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Chapter Nine: The Welcome Feast

Harry could remember a morning a few years ago where he had been getting ready to go to Hogwarts with all the Weasleys around him, panicking and frantically gathering things together, colliding on the stairs and running around half-dressed, leaving bits of toast everywhere. At the time, he'd thought it was pretty hectic - but that was until he'd tried getting ready for Hogwarts in a house stuffed to the door with wizards and witches, with four students and two teachers to get ready.

They had to catch the Hogwarts Express at eleven o' clock. Mrs Weasley woke up at about six o' clock, made several towering stacks of toast already buttered and charmed to stay warm, and then started getting bags and cages and trunks and cases and boxes and everything else next to the front door, ready to be taken out to the car. Harry was up at seven, and despite packing everything the night before and setting out his clothes for the next morning, found himself racing around frantically looking for his broomstick, which had mysteriously vanished from the face of the earth. At half past seven, Draco was up and spent half an hour fussing about his hair, before helping Harry look for his broom. Half past eight came. Lupin was sitting at the table quite calmly, all packed and ready, reading the paper and having coffee. Ginny came running out from her room at quarter to nine, shrieking that she was going to be late and would miss the train, though she was dressed at quarter past nine and helping out with the broom search.

Half past nine came, and the broom was located under Draco's bed. Ginny went running off to get her bags together, and Draco sat down to straighten his hair. Lupin was into the sports pages of the newspaper by now, and Snape was standing by the back door, making waspish remarks about how late everybody was running. Ten o' clock came at last, and Harry was just starting to relax when they all realised Ron was still asleep, and hadn't packed.

They beat Ron awake with pillows and practically dragged him into his clothes as Draco reluctantly packed Ron's things. Harry's broomstick went missing again, located at about ten past ten in Ron's trunk. A still sleepy Ron was lurching about in a sort of trance, falling over things and grumbling about being made to get up so early. Quarter past ten arrived, just as Mr and Mrs Weasley were chasing everybody out of the house and herding them into the bright yellow car which had pulled up outside. Fred and George were instructed to drive very quickly and stop for no-one. It was twenty past ten when Fred leaned around to offer everybody Bertie Botts Beans, and asked where Ginny was.

They turned back to drive to Grimmauld Place, and met Mr Weasley en-route, running down the streets dragging poor Ginny by the arm. Ginny leapt into the car and they sped off again, arriving at Kings Cross with twenty minutes to go. Fred and George wished them all a good term, and shooed them towards Platform 9 , after giving them a few pocketfuls of Skiving Snackboxes each, "on the house".

Harry, Ron, Draco and Ginny fetched trolleys for their luggage, and wheeled it all across the station, onto the platform through the solid brick wall. They found a carriage to themselves, loaded their luggage in, and Ron instantly collapsed onto a seat with a sleepy grunt.

"Murrh... I can't even see properly yet..." he groaned.

Draco sunk gracefully into the corner seat, and stretched himself out, taking a magazine from the bag he had with him. "You should wake up earlier then, shouldn't you?" Since the events at Malfoy Manor, Harry had noticed a great deal of new purchases suddenly appearing around Draco. Snape went out one afternoon, and didn't come back for several hours. When he did, he was laden down with bags, that Draco hauled off to his room. His school bag was new, a rather mature and adult black one, and his clothes were no longer old. Harry had forgotten just how tall Draco was, but once he was back into his own black clothing, he shot up towards the ceiling.

Ron made no sign that he'd heard Draco, and just gave a sigh, rubbing his eyes and trying to wake himself up. "You both know I'm supposed to be up front with the other prefects, right?"

"We all know you can't be bothered to walk all that way, Weasley," said Draco, coolly. "Don't pretend you aren't."

The door slid open, and Harry looked up to see Hermione standing on the platform, smiling up at them all. "Morning!" she said, brightly, hopping up into the carriage. Behind her, Harry could see three trolleys full of her luggage. Her father stood with them, looking distinctly nervous around all the owls, cats, tearful mothers and excited young wizards and witches. Hermione took Crookshank's basket off the top of the trolly, and said, promptly, "Everyone, this is my dad. Dad, this is Harry, Ron, Draco and Ginny."

"Hi," said Harry, smiling. Mr Granger gave him a fleeting smile and a nod, and then glanced at Ron, who was still lying on the seats, half-asleep.

