Testing Fragile Foundations

- AlwaysPadfoot -

Disclaimer: Not mine; sad times.

Written For: Original Character Competition

Beta: Cookies-and-Ink

Chapter 2 - Sorting? Perhaps not a clever idea.

"Collins, Khloe."

My head snapped up as did one or two of Professors including the Headmaster, a woman who looked a bit like a toad in a pink cardigan and a small bearded, dwarf like man. I approached the stool trying to look as laid-back as I possibly could before sitting down. Professor McGonagall placed the sorting hat on my head and all of a sudden the hall was blocked from view as the hat dropped down over my head.

"Well, well, well, another one from the Bones line and a Collins as well." the hat cooed in my ear. "Your Mother a Hufflepuff and your Father was truly the Lion I sorted him to be."

I'd seen the Gryffindor table go up in cheers for Euan - their banner above the table had had a lion on it. I guess that made Dad a Gryffindor.

"Both truly noble houses yet I believe only one is right for you. I warn you however, they can be just as narrow-minded as their enemies."

Lovely a pre-warning, already.

"Gryffindor!" The hat confirmed my house and I rose from the stool to a half-hearted clap. The younger years were clapping as usual whilst those in the older years seemed wary. Some clapped politely, others just exchanged looks with their friends. I managed to make it to the table looking fairly confident and not like I was about pass out.

A bushy haired girl with a prefect badge smiled at me, "Welcome to Gryffindor." I didn't get chance to respond before a ginger boy, also wearing a prefect badge, nudged her hard. She hissed at him and they started having a whispered argument instantly. I rolled my eyes leaning my head on my hands before I felt someone tap my shoulder from behind.

I turned around to spot and short red-haired girl in Black and Yellow robes looking at me, "Hi, I'm sure Aunt Amelia has told you but I'm your cousin Susan."

"Hi, I'm Khloe, Khloe Collins," I responded.

"It's a shame we're not in the same house." she said. "We'll have to catch up tomorrow now, perhaps you can sit with us for breakfast."

"Sure." I decided it wouldn't be that bad to sit with my cousin.

"Cool, meet us outside the Great Hall at eight and Khloe?" Her voice lowered so I could barely hear her.

"Congrats on being a Gryffindor just don't tell anyone I said so." she smiled before turning back to her friends. Well that was bizarre. I'd never even met Susan - well not that I can remember - but she happily spoke to me like I'd been her friend forever. I turned my attention back to the sorting where Professor McGonagall had reached Harvey Tomison who was soon sorted into Ravenclaw. Occasionally I'd see someone eyeing me cautiously and - having learnt from the best - I kept meeting their gazes until I made them uncomfortable. Thankfully, sooner rather than later, the sorting came to a close with Rose Zeller being sorted into Hufflepuff. The Headmaster stood, dressed in elaborate robes of purple to address the Hall.

"To our newcomers," he said, spreading his arms wide as the sides of his eyes crinkled when he smiled, "welcome! To our old hands - welcome back! There is a time for speech-making, but this is not it. Tuck in!"

All four student's tables and the staff table filled instantly with food as soon as the words left his lips. I watched him a little while longer as he threw his beard over his shoulder to stop it getting into his food before he - like most others - started to fill his plate with food. I turned back to the banquet of food on the Gryffindor table in front of me thinking back to my promise to myself of getting rid of my extra weight so that I could try get on the team for Quidditch. I decided that I wasn't so hungry anyway so helped myself to a very small portion of chicken and vegetables letting my mind wonder back to my own sorting.

I warn you, they can be just as narrow-minded as their enemies.

So far the bushy haired girl had been the only person to speak to me but she had stopped after her fellow prefect had nudged her. I figured the ginger boy was telling the girl she shouldn't speak to me, well, it was kind of obvious from the way he kept looking at me like I was about to cast Crucio at him. I bet this was the narrow-mindedness the Sorting hat was talking about but who were the Gryffindor's enemies?

Susan implied that I shouldn't tell anyone she was proud of me for being a Gryffindor but it had seemed rather joke like so maybe the Hufflepuffs weren't their enemies. Besides, Susan had suggested we ate together and that wouldn't make for a comfortable breakfast if the two houses didn't get along. That left me with two other houses: Ravenclaw and the house with the Snake banner above it, what was it? Slytherin? Something made lean towards the latter as I looked over at the table all wearing green and black robes.

