Everyone winds up where they belong, safe and sound...for the time being. It's the Sorting Ceremony, the Welcoming feast and then there are those traditional 7th year toasts to be drunk, down in t...
Home again, home again, giggity gig.
"Sweet Mary, Mother of Pearl! What are you lot doing in York?" Gwen was gob-smacked, seeing Neville, Tut, Seamus and, she surmised, Dean Thomas, right in front of her, in the middle of the street.
"/I could ask /you the same question!" Neville rose up out of his seat and grinned at her. "Hi, Gwen!"
Honk! Honk! There was a lorry behind Tut, with an impatient driver.
"Oh! Sorry!" Gwen waved at the driver, smiled and started toward the curb. "I better get out of the street! Pull over there by that white van," instructed Gwen, pointing, as she continued to wheel the pile of boxes across the street.
Seamus turned the corner and pulled up behind the van, just as Gwen opened the back doors. Neville clambered out of the sidecar and hurried over to help.
"Oh...thanks, Neville," said Gwen, as he handed her the boxes and she loaded them into the van. Gwen folded up the trolley and stored it along side the boxes and closed the doors. Only then did she throw her arms around Neville and give him a big hug.
"What are you doing in York, you three?" she asked, turning to greet Seamus and Dean, her around draped over Neville's shoulder. "Hi, you're Seamus, aren't you? And you must be Dean."
"Hi, Gwen, glad to meet you." "Right, I'm Dean."
The two boys stood there, grinning at her.
"We're on our way back to Hogwarts, taking the scenic route, through Edinburgh; going to check out the Festival," Neville informed her. "What are YOU doing here?"
"Picking up some supplies," she replied, jerking her thumb at the van. "And, no, we're NOT living anywhere near York. I just happened to know someone here, who could get us what we needed for the potion Anna's brewing."
"How /is /Aunt Anna...is she ok...what have you two been doing?" Neville asked in a rush.
"She's fine, we're fine, Winky's taking good care of us and we're safe. That's all I can tell you, /really/. I'm in a lot of trouble, as it is, being seen and talking to you three."
"Why? We won't tell anyone we saw /you/. Promise!" Neville reassured her. Seamus held up his hand and Dean crossed his heart.
"/I/ wouldn't have known who you were; it was Tut who recognized you," said Seamus. "He honked the horn, not me!"
"Really?" Gwen turned to the motorcycle and bent down to look the headlight 'in the eye', so to speak. "Hello, Tut, it's been a while. Seamus been taking good care of you, then, has he?"
The headlight blinked and nodded.
"I'll tell Anna you said hello, ok?" Another nod. "Good boy, Tut." Gwen patted him.
"Did you and Aunt Anna hear about the attack at the Burrow, day before last?" Neville asked.
"Yes, we did. Christopher told us what happened and Remus sent an owl. You were there at St. Mungo's weren't you, Neville?"
He nodded. "Yeah, Luna and I went to the Burrow and then figured out where everyone was and caught up with them. It was scary, but nobody panicked. Be sure and tell Aunt Anna that; all our training paid off."
"That much, she figured out already. She's really proud of how you all reacted and that no one was hurt, except Bill, of course. Did Remus tell you about the serum?"
"Yes, Healer Pye and Bill's Healer are working together on testing it. They'll be able to gauge the results with next week's full moon, I suppose."
"Will that serum really help Professor Lupin?" Dean asked.
"We're cautiously optimistic that he'll slowly build up the anti-bodies needed to keep his transformations totally under control. And, that it'll keep Bill from being infected at all," Gwen told them, smiling. "Well, much as I'd like to stand here and chat, I do have a lot to do today, and a schedule to keep, so..."
Gwen held out her arms and got a big hug from Neville, and then from Seamus and Dean. The boys climbed back onto Tut and she waved them on their way. Gwen shook her head, got into the van, pulled out into the traffic and headed south.
"I am in such deep guacamole; ratted out by an enchanted Harley!"
Smiling, she headed for her next stop, checking off 'bottles' from her list.
"What do you mean, it might have been Dumbledore? Was it Draco and Dumbledore you saw entering the house /or not/?" Voldemort's voice was shaking with suppressed rage.
"Master, they were both dressed in Muggle clothes and the man's beard and hair were very short, so I didn't realize who it might be until he turned and looked at me."
"/Looked/ at you? But you were wearing an invisibility cloak, were you not?"
"Yes, Master, but when I first saw the two of them coming down the street, I didn't recognize the man, just Draco, and then, only as they turned and walked up the stairs to the front door. I wasn't expecting to see Malfoy, ever/, in London, so it took me a few seconds to realize who he was. Draco looked in my direction and said something to...the man walking with him and as they entered the building he, I mean Dumbledore, if it /was Dumbledore, turned and looked directly at me and...smiled."
