By = Fayanora
Chapter Three: Willow Pond
Notes: Okay, so I forgot the collective already knew History had a new teacher, and I forgot Binns was gone already, from Remus having been the teacher for that one the year before. I really need a beta to keep my poor memory in check. Anyway, I have now edited this chapter. If you read it before, you may want to reread it. Or not. Your decision.
I have decided to slightly change the styles for the internal speech of the various Potters, because the previous note about the styles was messing with the formatting. From now on, 'Single quotes with no italics' will be Adira/Addy, ~Text in tildes~ will be Chandra, [Brackets will be Hypatia], # Pound signs for Mother/Avani #, and as to the rest, probably either single quotes or something like that.
Sorry for the long wait. I was ill for two or three weeks with a head cold that refused to give up without a protracted fight.
This is the second chapter of the sequel to “The Many Faces of Har---er, Adira Potter.” If you haven't read that series yet, this one isn't going to make much sense.
Also, a reminder for anyone who forgot: the person formerly known as Harry still exists, she's just transgender in this one, her new name is Adira, nicknamed “Addy.”
Text in 'Italics and British quotes' is Parseltongue.
Things taken directly from canon will be scarce now, as the plot is massively diverging now.
J. K. Rowling owns this sandbox, I'm only playing in it.
When she was done speaking with Snape, Addy invited Ron and Hermione up to her room to tell them about Hypatia.
Ron and Hermione sat on her bed as she paced back and forth, working up the nerve.
“What's wrong?” Hermione asked.
Addy paused and turned to them. “I've got something to tell you two, that I've only just now gotten permission to tell you.”
“I've... sort of been lying to you two since not long after Iliana's first date with Luna. Ron, Hermione, do you remember us talking with you about our suspicions about a secret, sleepwalking member of our collective?”
They both nodded, but remained silent.
“Well... I told you around Easter we'd been mistaken. But uh... the truth is, there was another person in our collective, sneaking around at night.”
“What?!” said Ron. “Why didn't you tell us?”
“Because she didn't want anyone to know about her. It's... her reasons are complicated but sound.”
“So it's another girl?” Ron said. “That makes... let's see... Zoey, Iliana, you, Mother, and now this new one, so five? Five girls out of... eight people?”
“So what's her name, this new one, and why is she a secret?”
“Well... for one, she isn't new. She's been with us the whole time, but the rest of us only became aware of her recently. Avani – Mother, that is – knew, of course, but couldn't say anything. Anyway... her name is Hypatia.”
Addy told them both the whole story, pausing in a couple places to drink some warm, honey-sweetened tea to soothe her throat.
“Wow,” Ron said, when she was finally done. “That's... wow.”
[This one's a real brain trust,] Hypatia snarked in Addy's head.
'Hush, you,' Addy thought back at her.
“So she's still to remain a secret, then? Because of Malfoy?” Hermione asked.
Ron frowned. “I can't believe one of you is friends with that git.”
“Yeah, Al's not happy about it either. But there's not much he can do about it.”
“What about you? What do you think about it?”
She shrugged. “I'd rather it wasn't happening. But at the same time... she might get him on our side. Or at least stop him from being really horrible. But, uh... we're going to have to leave him alone from now on. I mean, don't attack him without provocation, and don't escalate. It's hard to recognize bullying when you're the one doing it, sometimes. Apparently.”
Hugging herself, Addy said, “Yeah. We saw some things in a vision...” A thought struck her, and she asked, “Ron? When Zoey was frightening you with those fake spiders, why didn't you... I mean, I'd have thought you'd have been angrier than that. Especially with her half-arsed apology.”
“What? Oh, that. Um... dunno. I mean, she's a kid, right? And anyway, I've put up with worse from Fred and George.”
“She's childlike, and takes the form of a little kid, but she's not actually a child,” Addy said. “Couldn't be, could she, with our collective memory? She knows everything the rest of us know. Well, mostly.”
“Oh. I guess I hadn't thought of that. So are you saying I should be angry with her?”
“I dunno. I mean, it's not like she was trying to be mean on purpose. She doesn't always seem to know where the line is, so she crosses it unintentionally sometimes. Or doesn't think ahead about how others might react, or both. Al's the same way with Malfoy and his bookends.”
Addy's eyes turned one blue and one hazel, and tears welled up in them. “I'm sorry I did that with the spiders and then the canary cream thingy,” Zoey said with Addy's voice. “That was wrong of me. I won't do it again. I'll try to think before I act more. You could've decided to hate me for doing that, and that makes me sad. I don't want to risk you hating me!”
She burst into tears and hugged Ron, who looked startled and then awkward, patting her shoulder awkwardly. Mid-pat, she shifted, without glowing, to her own form.
“There there,” he said. “It's fine, I forgive you.”
“What did you and Al see in your vision that's made you like this?” Hermione asked.
When she'd stopped crying and wiped her eyes, she said, “Some adults talking. Snape, Dumbledore, McGonagall, and some black woman we didn't recognize. Snape was telling them all about times we've done stuff that was bullying, and he was right. It was eye opening. We don't wanna be like that anymore. We need to apologize to Malfoy, his bodyguards, and Rita Skeeter, too.”
The two of them spoke at the same time. “Rita Skeeter?” - “Malfoy?”
“Yes. Rita, because we pinned her to the ceiling. She could have pressed charges for assault, and didn't for some reason. Malfoy because we went too far with him, so many times. Then that stuff I did in first year with his hair and the photos I took of it. I need to track those photos down and give them to him to destroy. Oh, and that time I got him in trouble for being out after curfew. I hid him somewhere he didn't know where he was, that musta been really scary, and I didn't even consider that. I don't want Malfoy to end up like Snape, bitter and mean cuz he was bullied.”
Ron snorted. “I'd say it's a bit late for that. Dunno about 'bitter,' but he's been mean since long before he even met you lot.”
She shrugged. “Still gotta try. I don't wanna be like Dudley.” She shuddered at the thought.
[Good. Go through with it, all of you, and show you can all keep from doing it again, and I'll reconsider wanting to be associated with you lot,] Hypatia told her.
She nodded in response, her gaze and her thoughts far away.
Finally, she stood up and said, “I'm gonna take a nap I think.”
The rest of their time at Order headquarters before school was uneventful, mostly Iliana and Luna spending time cuddling and/or talking with each other, since she couldn't practice Quidditch.
While getting ready on the morning they would be going to school, Addy helped the twins with the trunks, putting a Featherlight charm on them before the twins made them fly down the stairs. It was a good thing she was helping, too, because one of the trunks hit Ginny. Feather-light as they were, this didn't do more than slightly annoy Ginny, but Mrs. Weasley was shouting at the twins about it.
