Harry Potter - Series Fan Fiction ❯ Harry Potter and the Werewolf Prophecy ❯ APPLAUSE ( Chapter 19 )
The train shuddered and Alex woke up with a start. He’d somehow fallen asleep while arguing with the girls, and now he wasn’t sure what he’d really said and what had been a dream. Sophie and Amy knew far more about the Wizarding world than Alex, but almost nothing about Muggles. They’d only been interrupted when they were told to put on their robes, and Alex had politely left the compartment and changed in the lavatory. He’d quickly realised that it was quite unnecessary, as his robes simply dropped over his street clothes. When he returned to the compartment the two girls had already donned theirs.
Alex had talked to his mother many times about what would happen on the first day at Hogwarts. “One of the things that makes it easier is that it never changes, you see. Whatever happened with one’s parents is what will happen with you. It’s quite scary and different to what you’re used to, but if you know what to expect…”
The train started to slow down, and Alex peered out the window. “As soon as you stop, it’s Hogsmeade, and you should get off as soon as possible,” his mother had said. “They will only be as quick as the slowest person there.” He could see the station platform approaching.
“We’re here!” he said, excitedly. “We’d better get off now.”
“Er… Hagrid told us to wait for him,” said Sophie. “He’ll be along shortly.”
He knew Hagrid the giant by sight, of course, from the visits to Kings Cross. He could see him bustling around and guiding pupils
“Why is he attending to those children?” asked Sophie suddenly. “He seems to be leaving us to our own devices.”
“They’re Muggle-born,” said Alex. “They’ve no idea what’s going on. Hagrid has to explain what’s going to happen or they’ll be terrified. People from Wizarding families are brought up with this stuff.”
“But you do not come from a Wizarding family,” said Sophie. “You have been told about it, no doubt, but the everyday use of magic must be foreign to you.”
“You are being a little rude, I think, Sophie,” said Amy.
“No, it’s all right,” said Alex. “It’s true, mostly, that I’ve lived in the Muggle world, but I used to visit my grandparents often, and my mother had various magical items. We used to shop in Diagon Alley every now and again.”
It hadn’t been much fun, though. Some of the shopkeepers had been positively rude, and most of the others had looked at her as if she were out of place. There was little for her to buy, and she had only a small and diminishing stock of Wizard money.
On the last few visits, they’d simply walked straight to the joke shop, where the proprietor would greet them by name, and often gave Alex a sample of some new, untried product, warning him with a wink to take care to keep it away from his Muggle friends.
“In that case you will no doubt cope very well,” said Sophie. “I expect that your mother has briefed you rather better than ours. She is not a Hogwarts graduate herself – she is French, you see, and went to Beauxbatons. Her stories of school life were endlessly entertaining, but at this juncture they serve only to confuse us.”
“Confuse you, perhaps,” said Amy. “I have no difficulty in distinguishing between what Father and Mother told us.”
“They had some rare arguments about which school to send us,” said Sophie. “In the end, Hogwarts was chosen because our brother will be able to join us here in three years, with the attendant savings on books and other peripheral expenses. He could have gone to Beauxbatons, but boys are not well regarded there, and tend not to thrive.”
There was a tap on the compartment door and the huge shape of Hagrid appeared. “All right then, which of you two is Amy? I should remember, but I don’t. I could never tell twins apart, ‘cept for the Honans, Teddie and Tillie, but one on ‘em was a boy and the other one was a girl.”
“I’m Amy,” she said, and raised her arms. Hagrid reached in and gathered her up, her head resting against his shoulder. It seemed impossible that he was able to squeeze through the doorway.
“Now then, yer chair’s on the platform, so let’s get you settled.”
Alex and Sophie followed Hagrid as he squeezed through the corridor, very gently keeping Amy clear of the sides. He stepped onto the platform and lowered Amy into a rickety wooden wheelchair.
“Thank you, Hagrid,” said Amy. “I can wheel myself from here.”
“I’ll go attend to them Muggle-borns, then,” said Hagrid. “You’ll be wantin’ a lift later on, I ‘spect, but till then yer sister can stay with you.”
Alex thought Amy gave a little frown at this.
“Shall I push?” asked Sophie.
“No, thank you. The platform is smooth and level,” said Amy, and wheeled herself after Hagrid.