"Ron?" said Hermione. "This is my dad, say hi!"

"H'lo," Ron mumbled, opening one eye to look at Mr Granger. Mr Granger gave him a weak smile.

Hermione laughed nervously. "He's normally more awake than this..."

"Wha'?" said Ron, vaguely, lifting his head just enough to peer at Hermione.

Hermione didn't bother to repeat herself, and instead starting unloading her cases from the trolleys. Draco put down his magazine, and helped her, even taking care with Crookshanks, who everybody else hated. Ron sat in his seat, looking as though he'd been drugged. When Hermione gave her father a tight hug, and he wished her good luck, Ron managed to sit up and yawn, though that was about it. Mr Granger went away across the platform, and Hermione gave Ron a rather fond frown.

"Not good with first impressions, are you?"

"It's too early, Mione..." Ron groaned, rubbing his eyes. "Let me wake up, then I'll think about first impressions..."

She shook her head, and sat down next to him, taking Crookshanks from Draco and letting the ginger cat out of its basket. Crookshanks sprang out with a hiss, and landed in Ron's lap, claws still out. Ron yelped and nearly hit his head on the roof from jumping so high.

"Crookshanks, no, don't scratch Ron!" said Hermione, grasping the cat and tugging it off Ron's trousers. "Poor Ron... say sorry..."

Crookshanks gave Ron a look of utter loathing as Hermione held him out. Ron's expression was fairly similar, though his face didn't have the same squashed appearance as Crookshank's. There was a knock on the door that moment, taking the attention off Crookshanks and Ron, as everybody turned to look. Neville and Luna stood in the door. Harry barely had a moment to register that Neville was smiling, and Luna was holding something small and black, when there was a furious hiss from Crookshanks and he leapt at Luna's chest, spitting. Luna leapt out of the way, and Draco shot after Crookshanks, snatching at his tail.

"Crookshanks!" Hermione squealed, as the ginger cat went darting away through the crowds, chased by Draco.

"Why did he - " Harry began, but he then realised why, as Luna turned back around. There was a tiny, fluffy kitten sitting in her arms, blinking up at Harry with huge, bright blue eyes. As he looked at it, the kitten mewed, its ears flicking.

"Odd," said Luna, quietly. "No other cats have gone for Bucket..."

"Bucket?" said Harry. "Why is it called Bucket?"

Luna shrugged mildly. "It was the first object in my house that he went to... I took it as a sign that he wanted to be called that..."

Harry tried to think of further questions he could ask about this, but each one was more ridiculous than the last, and so he left it. Luna and Neville clambered into their carriage, and Hermione helped them get all their luggage in, tucking it into the racks over head. Draco appeared a few minutes later, holding Crookshanks tightly around the podgy middle, covered in numerous scratches and bites. Hermione had to agree it was best to shut Crookshanks in his basket for the rest of the journey. She put him away in the wicker basket, and then set about fixing Draco's injuries with various little charms.

"Hey, Harry! Kainda's here!" Neville said suddenly, peering out of the window onto the platform.

Harry jumped up. "She's here?" He ran over, and looked out across the sparse crowd. A very old, shrivelled woman in St Mungo's robes had strode into the station, taking oddly quick and short steps, pushing a wheelchair in front of her as though it was a battering ram. Kainda was sitting in the chair with a rather bemused expression on her face.

Harry headed for the door, and Ron stood up to join him, but Hermione forcefully pulled him down. As Harry was jumping out of the carriage, he caught Hermione's eye, and gave her a small smile of thanks. She dropped him a wink.

Harry hurried out across the platform, and practically pranced up the bridge, right across, and then down the steps on the other side just as Kainda and the healer were approaching the bridge. Harry then noticed that there were two or three reporters hot on their tail, which probably explained why the healer was sprinting. The reporters exploded in cheers as Harry appeared, and ran in for the kill. Kainda was still wearing a very mild smile on her face that made Harry want to laugh.

"I'll take her from here," he said to the healer, stepping forward.

The healer gave him a remarkably sour look. "Very well," she said, sniffily. "You just get her onto the train quickly! All this stress is bad for her, boy."

Harry tried not to smile. "Alright, thanks." As the healer marched away across the station, still moving as though she was going for some sort of power-walking record, Harry flashed Kainda a grin, and took the handles of her wheelchair. "Alright?"