“COULD HAVE DONE HER A SERIOUS INJURY, YOU IDIOTS!”
Hermione came hurrying into the room looking flustered, just as Adira was putting on her shoes. Hedwig was swaying on her shoulder, and she was carrying a squirming Crookshanks in her arms. The owl fluttered obligingly over and perched on top of her cage.
“Are you ready yet?”
“Nearly,” Addy said. “We just have to wait for Mrs. Weasley to calm down.”
“Not just that,” Hermione said. “Now Mad-Eye's complaining that we can't leave unless Sturgis Podmore's here, otherwise the guard will be one short.”
“Well that's easily dealt with,” Addy said.
“Since we got our powers back, something we saw in that vision made us realize something important. We've been practising because of it, and now... watch.”
Addy dropped in height by over a head, turned blond with blue eyes, and her entire face changed shape, becoming rounder and more youthful. She was completely unrecognisable, and looked like a first-year girl. A moment of concentration, and her robes shrunk to fit her.
“Pretty cool, huh?” Addy said, even her voice sounding like that of an 11 year old girl.
“How are you doing that?”
“Well as it turns out, our magic isn't unique at all. This body is a metamorphmagus with a bit of natural transfiguration ability thrown in for good measure.”
The twins came into the room then and, seeing Addy, leaped back with their wands out.
“Intruder! Who are you?”
“It's me, Adira,” she said in her own voice this time.
“Woah... is this someone new to the collective?” asked one of the twins.
“No, Fred. I just figured out I can metamorph, is all. Like Tonks, you know. Seems that's what lets us transform, it just manifested weirdly because of being a multiple. So weirdly the so-called experts were flummoxed.”
“Someone say my name?” Tonks said, coming into the room.
Hermione and Addy explained once again about Addy being a metamorph. In response, Tonks said, “Cool!” and changed herself to match Addy in all but hair color and face shape, being a brunette instead.
“Now we're just two firsties, two little friends! What's your alias? I'm gonna be Hyacinth Jones.”
“Cool! I'll be Willow Pond, then. We can say we both grew up in a suburb of London together. You're a wizard-raised halfblood, and I'm a Muggleborn. We've been friends since kindergarten.”
'Hyacinth' grinned at her, and they saw she was missing a tooth. “You're good at this, Willow!”
“Hold on a moment,” Addy said. A beat or two later, she had a mole on one side of her neck and one ear was slightly larger than the other.
Then they had to explain what they were doing all over again to Mrs. Weasley and Mad-Eye Moody.
“Ha!” Moody barked, grinning. “Excellent. I almost want something to happen now, just so I can see the look on some Death Eater's face when two first-years start hexing him into a lump. I'm going to have to write this one down in the Auror handbook. Nobody ever pays enough attention to children; they'd never expect an Auror to be disguised as a child. Good on you, lasses.”
Before leaving, Moody cast glamours on Mrs. Weasley to make her look like she was related to 'Hyacinth.' He also changed the sound of her voice. The new plan, which he made up on the spot, was to send the others ahead and for some of this advance guard to break off like they weren't really with the group at all, to casually hide around the crowds to watch for trouble while Mrs. Weasley, Tonks, and Addy would come in from the Floo like they were just regular people. To do this, Mrs. Weasley would side-along Apparate with them into the Leaky Cauldron and use the public Floo there. But first, the others would Floo in from the Burrow. Moody provided them with several Portkeys to do this, which he could only do because they were under a Fidelius. Using a Portkey wasn't easily detectable, but making one would normally set off a great many Ministry alarms.
Completing the plan, they decided that if anyone asked how Addy was getting to school, they were to say that Addy had already Flooed ahead to Dumbledore's office by special permission.
“Why couldn't she just do that?” Hermione asked.
“Dumbledore doesn't want us using the Floo between here and anywhere else except by emergency, since the Ministry will be watching the Floo network, and Riddle will have some of his lickspittles in the Ministry,” Moody said. “By the way, kids, if you ever find you need to Floo over here, the Floo address is 'The Doghouse,' so you don't go giving away the location by accident. But again, only Floo here in an emergency. Also, don't bring anyone along who isn't already in on the secret, the wards are set to body-bind and Incarcerous anyone whose name isn't in the ward book.”
“It also makes an almighty racket,” Sirius said. “Good thing the noisy portraits are all dealt with. Anyway, this is Order headquarters, Dumbledore would prefer you not come here unauthorized.”
“It's fine,” Addy said. “Sirius will be at school. This house will largely be empty, from what I understand.”
“We need to hurry or we'll be late!” Mrs. Weasley said.
“Right,” Moody said. He sent messenger Patronuses ahead to the others because it was faster for him than his slow stumping about.
While they waited for the others to finish getting their new orders, Sirius said, “Nippy!”
A young-looking house elf appeared before them and bowed. “Yes, master Sirius sir? What can Nippy be helping with?”
“Take all these trunks ahead to the Hogwarts Express, will you please?”
“Of course, master Sirius sir,” Nippy said. She and the trunks immediately disappeared with a pop.
“You have a house elf now?” Addy asked.
“Yes. The house actually came with one, his name is Kreacher, but he and I hate each other very much. So as soon as Dumbledore wanted this place for the Order, I ordered Kreacher to another property and got Nippy to replace him. Good riddance, too; Kreacher was worse than useless. This place was so horribly filthy because of him that calling it a pigsty would have been the understatement of the century. Horrible old monstrosity never did a lick of work around here, just pined over my mother's old portrait. I had to ward against him, too, or he'd just come back anyway, orders or no orders.”
“Wouldn't the Fidelius keep him away?”
“Yeah, it does. But it's always better to be safe than sorry. Not sure how well the Fidelius works against house elves after all, and this did used to be his home.”
“Why didn't you free him?” Hermione asked.
“Because the shock would probably kill him. And anyway, better to have him under my control, since he hates me as much as Dobby hates the Malfoys, though for different reasons. He can't stab me in the back if I've ordered him not to.”
“You hope,” Addy added.
Anything else that might have been said was cut off then, for the advance guard was in place and it was time for Hermione, Ron, the twins, Luna, and Ginny to be escorted through by Sirius and Moody. A few more minutes after that, and Mrs. Weasley had Tonks and Addy side-along Apparated to the Leaky Cauldron. Adira was pleased that nobody recognized her (her hair was covering the scar that never went away, and a sticking charm kept it there) as they walked from the Apparition point to the Floo.