They left the platform down a steep, rocky path, which Amy managed to negotiate. “Our father put a balance charm on it,” said Sophie. Amy glared at her.
After stumbling through the dark they eventually came to a dock, jutting out over a lake. On the far side of the lake stood an enormous castle, lit up by moonlight and by the glow from its hundreds of windows.
“All right, everyone – that’s Hogwarts. The first time any of you’s seen it, I dare say. Now the first time you go to Hogwarts you cross the lake in a boat. Don’t overfill ‘em, there’s plenty for everyone. Three or four per boat is fine. Two is selfish, five and yer might drown, and I’ve gotten meself into enough trouble over the years. Dennis Creevy was fished out by the squid but yer can’t rely on it.”
The boats each had their stern resting against a low stone wall. Alex stepped onto the wall and looked dubiously into the nearest boat. “Don’t worry, they won’t tip over,” called Hagrid. To emphasize the point, he jumped into a boat, which stayed entirely still, though Alex expected it to submerge completely. “Lot of you kids won’t ever’ve been in a boat before, and we din’t want any accidents.”
Alex stepped gingerly into the boat, which felt as solid as the ground. Sophie followed him, calling out “Amy! This way!”
But Hagrid was already lifting Amy, chair and all, into a different boat.
“Oh, the silly girl is in the wrong boat,” said Sophie. “Never mind.”
Two girls stepped into the boat after Sophie. One was a large, ponderous girl who settled herself carefully in place holding both sides of the boat, though it remained quite still. The other girl was small and nervous. She seemed to be on the verge of tears.
They sat facing each other silently. Alex didn’t want to be the first to speak, but the way they were avoiding each other’s gaze was becoming too embarrassing. “I’m Alex,” he said suddenly. “This is Sophie. Her sister is over there somewhere.” He gestured vaguely.
“I’m Marion,” said the large girl, in a high-pitched voice. “I’m a... Muggle, is it?”
“Oh, you can’t be a Muggle,” said Sophie quickly. “You wouldn’t be here if you were. You must mean that you’re Muggle born. I don’t suppose either of your parents are wizards or witches.”
“Ah, that’ll be it then,” said Marion. “My dad’s a greengrocer and my mum’s a teacher’s assistant. They were properly flummoxed when all this magic stuff started happening.”
They all looked at the other girl. She looked back at them, turning her head from one to the other. “Um… I’m Janice. My mother is a witch, but my daddy is a chartered accountant. Oh, what’s that?”
The boats had suddenly started to move. Janice looked even more terrified. “Why are they moving? There’s no engine. Ooh, I feel seasick.”
Sophie leaned forward. “You can’t feel seasick. The boat isn’t rocking at all. It’s smoother than the train. It’s extraordinary, Janice. Surely you’ve experienced magic boats before now?”
Janice shook her head. “Most of our friends are Muggles, you see. Well, it’s very difficult to have a mixture of people, when the wizards have to not talk about magic. Mother uses a bit of magic at home, but she says that she’s mostly Muggle now. Says she leaves her wand in a drawer most of the time.”
Sophie sat back and folder her arms. “I begin to see that I have led a sheltered life. I’ve only lived with wizards and witches, but that seems to be far from universal. Marion has no experience of our world, and Janice and Alex have had very little.”
“You probably think we’re… I’m… very silly and ignorant,” said Janice.
Marion looked a little resentful. Sophie shook her head. “On the contrary, Janice. You have lived in the Muggle world, and now you are entering the world of magic. You are possessed of magical ability or you would not be here. After a few months, you will be entirely at home in the wizard world, and I will be as shamefully ignorant of how Muggles live as before.”
“But you must have been out to the shops, or a film or even a museum or something?” asked Marion, incredulously.
Sophie looked flustered. “We live in an enclosed wizard suburb in North London, and we travel by flue or portkey. Father sometimes uses his broomstick, but he’s wary about being seen, you see. It isn’t that we’re prejudiced against Muggles. During the recent unpleasantness, my parents were quite active in opposing the, the, the measures that were taken against Muggle-borns. My father was under investigation.”
“But you don’t know any Muggles yourself,” said Marion.
Sophie shook her head very slightly, and blushed. Nobody spoke any further, until the boat gently bumped against a quayside.