They all seemed to keep themselves to themselves and very few conversations were being held amongst them let alone with any other house. I was already really not liking this house system and I had a feeling that friendships were purely based upon what house you were in. So far I didn't like my chances of getting along with anyone.

I finished my meal half-heartily, tuning out the buzz of the students and turning my thoughts to my father. Did he sit where I'm sat now? Did he play Quidditch? Get into trouble? Get good grades?

Mum said I was like him. She said it a lot, every time Headmistress Layton or Professor Swain, my Head of Year wrote home to her because I may have accidentally done something wrong and ended up in detention.

Khloe Abigail Collins, you're just like your father he used to drive his Professors barmy too!

I doubted that was going to change here. I mean did anyone really not expect me to be hurt? Troubled? Pissed off?

When the feast came to a close the Headmaster rose from his seat once more to address the hall, "Well, now that we are all digesting another magnificent feast, I beg a few moments of your attention for the usual start-of-term notices. First-years, or rather new students, ought to know that the Forest in the grounds is out-of-bounds to students - and a few of our older students ought to know by now, too."

I wish he hadn't directed that new students comment at me, now people were looking at me.

"Mr. Filch, the caretaker, has asked me, for what he tells me is the four-hundred-and-sixty second time, to remind you all that magic is not permitted in corridors between classes, nor are a number of other things, all of which can be checked on the extensive list now fastened to Mr. Filch's office door." he continued merrily his eyes twinkling.

"We have had two changes in staffing this year. We are very pleased to welcome back Professor Grubbly-Plank, who will be taking Care of Magical Creatures lessons; we are also delighted to introduce Professor Umbridge, our new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher."

The headmaster gestured down the line of staff to a blue robed teacher first and then to the woman who looked like a toad second. There was a round of polite but fairly unenthusiastic applause, during which I eyed the pink cardiganed toad cautiously. I don't like her.

Dumbledore continued, "Try-outs for the house Quidditch teams will take place on the -"

He broke off, looking enquiringly at Professor Umbridge. She was hardly much taller standing than sitting, there was a moment when nobody understood why Dumbledore had stopped talking, but then Professor Umbridge cleared her throat, "Hem, hem," and it became clear that she had got to her feet and was intending to make a speech. Clearly this wasn't normal because Headmaster Dumbledore only looked taken aback for a moment, then he sat down smartly and looked alertly at Professor Umbridge as though he desired nothing better than to listen to her talk. Other members of staff along the table were not as adept at hiding their surprise. A small chubby teacher to the right of Professor McGonagall eyebrows had disappeared into her flyaway hair and Professor McGonagall herself lips was pressed together infuriatingly.

Many of the students were smirking too; this woman obviously did not know how things were done at Hogwarts. Not that I knew how it worked but the students soon started whispering and nudging each other.

"Thank you, Headmaster," Professor Umbridge simpered. "for those kind words of welcome."

Her voice was high-pitched, squeaky and annoying and I felt instant dislike again. From her stupid voice to her fluffy pink cardigan what was there to like? She gave another little cough ("hem, hem") and continued.

"Well, it is lovely to be back at Hogwarts, I must say!" She smiled, "And to see such happy little faces looking up at me!"

I glanced around. None of the faces he could see looked happy. They all looked rather pissed at being addressed so patronisingly as if they were five years old.

"I am very much looking forward to getting to know you all and I'm sure we'll be very good friends!"

I barely contained a snort, covering it up as a cough. Kids all around the hall exchanged looks; some of them were barely concealing grins.

"I'll be her friend as long as I don't have to borrow that cardigan," a girl just across the table whispered to another before the both of them lapsed into silent giggles. I managed to cover up a smile this time as I silently agreed.

Professor Umbridge cleared her throat again ("hem, hem"), but when she continued, she sounded much more businesslike and scarily creepy.

"The Ministry of Magic has always considered the education of young witches and wizards to be of vital importance. The rare gifts with which you were born may come to nothing if not nurtured and honed by careful instruction. The ancient skills unique to the wizarding community must be passed down the generations lest we lose them for ever. The treasure trove of magical knowledge amassed by our ancestors must be guarded, replenished and polished by those who have been called to the noble profession of teaching."

What the fuck is she talking about? She realises she's talking to teenagers not the Minister for Magic himself right?