To keep up appearances, Addy and Tonks chatted about Hogwarts as though they were excited firsties, as their disguises said they were. It was made easier by letting Zoey take the reins without changing their form.
Mrs. Weasley was in a glamour disguise that made her appear ten years younger, 20 pounds lighter, and gave her the same shade of brown hair that Tonks was currently sporting. Her voice was different as well, thanks to a Voice Altering Charm.
Grabbing a pinch of Floo powder, she tossed it in and had Tonks go through first. “King's Cross Station!” Tonks said, disappearing into the flames.
Addy was next, and she ended up running right into Tonks, knocking them both over.
“Oops,” Tonks said. “Guess my clumsiness is rubbing off on you.”
“The Floo hates me. Magical transportation in general hates me,” Addy said.
They moved out of the way just in time for Mrs. Weasley to pop in from the Floo. She wasted no time getting them within sight of Sirius and Moody, who were acting oddly in a way Addy couldn't figure out at first. She watched them for several minutes as the crowd milled around; the train hadn't even started boarding yet, most students were talking on the platform. This made Tonks and Addy two of the few people getting onto the train.
She kept watching Sirius and Moody out the window until she finally figured out what they were doing. They were somehow making it seem like Addy was under the invisibility cloak and trying to get through the crowd without bumping into anyone. Clever, that.
When Hermione, Ron, and Luna arrived in their compartment, Hermione used her wand to tint the windows black so Adira could change back to her usual self. Tonks changed to look Addy's age, but a boy, and stayed in the compartment.
“Who are you now?” Addy asked.
In a flawless American accent Tonks said, “American student visiting Hogwarts, in case I want to switch to a Hogwarts education. Call me Jacob Jackson.”
“And how are you explaining your presence in our compartment?”
“You and me are distant cousins, of course. It's not even a lie, so that's the brilliance of it!”
Addy shrugged. “Okay.”
“Anyway, Addy,” Hermione said, “as I'm a prefect, I have to go into the prefect carriage to start my duties.”
“Okay, drop in on us later if you have time,” she said.
“Will do,” she said as she left.
Luna sat next to Adira, who looked at her and then switched over to Iliana. Luna leaned her head on Iliana's shoulder. Ron sat across from the two of them and got out a book about the Chudley Cannons to read.
Before long, Neville popped into the compartment to say hi.
“Hi guys! I'm a prefect now! Gran is really proud of me!”
“Thanks. But I really don't know how it happened, to be honest.”
“Well... Of the boys in our year in Griffindor, you're the most well behaved, Neville.”
“Yeah, but I don't... I mean... I don't think people listen to me. And my grades aren't great.”
“You work hard and do your best, I think Dumbledore and McGonagall must know that. As to the other part, Neville... you stood up to Malfoy in our first year. Don't think about your perceived flaws, just think about doing what's right. You've got power now, Neville, you should use it.”
He nodded absently. “I'll keep that in mind. Thanks, Iliana. I gotta go now.”
“See you later, Neville!”
A few minutes later, Ginny came by and sat next to Ron. She looked at Iliana and Luna, who were having a conversation in wizarding sign language now. She ignored them and began to chat with the disguised Tonks.
After who knew how long, Hermione and Neville finally showed up again. Neville's stomach grumbled loudly, and Iliana gave him a sandwich she'd packed – the trolley only ever had sweets on it, which was stupid because the trip was so long they should at least have afternoon tea with decent food at some point, especially since the train always loaded around lunch time.
“Thanks, Iliana, I'm starving,” Neville said.
“You're welcome. So, how'd it go?”
“Well, there are two fifth-year prefects from each House,” said Hermione, looking thoroughly disgruntled as she took her seat. “Boy and girl from each.”
“And guess who’s a Slytherin prefect?” asked Neville after swallowing first.
“Not Malfoy?” Ron said, aghast.
Neville nodded. “Yeah, it's Malfoy.”
“How?” Iliana asked. “He can't be the best behaved Slytherin in his year. Surely even Blaise Zabini would be preferable.”
“Politics, I think,” Neville said. “Zabini's mom and Dumbledore don't get on well. Of course, neither does Malfoy senior, but apparently Malfoy junior has the best grades of the Slytherin boys in his year, and so Dumbledore probably couldn't find a reason to not give it to him. But you're right, even Zabini would be preferable to Malfoy.”
[He gets good grades as well, the best in his year in Slytherin. If it wasn't for Hermione, he'd be the best in our year period, grades-wise,] Hypatia thought at Iliana.
Iliana didn't know how to pass this on, so she ignored it.
“Yeah. I don't know a lot about Zabini,” Iliana said, “but he seems a lot more fair and decent than Malfoy, from what I've heard.”
[He can be a bit Griffindorish when upset, yes, but he's still sore over you rejecting his friendship,] Hypatia thought-spoke.
'Can you stop that please, it's distracting?'
Hypatia sent Iliana a mental image of a little girl sticking her tongue out at her.
'Real mature, Hypatia.'
Neville nodded at her assessment of Zabini. As he did, he finally noticed the boy that Tonks appeared to be. “Hello. I'm Neville Longbottom. Who are you?”
“That's Auror Tonks,” Iliana said. “She's my bodyguard until we get to Hogwarts.”
“I'm a metamorphmagus,” Tonks explained. “But for now, my alias is Jacob Jackson, and I'm Iliana's cousin from America.”
“Okay. But why do you need a bodyguard?” Neville said, going back to his sandwich.
“Because Voldemort is back, remember?” Iliana said.
Neville flinched slightly, then nodded, still eating.
“Who's the Slytherin prefect among the girls?” Iliana asked Hermione.
“That complete cow Pansy Parkinson,” said Hermione viciously. “How she got to be a prefect when she’s thicker than a concussed troll...”
“Who’s Hufflepuff?” Ginny asked.
“Ernie Macmillan and Hannah Abbott,” said Neville. “I like Hannah. Not sure about Ernie.”
“And Anthony Goldstein and Padma Patil for Ravenclaw,” said Hermione.
“I like Anthony,” Luna said, pulling a copy of the Quibbler out of her robes. “He once told off someone for stealing my shoes.”
“Anyway, we’re supposed to patrol the corridors every so often,” Neville told Iliana and Ron, “and we can give out punishments if people are misbehaving.” Neville looked like the idea of doing that terrified him.
“Man, I wish I could be a prefect,” Ron said. “It'd be brilliant to get Goyle or Crabbe for something.”
“We’re not supposed to abuse our position, Ron!” said Hermione sharply.