"He saw you? /Impossible/!"
The Death Eater kneeling on the floor raised his hands in supplication. "It happened so fast, Master; they were in the house before I could react. I beg your mercy, Master."
"Of course, I'll be merciful, fool; I'm not going to kill you for missing an opportunity to kill two of my most important targets."
"Oh, thank you, Mas.../Ahhhh/!"
The 'Crucio' spell hit the Death Eater and he was writhing on the floor. Voldemort stood over him, lazily waving his wand, lost in thought; furious that Draco and Dumbledore felt confident enough to stroll through the streets of London without, /apparently/, any worry about being seen.
'How DARE they! Well, they'llpay for their impertinence! I'll make sure of THAT! The cheek of that bloody codger, smiling as if he hadn't a care in the world! We'll see who smiles last, Albus, old man.'
Then Voldemort turned to devote his entire attention to punishing the Death Eater on the floor.
"WHAT? Neville? And Seamus and Dean?"
"They wouldn't have known it was me, but Tut knew and honked his horn at me! I swear I almost fainted dead away, right there in the street." Gwen handed Anna a small bag of groceries and then grabbed the last two bags, bumping the door closed with her hip. They walked into the house, though to the kitchen. Cissa and Eileen were seated at the table.
"Listen to this, you two." Anna put her bag on the table and sat down, shaking her head, pointing to Gwen.
"I saw Neville, Seamus and Dean in York. Tut honked his horn at me as I was crossing the street and Neville recognized me, even with the red hair," Gwen told them, with a smile on her face, setting down her load on the counter and turning to face them.
"Oh, my goodness!" exclaimed Cissa. "What were they doing in York?"
"Heading, apparently, on a scenic route back to Hogwarts via Edinburgh and the Festival. How they came to be all together, I didn't have time to find out. I figured the quicker I could get away, the fewer questions they'd have time to ask and the less chance I had of letting something slip out."
"Good thinking, Gwen," said Eileen. "Will they tell anyone they saw you, do you suppose?"
"No, they swore they'd keep it a secret."
"Oh, well, that's alright, then."
"I told them that we weren't living anywhere near York; that I just had to drive there for the bottles. So they don't have a clue, anyway." Gwen shrugged. "Short but sweet: 'Hey, how are you, good, good bye!'"
Anna scratched her ear. "Well, no harm done, then. You couldn't help it and there's nothing for it, in any case. Ok, ducky, /where's our cheeseburgers/? We're /starving/!"
"Ah, Harry. Welcome back."
The Headmaster turned toward the fireplace as Harry stepped out of the green flames and dropped his backpack into a chair.
"Evening, sir. Am I in time for dinner?"
"Yes, I was just going to stroll down. Care to join me?"
"Sure. Was Professor Snape released from St. Mungo's?"
"Yes, he came back just after Draco and I returned Friday afternoon."
"How's he feeling?"
"Fully recovered, it would appear; so he's back to his usual irascible self."
"To tell you the truth, I'd be worried if he was anything but!" Harry smiled and shook his head.
"I agree. By the way, Draco spotted a Death Eater watching Anna's house. He was using his sunglasses from the D.A. The Death Eater was across the intersection, wearing an Invisibility Cloak, and he looked positively gob-smacked to see us enter Anna's house." Dumbledore chuckled.
"A Death Eater? But we didn't see any earlier, when we came out of Anna's. Draco and I both looked around, remember?"
"Yes, well, perhaps the traffic was shielding our views or we left when there wasn't someone posted there. No matter; no harm done, but we probably got that Death Eater in a lot of trouble. Tom will NOT have been pleased to hear that we were walking about so freely, Draco especially." Dumbledore raised his eyebrow.
"I bet. HE!HE!HE Poor sod, he probably paid dearly for letting you two slip by him."
"Oh, no doubt. Well, shall we toddle down to dinner, Harry?"
"After you, sir."
"Hey, Harry!" Draco waved.
"Hey, yourself! Did you miss me?" Harry clapped Draco on the shoulder as he seated himself at the table.
"Oh, yeah, cried myself to sleep, both nights, boo hoo!" Draco wiped away an imaginary tear and sighed, before laughing and smiling at Harry.
"As if..." Harry grinned and rolled his eyes as he sat down. "Heard about the guy across the street," Harry whispered, leaning toward Draco. "Those glasses came in handy, didn't they?"
"Damn stylish, too," Draco whispered back, winking at Harry, who nodded.
"You must tell us all about the wedding, Harry," Madame Pomfrey spoke up, smiling at him.
"Not only can I tell you, I brought pictures."
"Really?" Professor McGonagall looked up in delight. "Oh, goody."