"Alright," she replied, smirking up at him. "It's a magical chair. Should glide right up the stairs. Though don't go too fast, you might ditch me out of it into the path of the Hogwarts Express, and that'll be one hell of a photo for the Prophet."

Harry laughed, and carefully eased the chair towards the stairs, aware that the reporters were taking as many photos as their cameras would hold. He could hear quite a few shouting at him for interviews. The wheelchair tilted back gently, and drifted up the steps, before putting itself the right way up again when they reached the top of the bridge.

"Harry! Harry!" one of the reporters was calling. Harry glanced over his shoulder, and saw Rita Skeeter hurrying up the steps after him, beaming from ear to ear, so much that her lipstick was smudging. "Harry, how are you?"

"Fine," said Harry, as blandly as he could manage.

"So are the rumours true?" asked Rita, getting straight to the point, her quill poised and ready to write. "Coupled up, are we? You've have quite a string of ex-girlfriends so far, haven't you? Do you have any comments to them?"

"Nope," said Harry, sweetly, wheeling Kainda across the bridge. She was grinning up at him, and he had trouble fighting his smirk.

"You're a young man now, aren't you?" Rita pestered, clearly desperate for some sort of comment out of him. "Thinking of your future? Settling down and starting a family?"

"I'm only seventeen," said Harry, staring at her.

"Oh, so it's not serious?" she said quickly. "Just a summer love thing? Would you call this your first test of an adult relationship? The Prophet runs a column for young people now, you know, would you be interested in giving any contraceptive advice to them? It could be big, Harry. Put your name on the map!"

"I think," said Kainda, smirking, "that Harry doesn't exactly need to advertise contraception to have his name on the map."

Rita ignored her, and said, desperately to Harry, "Just a few words about the benefits of waiting until marriage, Harry, you'll be the young peoples' hero... or perhaps, you'd like to dispel those old-fashioned ideas and be the voice of the new generation?"

"There's only one voice I'm concerned about now," said Harry. "Yours. As in, shutting it up."

"Just tell us if the rumours are true, Harry, please! Look at us, we've come all this way for news on you!" pleaded Rita. "One word, Harry, yes or no!"

Harry glanced down at Kainda, and she looked back up at him, the corner of her mouth curled upwards into a roguish smile. They seemed to agree in that one moment. Harry turned to Rita, and said, with a bright smile, "No comments", then he spun on his heel and took Kainda off, down the ramp of the bridge and towards the Hogwarts Express. The reporters gradually hung back, grumbling and taking photographs, with Rita Skeeter still shouting at Harry if marriage could be on the cards in the near future.

"Brilliantly done," said Kainda, smirking up at Harry.

"Thanks," he grinned. "I've been practicing. Could you tell?"

Before she could answer, there was the sound of the Hogwarts Express window being pulled open. Harry looked up, and saw Ron hanging out of it, yelling at Rita Skeeter. "OI! My name's RONALD Weasley, not ROBERT, at least get my NAME RIGHT if you're going to print LIES about me, you stupid woman!"

"Ron!" Hermione's voice hissed from inside, and Ron was jerked out of sight of the window, the hinge banging shut moments after.

Harry grinned, and carefully manouevred the wheelchair up into the train compartment. Everybody burst into chatter as they came in, asking Kainda how she was, complaining about Rita Skeeter and the rest of the reporters, offering to take Kainda's bags. "Thanks," she said, as Ron put all her stuff in the overhead luggage rack.

"Why are you still in a wheelchair?" asked Hermione, interestedly.

"My stomach muscles are still weak," said Kainda. She reached down, and wheeled herself to sit with everybody else, setting the back of the chair against the wall. "I've got to take everything easy, try to rest and relax my stomach. Let it heal, you know?"

"Can you eat?" said Luna, dreamily, petting Bucket the kitten with her fingertips.

"Oh yeah," said Kainda. "I'm just going to be a bit suspicious of anything salty for a while." She grinned, and accepted Neville's offering of a jelly bean with a cheerful, "Thanks, Nev."

"Where's Professor Snape today?" asked Luna, softly, glancing around the carriage as though he was about to leap out from behind the curtains and eat them. "He was here when we left the school... why not now?"