“Yeah, right, because Malfoy won’t abuse it at all,” said Ron sarcastically.
“So you’d descend to his level?”
“No, I’d just make sure I got his mates before he got mine.”
“For heaven’s sake, Ron —”
“I’d make Goyle do lines, it’d kill him, he hates writing,” said Ron happily. He lowered his voice to Goyle’s low grunt and, screwing up his face in a look of pained concentration, mimed writing in midair. “I … must … not … look … like … a … baboon’s … backside. …”
Everyone laughed, but nobody laughed harder than Luna. She let out a scream of mirth that caused Hedwig to wake up and flap her wings indignantly and Crookshanks to leap up into the luggage rack, hissing. Even Aqua the grass snake poked out of Iliana's robes to glower at Luna. She laughed so hard that her magazine slipped out of her grasp, slid down her legs, and onto the floor.
“That was funny!”
Her prominent eyes swam with tears as she gasped for breath, staring at Ron. He sighed, recognizing one of her laughter fits.
Neville, on the other hand, was utterly nonplussed; he looked around at the others, who were now laughing at the expression on his face and at the ludicrously prolonged laughter of Luna, who was rocking backward and forward, clutching her sides. Tonks was looking perplexed as well.
“I guess neither of you have seen one of Luna's laugh attacks,” Iliana said. “The first one I ever saw her have, she ended up in the hospital wing for a calming draught.”
Tonks's eyes widened at this.
“Baboon’s … backside!” Luna choked, holding her ribs, her eyes streaming with amused tears.
Iliana leaned over to pick up Luna's magazine, and while her girlfriend was still laughing up a storm, Iliana started to read it. She had noticed something that made her dive for it. Upside down it had been hard to tell what the picture on the front was, but Iliana now realized it was a fairly bad cartoon of Cornelius Fudge; she only recognized him because of the lime-green bowler hat. One of Fudge’s hands was clenched around a bag of gold; the other hand was throttling a goblin. The cartoon was captioned: How Far Will Fudge Go to Gain Gringotts?
She turned to the indicated page, where it was a fairly ludicrous article about how Fudge was a horrible anti-goblin bigot who'd had loads of goblins assassinated, including baking them in pies. She laughed at this absurdity; the Quibbler was always fun to read.
Reading through it, she found another article that caught her eye: 'Sirius Black Continues Denials He Is Actually Stubby Boardman.' The article explained that Sirius Black was actually Stubby Boardman, retired lead singer of The Hobgoblins. The fan who wrote it had apparently tried to convince Sirius to come out of retirement and get the band back together, but Sirius had denied the allegation that he was Stubby Boardman. The article continued to say that the author had known he was innocent all along because she and Stubby had been having a romantic candle-lit dinner the night he supposedly was tracking down Pettigrew. Iliana made a mental note to give Sirius a copy of this issue of the Quibbler for him to read. She gave this copy back to Luna by setting it next to her on the seat. This was because Luna had slumped out of her chair and was recovering from her giggle fit on the floor, mostly quiet but occasionally tittering into her hands.
“Guess what I got for my birthday?” said Neville.
“Another Remembrall?” Addy asked with Iliana's voice, remembering the marblelike device Neville’s grandmother had sent him in an effort to improve his abysmal memory.
“No,” said Neville, “I could do with one, though, I lost the old one ages ago. No, look at this.”
He dug the hand that was not keeping a firm grip on Trevor into his schoolbag and after a little bit of rummaging pulled out what appeared to be a small gray cactus in a pot, except that it was covered with what looked like boils rather than spines.
“Mimbulus mimbletonia,” he said proudly.
Iliana and company stared at the thing. It was pulsating slightly, giving it the rather sinister look of some diseased internal organ. Magical plants really did tend to be very weird.
“It’s really, really rare,” said Neville, beaming. “I don’t know if there’s one in the greenhouse at Hogwarts, even. I can’t wait to show it to Professor Sprout. My great-uncle Algie got it for me in Assyria. I’m going to see if I can breed from it.”
“Er, cool,” Iliana said. She knew Herbology was Neville's best subject. “Does it do anything?”
“Loads of stuff!” said Neville proudly. “It’s got an amazing defensive mechanism — hold Trevor for me. …”
He dumped the toad into Iliana’s lap and took a quill from his schoolbag. Luna looked up from the floor, watching what Neville was doing. Neville held the Mimbulus mimbletonia up to his eyes, his tongue between his teeth, chose his spot, and gave the plant a sharp prod with the tip of his quill.
Liquid squirted from every boil on the plant, thick, stinking, dark-green jets of it; they hit the ceiling, the windows, and spattered Luna’s magazine. Ginny, who had flung her arms up in front of her face just in time, merely looked as though she was wearing a slimy green hat, but Iliana, whose hands had been busy preventing the escape of Trevor, received a face full. It smelled like rancid manure.
Neville, whose face and torso were also drenched, shook his head to get the worst out of his eyes.
“S-sorry,” he gasped. “I haven’t tried that before. … Didn’t realize it would be quite so … Don’t worry, though, Stinksap’s not poisonous,” he added nervously, as Iliana spat a mouthful onto the floor.
“Wotcher, Iliana,” said the disguised Tonks. “I'll clean it up.”
“No, I'd better do it,” Ginny said.
“Oh, right. I'm not great with householdey spells.”
Ginny pulled out her wand and said, “Scourgify!” All the sap disappeared, though the odor lingered. Tonks got her own wand out and freshened the air with it.
Just in time, too. The compartment door opened again, and there stood Draco Malfoy and his two troll bookends.
“What do you want, Malfoy?” Iliana asked, doing her best impression of Malfoy's mother looking down her nose at scum.
“I just wanted to drop by to tell you that you can't get away with attacking me anymore, Potter, because I can give detentions now.”
“More proof the prefect system is broken and needs replacing,” she said, annoyed. Al had been intending to apologize to the little snot, but he just HAD to go and make that more difficult.
“Well I'd say it's working pretty well,” Malfoy drawled. “After all, you didn't get made a prefect. Although... they do apparently give badges to beavers and cowardly squibs, so you might have a point, Potter.”
Neville stood up, his wand drawn. Malfoy whipped out his own wand in response, but didn't look too worried.
“I have a new wand now, Malfoy. Turns out, my old wand – my dad's wand – was holding me back.”
Malfoy sneered at Neville. “Whatever you say, squib.”
“You're very lucky we're not at school yet, Malfoy,” Hermione said. “Or I'd give you a detention for your language.”
“I'm a prefect too, Granger. You can't give detentions to other prefects.”
“More's the pity,” she said, looking sour.