Umbridge made a little bow to her fellow staff members, none of whom bowed back to her. Professor McGonagall's dark eyebrows had contracted so that she looked positively hawklike, and I watched her exchange a significant glance with the flyaway hair professor as Umbridge gave another little "hem, hem" and went on with her speech.

"Every headmaster and headmistress of Hogwarts has brought something new to the weighty task of governing this historic school, and that is as it should be, for without progress there will be stagnation and decay. There again, progress for progress's sake must be discouraged, for our tried and tested traditions often require no tinkering. A balance, then, between old and new, between permanence and change, between tradition and innovation…"

Progress for progress's sake must be discouraged? Isn't the job of a teacher to help every student excel? What if I wanted to do extra credit? That's progress for progress's sake because it's not for my OWLs just for my own progress.

This woman isn't a teacher she's here for a different reason.

The quiet that previously filled the Hall when the Headmaster was speaking was struggling to stay in place as students started whispering and giggling. Over on the table with Blue and Bronze banners hung above it a group of friends from say, the year above were chatting and a young blonde girl had pulled out a magazine called The Quibbler.

Meanwhile, at the Hufflepuff table, my cousins table, a boy with a shiny prefect badge on was one of the few still staring at Professor Umbridge, but he was glassy-eyed and I was sure he was only pretending to listen.

Professor Umbridge did not seem to notice the restlessness of her audience. The bushy haired girl from before seemed to be drinking in every word Umbridge spoke, though, judging by her expression, they were not at all to her taste.

"… because some changes will be for the better, while others will come, in the fullness of time, to be recognized as errors of judgment. Meanwhile, some old habits will be retained, and rightly so, whereas others, outmoded and outworn, must be abandoned. Let us move forward, then, into a new era of openness, effectiveness and accountability, intent on preserving what ought to be preserved, perfecting what needs to be perfected, and pruning wherever we find practices that ought to be prohibited."

She sat down. Dumbledore clapped. The staff followed his lead, though several of them brought their hands together only once or twice before stopping. A few students joined in, but most had been taken unawares by the end of the speech, and soon Dumbledore had stood up again.

"Thank you very much, Professor Umbridge, that was most illuminating," he said, bowing to her. "Now, as I was saying, Quidditch try-outs will be held…"

"Yes, it certainly was illuminating," said the bushy haired prefect in a low voice. I tried to pretend I was listened to Dumbledore and I was torn between the announcement of Quidditch and the prefects thoughts.

"You're not telling me you enjoyed it?" the red head said quietly. "That was about the dullest speech I've ever heard, and I grew up with Percy."

"I said illuminating, not enjoyable." said Hermione. "It explained a lot."

It sounded like a load of bullshit to me, although perhaps there a message there somewhere.

"Did it?" said a raven haired boy in surprise. "Sounded like a load of waffle to me."

"There was some important stuff hidden in the waffle." said the prefect grimly.

"Was there?"

"How about: 'progress for progress's sake must be discouraged'? How about: 'pruning wherever we find practices that ought to be prohibited'?"

The bushy haired girl was clever, she spotted the double meanings in the pink toads speech.

"Well, what does that mean?" said the red-head impatiently. Idiot.

"I'll tell you what it means," said the girl through gritted teeth. "It means the Ministry's interfering at Hogwarts."

There was a great clattering and banging all around; the Headmaster had obviously just dismissed the school, because everyone was standing up ready to leave the Hall. It struck me then that I had no clue where I was going and perhaps I should follow someone. I eyed the people around my age but no one met my eyes they all just hurried away.

"Excuse me" I turned around to find myself face-to-face with a tall girl with bright blue eyes, "Professor McGonagall asked Neville and I to show you to our Common Room."

I spotted a tall boy with a rounded face behind her after she spoke. He smiled weakly.

"Oh okay." I responded, my thoughts dwelling somewhat on Professor Umbridge's speech.

"I'm Fay." she said.

"I'm Neville, I know you're American but I think I know you." the boy added anxiously.

"Um, I think it's unlikely but if you figure it out," I replied, I can't say that wasn't weird. Fay and Neville lead me through the castle pointing out things I should know the location of and I listened heart-heartedly. Right now Lydia, Sam, Kyle and I would probably be sauntering into the last class of the day. Lydia and Kyle would probably be fawning over Brett Henderson's perfect hair and prefect body whilst Sam and I planned Quadpot strategies and talked about the newest broomstick models.