“Nah then, out yer get!” shouted Hagrid. Sophie was the first to jump off, calling for her sister. Alex wondered whether he should follow her, or stay with Marion and Janice, or just go on by himself. “Does everyone get so muddled about the simplest thing?” he thought.
In the end he was just swept along with the throng through a passageway, up a flight of steps and suddenly they were on a lawn in front of an enormous castle. Alex stared up, overwhelmed by the size of the place. “It’s bigger than any castle I’ve ever seen,” he said.
“Of course it is,” said a short boy standing next to him. “Muggle castles don’t use magic. They’re rubbish compared to this.”
Alex felt faintly uncomfortable hearing this, but couldn’t think of anything to say in response. He could vaguely hear someone else speaking. He couldn’t hear exactly what they said, but it mentioned Muggles, and there was a laugh. He wondered whether Marion could hear.
Hagrid walked up a flight of stone steps and struck a mighty blow on a vast pair of oak doors. They rattled on its hinges. There was a pause, and then the doors swung open, entirely silently. A witch stepped forward. She was tall already, but the effect of her crooked pointed hat, and the height of the stairs, made her seem as huge as Hagrid.
“Thank you, Hagrid. Follow me.” She led them through the enormous Entrance Hall into a small chamber, where they all squeezed uncomfortably together.
“Welcome to Hogwarts, your home for the next seven years. I am Professor Minerva McGonagall, the headmistress. For some of you, this will seem a frightening and confusing place. You have come not only to a new school, away from family and friends, but in some cases into a whole new world, where magic is real. Even those of you who come here from the wizard world will find that Hogwarts is a place more imbued with magic that anywhere else on Earth.”
She paused and looked at them. It was only a glance, but it was as if she examined each of them in turn. “It is a… tradition of Hogwarts to organise the students into different houses. This allows the development of particular skills which each house fosters. The students of a particular house live together, compete with the other houses in sport and in other ways, and ideally, become better people in order to do honour to their house.”
She stopped for a moment, as if gathering her thoughts. “I’m afraid that in the past, this rivalry, perhaps healthy in itself, became so intense, and in part, associated with various movements in the wider wizarding world, that it led to unfortunate consequences. I’m sure you are all aware of the terrible events that happened a little over a year ago. This conflict was, in my view, exacerbated by the divisions which were fostered by the house system here at Hogwarts.”
She paused again, and seemed to shake her head slightly. “There have been lengthy discussions between the Hogwarts board of governors, the staff and myself. There has even been an intervention by the Ministry of Magic. In the end, the decision has been made to retain the house system, for now.”
She seemed to stand even taller. “Let me assure you of one thing. There will be, as long as I am headmistress of Hogwarts, no elite of students who will regard themselves as superior or more entitled than any other, on grounds of birth or background or anything else. There will be no feuding between any of the houses. Let me assure each and every one of you that when you enter Hogwarts, you will be judged on your behaviour and achievements, and nothing else.”
She turned and marched out of the room. The students looked at each other, then followed her. They had to break into a run as her long stride moved her away faster than it looked. She sped across the entrance hall towards a second pair of huge doors which opened before her into a huge hall, filled with tables packed with children, all older than the first years, and all of them staring at them with curiosity and apparent disdain.
Professor McGonagall stopped them just short of a raised dais, in front of which a torn, battered pointed hat sat on a stool. “That’s the Sorting Hat!” Alex heard Sophie whisper. “We each try it on in turn.”
A deep rip near the brim of the hat started to move, and Alex realised that the hat was singing. Its voice sounded angry and sarcastic.
“A thousand years ago four noble wizards met,
For founding of a mighty school, its rules for to set,
But each had their opinion, and couldn’t quite agree,
So they split them into houses, and then created me.
And ever since, this time of year, we gather in the Hall,
New children are delivered, as they answer to the call,
From courage, cunning, wisdom, loyalty they choose,
And I look into their souls to see which one they’d better use.
But some folk seem to think it’s all quite out of date,
Putting children into houses only causes them to hate,
A thousand years’ experience can all be thrown away,
A thousand years’ tradition can disappear today.
Put the children into Ravendor, or into Slytherpuff,
It doesn’t matter where they go, it will be good enough.