“Hey Potter, how's it feel to be second best to Longbottom?”
“Malfoy,” Neville said, “I'm not taking your crap anymore. I'm not a squib, and unlike before, now I know that for sure. Watch this.”
He pointed his wand at a Chocolate Frog on the seat nearby and with a swish and a flick, whispered “Wingardium leviosa.”
The Chocolate Frog flew at the ceiling so fast it flattened against the ceiling. Everyone in the compartment – Malfoy and his goons included – stared wide-eyed at this display of power. Tonks's jaw had dropped comically at the sight.
Iliana turned to Malfoy and said with a smirk, “It feels pretty good to see Neville succeed, actually.”
Without another word, Malfoy and his bookends left the compartment, closing the door behind them.
“That was brilliant, Neville! Malfoy looked like he was going to be ill!”
“Thanks, Iliana,” he said, sitting down again. He looked embarrassed. “I uh... apparently I have a problem with putting too much power into my spells now.”
“Well yeah, you've been pushing your magic through a wand that didn't match you for years, now you have one that matches, you'll have to learn how to stop compensating for a mismatched wand.”
“Yeah, I'll have to practice that.”
“Defense Against the Dark Arts is gonna be cool this year, Iliana,” Ron said. “Sirius isn't going to let Malfoy get away with any shite this year.”
Neville blinked. “Sirius? Your godfather is teaching Defense this year?”
“Yes. Dumbledore asked him, and he agreed on the condition it would only be a year, because of the curse.”
Neville grinned. “Yeah, that's going to be interesting. People are still getting used to the idea of Sirius being innocent. It's only been less than two years since he was released.”
“Yes, and Sirius being a teacher is going to be hard on the other teachers,” Hermione said. “McGonagall will remember when he was in school. And he doesn't seem to have grown up much.”
“Snape's gonna be livid,” said Ron with a smirk.
“I'm curious how he's going to dress,” Iliana said. “For some reason, I have a hard time picturing him wearing wizard robes.”
“Ha! If he dresses in his usual Muggle getup, the Slytherins are going to hate him. Except for Javier, I guess. That'll be hilarious.”
“I just hope he's a better teacher than Professor Hagrid,” Luna said. “I haven't heard many good things about him.”
“Are you taking Care of Magical Creatures this year, Luna?”
“Yes, even despite Hagrid. Kettleburn wasn't much better, from what I've heard. Lots of accidents in his class. At least Hagrid has a better record in that regard.”
“Yeah, Malfoy getting mauled for not paying attention in class, and then burns and stuff from the skrewts. But the skrewts are dead, of course.”
“Please, Malfoy did that on purpose; he was baiting Buckbeak.”
“No Ron, I don't think he's that suicidal. He's just rude to anyone he considers beneath him.”
“Wasn't Sirius at King's Cross?”
“Yeah, but he could easily Apparate to Hogsmeade,” Hermione said.
“True,” said Iliana, “But I'm betting he goes there on his motorbike.”
“Just as long as he doesn't fly it there in the middle of the day.”
Iliana leaned back, letting Luna lean against her shoulder again. It was still a long way to school, and she was tired.
At last the train began to slow down and they heard the usual racket up and down it as everybody scrambled to get their luggage and pets assembled, ready for departure. Neville and Hermione were supposed to supervise all this; they disappeared from the carriage again, leaving Iliana and the others to look after Crookshanks, Hedwig, and Arnan – Ron's long-eared owl.
“I'll carry Hedwig for you, Iliana, if you want?” Luna said.
“No need. Hedwig and Arnan can fly up to Hogwarts from here. But thanks for the offer.”
They opened the cages of the owls, and with a pair of looks from the two owls, they flew off toward the castle.
They shuffled out of the compartment feeling the first sting of the night air on their faces as they joined the crowd in the corridor. Slowly they moved toward the doors. Iliana could smell the pine trees that lined the path down to the lake. She stepped down onto the platform and looked around, listening for the familiar call of “Firs’ years over here … firs’ years …”
But it did not come. Instead a quite different voice, a brisk female one, was calling, “First years line up over here, please! All first years to me!”
A lantern came swinging toward Iliana and by its light he saw the prominent chin and severe haircut of Professor Grubbly-Plank, the witch who had taken over Hagrid’s Care of Magical Creatures lessons for a while the previous year.
“Where's Hagrid?” she asked aloud.
“I don’t know,” said Ginny, “but we’d better get out of the way, we’re blocking the door.”
“Oh yeah …”
Iliana kept looking for Hagrid. He couldn't have left, they would have heard something about it, she was sure.
She turned to Tonks, who was still disguised. “Do you know where Hagrid is?”
“Sorry, Iliana, I promised Dumbledore I wouldn't say. Anyway, I reckon you'll be fine once you get in the carriages. Wotcher!” she said, vanishing into the crowd, much to Iliana's annoyance.
As she approached the thestral-drawn stagecoaches, she took some roast beef leftovers from last night she'd had in her pocket and fed the nearest thestral some meat. They preferred raw meat, but they apparently wouldn't say no to cooked meat. As she fed them, several people stared in fear at the pieces of meat disappearing into thin air, from their point of view. Only people who had seen someone die could see thestrals, and if Iliana hadn't already met that criteria after killing Professor Quirrell in her first year, she would after witnessing Mother's super-powered patronus using arrows to make Death Eaters explode into tiny chunks last June.
“The stagecoaches are drawn by thestrals,” she explained to some terrified second-year students watching the meat vanish from her hand. “There's gentle creatures, thestrals. But only people who've seen people die can see thestrals.”
This did not seem to reassure anyone listening, so she stopped trying. When the meat was gone, she got in the coach next to Luna.
A short distance away, Draco Malfoy, followed by a small gang of cronies including Crabbe, Goyle, and Pansy Parkinson, was pushing some timid-looking second years out of the way so that they could get a coach to themselves. Seconds later Hermione emerged panting from the crowd, Neville following behind her.
“Malfoy was being absolutely foul to a first year back there, I swear I’m going to report him, he’s only had his badge three minutes and he’s using it to bully people worse than ever. Where’s Crookshanks?”
“Ginny’s got him,” said Iliana. “There she is.”
Ginny had just emerged from the crowd, clutching a squirming Crookshanks.
“Thanks,” said Hermione, relieving Ginny of the cat and climbing aboard the carriage. Soon, they were underway.
“So I wonder where Hagrid is?” Ginny asked. “You all saw Grubbly-Plank was here instead, right?”
“Yes, we saw her. It's odd. You'd think we'd have heard something. If he's not at the feast, I'll ask Sirius.”