I had a Pinwheel Shooter 600 second best to only the Lightning Strike 5000 and most definitely on level ground with the Firebolt here over the pond. Why else do you think the Irish beat the Bulgarians in the last world cup?

I wasn't allowed to go, it's probably a good thing too considering what happened. When news got out about that the whole of Wizarding America went ape shit, it was all over the news. Salem had a group of sixth and seventh years out there the week before term started and the riot was all everyone would talk about for the first three weeks of fourth year.

Mum got really edgy and scared after that and a hell of a lot more protective. I'm lead to believe You-Know-Who is back but I've yet to hear anything here.

"Erm Fay, where's Dana this year?" Neville asked anxiously, my attention snapped back to my two escorts.

"She moved Longbottom" Fay answered, "Her father doesn't believe all the nonsense that the Prophet's spinning and he trusts Potter and Dumbledore so they left the country, America I think." her tone is clipped yet wobbled in places. I think perhaps whoever this Dana person was Fay was upset by the families decision to leave the country. Wait a moment, I completely forgot Harry Potter is here somewhere. Maybe I've already seen him and not spotted his scar.

"I'm sorry Fay" Neville replied softly, "Oh it's Harry! He must not know the password!" he suddenly pointed out the same raven-haired boy who'd been sat with the two perfects downstairs.

"No password, no entrance," the portrait in front of him said snootily..

"Harry, I know it!" Neville jogging towards him. "Guess what it is? I'm actually going to be able to remember it for once -" He waved the stunted little cactus I'd only just noticed him carrying around. "Mimbulus mimbletonia!"

"Correct," said the Fat Lady in the portrait, and she swung open towards us like a door, revealing a circular hole in the wall behind, through which Harry and Neville now climbed, followed closely by Fay and I.

The Gryffindor common room looked nicer than I had previously expected, a cosy circular tower room full of dilapidated squashy armchairs and rickety old tables. A fire was crackling merrily in the grate and a few people were warming their hands by it before going up to their dormitories; on the other side of the room a pair of ginger twins were pinning something up on the notice board.

They looked somewhat like the red-head prefect yet they were most definitely final year students. I managed to make a sneaky peak at their poster.



Pocket money failing to keep pace with your outgoings? Like to earn a little extra gold? Contact Fred and George Weasley, Gryffindor common room, for simple, part-time, virtually painless jobs. (We regret that all work is undertaken at applicant's own risk.)

I raised an eyebrow at the sheer audacity of it and if course they had the balls to stick it up on the school notice board? Legendary.

"Me mam didn't want me to come back." an angry raised voice said and I turned to see two boys: one Harry Potter and the other obviously Irish standing off.

"What?" said Harry, pausing in the act of heading towards his dormitories.

"She didn't want me to come back to Hogwarts." the Irish boy repeated, he turned away not looking at Harry.

"But - why?" Potter stuttered, astonished. It was obvious everyone else knew who was gathering in the crowd around the two fifth years..

"Well," the Irish boy said in a measured voice, "I suppose… because of you."

"What d'you mean?" said Harry quickly, I wanted someone to slap him hard because he was dying out there.

"Well," said the other boy again, still avoiding Harry's eye, "she… er… well, it's not just you, it's Dumbledore, too…" I thought the Irish have tempers?

"She believes the Daily Prophet?" Potter counted. "She thinks I'm a liar and Dumbledore's an old fool?"

"Neither of which are true," stated Neville firmly. Seamus looked up at Harry ignoring Neville's bold comment, who looked indecisively irritated.

"Yeah, something like that."

Potter looked really pissed at that last comment and I sensed he was having an internal battle with himself not to punch the Irish guy in the face. Potter headed for the for the dorm stairs, but before he could do so Seamus said, "Look… what did happen that night when… you know, when… with Cedric Diggory and all?"

The Irish dude sounded nervous and eager at the same time, clearly ignoring what had been said before, went oddly still and Harry knew he was listening hard.

"What are you asking me for?" Potter retorted. "Just read the Daily Prophet like your mother, why don't you? That'll tell you all you need to know."

"Don't you have a go at my mother."

"I'll have a go at anyone who calls me a liar," shouted Potter.

"Don't talk to me like that!"

"I'll talk to you how I want," said Potter, his temper visibly rising so fast that he snatched his wand back from his pocket. "If you've got a problem sharing a dormitory with me, go and ask McGonagall if you can be moved… stop your mummy worrying -"

"Leave my mother out of this, Potter!"