This might be the last day on which the Sorting Hat decides,
Into which Hogwarts tower each schoolchild will reside.”
The Sorting Hat’s bitter song ended suddenly. There was a burst of clapping from one of the tables, quickly ended by a withering glance from Professor McGonagall.
“Of course there isn’t really a Slytherpuff.” It was Sophie whispering again. “I think it was joking. The houses are…” Her voice died down as McGonagall cleared her throat menacingly.
“As I call your name, you will step forward and place the hat on your head. When your house is announced, you will go to the appropriate table, where your new housemates will greet you.” She reached into her sleeve and pulled out a long roll of parchment.
“Alhambra, Cantaloupe.” A large girl stepped forward and tentatively reached for the hat.
“Just grab me!” it said suddenly. She squealed and let go. The students at the various tables laughed, but the first years all flinched. “Just put me on your head. I won’t hurt you.”
She carefully placed the hat on her head and turned to face the hall. “Turn me around,” came a muffled voice from the hat. The rip that served as its mouth was facing backwards. She swivelled the hat on her head, blushing furiously.
“HUFFLEPUFF!” the hat roared. At one of the four great tables, all the students stood up and started shouting, whistling, and stamping their feet. “Alhambra, Alhambra, Alhambra,” some of them started to sing.
“Well, go to them, girl! And don’t bring the hat with you.” said McGonagall. The girl gave a sudden grin, and ran to the Hufflepuff table, where the students queued to shake her hand and slap her on the back. The hat, now placed precariously on the edge of the stool, toppled to the floor, and roared with laughter. It seemed to have quite gotten over its bad temper.
“Besoin, Janice,” said McGonagall. The small girl from the boat gulped and walked slowly up to the hat. She picked it off the floor, turned it to face the right way, and pulled it tightly onto her head.
There was a lengthy pause. “GRYFFINDOR!” shouted the hat. The students at the Gryffindor table seemed determined to make even more noise than Hufflepuff. Janice looked shocked but pleased. She took care to place the hat carefully on the middle of the stool.
The students were being selected quickly now. Every time the hat called out, the room was filled with deafening cries of welcome. Suddenly it was Alex’s turn. He found himself frozen to the spot. “Fyng, Alex Acteon,” repeated McGonagall. “Come along now.”
He stepped forward slowly and lifted the hat. It seemed to flow onto his head. “Interesting. Interesting,” came a quiet voice inside his mind. “What do you want here, my boy?”
Almost automatically, he thought “Well, it’s a school, isn’t it? Am I not here to learn things?”
“He wants to learn!” shouted the hat gleefully. “I know where to put people like that! RAVENCLAW!”
He took a step forward, then remembered the hat, and carefully returned it to the stool. He could hear roaring and shouting and he realised that a quarter of the school were yelling his name. He had somehow assumed that it wouldn’t happen for him. He’d done nothing – just been assigned to a house – but they were all welcoming him. He’d thought he’d be shy and embarrassed, but this was… brilliant.
Grinning madly, he ran to the Ravenclaw table. They stood to meet him, and seemed genuinely delighted to have him. A boy stood on a chair and started to chant doggerel.
“His name is Fyng,
He’s quite the latest thing,
I’m not lying,
His name is Alec,
Write it in italic…”
“Welcome to Ravenclaw,” said a tall, authoritative boy. “I’m Boot, I’m a prefect. Don’t mind that.” He gestured to the boy reciting on the chair. “It’s a house tradition to make up impromptu poems for the new intake. He’s Flashman, the house bard. Sit down, you’re home now.”
He sat down and tried to make sense of the buzz of talk. Everyone was talking at once, but they all seemed to be replying to each other as well, and having many conversations at the same time. “It was too wet… McGonagall will decide, she’s headmistress… where are you from, Fyng… I can’t be bothered with Quidditch…” said Boot, turning his head rapidly from side to side.
“Hampstead,” he said, quietly. “I mostly lived with Muggles. My mother is a Squib.”
“Excellent, you’ll know about the Muggle and Wizard world. All knowledge is a treasure, Fyng… I used to watch the games but I’ve N.E.W.T.s to worry about… I like the house system myself, but what can we do about it?”
“Knightly, Marion,” called out McGonagall.