"He's in the back carriage with Professor Lupin," said Harry, vaguely.

Luna sighed. "Such a shame..." Everybody stared at her, and she smiled sweetly, swaying slightly from side to side. "I like Professor Snape..."

"Get her out," grunted Ron. "Out. Out now. Strange girl."

Kainda laughed softly, and looked around at them all with her amused brown eyes. "Oh, I've missed Hogwarts."

A controller was now moving along the train, and shutting doors, as whistles were sounding up and down the platform. Harry felt an odd bubble of excitement in him now, realising that this was it, the start of his last year at Hogwarts. He looked around at all his friends, and couldn't help but wonder if things would be any different this year. After all, the circumstances of his last year were entirely different to how they were now. Lord Voldemort was active and alive, ready to seek revenge on those who angered him. The Death Eaters would still be out there, somewhere. Rookwood for one was not going to lie low and sink into obscurity. Were the Heliopaths still in league with Voldemort? Could another attack be coming within days? Whatever was coming, Harry felt ready for it. His life changed with every year than went by now, and he had a feeling this year was going to be the most dangerous yet.


The journey to Hogwarts was uneventful, as it nearly always was. They all laughed and joked for the long hours they spent in the train, and at around lunch time, the witch with the tea trolley came along the train. They all pooled their gold, and bought a mountain of sweets and cakes, crisps, sandwiches and pasties, then tucked in. Perhaps it was just because it was the first time Harry had been outside for a long time, but he felt oddly happy as he shared a chocolate frog with Ginny and watched the countryside rolling by. Hermione, Ron and Draco boycotted the prefects compartment to stay with everybody else, and Harry had the feeling Ernie Macmillan was in for some hateful looks from Ron and Draco next time they met.

The sun gradually started to set outside. Harry was aware that their journey was taking a different route to normal - perhaps it was just in case the Death Eaters tried to attack the train en-route, Harry wondered. Lupin and Snape were also on the train this time, in the back carriage, though luckily, they weren't needed. The journey was smooth all the way there.

It was very dark by the time the train pulled up outside Hogsmeade Station, and the doors were all pulled open by conductors walking about the platform. Students started to spill from the train, chattering eagerly, handing out luggage and cages. Harry and all his friends started to take their cases down from the luggage racks. Harry could see the great shaggy head of Hagrid above the crowds outside, and his lantern glowing like a beacon in the darkness. "Firs' years! Firs' years, this way!"

"Hiya Hagrid!" Harry shouted, waving and beaming, as he passed Crookshank's basket out to Hermione.

"H'lo Harry!" Hagrid waved back, grinning. "How was yer summer?"

"Great, thanks!" called Harry. With a last wave, Hagrid moved away across the platform, followed by a huddle of tiny, scared-looking first years, all of them clutching bags and baby owls in cages. Harry was struck by how incredibly small they all were. He couldn't remember being that small, ever.

The platform gradually started to clear of students, as everybody made their way out of the station towards the thestral-drawn carriages that would take them all to Hogwarts. Harry and his friends were all laden down with bags and cases now, and as a great tottering mass, they began to move out of the station, when there was a shout from behind them. Harry, holding the handles of Kainda's wheelchair, turned around.

"Oi! Ye could nae gimme a wee bitta help, could ye?"

The oddest man Harry had seen since Mad Eye Moody was standing at the back of the train, beckoning him over. Harry had to blink once or twice to make sure he wasn't actually seeing things, wondering whether Draco and Ron had slipped some sort of hallucinating charm on him, and he was seeing things.

The first thing that Harry noticed about the man was the t-shirt he wore, once white and now grey, stretched over an impressive beer gut, with the gigantic slogan of, "I LUV MUGGLES". The next thing that drew Harry's attention was the bright rainbow scarf wrapped around the man's neck, draping nearly to the floor, and pinned with many badges, all brandishing messages like, "MUGGLES ROCK" and "MUGGLES 4EVA". He was about fifty, and wore tartan trousers along with his odd t-shirt. Harry was reminded of an aging British tourist on holiday to Spain, lounging about near the pool and trying to dance during the cabaret.

"Er... are you okay there, Sir?" Harry called.