Speaking of Sirius, they heard the roar of a motorbike engine in the distance. The sound got nearer and nearer, and then a whooping Sirius was roaring past the carriages on his motorbike, waving at everyone as he did. Iliana noticed he was wearing black leather pants, a black leather jacket, and some kind of colorful t-shirt under the jacket.
“He's riding it up to the castle?” Iliana said, bewildered.
Ron and Ginny were laughing. Luna and Neville smiled. Hermione was frowning.
“He's a teacher now! He's supposed to be setting a good example to the students!” she said indignantly.
“I wonder where he's going to park it?” Ginny wondered aloud.
“Probably wherever Hagrid had it when he was holding onto it for Sirius,” Iliana said.
As they passed Hagrid's hut, Iliana saw there were no lights on in it. Which, at this time of day, most likely meant he wasn't home.
Once they got up to the castle and inside it to the Great Hall, Luna drifted off to the Ravenclaw table. The teachers didn't give them a hard time about eating at other tables most of the time, but this was the Welcoming Feast, so they didn't want to push their luck. Ginny wandered off to meet friends. Iliana, Ron, Hermione, and Neville found seats together about halfway down the table between Nearly Headless Nick (the Gryffindor House ghost) and Parvati Patil and Lavender Brown, the last two of whom gave Iliana airy, overly friendly greetings that made her quite sure they had stopped talking about her a split second before. She had more important things to worry about, however: She was looking over the students’ heads to the staff table that ran along the top wall of the Hall.
“He’s not there.”
Ron and Hermione scanned the staff table too, though there was no real need; Hagrid’s size made him instantly obvious in any lineup.
“He can’t have left,” said Ron, sounding slightly anxious.
“Of course he hasn’t,” said Iliana firmly.
“You don’t think he’s … hurt, or anything, do you?” said Hermione uneasily.
“No,” said Iliana at once.
“But where is he, then?”
There was a pause, then Iliana said very quietly, so that Neville, Parvati, and Lavender could not hear, “Maybe he’s not back yet. You know — from his mission — the thing he was doing over the summer for Dumbledore.”
“Yeah … yeah, that’ll be it,” said Ron, sounding reassured, but Hermione bit her lip, looking up and down the staff table as though hoping for some conclusive explanation of Hagrid’s absence.
“Who's that?” she said sharply, pointing toward the middle of the staff table.
Iliana’s eyes followed hers. They lit first upon Professor Dumbledore, sitting in his high-backed golden chair at the center of the long staff table, wearing deep-purple robes scattered with silvery stars and a matching hat. Dumbledore’s head was inclined toward the woman sitting next to him, who was talking into his ear. She looked, Iliana thought, like somebody’s maiden aunt: squat, with short, curly, mouse-brown hair in which she had placed a horrible pink Alice band that matched the fluffy pink cardigan she wore over her robes. Then she turned her face slightly to take a sip from her goblet and Iliana saw, with a shock of recognition, a pallid, toadlike face and a pair of prominent, pouchy eyes.
“We saw her in one of Al's visions!” Iliana said.
“You did? Which one?”
“The one about being cowed by a toad. Now I see why; she looks like the ugliest toad in the world. Anyway, then she showed up again in a second vision right after getting our magic back, the one that was so chaotic and jumbled I'm still trying to sort it all out. I don't know who she is, but I recognize her from those.”
The staff door opened then, and they saw Sirius come in, waving at Iliana and company; they waved back. He was still wearing his bike leathers from before. Iliana could see the t-shirt under the jacket now, it was a Blue Oyster Cult t-shirt. The woman in the cardigan looked at him as though a dead skunk left rotting for a day in the hot summer sun had suddenly sat next to her.
“What's that toad woman doing here, I wonder? Is she the new History teacher, after that Umbridge woman got Remus fired?”
“No idea,” Ron said. “Nice cardigan, though.” He was smirking.
The squat woman was talking to Sirius. They couldn't hear what she was saying, but judging by the look on Sirius's face, it wasn't anything good. He was frowning at her, and when he spoke they could just make out something that sounded like “...business is it of yours...” Then McGonagall went pale and snapped something off at Sirius, waving him over with a small gesture behind the toad-like woman's back. Sirius, looking like a chastised teenager again, sat down on a seat next to McGonagall; a seat that hadn't been there a moment ago. She was talking very quietly to him, and the toad-like woman was smirking worse than Draco Malfoy when he'd scored some perceived victory over a rival. It didn't bode well.
When they were done talking, Sirius stood and turned to the toad-like woman as though he'd been made to swallow stinksap, and said something back to her, bowing with an over-the-top flourish that was surely sarcastic. She didn't seem to catch the sarcasm, though, judging by her continued smirk.
“Whoever she is, she worries McGonagall enough to turn pale before presumably telling Sirius off about his rudeness.”
“Dumbledore and Snape don't look too well, either,” Ron pointed out.
“I wonder who she could be? Who could be that respected by the teachers?”
“I don't think it's respect, Hermione,” Iliana said. “I think it's fear. Snape's micro-expressions – the stuff even occlumens can't hide – tells me he's as wary of her as though she were a dangerous beast. Maybe even more so.”
“Do you think she works for the ministry?” Ron said. “You told us Sirius told you the Ministry was angling to get one of their people in as a teacher at Hogwarts. Maybe they succeeded?”
“How, though? She's not DADA, and she's not CoMC, what else is left?”
Ron shrugged. “No idea. But I wish they'd hurry up, I'm starving.”
McGonagall got up a moment later and left, presumably to get the first-years for the Sorting. As she did, Grubbly-Plank came in and sat in Hagrid's usual spot, which confirmed that the Sorting was about to begin.
“You know, I've been thinking lately... this Sorting is kind of stupid,” Iliana said. “Who thought of 'let's quarter the students every year into four groups that compete with each other and even antagonize one another'? And who thought that was a good idea?”
She didn't get an answer to her rhetorical question. Before anyone had the chance to answer, McGonagall came out with the new first-years.
The buzz of talk in the Great Hall faded away. The first years lined up in front of the staff table facing the rest of the students, and Professor McGonagall placed the stool carefully in front of them, then stood back.
The first years’ faces glowed palely in the candlelight. A small boy right in the middle of the row looked as though he was trembling. Iliana recalled, fleetingly, how terrified she had felt when she had stood there, waiting for the unknown test that would determine to which House he belonged.