"Now, these are Muggle pictures, so they don't move, but they were ready to look at in about a minute after they were taken." Harry informed them, as he dug in a side packet of his cargo pants and pulled out a stack of photos.
"Oh, my," Professor Sprout exclaimed, as Harry handed them to her.
"It was just Mr. and Mrs.Weasley, Fleur's parents and her sister, Gabrielle, me, Hermione, Ron, Fred and George, Charlie, Tonks, Percy, Penny Clearwater and Professor Lupin...and Healer Pye...oh, and the vicar, of course...he looked vaguely familiar, too."
Albus smiled and shot Severus a look and winked.
"That would be my old friend, Henry Grant, Harry. He was kind enough to do the service for Pansy and her parents, also," he informed Harry.
"Oh...well...anyway, it was a short service, then a little bit of a reception. Bill and Fleur were happy and that's what counts, isn't it? Not where they were married or how big the ceremony was."
"True, Potter. In reality, you only need the bride, groom and vicar," Severus agreed, speaking for the first time.
Harry turned to him. "How are you feeling, Professor?"
"Quite well, Potter. I've already thanked Draco for his assistance the other day, but I must also thank you, for the use of your coin and your quick response to my having to activate it."
Digging in his pocket, he pulled out the Galleon, to give back to Harry.
"Keep it. I've already got another, new one." Harry held it up to show him.
"Very well; thank you again...Harry." Severus looked him straight in the eye and Harry could feel his genuine gratitude.
"Don't thank me, thank Anna; it was her idea, borrowed from Hermione."
"Why doesn't it surprise me to hear both of their names in connection with something so original and useful?" the Headmaster chuckled.
"Indeed," agreed Severus, as a small smile tugged at the corners of his mouth. "Positively frightening."
Severus took a seat behind his desk and regarded the two boys sitting in front to him. '/Now we'll get down to it./' he thought.
"The Dark Lord informed me he has instructed Crabbe and Goyle to inflict as much damage on your person, Draco, as they dare, without doing permanent harm...or killing you. Then, run to the gates and Apparate to him. I am to make sure they escape without being captured. "
"Lovely. Any idea when they plan on the fun and games to start?"
"Apparently, they have been given an event charm, so you're safe until you receive word that your Mother has given birth. Supposedly, they will act as they normally do, as far as you are concerned, but once they hear the 'good' news, it'll be 'bad' news for you. However, I don't think they'd jump up at the table in the Great Hall and start blasting spells at you, but rather, wait until they could get you to a secluded location," Severus' replied, brows knitted.
"Are Theo or Blaze in on the plan?" Harry asked, trying to cover all angles.
"I'm not aware of their involvement, but let us assume that they would join in, just for the fun, as it were."
"Could the D.A. be ready, in the Great Hall, anyway, just in case, when the owl comes with the message from...Mother?" Draco turned to Harry. "I'd feel better, knowing that they'd back me up."
"Don't worry, we'll be ready," Harry reassured him.
"That's why it is important that the plan you two came up with is successful. We know they will attack you, Draco, but knowing what they have planned, as far as spells or hexes are concerned, will help us formulate a defense plan." Severus leaned forward and rested his elbows on the desk, hands clasped in front of him. "You will have to take a few hits, so they can say they did what he sent them to do, but we want to have you prepared, as best we can, to be able to deflect the worst of them."
"The good news is; those two are lousy at spell work, at least they were last spring. Hopefully they haven't improved much." Draco leaned back, contemplating the fight to come.
"Whereas, working with Harry has greatly improved your reflexes and targeting," Severus pointed out.
"Yeah, you should be able to dodge the bad stuff and pick and choose what you could rebound from if hit. An occasional 'Rictusempra' you take a hit of and just tuck and roll and be right back on your feet," Harry added. "Plus, some diversionary spells would possibly panic them into taking off, after knocking you down, thinking they'd done the damage required."
"Indeed, and as we know, generally, when the attack will occur, I will be nearby, to start them on their way to the gates, to Disapparate before being captured. That much I must see to, that they do get away." Severus pointed out.
"Wish we didn't have to let them go, but if Voldemort suspects anything was rigged about this attack, Gregory and Vincent would die; even though it wasn't their fault, they'd bear the brunt of his wrath," Draco said, quietly. "I can't have any more deaths on my conscience; Pansy's is bad enough."
"What if...." Harry sat with his brows furrowed. "Voldemort changes his mind before they come back, and they attack Draco, well, anytime? How will we be able to help him?"
"The Headmaster has that possibility covered already, Potter." Severus had wondered if this would come up, and sure enough, Potter thought of the one 'loophole' in their plans. "You, Draco, will be followed and guarded by one of the Hogwarts house elves, 24 hours a day. You won't see them, but know they are there and will raise the alarm, should anyone start to attack you."
