younger, smaller students to his point. And when I mean large, I mean large. Even the better enforcers of the family lacked the size and mass that this man held; his beard rivaled the size of their heads. Yet for all the mass, the beaming smile on his face was one of kindest and most reassuring I had seen in a long time. The gentle giant, how quaint.
I pulled at the neck of my Oxford collar and shifted the robes that fell loosely around me, feeling like a priest out of place. My fingertips tugged at the black tie that was the formal dress code -- at least until I had been sorted to the proper house. The young Miss Granger had been more than informative over the last two weeks, knowledge came only too easily when prodded for.
Soft fingertips brushed the side of my shoulder; I swept my head to the side and my eyes met Daphne's. I arched an eyebrow in question. The young witch simply smiled pleasantly and leaned forward so her mouth was just outside of my ear.
"You'd do well in Slytherin, Harry," she whispered.
The House system of Hogwarts School for Witchcraft and Wizardry meant very little to me. In the house of Gryffindor I would be confronted with those of brave and strong hearts; in Slytherin, the cunning and ambitious; in Ravenclaw, those of wit and knowledge; in Hufflepuff, the wizards who were most loyal and diligent. Each house offered me a different strength -- in Slytherin I would meet those who would be cunning enough to prove to be ample allies, in Ravenclaw I would meet resources, in Hufflepuff I would acquiesce dependable allies, and in Gryffindor, I would gain those brave enough to stand by my side.
Basically, I didn't care. I would gain resources and contacts from where I was placed. If I had to be a little more ruthless and cunning to obtain it, so be it.
I inclined my head politely towards Daphne, "We'll see how Fate has decided to play this round," I commented wryly.
She tilted her head to the side, pensive, one finger pressed against the tip of her chin. A light, private chuckle to herself later found the lithe girl walking away, along with Blaise and Tracey, towards a dirt and gravel pathway.
I shrugged and turned towards the pathway of smaller children huddling around the large man. My feet moved up the dirt pathway, eyes scanning the trees and shadows of the forest in what a sign depicted as "Hogsmeade village."
Yeah, I'm paranoid. To be honest, walking around in a forest during the night in a place where my magical aptitude was severely lacking wasn't something high on my bucket list. I carried a revolver in my pocket but hell, that forest didn't look very inviting. I'm pretty good at staying alive, fifteen years of going from bad to even worst situations gives you that edge.
I didn't miss the questioning glances of the little sprites around me, all of them talking to each other in excited whispers. As soon as I reached the clearing to the forest, I might've whispered too, if I was a little kid.
The Hogwarts School, was not a school for starters, at least not by any colloquial means. It was a castle, one with towers that rose above the basic battlements of the structure. Ancient stone buildings were connected in a very medieval architectural style -- arched doorways, domed entrances, and two incredibly large doors that stood at the entrance. A giant lake stood before our troupe and the castle itself -- the water of which was as black as the night sky.
I followed the giant man until we reached a shoreline; longboats adorned the coast, pulled up onto the moist sand of the low tide. I entered the first before me, followed closely by two young children, one little girl and one little boy.
And so I crossed the metaphorical Delaware, a small lantern attached to the front of the boat acting as my beacon in the night. Our boat had no crew, no captain, no paddles, or even anyone to steer the lines. The sea craft simply moved of its own volition, transporting newer students across the watery depths of the Lake.
"This is wicked!" exclaimed the young boy, hands on the stern of the longboat, torso leaning over the edge.
I stared up at the castle in front of me, the illumination of the entrance hall acting as our beacon in the darkness. I couldn't help but agree, somehow it's every normal kid's dream. To be something else, something supernatural.
I looked over the edge of the boat and into the water, and for a moment, I thought I saw something looking back at me. I guess it's true what they say: stare too long into the deep, eventually something starts staring back. The large figure underneath the surface moved quickly, disappearing at surprising speeds. Was that a tentacle lurking in the depths? No, surely not.
The boats pulled up onto shore with magical efficiency -- docking just enough to touch the sand to allow the smaller individuals to enter into the lands of Hogwarts without getting too wet. The tide was surprisingly low, leaving a myriad of pebbles to cover the synthesis of dirt and sand.
