Forever Is A Long Time
Through the gates, flanked with statues of winged boars, and up the sweeping drive the carriages trundled, swaying dangerously in what was fast becoming a gale.
'Ah, summer day in the UK,' chuckled Katie. She never spent her summer holidays at home. The summer just gone, she'd gone to Turkey for the summer.
Leaning against the window, Harry could see Hogwarts coming nearer, its many lighted windows blurred and shimmering behind the thick curtain of rain. Lightning flashed across the sky as their carriage came to a halt before the great oak front doors, which stood at the top of a flight of stone steps. People who had occupied the carriages in front were already hurrying up the stone steps into the castle.
Harry, Ron, Hermione, and Neville jumped down from their carriage and dashed up the steps too, looking up only when they were safely inside the cavernous, torch-lit entrance hall, with its magnificent marble staircase.
"Blimey," said Ron, shaking his head and water everywhere, "if that keeps up the lake's going to overflow. I'm soak - ARRGH!"
A large, red, potion-filled balloon had dropped from out of the ceiling onto Ron's head and exploded, sending purple goo everywhere.
Drenched and sputtering, Ron staggered sideways into Harry, just as a second water bomb dropped - narrowly missing Hermione, it burst at Harry's feet, sending a wave of pink goo over his sneakers. People all around them shrieked and started pushing one another in their efforts to get out of the line of fire. Harry looked up and saw, floating twenty feet above them, Peeves the Poltergeist, a little man in a bell-covered hat and orange bow tie, his wide, malicious face contorted with concentration as he took aim again.
"PEEVES!" yelled an angry voice.
"Peeves, come down here at ONCE!" Professor McGonagall, Deputy Headmistress and head of Gryffindor House, had come dashing out of the Great Hall; she skidded on the wet floor and grabbed Harry around the neck to stop herself from falling. But Harry lost his balance at the sudden extra weight and they started falling towards the hard ground. Before Harry could think about what he was going to do, he twisted himself around so that he was the one who would hit the ground.
When he opened his eyes half a minute later, he saw Professor McGonagall staring at him in confusion. 'Probably wondering why I took the fall.' He thought. When McGonagall realized that he was watching her, she shook her head and apologized.
"Sorry, Mr Potter -" She said as she stood up.
"That's all right, Professor!" Harry sat up and looked around at the floor to see what she had slipped in, only to notice that her hand was covered in the pink goo.
McGonagall noticed that her hand was covered in the potion and thought nothing of it as none of the other students were changing. Instead she wiped her hand on the inside of her robes and continued to yell at Peeves. "Peeves, get down here NOW!" barked Professor McGonagall, straightening her pointed hat and glaring upward through her square-rimmed spectacles.
"Not doing nothing!" cackled Peeves, lobbing a water bomb at several fifth-year girls, who screamed and dived into the Great Hall.
"Already dirty, aren't they? Little squirts! Wheeeeeeeeee!" And he aimed another bomb at a group of second years who had just arrived.
"I shall call the headmaster!" shouted Professor McGonagall. "I'm warning you, Peeves -"
Peeves stuck out his tongue, threw the last of his potion filled water bombs into the air, and zoomed off up the marble staircase, cackling insanely.
"Well, move along, then!" said Professor McGonagall sharply to the bedraggled crowd. "Into the Great Hall, come on!"
Harry, Ron, and Hermione dodged around the potion covered floor and into the entrance hall and through the double doors on the right, Ron muttering furiously under his breath as he pushed his now green hair off his face.
The Great Hall looked its usual splendid self, decorated for the start-of-term feast.
Golden plates and goblets gleamed by the light of hundreds and hundreds of candles, floating over the tables in midair. The four long House tables were packed with chattering students; at the top of the Hall, the staff sat along one side of a fifth table, facing their pupils. It was much warmer in here.
Harry, Ron, and Hermione walked past the Slytherins, the Ravenclaws, and the Hufflepuffs, and sat down with the rest of the Gryffindors at the far side of the Hall, next to Nearly Headless Nick, the Gryffindor ghost.
Pearly white and semitransparent, Nick was dressed tonight in his usual doublet, but with a particularly large ruff, which served the dual purpose of looking extra-festive, and insuring that his head didn't wobble too much on his partially severed neck.