"Really? They'd do that for...me?"
"For Dumbledore...they'd do just that. You have changed, and they, apparently, have noticed. So, if keeping you under their watchful eyes helps you, Dumbledore and Harry Potter and will ultimately help defeat Voldemort, they will gladly take on the job. If you are in extreme danger, they will defend you themselves until help arrives."
"So, Miss Granger and Mad-Eye are taking care of the tumblers, which are arriving on the Express, and otherwise, we just have to wait and see how this unfolds," concluded Severus, as he sat back in his chair.
"That's about it." Harry nodded.
"Right, yippee." Draco whirled a finger around. "Think of the fun we'll have."
"But it will be fun, in a weird kind of way, Draco," Harry pointed out. "It's what Muggles call a 'sting'; we know what's going to happen and play them for suckers." He took his finger and brushed the side of his nose.
"Do you need a tissue, Potter?" inquired Severus.
"No," laughed Harry. "That's the signal that the plan is in motion and working. It's from a Muggle movie.
"Well, let's hope we get to use that 'signal' a lot, eh Harry?" Draco laughed and brushed his nose, imitating Harry's movement.
"Indeed, Draco," agreed Severus. "Now, let us discuss defensive spells, while we have the time before the Express arrives.
Ron and Hermione's meeting with the prefects was finished and as that group dispersed to roam the Hogwarts Express, the two of them sat in the prefect's lounge car, silently watching the countryside flashing by.
"Remember our first trip?" Ron asked, after a bit.
"Yes. You had dirt on your nose, just there." Hermione reminded him, pointing.
Ron put his arm around her and pulled her close. Hermione leaned her head on his shoulder and sighed.
"Our last year at Hogwarts; hard to believe, isn't it?"
"Yeah, if we survive..."
"Well, it's all coming together for the 'big scene', the 'big bang, the 'big battle', whatever/, isn't it?" What would /you call it?"
"I'm not trying to be funny, Ron, I'm just focusing on something /positive/. If anything happens before then we'll deal with it. Harry's ready, the D.A.'s ready; there's only so much we can do, so, let's just take it one day at a time. Ok?"
Ron looked at her, then smiled and bent and kissed her.
"You're right, 'mione. Sorry to be such a 'Gloomy Gus', but after the attack..."
"I know; we've seen more than most, but that means we know what we're talking about when it comes to keeping everyone up to snuff as far as defensive measures go. Right?"
"Right. Well, let's take a stroll through the train, shall we?"
He stood and pulled Hermione to her feet and into his arms for another kiss. She kissed him back, thoroughly, then pushed away from him.
"Ron, we better watch it, we're supposed to be setting a good example as the Head Boy and Girl."
"Only prefects are allowed in this section and we've sent the lot patrolling to the other end of the train, so relax."
"You are a very bad influence on me, Ronald Weasley."
"Oh, I sincerely hope so," replied Ron, as he lowered his lips to hers.
"Have you seen Neville?"
"Neville? Why, no, I haven't. Ron? /Ron/! Have you seen Neville?"
Ron, who had been talking with some of the younger Gryffindors in the next compartment, excused himself and ambled over.
"No, not yet, why, what's he done now?"
"It's what he hasn't done, like, get on the train/. I've looked everywhere, even the baggage car and he's /not here. Neither are Seamus Finnegan and Dean Thomas," Luna reported.
"Well, I happen to know that those two are riding Tut back to school. Dean told me about their plans when I phoned him about the attack last week," Hermione told them. "Maybe Neville's with them. Tut does have a sidecar; they could all fit."
"I suppose that could be what happened," said Luna, looking a bit relieved. "I thought maybe his Gran wouldn't let him come back to Hogwarts. There aren't that many on the train this year. Lots of people didn't come back and I haven't seen that many first years, either."
"Really? I though maybe everyone was just spread out and I was missing people while I was talking with somebody." Hermione looked around at Ron. "Had you noticed?"
"Come to think of it, the compartments aren't as crowded as I remember them being on all the other trips. I think Luna's right and some kids stayed home."
"Well, we'll soon find out, Hogsmeade is about a half hour away, so we better get changed, Ron."
"Right. See you at the feast, Luna."
"Yeah, see you later, Luna," echoed Hermione, as she took Ron's hand and pulled him away down the corridor.
"Oh, ok....ah, see you." Luna returned to her compartment, sat down and peered out the window, a single tear rolling down her cheek. "Boys."
Harry was sitting on a luggage cart parked at the side of the Hogsmeade station platform when the Hogwarts Express came chugging round the bend and glided to a halt in front of him. Doors opened and students emerged, looking around and waving to Harry and Hagrid, who stood holding his big lantern.