The whole school waited with bated breath. Then the rip near the hat’s brim opened wide like a mouth and the Sorting Hat burst into song:
In times of old when I was new
And Hogwarts barely started
The founders of our noble school
Thought never to be parted:
United by a common goal,
They had the selfsame yearning,
To make the world’s best magic school
And pass along their learning.
“Together we will build and teach!”
The four good friends decided
And never did they dream that they
Might someday be divided,
For were there such friends anywhere
As Slytherin and Gryffndor?
Unless it was the second pair
Of Huffepuff and Ravenclaw?
So how could it have gone so wrong?
How could such friendships fail?
Why, I was there and so can tell
The whole sad, sorry tale.
Said Slytherin, “We’ll teach just those
Whose ancestry is purest.”
Said Ravenclaw, “We’ll teach those whose
Intelligence is surest.”
Said Gryffindor, “We’ll teach all those
With brave deeds to their name,”
Said Hufflepuff, “I’ll teach the lot,
And treat them just the same.”
These differences caused little strife
When first they came to light,
For each of the four founders had
A House in which they might
Take only those they wanted, so,
For instance, Slytherin
Took only pure-blood wizards
Of great cunning, just like him,
And only those of sharpest mind
Were taught by Ravenclaw
While the bravest and the boldest
Went to daring Gryffindor.
Good Hufflepuff she took the rest,
And taught them all she knew,
Thus the Houses and their founders
Retained friendships firm and true.
So Hogwarts worked in harmony
For several happy years,
But then discord crept among us
Feeding on our faults and fears.
The Houses that, like pillars four,
Had once held up our school,
Now turned upon each other and,
Divided, sought to rule.
And for a while it seemed the school
Must meet an early end,
What with dueling and with fighting
And the clash of friend on friend
And at last there came a morning
When old Slytherin departed
And though the fighting then died out
He left us quite downhearted.
And never since the founders four
Were whittled down to three
Have the Houses been united
As they once were meant to be.
And now the Sorting Hat is here
And you all know the score:
I sort you into Houses
Because that is what I’m for,
But this year I’ll go further,
Listen closely to my song:
Though condemned I am to split you
Still I worry that it’s wrong,
Though I must fulfill my duty
And must quarter every year
Still I wonder whether sorting
May not bring the end I fear.
Oh, know the perils, read the signs,
The warning history shows,
For our Hogwarts is in danger
From external, deadly foes
And we must unite inside her
Or we’ll crumble from within.
I have told you, I have warned you. …
Let the Sorting now begin.
The hat became motionless once more; applause broke out, though it was punctured, for the first time in Iliana's memory, with muttering and whispers. All across the Great Hall students were exchanging remarks with their neighbors and Iliana, clapping along with everyone else, knew exactly what they were talking about.
“Branched out a bit this year, hasn’t it?” said Ron, his eyebrows raised.
“Quite,” Iliana said.
'A bit long, that song,' said Addy's voice in her head. She nodded in response.
There were a lot of students this year. Iliana's own year had been one of the smallest classes on record, she knew. The number had gone up a bit for Luna's year, but this year the number was staggering. She counted 97 students waiting to be Sorted, and was very glad she'd had sandwiches on the train. Poor Ron next to her was so hungry his stomach was audible. She wondered just then if there was something wrong with Ron, some kind of magical parasite, given he always seemed hungry even at Hogwarts. And poor as the Weasleys were, they ate well, she knew.
But the Sorting, yes. Ninety-seven new students. If it was an even split, each House would be getting about 25 new students this year. And judging by the emotions she was picking up from them, there was a much higher percentage of Muggleborns among them. Wizard-raised students were generally awed and nervous, but knew more or less what to expect. The Muggleborns tended to be more confused, and to feel like fishes out of water. She figured, at an estimate, that roughly 35 or 40% of the new students were Muggleborns.
The split wasn't as equal as she'd thought it would be. There were more Hufflepuffs this year than any other House got. Of those remaining, the split was more equal but skewed toward Ravenclaw. Between Slytherin and Griffindor, Slytherin just barely had more new students. Which meant Griffindor was in fourth place in terms of new students this year, but Slytherin only beat them by a single student.
With a grin, she witnessed Dumbledore stand up to speak.
“To our newcomers,” said Dumbledore in a ringing voice, his arms stretched wide and a beaming smile on his lips, “welcome! To our old hands — welcome back! There is a time for speech making, but this is not it. Tuck in!”
There was an appreciative laugh and an outbreak of applause as Dumbledore sat down neatly and threw his long beard over his shoulder so as to keep it out of the way of his plate — for food had appeared out of nowhere, so that the five long tables were groaning under joints and pies and dishes of vegetables, bread, sauces, and flagons of pumpkin juice.
“Excellent,” said Ron, with a kind of groan of longing, and he seized the nearest plate of chops and began piling them onto his plate, watched wistfully by Nearly Headless Nick.
Hermione began to talk with Nick about the Sorting Hat, for he told them sometimes it gave warnings when it felt the need, and they all knew why this time. Iliana hadn't heard anything after Snape said he'd convinced the Death Eaters to kill Voldemort again to redo the resurrection. She hoped it would go wrong, buying them some more time. But she'd been reading the Daily Prophet, infuriating as that was. According to it, nothing unusual was happening aside from the Potter 'boy' being a mad, lying delinquent. (The paper didn't even mention Cedric directly, just warned people against Dumbledore's pawns trying to wreak havoc on the Ministry with lies.) That was frustrating. Weakened by the failed ritual or not, Voldemort was now known by his followers to be alive in some fashion, so it was only a matter of time before they acted.
Not really paying attention to Nick's conversation, she was kind of glad when he left in a huff at something Ron said. She looked up at Sirius, who was eating in a manner she recognized as meaning he was trying to get done so he could leave. McGonagall chastised him quietly, and he glowered at her but slowed down with a sigh. If she had to guess, Iliana would guess McGonagall had told him he wasn't allowed to leave until Dumbledore dismissed everyone.
When all the students had finished eating and the noise level in the hall was starting to creep upward again, Dumbledore got to his feet once more. Talking ceased immediately as all turned to face the headmaster. Iliana was feeling pleasantly drowsy now. Her four-poster bed was waiting somewhere above, wonderfully warm and soft.
“Well, now that we are all digesting another magnificent feast, I beg a few moments of your attention for the usual start-of-term notices,” said Dumbledore. “First years ought to know that the forest in the grounds is out of bounds to students — and a few of our older students ought to know by now too.” (Iliana, Ron, and Hermione exchanged smirks.)
“Mr. Filch, the caretaker, has asked me, for what he tells me is the four hundred and sixty-second time, to remind you all that magic is not permitted in corridors between classes, nor are a number of other things, all of which can be checked on the extensive list now fastened to Mr. Filch’s office door.