"Good evening," he said, beaming at them.
"Says who?" said Harry. "Hope they hurry up with the Sorting. I'm starving."
The Sorting of the new students into Houses took place at the start of every school year, but by an unlucky combination of circumstances, Harry hadn't been present at one since his own.
He was quite looking forward to it. Just then, a highly excited, breathless voice called down the table.
It was Colin Creevey, a third year to whom Harry was something of a hero.
"Hi, Colin," said Harry warily.
"Harry, guess what? Guess what, Harry? My brother's starting! My brother Dennis!"
"Er - good," said Harry.
"He's really excited!" said Colin, practically bouncing up and down in his seat. "I just hope he's in Gryffindor! Keep your fingers crossed, eh, Harry?"
"Er - yeah, all right," said Harry. He turned back to Hermione, Ron, and Nearly Headless Nick.
"Brothers and sisters usually go in the same Houses, don't they?" he said. He was judging by the Weasleys, all seven of whom had been put into Gryffindor.
"Oh no, not necessarily," said Hermione. "Parvati Patil's twin's in Ravenclaw, and they're identical. You'd think they'd be together, wouldn't you?"
Harry looked up at the staff table. There seemed to be rather more empty seats there than usual. Hagrid, of course, was still fighting his way across the lake with the first years;
Professor McGonagall was presumably supervising the drying of the entrance hall floor, but there was another empty chair too, and Harry couldn't think who else was missing.
"Where's the new Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher?" said Hermione, who was also looking up at the teachers.
They had never yet had a Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher who had lasted more than three terms. Harry's favourite by far had been Professor Lupin, who had resigned last year.
He looked up and down the staff table. There was definitely no new face there.
"Maybe they couldn't get anyone!" said Hermione, looking anxious.
Harry scanned the table more carefully. Tiny little Professor Flitwick, the Charms teacher, was sitting on a large pile of cushions beside Professor Sprout, the Herbology teacher, whose hat was askew over her flyaway grey hair. She was talking to Professor Sinistra of the Astronomy department. On Professor Sinistra's other side was the sallow-faced, hook-nosed, greasy-haired Potions master, Snape.
Harry's least favourite person at Hogwarts. Harry's loathing of Snape was matched only by Snape's hatred of him, a hatred which had, if possible, intensified last year, when Harry had helped Sirius escape right under Snape's overlarge nose.
Snape and Sirius had been enemies since their own school days.
On Snape's other side was an empty seat, which Harry guessed was Professor McGonagall's. Next to it, and in the very centre of the table, sat Professor Dumbledore, the headmaster, his sweeping silver hair and beard shining in the candlelight, his magnificent deep green robes embroidered with many stars and moons.
The tips of Dumbledore's long, thin fingers were together and he was resting his chin upon them, staring up at the ceiling through his half-moon spectacles as though lost in thought. Harry glanced up at the ceiling too. It was enchanted to look like the sky outside, and he had never seen it look this stormy. Black and purple clouds were swirling across it, and as another thunderclap sounded outside, a fork of lightning flashed across it.
"Oh hurry up," Ron moaned, beside Harry, "I could eat a hippogriff."
The words were no sooner out of his mouth than the doors of the Great Hall opened and silence fell. Professor McGonagall was leading a long line of first years up to the top of the Hall. If Harry, Ron, and Hermione were wet, it was nothing to how these first years looked.
They appeared to have swum across the lake rather than sailed. Before long, McGonagall was reading names off the list.
And finally, with "Whitby, Kevin!" ("HUFFLEPUFF!"), the Sorting ended. Professor McGonagall picked up the hat and the stool and carried them away. "About time," said Ron, seizing his knife and fork and looking expectantly at his golden plate.
Professor Dumbledore had gotten to his feet. He was smiling around at the students, his arms opened wide in welcome.
"I have only two words to say to you," he told them, his deep voice echoing around the Hall. "Tuck in."
"Hear, hear!" said Harry and Ron loudly as the empty dishes filled magically before their eyes.
Nearly Headless Nick watched mournfully as Harry, Ron, and Hermione loaded their own plates.
"Aaah, 'at's be'er," said Ron, with his mouth full of mashed potato.