"I could do wae a bitta help, if ye're nae in a rush," said the man, in a broad and rich Scottish accent. Harry turned Kainda around, told the others to go on ahead, and then he wheeled Kainda over to this odd man. Harry realised that he was not wearing a rainbow hat, as Harry had first thought, but his hair was in fact dyed various colours, none of which were ever found in nature. "Thankye," said the man, beaming at Harry. "I jus' need somebody t' carry me budgie cage... I dunnae want t' drop it, y'see, and I've got all these bloody books wae me..."

"No problem," said Harry, fighting his smile, as the man handed him a large cage, containing a single budgie on a perch. Kainda took the budgie cage, and set it on her lap. The man struggled with several huge bags, one of which was covered in yet more odd badges, and then slammed the door of the train carriage.

"Aye, thanks," he said, grinning at both of them. "Ye're good for helpin' me. I tried t' get this other guy t' help me a bit, but he was nae listenin'... are ye students at the school?"

Harry nodded, smiling, and wheeling Kainda alongside the Scottish man, trying not to get his scarf caught in the wheels. "We're seventh years," he explained. "Are you teaching this year, Sir?"

"Aye, I am," the man beamed. He offered Harry a pudgy hand, with a great deal of hair across his fingers. "Profess'r Chetry... Brian Chetry..."

"It's a pleasure," said Harry.

"Likewise," said Kainda, bemusedly. "I'm Kainda Zabini..."

"Harry Potter," said Harry, with a little smile.

"S'nice t' meet ye," said Professor Chetry, brightly, beaming down at both of them.

"What do you teach, Professor?" asked Kainda. The budgie in the cage on her lap was whistling pleasantly, bobbing up and down, studying its reflection in a mirror on the bars.

"Muggle Studies," said the professor, proudly. "Ach, s'me first year though... I have nae been here since I were a wee lad, and aye, that were quite a few years ago, let me tell yeh."

"Oh, I'm doing Muggle Studies," said Kainda.

"Ach, good girl! I'll be teachin' yeh then." Professor Chetry grinned, showing numerous fillings. "What did ye say ye name was? Kinder?"

"Kainda," she said, smiling slightly. "Kigh-in-da."

"Keyindeh?"

"That's it," she nodded, her lips twitching a little at the corners. The budgie on her lap whistled brightly, bobbing up and down. "I like your bird," she said, looking up at the mad professor. "What's its name?"

"He's called Kylie," said Chetry.

"He?" said Harry, raising his eyebrow.

"Aye," said Chetry, shrugging. "Y'see, I got two at first... thought they were both lassies, one called Danni and one called Kylie... then Danni had some eggs, and Kylie turned out t' be a laddie. He does nae answer t' anythin' else now."

Only two carriages remained outside the station. One was empty, and the other contained Draco and Ginny. Harry and Kainda put Kylie the budgie into the empty carriage, made sure Professor Chetry was okay, and then hurried to Draco and Ginny's carriage, getting inside as fast as they could. The two carriages moved off, and Draco leaned around to stare out of the window at Professor Chetry.

"Who, in the name of Salazar Slytherin, is that?" he said, sounding disgusted.

"That's Professor Chetry," said Kainda, smiling bemusedly. "He's teaching Muggle Studies, likes muggles, and has a male budgie called Kylie. Probably of the Minogue variety."

"How do minnows come into it?" said Draco, turning to stare at her in absolute amazement.

"Never mind," Kainda said, laughing softly.

The carriage trundled pleasantly up towards the school, and a few minutes later, it pulled up on the drive way. Harry helped Kainda out, and they balanced as many bags on her wheelchair as possible, before staggering up towards the castle. By the time they got into the entrance hall, all of them were exhausted. Draco flung his luggage carelessly onto the mountain that had grown up in the hall, and Ginny followed suit. Both of them then made their way into the entrance hall, leaving Harry to get all the bags off Kainda. He was just contemplating the cat calls and comments he would get from all the students if he and Kainda entered the hall together, when the doors opened, and Professor Lupin came out.

"Oh, Harry! There you are!" he said, coming over. "We were worried that your carriage hadn't started or there was a problem at the station... I just need to talk to you for a few minutes, in my office..."

"Okay," said Harry, wondering what Lupin wanted to see him about. He glanced at Kainda, and she gave him a little smile, before making her way through the double doors into the Great Hall. Lupin shut the doors after her.