“RAVENCLAW,” screamed the hat, who seemed to be in excellent spirits now.
Marion sat down opposite Alex. “Ah, someone I know. Well, someone I met a few minutes ago anyway,” said Marion. “All a bit overwhelming, really. But nice.”
She didn’t look overwhelmed at all. “Did the hat say anything to you?” asked Alex.
“Say anything? No. I just thought ‘Ravenclaw, please’ when I put it on.”
“How did you decide? Did you know about the houses already?”
Marion nodded. “There’s an information pack for Muggle families. Bit of a mess, really. I don’t think it’s been updated for a few hundred years. Assumes we’d get to King’s Cross on a horse-drawn coach, and not to be frightened by the train. Good description of the houses, though.”
“McIntyre, Terpsichore Sophie,” called McGonagall.
Sophie slowly walked to the hat, positioned it very precisely on her head, and sat on the stool, crossing her legs at her ankles. There was a brief pause. “RAVENCLAW!”
Alex glanced at Flashman the bard, who seemed to be struggling to find rhymes for McIntyre, Terpsichore and Sophie.
“Welcome, lovely Terp See Core,
To talk to you won’t be a bore,
The beautiful Miss McIntyre,
Is sure to set our hearts afire…”
“It’s pronounced Terp Sick Aura,” said Sophie, sitting down next to Marion. “It’s very nice to have a poem written about one, though. Alex, save a place for Amy, she’s next.”
“McIntyre, Thalia Amy.” Amy wheeled her chair beside the stool, then held the hat in her hands for a moment, staring at it, before pulling it down tightly over her ears. She sat leaning slightly forward, her arms crossed over her chest. There was silence for a full two minutes.
“Oh, very well then. GRYFFINDOR!”
There was wild cheering from the Gryffindor table. A few Ravenclaws clapped half-heartedly. Sophie leaped to her feet. “That’s wrong! There’s some mistake! I must talk to someone. We can’t be in different houses. Why, we’ve never spent a night apart.”
She turned to Boot, looking desperate. “I must transfer to Gryffindor, or she must come here. How do I do it?”
Boot looked bewildered. “Transfer houses? That doesn’t happen, once you’re chosen.”
A broad-shouldered girl leaned forward. “Actually, Boot, there is a procedure. A number of students have transferred houses over the years. Mostly out of Slytherin, when they were found to have the wrong kind of ancestor. Takes a week or so, though. Flitwick needs to decide – and McGonagall of course. Permission not always granted.”
“A week!” exclaimed Sophie. “I can’t, I simply can’t. Amy will be distraught, lost without me.”
Marion squeezed her shoulder. “It’ll be fine. The Gryffindor people look very friendly, and they’ll look after her. You’ll be with us.”
Sophie looked down at the table miserably. “I shouldn’t worry about her but I do. She’s always relied on me.”
She paused, then looked at Marion. “Marion, I always thought I had an enlightened view about Muggles, but I now consider myself to have been thoughtless and ignorant. I look forward to your acquaintance, and I hope to learn a great deal from you. If that’s all right.”
Marion looked at her for a moment, then reached out and grasped her hand firmly. “No problem. It’s no different with me. Do you know, Alex?” she turned to face him. “I don’t think I’ve spoken ten words with a black person my whole life, till I met you. Mr Patel who runs the newsagent, maybe. ‘Good morning’ and ‘a pint of semi-skimmed please’.”
“Is that a, a, a thing in the Muggle world, then?” asked Sophie.
Alex and Marion nodded. “Oh, yeah, a huge thing. Massive,” said Alex.
“How extraordinary,” said Sophie. “It had never occurred to me.”
“I think there’s a Muggle studies course,” said Alex. “You might find that interesting.”
“If it’s anything like the information pack then I doubt it,” said Marion. “They’d want to have someone who grew up with it teaching it. Like me. Or you, I suppose.”
“It would probably be better to have someone who’d lived in both worlds,” said Sophie speculatively. “Otherwise they wouldn’t know what was different and what was the same.”
They were suddenly interrupted by the appearance on the table of a vast array of food. It was all different varieties of curry – pork, chicken, beef, prawn and fish, with poppadums, chutney, bhajis and naan bread – Alex couldn’t remember seeing so much food in his life.