"You're lucky there's a feast at all tonight, you know," said Nearly Headless Nick. "There was trouble in the kitchens earlier."
"Why? Wha' 'appened?" said Harry, through a sizable chunk of steak.
"Peeves, of course," said Nearly Headless Nick, shaking his head, which wobbled dangerously.
He pulled his ruff a little higher up on his neck. "The usual argument, you know. He wanted to attend the feast - well, it's quite out of the question, you know what he's like, utterly uncivilized, can't see a plate of food without throwing it.
We held a ghost's council - the Fat Friar was all for giving him the chance – but most wisely, in my opinion, the Bloody Baron put his foot down."
The Bloody Baron was the Slytherin ghost, a gaunt and silent spectre covered in silver bloodstains. He was the only person at Hogwarts who could really control Peeves.
"Yeah, we thought Peeves seemed hacked off about something," said Ron darkly.
"So what did he do in the kitchens?"
"Oh the usual," said Nearly Headless Nick, shrugging. "Wreaked havoc and mayhem. Pots and pans everywhere. Place swimming in soup. Terrified the house-elves out of their wits—"
Hermione had knocked over her golden goblet. Pumpkin juice spread steadily over the tablecloth, staining several feet of white linen orange, but Hermione paid no attention.
"There are house-elves here?" she said, staring, horror-struck, at Nearly Headless Nick. "Here atHogwarts?"
"Certainly," said Nearly Headless Nick, looking surprised at her reaction. "The largest number in any dwelling in Britain, I believe. Over a hundred."
"I've never seen one!" said Hermione.
"Well, they hardly ever leave the kitchen by day, do they?" said Nearly Headless Nick. "They come out at night to do a bit of cleaning… see to the fires and so on… I mean, you're not supposed to see them, are you? That's the mark of a good house-elf, isn't it, that you don't know it's there?"
Hermione stared at him.
"But they get paid?" she said. "They getholidays, don't they? And - and sick leave, and pensions, and everything?"
Nearly Headless Nick chortled so much that his ruff slipped and his head flopped off, dangling on the inch or so of ghostly skin and muscle that still attached it to his neck.
"Sick leave and pensions?" he said, pushing his head back onto his shoulders and securing it once more with his ruff. "House-elves don't want sick leave and pensions!"
Hermione looked down at her hardly touched plate of food, then put her knife and fork down upon it and pushed it away from her.
"Oh c'mon, 'Er-my-knee," said Ron, accidentally spraying Harry with bits of Yorkshire pudding.
"Oops — sorry, 'Arry —" He swallowed. "You won't get them sick leave by starving yourself!"
"Slave labour," said Hermione, breathing hard through her nose. "That's what made this dinner. Slave labour."
And she refused to eat another bite.
The rain was still drumming heavily against the high, dark glass. Another clap of thunder shook the windows, and the stormy ceiling flashed, illuminating the golden plates as the remains of the first course vanished and were replaced, instantly, with puddings.
"Treacle tart, Hermione!" said Ron, deliberately wafting its smell toward her. "Spotted dick, look! Chocolate gateau!"
But Hermione gave him a look so reminiscent of Professor McGonagall that he gave up.
When the puddings too had been demolished, and the last crumbs had faded off the plates, leaving them sparkling clean, Albus Dumbledore got to his feet again. The buzz of chatter filling the Hall ceased almost at once, so that only the howling wind and pounding rain could be heard.
"So!" said Dumbledore, smiling around at them all. "Now that we are all fed and watered," ("Hmph!" said Hermione) "I must once more ask for your attention, while I give out a few notices.
"Mr. Filch, the caretaker, has asked me to tell you that the list of objects forbidden inside the castle has this year been extended to include Screaming Yo-yos, Fanged Frisbees, and Ever-Bashing Boomerangs. The full list comprises some four hundred and thirty-seven items, I believe, and can be viewed in Mr. Filch's office, if anybody would like to check it."
The corners of Dumbledore's mouth twitched.
He continued, "As ever, I would like to remind you all that the forest on the grounds is out-of-bounds to students, as is the village of Hogsmeade to all below third year.
"It is also my painful duty to inform you that the Inter-House Quidditch Cup will not take place this year."
"What?" Harry gasped.