"First Years this way! Gather round, that's the ticket. First Years over here!"
Harry hopped off of the cart and strolled past the wide eyed youngsters crowding around the gentle giant that he knew Hagrid to be. He was remembering his first time on the platform, which made him shake his head and grin.
He looked up just in time to throw his arms out as Ginny launched herself at him.
"Ginny!" Harry spun her around. "Jeez, it's only been 4 days!"
"Shut up and kiss me!"
Harry obliged, to wolf whistles and giggling from the younger students passing by. Harry then greeted his other returning friends and fellow D.A. members. Soon everyone sorted themselves out and boarded the coaches for the ride up to the castle.
Alighting from the carriages, after spending the short ride up the drive engaging in some serious spit swapping, Harry, Ginny, Hermione and Ron joined the other students heading for the front doors of the school. Suddenly, a familiar sound caught their attention and most of the crowd turned around, straining their ears and eyes to figure out where the noise was coming from.
"Yeah, that's Tut alright, coming through the gates." Ron pointed to the distant, far end of the approach road.
"Can you tell who's riding on him, besides Seamus?" Ginny asked, trying to see, even though the swiftly deepening darkness was making it extremely difficult to identify the riders.
Tut, however, made short work of the drive and Seamus pulled into the courtyard and circled, parking Tut near the doors, while Dean and Neville waved merrily. As Seamus shut off the engine, the watching students were surprised to realize that the three boys had been singing, at the top of their lungs, all the way up to the school.
"WE'RE OFF TO SEE THE WILD WEST SHOW,
THE ANIMALS AND THE KANGAROO...OO...OO...OOOS,
NO MATTER WHAT THE WEATHER,
AS LONG AS WE'RE TOGETHER,
WE'RE OFF TO SEE THE WILD...WEST...SHOOOOW!!!
Throwing out their arms, they finished the chorus with a flourish and broke up laughing, waving to their friends and climbing off of Tut to applause and shouted greetings.
"So, you were with Seamus and Dean, eh, Neville?" Hermione gave him a hug.
"Yes, and I had a marvelous time! Why? Did you miss me, Hermione?"
"No, but Luna did. She was a bit uneasy that you weren't onboard the Express."
"Was she really? Hummm, imagine that."
Hermione gave Neville a perplexed look but he just grinned at her and then turned to greet some of the other students, Harry among them.
Ron held up his hand for quiet and then asked the question of the evening. "So, where have you three been then and what kind of trouble have you gotten yourself into?"
"/Us/? /Trouble/? No, no, this was a purely cultural experience, mate." Dean was quick to assure them.
Neville put an arm around each of his road trip buddies shoulders and began to list their exploits.
"That's right Dean; you and Seamus and I went to some to the most entertaining events of the year, didn't we? Let's see, we've been on the road a week; since last Thursday, actually, and went to the International Festival in Edinburgh for starts."
"Saw the Tattoo," added Dean.
"Quite impressive, by the way."
"Some of the Highland Games," offered Seamus."
"You wouldn't believe the size of those cabers!"
"Ate too much."
"But it was such good food!"
"Drank...well, not too much."
"Too many times!"
"Danced with some lovely girls."
"Had some laughs."
"A LOT of laughs!"
"Drank some more."
"Learned some drinking songs."
"Saw some shows and plays."
"Met some crazy people."
"A few more drinks, with our crazy new friends."
"Met some more girls."
"And danced some more."
"Drank some more."
"Basic silliness abounded everywhere and we had a great time," concluded Neville, Dean and Seamus, grinning, nodding their heads in agreement. "Why? What have you lot been up to, then?"
"Compared to that," Harry answered with a laugh, "/not a bloody thing/!"
Watching from a far corner of the courtyard, Gregory Goyle, Vincent Crabbe, Theo Nott and Blaze Zabini stood silently, scowling.
"Isn't that just...just..." Vincent started to say.
"Nauseating?" Draco finished, having walked up behind them, unnoticed.
"Draco!" Gregory spun around, then threw his arms around the tall blond boy and gave him a bear hug. "Hey, man, how are you?"
"I'm better now that you lot are back!" He greeted them all with equal enthusiasm. "Having Potter and only Potter, as my '/companion/' for the past month...Merlin's Beard! I thought someone had hexed the clock and you'd never get here."
They all laughed.
"So, what have you been up to, then?" Draco looked around at his dorm mates. "I've been up to my ass in dragon dung and potted plants!"
"Sprout worked you pretty hard, eh?" Crabbe snickered.
"Yeah and Hagrid, too; if I wasn't hauling dung, I was shoveling it!" Draco laughed. "Let's go in and leave Potter and his crew to their juvenile jollies." He shooed them toward the door.