“What is this?” said Sophie, sounding faintly horrified.
“Oh, you’ll love it,” said Marion, tearing half a naan bread. “This is the best food in the world. Steer clear of the Vindaloo if you’ve never had it before though.”
“Er… I’m vegetarian,” said Alex, faintly. “Is there any…”
“Try the dhal,” said Boot, and he gestured with his wand, and a large dish floated over towards Alex. “Don’t worry, there’s plenty for everyone. Muggle studies don’t start until third year, I’m afraid. I agree, there’s plenty of prejudice in the Wizard and Muggle worlds. Your sister will be fine, we always look after first years.”
Marion was carefully selecting food for Sophie, who looked very doubtful. “No, look, these are just potatoes, really, you can’t go wrong. Just think of it as your introduction to Muggle life.”
“Is this Muggle food then?” said Sophie.
“There’s not a lot of food different between us and the Muggles,” said Boot. “Sweets, obviously, but we tend to have the same meals.”
Alex felt glad that he hadn’t eaten on the train. He’d been too anxious before to realise how hungry he was – and now everything was so delicious he didn’t want to stop until he’d tried everything – everything that didn’t have meat, at least. “I eat fish and prawns,” he called to Boot, who gave him a thumbs up and indicated several dishes.
He noticed that while Marion was eating as voraciously as he was, Sophie was less enthusiastic. He supposed it might have partly worry about her sister. He didn’t think Amy was as helpless as Sophie claimed.
Boot had been silent for several minutes as he layered food onto a succession of poppadums. He paused for a moment to observe “You can thank a Ravenclaw for this. Padma Patil. She got so annoyed at getting roast beef and Yorkshire pudding every feast that she got up a petition demanding ethnic alternatives. It was Snape of all people who agreed. We get all sorts now. The end of year feast was Mexican.”
He paused, thoughtfully. “Whether it’s really what wizards or Muggles from those places actually eat I don’t know. Perhaps that would be interesting to investigate.”
“It’s a bit like what we get from our local takeaway,” said Marion.
Alex was helping himself to a large plateful of prawn biryani when he saw from the corner of his eye Sophie jump up and run across to the Gryffindor table. He looked around and saw her talking animatedly to Amy. After a few seconds, Amy turned her wheelchair around and they moved together back to the Ravenclaw table, Amy wheeling herself as Sophie walked beside her.
“Now, Sophie, sit down,” said Amy, briskly. “You aren’t supposed to wander around during the feast.”
“But Amy, what are we to do about this terrible mistake?” said Sophie, pleading.
“There has not been a mistake,” said Amy. “I asked to be placed in a different house. The hat demurred, but I was adamant.”
“But… must I transfer from Ravenclaw then?” pleaded Sophie.
“Sophie, you are not listening to me. I asked to be placed in a different house. Any house. We are too dependent on each other. You answer for me. You decide what we should wear. It is time I stood on my own feet. Figuratively. You too. Are we to spend the next seven years in each other’s pockets, missing all the opportunities of meeting new people? Sitting at adjacent desks in every class, borrowing pens, sharing family jokes that nobody else understands?”
Sophie’s face fell. “I... I always thought we were best friends, as well as sisters,” she said, a large tear rolling down her cheek. “And you need…”
“Oh, Sophie! I must learn to make do for myself,” said Amy impatiently. “You will always be my sister, and my friend, and we will spend plenty of time together. We will be closer for this. But now I must spread my wings, and so must you.” She turned and wheeled herself back to the Gryffindor table.
Alex pretended to be entirely absorbed in his biryani, though a number of Ravenclaws were openly staring. Sophie sat slack-mouthed, staring after Amy, who re-joined the Gryffindor table and immediately started talking to Janice Besoin.
“What will she do… what will she do…” said Sophie, and suddenly burst into a fit of sobbing.
“It’s… it’s all right,” said Marion uneasily. Sophie start sobbing louder and leaned her head against Marion’s chest. Marion tentatively put her arm around Sophie’s shoulder and patted it. “It’ll be fine.” She looked longingly at her half-eaten plate of food.
After what seemed to Alex like an eternity, Sophie stopped crying and sat up. “I’m so sorry, everybody. What an impression I’ve made on my first day. I was so determined to be brave. That’s why I’m not in Gryffindor, I suppose.”