He looked around at Fred and George, his fellow members of the Quidditch team. They were mouthing soundlessly at Dumbledore, apparently too appalled to speak.
Dumbledore went on, "This is due to an event that will be starting in October, and continuing throughout the school year, taking up much of the teachers' time and energy - but I am sure you will all enjoy it immensely. I have great pleasure in announcing that this year at Hogwarts is to have the honour of hosting a very exciting event over the coming months, an event that has not been held for over a century. It is my very great pleasure to inform you that the Triwizard Tournament will be taking place at Hogwarts this year."
"You're JOKING!" said Fred Weasley loudly.
The tension that had filled the Hall ever since Moody's arrival suddenly broke. Nearly everyone laughed, and Dumbledore chuckled appreciatively.
"I am not joking, Mr. Weasley," he said, "though now that you mention it, I did hear an excellent one over the summer about a troll, a hag, and a leprechaun who all go into a bar..."
Professor McGonagall cleared her throat loudly.
"Er - but maybe this is not the time…no…" said Dumbledore, "where was I? Ah yes, the Triwizard Tournament… well, some of you will not know what this tournament involves, so I hope those who do know will forgive me for giving a short explanation, and allow their attention to wander freely.
"The Triwizard Tournament was first established some seven hundred years ago as a friendly competition between the three largest European schools of wizardry: Hogwarts, Beauxbatons, and Durmstrang.
A champion was selected to represent each school, and the three champions competed in three magical tasks. The schools took it in turns to host the tournament once every five years, and it was generally agreed to be a most excellent way of establishing ties between young witches and wizards of different nationalities - until, that is, the death toll mounted so high that the tournament was discontinued."
"Death toll?" Hermione whispered, looking alarmed. But her anxiety did not seem to be shared by the majority of students in the Hall; many of them were whispering excitedly to one another, and Harry himself was far more interested in hearing about the tournament than in worrying about deaths that had happened hundreds of years ago.
"There have been several attempts over the centuries to reinstate the tournament," Dumbledore continued, "none of which has been very successful. However, our own departments of International Magical Cooperation and Magical Games and Sports have decided the time is ripe for another attempt. We have worked hard over the summer to ensure that this time, no champion will find himself or herself in mortal danger.
"The heads of Beauxbatons and Durmstrang will be arriving with their short-listed contenders later in the week, and the selection of the three champions will take place at Halloween. An impartial judge will decide which students are most worthy to compete for the Triwizard Cup, the glory of their school, and a thousand Galleons personal prize money."
"I'm going for it!" Fred Weasley hissed down the table, his face lit with enthusiasm at the prospect of such glory and riches.
He was not the only person who seemed to be visualizing himself as the Hogwarts champion. At every House table, Harry could see people either gazing raptly at Dumbledore, or else whispering fervently to their neighbour.s But then Dumbledore spoke again, and the Hall quieted once more.
"Eager though I know all of you will be to bring the Triwizard Cup to Hogwarts," he said, "the heads of the participating schools, along with the Ministry of Magic, have agreed to impose an age restriction on contenders this year. Only students who are of age - that is to say, seventeen years or older - will be allowed to put forward their names for consideration. This" — Dumbledore raised his voice slightly, for several people had made noises of outrage at these words, and the Weasley twins were suddenly looking furious - "is a measure we feel is necessary, given that the tournament tasks will still be difficult and dangerous, whatever precautions we take, and it is highly unlikely that students below sixth and seventh year will be able to cope with them. I will personally be ensuring that no underage student hoodwinks our impartial judge into making them Hogwarts champion."
His light blue eyes twinkled as they flickered over Fred's and George's mutinous faces. "I therefore beg you not to waste your time submitting yourself if you are under seventeen.
"The delegations from Beauxbatons and Durmstrang will be arriving later on in the week and remaining with us for the greater part of this year. I know that you will all extend every courtesy to our foreign guests while they are with us, and will give your whole-hearted support to the Hogwarts champion when he or she is selected.
And now, it is late, and I know how important it is to you all to be alert and rested as you enter your lessons tomorrow morning. Bedtime! Chop chop!"
Dumbledore sat down again and turned to talk to Mad-Eye Moody. There was a great scraping and banging as all the students got to their feet and swarmed toward the double doors into the entrance hall.