"Right," replied Theo, who turned and led the Slytherins into the entrance hall.
Draco took a quick look toward Harry, who winked, put up his finger and flicked the side of his nose. Draco nodded and flicked his nose with his finger, then turned and followed the Slytherins into the castle.
It was true; there weren't as many returning students as there should have been, but it was mostly in the lower forms where there were noticeable numbers of absent members of all of the houses. All of the original D.A. had returned and those who had joined last year. Harry was trying to figure out, with Ron and Hermione, exactly who was missing and a rough number of how many students were present.
"Well, the incoming first years will give us a final total, but so far, there's about forty missing, mostly second and third years, and about four fourth years."
Hermione had been mentally going over her list of students, which she had almost memorized as part of her Head Girl duties. Ron list was crumpled in the bottom of his pants pocket.
"Flitwick just put the Sorting Hat on the stool, so the Sorting Ceremony should start any minute, now," reported Ginny, after checking that end of the Hall, in front of the staff table dais.
Neville searched for Luna over at the Ravenclaw table, and waved a cheery hello when she glanced his way. She looked at him with no expression on her face and then turned to talk to Lisa Turpin, without any sort of acknowledgement. Neville frowned and then shrugged.
"Wonder what the song will be this year?" Ron asked, brows furrowed.
"I just hope it's not as gloomy as last year's," Ginny replied.
"We could always pipe up with a couple of choruses of 'Wild West Show'," Dean offered, with a straight face.
"You wouldn't DARE!" Hermione looked over at him, shocked at the thought.
"Sure, why not?" questioned Seamus. "Bit more upbeat, that."
"But obscene, Seamus Finnegan, so, NO! Not here, not now." Neville shook his head, smiling.
"Really?" Ron looked with interest at Dean and Seamus. "You will be doing a rousing rendition when we get up to the dorm room, though? /Right/?"
Dean, Seamus and Neville all nodded, grins on their faces. Hermione, however, looked thoroughly appalled.
"You're in trouble, now, mate," observed Dean as Ron turned and saw the look on Hermione's face.
"/What/!?!" Ron asked as Hermione fumed.
Just in the nick of time, before Hermione could get started, the big doors to the Great Hall opened and Professor McGonagall led the group of new students up the center aisle to be sorted.
"Spread out and stand here," she instructed, pointing to the open space between the student tables and the Sorting Hat resting on the stool.
"They look so little," Ginny whispered to Harry, who nodded agreement.
"So did you," he whispered back, earning him a poke in the ribs.
The whispering being heard around the room stopped with one sweeping look from Professor McGonagall, who then turned toward the Sorting Hat and waited for the song to begin.
The Sorting Hat raised itself up and the mouth like slit in the brim opened, then closed, the Hat frowned, then the slit opened again.
Since a time long forgotten,
I have always done my song.
I've sorted all the students to
the house where they belong.
Those houses have their virtues
and strengths, we have no doubt.
But some, who have been sorted,
have done a turnabout.
I would never change my mind,
as you will all soon see,
last year I said, if you recall,
that harmony is the key.
Your house is where you belong,
when Sorted your first night..
It's just that, sometimes, people change
if they witness wrong and right.
Not everything they heard from birth,
is always the 'right' way.
So, live your life, choose your friends,
and now, I also say:
Continue learning, here at school,
not only what is taught,
But lessons shown you from afar,
they're closer to your heart.
I know, too, that we've suffered loss,
and not just one of us.
Loss of innocence came, it seems
with the words 'dust to dust'.
His classmates peeked at Draco, but quickly averted their eyes. Harry also dared to look over at Draco, who was staring, unfocused, at his hands, clenched on the table in front of him. Draco looked up and locked eyes with Harry, who nodded, slightly. Draco nodded back. Harry turned to the front, again, to continue listening.
Do not forget Miss Parkinson,
for she is with us still.
You will not see her at her grave,
up there, upon the hill.
A tear formed and slid down Draco's cheek, but he didn't bother to wipe it away.
But have no doubt, she's part of you
and she will always be
a student, friend and Slytherin,
who loved you all. You see
She was defiant, at the last;
she cursed him, 'ere she fell.
"To Tom 'Mud-Blood' Riddle,
may/ you rot in Hell/!"
Draco shot a look at Harry, remembering he'd made the same toast, only a little over a week before. Harry's eyes widened and looking over to Draco, silently mouthed 'Whoa!' Draco nodded.
She'd seen the truth, but wondered if
you/ /would ever know
how much she truly loved you all,
before he struck his blow.
Yes, I know this to be true,
but how, I cannot tell.
Remember Pansy, her bright smile
and laughter, like a bell.