I swept past the children and got to the front of our little entourage, eyes scanning the Hogwarts grounds carefully. In the distance I could see a small hut with a straw roof, laying just outside the tips of the forest that encompassed the grounds. Closer to the school, a vast stadium stood tall, three hoops in the air on each side. A sport that I had come to understand as Quidditch, from the ramblings of Ronald Weasley. Atop the rolling hills, lay a variety of greenhouses, all marked with respective numbers -- near which, an assortment of vegetable patches lay.
The giant of a man parted the way through the crowd and to the entrance, his lumbering mass moving with surprisingly efficient speed. The doors were opened with a resounding creak, old rusty hinges complaining from the man's gruff touch. I entered the Castle known as Hogwarts and was immediately met in the large room with a roof that towered above us -- the Entrance Hall.
In straight succession, the smaller students rallied near me once the giant man had left, falling into a mob around me. My eyes deftly scanned them and my surroundings, taking in the interested gazes of portraits on walls, the light coming from torches set amongst the walls, even the shadows beneath the staircases that loomed above me.
"First years, over here please," prompted a voice, one that came from an old crone of a witch. Black hair, flecked with gray, was pulled back into a tight bun, lips drawn into a thin line. Her eyes were narrowed and disturbingly professional behind her spectacles, watching each student with measured certainty.
I felt like a little kid on the lunch lines again, being shuffled into a single file line at the entrance to the Great Hall.
"Inside you will be sorted into your houses before the welcoming feast begins," she remarked primly, an inflection of Scottish brogue in her tone.
Professor Minerva McGonagall, resident instructor of Transfiguration, nearing her seventy fifth birthday this coming October. The residing Deputy Headmistress incase any untimely circumstance should befall the Headmaster himself. Head of Gryffindor House, a registered cat animagus, and apparently a very proficient one at that.
And how do I know this, you may ask?
Information comes from everywhere -- it just takes someone willing to listen in order to find it.
The grand doors to the Great Hall opened with a loud creek, old hinges working to sustain the mass of wood that had been parted. I stared over four tables filled with watching eyes, all with piqued interest and excitement. Roaring fireplaces crackled behind the head table at the front of the room, yet most of the light came from candles that seemed to float in the room.
But perhaps the most unusual part of the room was the ceiling.
Instead of a standard white walled ceiling, the zenith was transparent, reflecting the night sky with unreal perfection. The stars and shimmering moon hung above us, almost as if the ceiling didn't exist at all. A pathway to the heavens, a way into the cosmos itself.
The line of the unsorted students of Hogwarts stood at the threshold, standing directly between the Hufflepuff and Ravenclaw tables, noting from their colors. I felt gazes burn into me, analyzing me from every direction. The head table, the students, even the young children behind me that murmured incessantly.
McGonagall placed a small stool in front of the line, atop which a rather worn Hat was speaking loudly, words that my distracted mind had all but missed. The lip of the Hat finally came to an abrupt stop, content to lay flaccid upon the stool.
"Prepare to be sorted when your name is called," intoned McGonagall, gesturing towards the stool and the Hat respectively. A trailing piece of parchment was held in her hand, some writing scribbled over it.
The small, tottering boy of just above four feet moved forward from the line, his robes trailing over the floor. The child quivered as he sat upon the three-legged stool, the Hat that was placed upon him falling over his eyelids. His lips moved soundlessly, and the brim of the Hat widened.
And so, with a round of thunderous applause, the Sorting Ceremony began.
The children cautiously moved forward, each sitting upon the table before getting into their selected houses -- be it Hufflepuff, Ravenclaw, Gryffindor, or Slytherin. Lines were being drawn; the blank slate of the children were being etched upon, marked by the influences of their own House.
I shook out of my reverie at the call, head cocking to the side to eye the old crone with her hat. I didn't miss the deadly silence that befell the room, the only sound that existed was soft crackling of embers. Silence was replaced by hushed whispers, echoing off of the stone walls of the Great Hall.
"The Harry Potter?"
I stepped forward in my robes, eyes focused on the hat itself. The students watched me, awed, as if I was a walking incarnation of a god. Jaws unhinged against the sound of my shoes against the floor, muffled clacks. Necks stretched from the table, each individual trying to get a better view. It was amusing, in a disturbing sort of way.
The hat fell over my head as I stood -- there was no need to sit atop the stool. It fit me well, and for a moment, I felt as if something had pressed against my mind itself. A voice sounded within the depths of my mind a soft whisper at first.