“Don’t worry about it,” said Boot. “My first day here I was so scared I couldn’t eat. I didn’t sleep the first two nights. The chutney, please. I wasn’t the worst, either. This is a scary place. No, it’s in the restricted section, you’ll have to get permission.”
A head suddenly appeared through the middle of the table and Marion screamed. Sophie smiled faintly. “It’s just a ghost, Marion, didn’t they warn you about them?”
“Yeah, but it’s a bit different seeing one,” Marion said, glowering at the food she’d spilled down her cardigan.
The ghost was of a beautiful young woman, with long flowing hair. “Are you troubled, child?” she said to Sophie.
Sophie nodded. “My twin sister’s joined Gryffindor,” she whispered.
“Ah, families,” said the ghost. “The source of our greatest joys and deepest woes.” She disappeared below the table again. Boot gestured with his wand and the food stains vanished from Marion’s clothes.
There was a ringing sound from the dais. Alex looked up and saw that a hugely fat professor was tapping a wine goblet with his wand. Gradually the noise died down, and the food and plates began to vanish. Marion made a grab at one of the dishes but was just too late.
Professor McGonagall stepped forward to the lectern. Very quickly the hall descended into total silence. “Welcome back, everybody, to the new term at Hogwarts. An especially warm welcome to our new students, in First Year, and some others. A welcome also to those students returning after a period of absence.” There was a polite round of applause.
“This has been a difficult time for Hogwarts, and our world in general. Our society was overrun by its worst elements. Evil ruled, even here, in Hogwarts. All of us were affected. Many of us were compromised. We kept the school going, but not without cost.”
A number of the students had grim, set faces. The students at the Slytherin table seemed somewhat nervous and embarrassed.
“It has been decided, following lengthy discussions, that no student will be punished for their coerced actions during that time. I realise that this will seem unfair to many of you…”
There was a call of “shame!” from the Gryffindor table, and a ripple of whispering.
“…but this is the decision that has been made. There is also to be no recrimination or private feud to be carried out by any student. Anyone disregarding this rule will be subject to the most stringent discipline.”
She paused for several seconds. “It was considered that one of the issues to be addressed was the separation of the students into different houses. I… it was proposed that the house system be ended altogether…”
There were several shouts of “No!” and a buzz of angry conversation. “That wouldn’t be so bad,” said Sophie pleadingly. “All of us together.”
“Following consultation among board, staff and parents, this option was rejected. For the time being. However, there will be some changes to the system, which will be posted on the school notice-boards. For example, any student may bring a guest from another house to his or her house common room, or bedroom, subject to the normal restrictions.”
McGonagall waited for the buzz to die down. “I must emphasise that I will not tolerate, under any circumstances, ill-feeling or inter-house feuding. We have all seen what this can lead to. I intend to enforce this rigorously, and will rely on my staff and prefects to assist me.”
She reached down and took a sip from a glass of water.
“And now to happier news. Firstly, I would like to announce the head girl and head boy for this year. Please give a warm round of applause to Ginevra Weasley and Dennis Creevy.”
“Two Gryffindors, eh?” muttered Boot, but he applauded loudly.
“Thank you,” said Professor McGonagall. She sounded almost tearful. “Now let us proceed to the new members of staff.”
Her tone became slightly grim. “As many of you may know, Madame Hooch is no longer associated with Hogwarts. Last year we did not have regular Quidditch, partly due to the absence of a qualified instructor, and partly due to the extraordinary circumstances. However, this year, we’ve managed to hire someone who I think will please you all. Will you please all give a warm welcome to Viktor Krum!”
The hall suddenly turned dark. The great doors at the end were flung open and a tall figure walked in. He was carrying a sleek, black broom and wearing heavy furs. He strode purposefully down the hall, waving his broom around his head faster than the eye could follow. It seemed to miss his head by a hair’s breadth, and came nearly as close to the students on either side. Halfway down the hall, between the tables, he flung the broom spinning into the roofspace, flying past the floating candles into the starry sky. Without pausing, he strode down the hall and mounted the dais on Professor McGonagall’s right, and turned to face the hall. The broom came spinning down at him. Without looking, he plucked it from the air and spun it three times around his head, narrowly missing Professor McGonagall’s ear each time, before slamming the wooden end onto the dais. He crossed his arms, legs apart, and the broom stood perfectly balanced.