She was sorted into Slytherin,
It seemed to be her right.
But, then she saw the truth,
and wished with all her might.
For you to know what she had learned,
so in her stead I'll say,
remember last's years Sorting song;
that togetherness is the way.
For Hogwarts to survive,
there soon will come the day,
When all of you will be as one,
keeping that evil at bay.
All of you working together,
fighting for your school.
Yes, I'll sort you into houses, four
but remember the Golden Rule.
Though Slytherins are ambitious,
And Gryffindors always brave,
Hufflepuffs, so hard working
and Ravenclaws, knowledge crave.
It will come down to Hogwarts,
the school is what we'll save.
Along with lives and way of life,
If we all will be but brave.
Ah, we must work together,
that much has been proved true.
We can survive and flourish,
if we do what we must do.
So be proud of your house name,
Cheer you Quidditch team,
Earn your points, have your spats,
But remember, I have seen.
You can all work together
If you would but have the heart,
Love this school, I know I do,
oh, one thing, before I start
Some of you will soon depart.
That is, of course, your choice,
But others will return to us
And for this we will rejoice.
Now, as you have indulged me
And let me have my say
I'll get back to the job at hand
Let the Sorting get underway!
Stunned silence hung over the Hall, and Professor McGonagall stood there for a few seconds, then turned to Dumbledore, who smiled and nodded. She shook out the parchment scroll she'd held clenched in her hand, and started calling the names of the new students, to come forward and be sorted.
Dumbledore stood as the dessert plates disappeared from the tables, to make his start of term announcements.
"Well, well, well, all fed and full, I imagine, so I'll keep my ramblings to a minimum. First years should know that the Forbidden Forest is off limits to all students. Also, first years, please take the time, when you have an afternoon free, to read the list of forbidden objects posted on the door of Mr. Filch's office.
"I must, of course, add my few words to those of the Sorting Hat, in reference to Miss Parkinson. She was a bright, friendly member of Slytherin house, a tireless supporter of the Slytherin Quidditch team and a founding member of the Dueling Society.
"She is sorely missed but not forgotten, by any of those who had the pleasure of knowing her over the last six years. She is indeed right here," he tapped his head, "and here," putting his hand over his heart,
"and especially...here," said Dumbledore, sweeping his hand to cover the Hall, but looking directly at Draco, seated at the Slytherin table.
"A toast, then," he proposed, picking up his goblet, watching as the entire student body and staff took up their goblets and rose as one. "To Pansy Parkinson!"
"To Pansy Parkinson!" everyone in the Hall echoed back.
"Thank you. Now I have three short announcements: There will be a Prefects meeting tomorrow before dinner, fifteen minutes should suffice. Also, Quidditch tryouts will start next weekend, so I would like a brief get together with the captains and Madame Hooch, say Friday next, after the evening meal, if that's agreeable with all of you.
"This year the post of Defense Against the Dark Arts will be taught by yours truly, with guest speakers at various points in the year. We will be having the pleasure of welcoming Professor Lupin, Alastor Moody and Nymphadora Tonks, an Auror on loan to us from the Ministry, to supplement my lessons."
Loud applause greeted that announcement, especially from the D.A.
"That's what the Sorting Hat was talking about!" Ron looked around at the others. "Blimey!"
The Head master held up his hand for silence. "Is there anything else we need to discuss? Any other announcements? No? Alright then, Prefects, see to your first years and I'll expect all of you tomorrow for breakfast, bright eyed and bushy tailed. Off you go!"
Hermione started toward the door but stopped next to Harry and leaned close. "Do you think he'll be alright?"
"He'll be fine." Harry whispered back.
She nodded and continued out of the Hall. Harry walked slowly up the length of the table, keeping an eye on Draco, who was chatting with Theo Nott, Crabbe and Goyle following along behind. They met at the open door and stopped.
The whole group stood there, in silence, for a few seconds.
"Well, see 'ya." Harry stated, heading off to Gryffindor tower.
"Unfortunately," Draco responded, bringing cackles of laughter from his cronies.
Inwardly, Harry smiled. '/Good one, Draco/.' he thought.
The 7th year Slytherins were making their way down the stairs to their common room, deep in the dungeons of Hogwarts. Draco was telling them about Narcissa, the unicorn foal.
"/And/ I'll admit, even though I know you will give me weeks of guff about it; I really got a great feeling of having been helpful around here over the holiday, at least as far as that little unicorn was concerned. She liked me for who I am; not my name, not /my money or..." Draco stopped in front of a mirror, checking out his reflection. "My /dashing good looks!"
The others laughed at that.
"Anyway, as I was...." He stopped as he spotted something. "Oh, good, they're here!"