"Now then... my office, please, Harry. Oh, and I set you an extra book this year, did you notice...?"

Harry nodded. "Yeah..." He leant down, and tugged the book out of the top of the plastic bag near his feet. "This one?"

"Yes, that one," said Lupin. "Bring it along with you, we can just have a quick look through it... this way then." And he lead Harry off up the corridor, towards his office, with Harry following behind him, holding the book about murder, lost in his wondering.

Lupin opened the door of his office, and gave Harry a mild smile as he stepped inside. Lupin then shut the door, and Harry was just sitting down at his desk, when Lupin made a funny noise that made Harry look around. It was like a growl. Harry saw him swipe at something on the door handle, before realising he had several short, scarlet hairs in his fingers.

"She's been in here," Lupin sighed, his flash of anger melting away, as he flicked the hair into the bin.

"Sorry," said Harry, "but who's been in here?"

"The new Dark Arts mistress," was the rather vague reply. Lupin glared at the bin for a moment, before sinking into a chair behind his desk. "Professor Dumbledore thought it was best to bring in a second teacher for Defence Against The Dark Arts, in case there is any truth in the rumours of the position being jinxed. Though she insists on coming into my office and leaving her horrible hair all over the place."

Harry couldn't help but stare. Never once, in his entire life, had he heard Lupin angry or malicious towards anybody, even in third year when Professor Snape was in the middle of his little psychopathic incident, Lupin had been calm and collected. Yet here he was, clearly very annoyed about a simple hair in his office.

"Will she be teaching me at all?" asked Harry, curiously.

Lupin nodded. "It will work on a half-time scheme... though you will have me for as much time as possible, if I have any say in it." Harry raised his eyebrows slightly, and seeing his expression, Lupin said, a little more calmly now, "Madam Ivy is a very able teacher, I am sure... however, to business... let me have a look at that book please, Harry..."

Harry handed Professor Lupin the thick book. The titled letters in red flashed at Harry slightly, "Cold-Blood : A Study Of Magical Murder, by Verin Maleficia", and underneath was a picture of somebody Harry presumed was the author. Verin Maleficia didn't exactly look like the sort of man you would invite round for tea and biscuits. Tall, thin, dark and un-naturally pale, Harry was strongly reminded of a cross between Professor Snape and a vampire.

"What I have to tell you might come as a shock to you, Harry..." said Lupin, gently, holding the book in his hands and flicking through the pages idly. "You could well be reluctant, even..." He sighed, and surveyed Harry with his calming brown eyes. "The headmaster wants me to give you some extra tuition, on Saturday mornings."

"What about?" asked Harry.

"You know, Harry, that one day you're going to have to face up to Lord Voldemort," said Lupin, calmly. He brushed some of his greying brown hair out of his eyes. "You will have to murder him, Harry, and at the moment, skilled as you are, the headmaster and I are worried that you do not have the malice required."

Harry said nothing, just watching Lupin intently. Lupin continued.

"This year I will be teaching you to kill," said Lupin, seriously. He placed the book between them on the desk. "We'll start with curses which can kill if performed well, things like knife curses, poison hexes, jinxes which severely maim the human body... then we'll be going onto the Unforgivable Curses. Most importantly Avada Kedavra."

"But - " Harry stopped, wondering exactly what he could say to protest this. "It's... it's illegal! And... how am I ever going to learn how to use Avada Kedavra without practicing? What are you going to have me killing?"

"Insects, probably," said Lupin. "Then perhaps larger creatures, mice and birds..."

"I..." Harry couldn't imagine himself raising a wand, and killing some small, innocent little mouse or bird. Even worse, a person. He just knew that everytime he tried to do it, the image of his mother and father would swim into his head. He couldn't. "Professor... I don't really..."

Lupin patted his arm gently. "I know, Harry... I know... this is necessary though. If you don't learn these things, you'll never be able to survive. We will start very slowly, don't worry. It will just be like practicing any other curses."

"So... when do I have my first lesson?" asked Harry, tentatively.

"Saturday," said Lupin. "Just come down to my office, and we'll do most of our practicing in here. Come at about ten o' clock, and we'll have a few hours." He stood up, and handed Harry the book. Harry took it silently. "Let's get down to the feast then," said Lupin, with a mild smile. "We wouldn't want to miss Professor Dumbledore's start of term speech."