I kept a calm expression as I wondered how the effects of magic could mirror schizophrenia, voices in my head. A low, almost rumbling, chuckle sounded inside my mind before the hat spoke again.
"Yes,yes, plenty of ambition. Quite cunning too. Oh talent, yes, generously so," mused the Hat, I could practically feel it whispering into my ear.
A small, pleased smile graced my lips. It was always nice to be praised.
"A desire to be great…perhaps it will come to you, perhaps it will not. Better be…" The hat paused for a moment, it's brim parting upwards.
The sound that came from the hat rung in the silent hall, chilling in its very nature. I removed the hat from atop my head and lay it down on the stool, all the while keeping eye contact with the Headmaster himself. He simply inclined his head and offered me an encouraging smile, his hands politely clapping together.
The whispers of the Great Hall returned in full force, rapid murmurings among individuals. My lips twitched in wry amusement and I walked slowly, deliberately over to the Slytherin table. I deftly noticed my tie had changed colors to incorporate the green and silver marking of Slytherin, it's sigil emblazoned upon the breast of my robes.
"Harry," greeted Daphne, moving over slightly to open a single space next to her. The same pleased smile sat on her lips, perhaps a tad feral in nature.
"Daphne," I returned evenly, taking a seat by her side. I noted the fine golden platter in front of me, accompanied by a similar metallic goblet. These wizards had a strange fixation for gold.
"I'm glad you decided to join the noble house of Slytherin," she whispered as the headmaster himself rose, and held his arms out wide in a welcoming fashion.
"The choice was not mine," I remarked dryly. "The Hat decides where an individual will lie, it was simply a similar affiliation of traits."
A wry smile spread over her lips but for the moment, she said nothing more.
"Hem, hem," said a voice from the head table.
I turned and watched a stout witch rise to her feet, the very sight of her was hard on the eyes. Bright pink robes contrasted to the more softer colors of Hogwarts, the wrinkles on her flabby face causing her to resemble a toad in nature. Something didn't fit well with me about her, she seemed to exude false kindness and sympathy.
"Thank you for those wise words, headmaster," she began, moving forward, in preparation of a speech.
For a brief moment of time I saw surprise flicker on Dumbledore's unusually calm face. He took it in his stride however, ceasing his momentary speech and motioning for Dolores Umbridge to speak her part.
And so my interest was piqued -- a teacher, had effectively silenced the Headmaster in one fell swoop. I made a mental note to observe Madam Umbridge carefully -- power like that is not wielded on a mere whim.
"Dolores Umbridge, Undersecretary to the Minister of Magic," provided Daphne in a low whisper as the witch herself began to speak about her new post as Defense Against the Dark Arts professor.
And so, the stout toad was the Minister's bishop within Hogwarts. A piece that attacks from a distance, one that penetrates layers of defense. I had a lurking feeling that she would becoming an influential piece on this board, right up there with Dumbledore himself.
"Progress for the sake of progress, must be discouraged…"
"Hem, hem," called the woman, clearing her throat again. Her lips spread into a sickeningly sweet smile, her next words were coated with enough caramel to harm a small child. "The Ministry only wants what is best for the students. If the curriculum must be," here she gave a girlish giggle, "tinkered with along the way, then so be it."
A murmur rolled through the crowd like a wave against the shore. The Undersecretary to the Minister said nothing more, simply sitting down with a faux smile upon her face. One pudgy hand reached out to grip a goblet of wine and she took a delicate sip, eyes scanning over the crowd victoriously.
The wizened Albus Dumbledore stood upon, his features calm and relaxed. He opened his arms in a broad gesture once more and with a grand motion of his hands, he signaled towards the long tables of the Great Hall. Platters were filled and dishes appeared out of thin air, exquisite trays with steaming food. Pitchers of liquid were filled, goblets were restored with drink.
"Let the Feast begin," proclaimed Dumbledore.
And so it did.
For the first time in a long time, I felt the unquenchable thirst of challenge parch my throat. The pieces were in movement but this was not a usual chessboard. There weren't two forces at play, not even three.
There were four.
A/N: Many have voiced their opinions that this chapter shows the other characters in a far more superior light than what is usually established as canon or for individuals their age. I assure you, this problem is being rectified (and has been, to an extent) in later chapters.