Draco bounded down the last few steps into the common room and over to the table, on which was sitting a large box addressed to him. The rest followed, curious, to say the least.
"What's in the box, Draco?" Theo asked, peering over his shoulder.
"Lads...and ladies," replied Draco, bowing to Millicent, Daphne, Tracey and Silvia. "I took the liberty of ordering some new tumblers for the drinks cabinet; a gift to all of you, to take home with you at the end of this year as a reminder of our 7th year as Slytherins. Now," he continued, as he ripped open the sealed flaps. "Let's see...oh, good; gift wrapped and everything. Here, Blaze, Silvia, Daphne..."
Draco handed out the boxes, wrapped in silver paper with the names tags dangling from the green ribbon and bow. As they were opened and the new tumblers held up to the light for inspection, his classmates oh'd and ah'd over the quality and beautifully engraved names.
"They are exquisite, Draco!" Millicent gushed. "Thank you so much. Where ever did you get them?"
"Thanks Milly. I owled Mother's favorite shop and ordered them, requesting they be here by tonight. No doubt they were shipped on the Express. Anyway, let's do our official first toast, shall we?"
Heading for the cabinet, Draco reached into the bottom and pulled out a new bottle. He broke the seal and poured a small measure. Holding it up, he swirled it around, sniffed, continued to swirl the liquor around gently and turned to grin at the others.
"Bottle of Father's 'good stuff'; been saving it for a special occasion and I think this qualifies."
Handing the bottle to Vincent, Draco stood and watched the others pour liberal amounts into their new tumblers, swirling the contents as he was but by doing so, reactivating the 'Veritaserum'. When everyone had their drink poured, he stepped up onto the hearth.
"People!" They turned to him. "I know what's happened since I saw you last made you doubt me and my sanity. But all that is between me and the Dark Lord. It has nothing to do with our time together here at school. It's my problem, for after graduation. Right now, we're getting ready to finish our time at Hogwarts, but unfortunately, without the one person who would have made it an even better year for me and you lot, too. So, could we raise our first toast to Pansy Parkinson!"
"To Pansy!" "Pansy." "Here, here!" They all chorused and drank their first toast as 7th years.
Draco took Pansy's tumbler out of its box and put it on the shelf in the cabinet and then raised his glass in salute. The others followed suit, then took another gulp...all except Draco, who eyed the glass, stepped forward, straightened it and nodded in satisfaction. He lifted his tumbler to his lips, stopped, looked into it and turning, grabbed the bottle and splashed in a bit, passing the bottle to Gregory.
"Now, let's do some serious toasting! Ahhhh...Oh!" Raising his tumbler, he solemnly intoned, "To the Slytherin Quidditch Team: may we win the cup as I snatch the Snitch from Potter's outstretched fingers!"
"Here, here!" "Quidditch Team!"
"To Potter falling off his broom!"
"Here, here!" Everyone shouted and drank yet another swallow, except Draco, who was laughing heartily.
"Ok, Silvia, you think of one," urged Draco, as he reached into the cabinet for another bottle.
The boys' eyebrows went up and they elbowed each other, snickering. Draco noticed and grinned back, winking, setting the bottle on the table.
"Oh dear...well, ahhh...I hope Hermione Granger gets permanent hickey marks on her neck!"
"Oh, good one!" shouted Theo, laughing loudly and then he downed another gulp from his tumbler.
"I wonder if there's a charm for that?" Draco looked thoughtful and then roared with laughter, taking a small sip from his drink. Gregory grabbed the second bottle, opened it and refilled his and Theo's tumblers, passing the bottle to Vincent and Blaze.
Draco picked up the first bottle and circulated the room like a good host, topping off the girls drinks.
"Oops," he exclaimed, holding the bottle upside down, showing it empty. "Dead Muggle!"
They all laughed as he turned and tossed the bottle into the fireplace, shattering it on the stones. Going to the cabinet, he pulled out yet another bottle and put it on the serving tray.
"Just in case we should need a drop or two later," he stage whispered, winking at them.
"To toasts!" Gregory shouted, lifting his glass and taking another big gulp.
"Shhh!" Millicent whispered at him. "Keep it down, we don't want old Snapey-poo crashing the party and ruining all our fun!"
"True! Well, I'll fix /that/!" Blaze whirled around and cast a silencing charm on the doorway. "That'll keep all the noise in here and he can snore as loud as he wants, and it won't disturb us!"
They all laughed hysterically, falling back on the cushions of the sofas and congratulating Blaze for thinking of just the right charm. Draco sat on the arm of the sofa, tumbler in hand smiling and watching the group slowly getting louder and sillier. He smiled and waited, nursing his drink.
'/Drink up, lads, that's the ticket/,' he thought '/and this had better work/.'