Harry nodded, and silently, he followed Lupin out of the office, and through the school back to the Great Hall. Harry stopped for only a moment to drop off his book, before Lupin opened up the doors, and they both stepped inside. A sea of faces instantly turned to look at them, and Harry was stunned for a moment. The house tables had vanished, replaced by smaller rounder ones for about ten people, dotted randomly all around the hall. Harry blinked, eyes scanning the room until they picked out Ron, Hermione, Draco, Neville, Luna, Ginny and Kainda, all clustered at a table over the far side, joined by Professors Alrister and McGonagall. Hermione looked a little pink in the face, as she'd always been quite taken with Alrister. Smiling, Harry hurried over through the crowd, and sat down between Ron and Draco.

"Where've you been?" asked Ron in a whisper.

"I'll tell you later," Harry replied, turning around in his seat just in time to see Lupin sit down next to Dumbledore.

The headmaster smiled warmly at Harry, his blue eyes twinkling a little, before he turned to the rest of the hall again. "Now... where was I? Ah, yes, our new members of staff... we are lucky to be joined by four new teachers this year."

Harry glanced around, trying to count which faces he didn't recognise. There was mad Professor Chetry, sitting next to Professor Flitwick, looking even more out of place in the splendour of the Hogwarts Great Hall, with his fly away rainbow hair and ludicrously bright scarf. A few seats along from Chetry was Professor Pebblebank, in baby blue robes with a glittery star on the front, watching Dumbledore avidly and toying with a tuft of her bright blonde hair. Next to her was a man with rather unruly dark blonde hair, a double chin, and dark eyes, though this man went completely un-noticed in light of the woman next to him. Harry instantly knew she must be the Dark Arts mistress who had been in Lupin's office. Her hair was not red like Ron's, or even Harry's mother's, but it was un-natural scarlet, painfully so. It was short, almost in spikes, and was exactly the same shade as her roll-neck jumper. She also wore a mid-length black skirt, little black ankle boots, and a silver chain around her neck with a strawberry on it.

"Professor Chetry is our new Muggle Studies teacher," said Dumbledore, tearing Harry's eyes away from the Dark Arts mistress. "Our last Muggle Studies professor has left the school to pursue his dream, and become a washing machine salesman. Professor Chetry has generously agreed to join the school, and I am sure you will enjoy your lessons with him."

Chetry grinned around at all the curious faces turned to him, and gave them the thumbs up. "H'lo." A few people swapped worried looks, and Harry distinctly heard a Ravenclaw on the next table remark how glad she was that she hadn't taken Muggle Studies.

"Also," said Dumbledore, gesturing to Penny Pebblebank, "we have a new subject that will be taught this year at Hogwarts. Miscellanious Magic. All of you will have one hour a week in her company, learning various useful things that don't fit into any other subject."

There was a murmur of interest at this, and people were learning around to try and see the new professor. She smiled and blushed a little, just showing her teeth, looking even more like a pixie than ever.

Dumbledore then turned his attention to the blond man, and said, smiling mildly, "Professor Knighton has kindly agreed to take up the position of our Arithmancy professor, for those of you who study the subject, and on his right is our new Dark Arts mistress, Madam Ivy."

Harry turned his gaze upon Madam Ivy. She smiled as her name was announced, a very grateful and sweet sort of smile, very feminine. Harry remembered the last sort of sweet smile he'd seen, on the lips of Professor Umbridge, though Madam Ivy didn't look at all like Professor Umbridge, which was always a plus in Harry's eyes. He was only half listening as Dumbledore introduced her to the school, mentioning that she was recommended by the ministry, as he was far too interested in the reactions of Lupin and Snape down the table. The two professors usually despised each other, though both were sitting together now, and conversing in mutters, their gazes fixed on Ivy. Snape's shoulders were hunched, and his eyes were practically slits. Lupin's forehead was creased in frown lines. Apparently, Madam Ivy was not popular with the two professors. Harry could understand Snape's reaction, after all, he had longed for the Dark Arts job ever since joining Hogwarts, though Lupin was not the type to take a grudge, in any circumstances.