Now this was getting interesting, both boys were really getting pissed now both angry, eyes filled with fury as they argued.

"What's going on?"

The Red-headed prefect had appeared in the doorway. His wide eyes travelled from Potter, who was standing with his wand pointing at the other boy, to the Irish lad, who was standing there with his fists raised.

"He's having a go at my mother!" he yelled seething.

"What?" said the prefect . "Harry wouldn't do that — we met your mother, we liked her…"

"That's before she started believing every word the stinking Daily Prophet writes about me!" said Potter at the top of his voice.

"Oh," said the red-head, comprehension dawning across his freckled face. "Oh… right."

"You know what?" said the Irish boy heatedly, casting Harry a venomous look. "He's right, I don't want to share a dormitory with him anymore, he's a madman."

"That's out of order, Seamus," said the red-haired boy, whose ears were starting to glow red - seemed like a danger sign.

"Out of order, am I?" he shouted, who in was tuning paler. "You believe all the rubbish he's come out with about You-Know-Who, do you, you reckon he's telling the truth?"

"Yeah, I do!"

"Then you're mad, too,"

"Yeah? Well, unfortunately for you, pal, I'm also a prefect!" I wondered when he was going to use that, he jabbed himself in the chest with a finger. "So unless you want detention, watch your mouth!"

The Irish dude looked for a few seconds as though detention would be a reasonable price to pay to say what was going through his mind; but with a noise of contempt he turned on his heel and stomped straight up to the dormitories. The red-head glared at the retreating boy, then looked at the dark-skinned boy who had been with him and then to Neville.

"Anyone else's parents got a problem with Harry?" he said aggressively.

"My parents are Muggles, mate," said the black boy, shrugging. "They don't know nothing about no deaths at Hogwarts, because I'm not stupid enough to tell them."

Deaths? At Hogwarts, why does that not surprise me? Ever since this supposed return of You-Know-Who nothing surprises me but clearly hardly anyone is taking it seriously and the Brits are covering it up.

"My gran says that's rubbish," piped up Neville as my attention returned to the remaining fifth years. "She says it's the Daily Prophet that's going downhill, not Dumbledore. She's cancelled our subscription. We believe Harry." said Neville simply. "My Gran's always said You-Know-Who would come back one day. She says if Dumbledore says he's back, he's back." he added, I noticed that many people around the room looked conflicted almost as to what to believe was actually going on in this country. I hadn't really got any idea but if someone's saying You-Know-Who is back then I'm going to take it seriously.

"Khloe," I turned to see Fay standing at the bottom of the stairs, "let me show you the dorms." I didn't object I just followed the girl up the spiral staircase until we reached the fifth room. The dorm was circular in shape decorated in predominately rich deep reds. The bed nearest the door already had the curtains pulled around it, the one next to it had my trunk at the end. Then it was Fay's bed, then the two girls who were giggling about Umbridge's cardigan. The fair skinned girl shot me a look before whispering to her friend. My hands curled into fists but I stayed calm and ignored them. I was too tired to deal with anybody right now.

I wandered over to my truck which was covered Salem's, Queensland Quadpot and New England Nifflers stickers digging around for my pyjamas until I'd successfully messed up the whole of my trunk. I messily stacked all the books I had on the shelf above my bed before locking my trunk.

"Night Fay, thanks for showing me to the common room at least someone is nice enough to do it." She smiled at me and returned the goodnight before I got changed behind the curtains of my four poster bed. It wasn't until I was lying down staring at the ceiling that I suddenly felt like the loneliest person in the whole world. I had to wave a silencing charm on the curtains as I choked back a sob because I knew it was the last thing the girls wanted to hear.

So what that Professor McGonagall was nice? So what if I hadn't had to drop any classes? So what if people had been nice to me? The fact was my Aunt didn't want me here, half of Hogwarts was looking at me like You-Know-Who was attached to the back of my head and several students had already looked down their nose at me.

I missed my friends. I missed Salem, I missed my home and I missed my mother. For the first time in what was almost forever my heart ached for my Dad yet I felt closer to him than ever before.

My tears were flowing freely now despite my effort to not cry, I curled up clutching the blankets to my body aware that I felt just as pathetic as I probably looked.

I wanted my life back.