The applause was tumultuous. Most of the students leapt to their feet, though some stayed seated so that they could bang on the tables.
“Well, that was impressive,” said Marion. “Do all the new teachers walk in like that?”
“It’s Victor Krum!” said Alex.
“Who?” said Marion.
“Imagine if David Beckham came to teach football at a Muggle school,” said Alex.
“Golly,” said Marion.
“Viktor Krum!” said Sophie in an awed voice. “I don’t really follow Quidditch, but… Viktor Krum!”
Eventually the noise died down. “Er… thank you, Mr Krum,” said Professor McGonagall, slightly pertly. “Moving on. I’m pleased to announce that we have recruited Harry Potter to teach Defence Against The Dark Arts.”
Harry Potter stepped forward to Professor McGonagall’s left side. He tried to straighten his hair, looked at Viktor Krum and crossed his arms, then uncrossed them and put his hands in his pockets. He thought for a moment, put his hands behind his back, and then thinking better of it, crossed his arms again.
The applause that greeted him was less frenzied than for Viktor Krum, but more sustained and intimate. A number of students called out to him by name, and he grinned and nodded.
“The demands on the teaching staff this year will be extensive. Repairs to the structure will continue, and much remedial work will be required. On a temporary basis, we have asked Miss Hermione Granger to assist us, while she completes her qualifications.”
Hermione Granger stepped forward and put a hand on Harry Potter’s shoulder. The applause was more polite and restrained, but still sincere. Ginny Weasley, the head girl, gave a whistle, but it sounded out of place.
“Finally, the most important announcement of the evening. Perhaps one of the most important announcements at Hogwarts for many years. For the first time ever, a Muggle will be teaching at Hogwarts. Mr Jerry Creevy will be the new Professor of Muggle Studies.”
A small, fearful-looking man stepped forward. He was wearing a worn tweed jacket and green corduroy trousers. He gave a weak smile and waved to the hall.
Alex was about to clap when he felt Boot’s hand on his shoulder. “Wait,” he whispered. There was silence in the hall. Alex felt desperate to make some sound. Then he saw the fat professor rise to his feet and begin to clap. He clapped alone for some seconds, until one of the students at the Slytherin table rose to join him. Then two others – and then the entire hall was clapping. There were no catcalls or stamping, but the clapping continued, every student on their feet.
Then Dennis Creevy was walking forward from the Gryffindor table, his arm outstretched. Mr Creevy jumped off the stage and ran towards him. They shook hands and then hugged each other tightly, and every student cheered.
“Are they father and son?” Marion whispered.
“Yes,” said Boot. “The other son died here two years ago.”
“Oh. Oh golly,” said Marion. “I’d heard… died right here?”
“I didn’t see him killed. I was here when he was brought in, though.”
“I was told about the trouble, of course. It just seemed like some kind of historical thing.” Marion looked very subdued.
Boot touched a small scar on his cheek. “It was a bad time,” he said grimly.
As Mr Creevy remounted the dais, Professor McGonagall shook him warmly by the hand. “You’re very welcome here, Mr Creevy. Very welcome,” she said.
All four of the new recruits sat down at the teacher’s table. Viktor Krum had to bring his broom with him, and it stood upright between himself and the fat professor.
“Muggle Studies will now be taught from first year on,” said Professor McGonagall. “It will be compulsory for all students having no Muggle parent up to O.W.L.’s. I consider this subject as being perhaps the most important that we teach at this school. I hope you will all view it as seriously as I do.”
She suddenly raised both hands, palm upwards, and the students jumped to their feet – the first years slightly behind everyone else.
“And now, to your dormitories. I hope we can look forward to a successful year.”
“Right, first years,” said Bolt. “Time to show you to your beds. Follow me.”
Marion stepped forward and touched his elbow. “Excuse me, please. Can Sophie and I be in the same room? She’s a bit lonely about her sister.”
Bolt raised an eyebrow. “That’s not going to be a problem. There’s only four new Ravenclaw girls, so you’ll all share a room.”
Marion reached out and held Sophie’s hand and they followed Bolt out of the Hall. Alex followed closely behind.