"Well then," said Dumbledore, smiling. "I think that it is all I need to say to you now, and I'm sure you are all tired and hungry from your journeys." He raised his arms, clapped his hands, and instantly all the dishes around the hall filled, piling themselves high up. The first years all made gasps of surprise and wonder. Ron made a gasp of longing, and practically threw himself into the mountain of chips, taking half the pile onto his plate and starting to stuff them into his mouth as though it was a race.

A babble of talk broke out around the hall, as everybody tucked into the delicious food, loading up their plates. Harry took a piece of everything and started to eat. Next to him, Ron was gorging on chips, and could hardly be seen over the top of the chip hill on his plate. Draco was eyeing him disdainfully, as he started on his own fish and pasta.

"You do know you're supposed to have a varied diet, don't you, Weasley?" he said, in a very contemptuous tone,

"Mmmmmm, chips..." was Ron's reply, attacking the mound with ketchup and salt.

"It is varied," said Kainda, from next to Ron. "See, you've got chips from potatoes, so that's a vegetable, and he's got fat in there. Then there's ketchup, from tomatoes, which are technically fruit. Then salt, which is a mineral. Perfectly balanced."

"And his protein in this is coming from where?" said Draco, raising one thin blonde eyebrow at her.

"He's going to have a dessert, isn't it? With cream? Cream contains milk, and milk contains protein," said Kainda, smiling. "So shut your piehole, Fish Boy."

"It's salmon," Draco bristled.

"Oh, I am sorry. You see, I was under the impression that salmon WAS a fish. Clearly, I was wrong. My mistake." She picked up another slice of pizza, and drizzled some of the cheese into her mouth for a moment, before saying, smirking, "Would you care to enlighten us as to what group salmon actually belongs to, Draco? Mammals? Lizards? Maybe a bird even, after all, they do fly up waterfalls... then again, if it was a bird, you'd have oggled its legs before now."

The table burst into laughter, and even Alrister snorted into his soup before composing himself, fighting a smirk. Draco glared at them all, and suddenly lost his liking for salmon. He pushed it away from itself, and Bucket the kitten came prancing from behind the sausages to finish it off for him, with much joyous mewing. Draco got another plate, and started on the casserole.

Professor McGonagall frowned at Bucket pattering around on the table top, eating people's food. "Miss Lovegood, no pets at the table, please."

Luna reached out, and pulled Bucket off Draco's salmon with a dreamy, "No, Bucket...", before putting Bucket onto the floor. He went scampering away across the hall, his little white paws diving away under a nearby table looking for scraps, tail straight up in the air like an aerial. Everybody at the table looked underneath, and Padma Patil gave a squeal of delight. Bucket was promptly lifted up, all of the girls cooing at him and feeding him bits of fish. Professor McGonagall's frown deepened, though she continued with her haggis as though nothing had happened.

Meanwhile, Sneezy had wriggled out of Ron's top pocket and was being given scraps across the table by Hermione and Neville. He'd only eat it if they told him what it was, and quite a fight was starting.

"Carrots, Sneezy."

"Sticks."

"No, no, it's not a stick, it's a carrot!"

"No, bad! Sticks!"

"Sneezy, it's not - "

"Stick! Stick, stick, stick! Bad yak!"

"Alright, alright, it's a stick... just eat it and stop arguing..."

After the main courses came the puddings. Harry always loved the Hogwarts desserts, and this year, the house elves really had tried their best. Perhaps they wanted to prove to everyone that no trouble with the food would arise this year, and they certainly had Harry persuaded. He had some sticky toffee pudding, some of the chocolate gateau, a big bowl of the chocolate ice cream, and finally a small slice of the apple tart. Ron really got tucked into pudding, and had a slice or bowl of practically everything. Sneezy delighted in being able to manage the word chocolate, and consequently had a slice of the gateau that was nearly as big as him. Everybody was now full of food and very happy, debating the day to come tomorrow, and after a last goblet of pumpkin juice each, they all went off to bed.

Harry and all his Gryffindor friends were pleasantly surprised to find that their nest had already been laid out neatly in the common room for them. Harry had always felt odd up in the dormitories since the nightmare he had last year, and he was glad he wouldn't have to face it again. They all got changed for bed, and slid under the tangle of duvets and blankets, boys on one side, girls on another. The last thought that Harry had before he dropped off to sleep was how glad he was to be back at Hogwarts, and whether this year would turn out to be just as exciting as the last.

 

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