“We have had three changes in staffing this year. We are very pleased to welcome back Professor Grubbly-Plank, who will be taking Care of Magical Creatures lessons. I'm also glad to announce that Defense Against the Dark Arts will be taught by Professor Sirius Black, who of course was exonerated roughly a year and a half ago.”
There was some small applause for Grubbly-Plank. Sirius had been met initially with silence, but at the reminder he was innocent, there was a small smattering of applause. Iliana, Ron, Hermione, Luna, and the Weasleys applauded the loudest.
“Yes. Professor Black, who was being trained as an Auror at the end of the war, has spent the year and a half since his release getting back to fighting form and I was most pleased when he accepted the position of Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher for this year. However, he will only be staying the one year.”
When the applause died down, Dumbledore said, “It is also my sad duty to inform you that Professor Remus Lupin has been removed from his post for,” he hesitated only momentarily, “recent changes to the laws that prevent him working at Hogwarts anymore.”
There was an eruption of angry noise at this from most of the tables; Lupin was a much beloved teacher, people had started getting interested in History after he replaced Binns. Dumbledore waited patiently for a few moments for the noise to die down before finally getting their attention again with a magically magnified coughing sound.
“Yes, sad news indeed,” Dumbledore said, his face morose. “But I cannot explain further without doing more harm to the poor man's reputation. Just know that he is the victim of an unfair change in the law.”
He paused, then continued to speak. “Which reminds me, I am also delighted to introduce Professor Umbridge, our new History of Magic teacher.”
There was a round of polite but fairly unenthusiastic applause during which Iliana, Ron, and Hermione gasped at recognizing the name; so that's what that horrible woman looked like? They hadn't heard enough about her appearance to guess.
The three of them were also somewhat panicked; Dumbledore had not said for how long Grubbly-Plank would be teaching.
Dumbledore continued, “Tryouts for the House Quidditch teams will take place on the —”
He broke off, looking inquiringly at Professor Umbridge. As she was not much taller standing than sitting, there was a moment when nobody understood why Dumbledore had stopped talking, but then Professor Umbridge said, “Hem, hem,” and it became clear that she had got to her feet and was intending to make a speech.
Dumbledore only looked taken aback for a moment, then he sat back down smartly and looked alertly at Professor Umbridge as though he desired nothing better than to listen to her talk. Other members of staff were not as adept at hiding their surprise. Professor Sprout’s eyebrows had disappeared into her flyaway hair, Siri—er, Professor Black's face curled into a sneer of disgust, and Professor McGonagall’s mouth was as thin as Iliana had ever seen it. No new teacher had ever interrupted Dumbledore before. Many of the students were smirking; this woman obviously did not know how things were done at Hogwarts.
“Thank you, Headmaster,” Professor Umbridge simpered, “for those kind words of welcome.”
Her voice was high-pitched, breathy, and little-girlish and Iliana and company felt a powerful rush of dislike that they could not explain to themselves; all they knew was that they loathed everything about her, from her stupid voice to her fluffy pink cardigan. Tier, who had been mostly quiet for months, rose inside them like an angry wolf with his hackles raised, and a small growl escaped her lips before she could stop it.
Umbridge gave another little throat-clearing cough (“Hem, hem”) and continued: “Well, it is lovely to be back at Hogwarts, I must say!” She smiled, revealing very pointed teeth. “And to see such happy little faces looking back at me!”
Iliana glanced around. None of the faces he could see looked happy; on the contrary, they all looked rather taken aback at being addressed as though they were five years old.
“I am very much looking forward to getting to know you all, and I’m sure we’ll be very good friends!”
Students exchanged looks at this; some of them were barely concealing grins.
“I’ll be her friend as long as I don’t have to borrow that cardigan,” Parvati whispered to Lavender, and both of them lapsed into silent giggles.
Professor Umbridge cleared her throat again (“Hem, hem”), but when she continued, some of the breathiness had vanished from her voice. She sounded much more businesslike and now her words had a dull learned-by-heart sound to them.
“The Ministry of Magic has always considered the education of young witches and wizards to be of vital importance. The rare gifts with which you were born may come to nothing if not nurtured and honed by careful instruction. The ancient skills unique to the Wizarding community must be passed down through the generations lest we lose them forever. The treasure trove of magical knowledge amassed by our ancestors must be guarded, replenished, and polished by those who have been called to the noble profession of teaching.”
Professor Umbridge paused here and made a little bow to her fellow staff members, none of whom bowed back. Sirius glared at her. Professor McGonagall’s dark eyebrows had contracted so that she looked positively hawklike, and Iliana distinctly saw her exchange a significant glance with Professor Sprout as Umbridge gave another little “Hem, hem” and went on with her speech.
“Every headmaster and headmistress of Hogwarts has brought something new to the weighty task of governing this historic school, and that is as it should be, for without progress there will be stagnation and decay. There again, progress for progress’s sake must be discouraged, for our tried and tested traditions often require no tinkering. A balance, then, between old and new, between permanence and change, between tradition and innovation …”
It was a strange sensation, just then, for Iliana and Adira's attention was waning faster than a History class with Binns, but they could feel Hypatia listening attentively, and they spotted Hermione doing the same. Also like Hermione, she didn't enjoy what she was hearing, not one little bit. Tier seemed to be listening, too, for every word she said made him more and more on edge, to the point she was really hoping her eyes wouldn't glow red like they had the first time Tier had ever fronted. She also hoped Tier wouldn't turn them into some kind of beast and attack this new teacher; even if they managed not to go to Azkaban for it, they'd never live it down as long as they lived.
Sensing her worry, Tier reigned himself in. He pulled a bone from their pocket that she hadn't noticed him keeping earlier, and was gnawing on it as Umbridge spoke.
Professor Umbridge, for her part, was apparently unaware of the restlessness of her audience.
“… because some changes will be for the better, while others will come, in the fullness of time, to be recognized as errors of judgment. Meanwhile, some old habits will be retained, and rightly so, whereas others, outmoded and outworn, must be abandoned. Let us move forward, then, into a new era of openness, effectiveness, and accountability, intent on preserving what ought to be preserved, perfecting what needs to be perfected, and pruning wherever we find practices that ought to be prohibited.”
She sat down. Dumbledore clapped. The staff followed his lead, except for Sirius, who had his arms crossed defiantly. Tier bit down so hard the bone in their mouth snapped. Iliana noticed that several of the other teachers brought their hands together only once or twice before stopping. A few students joined in, but most had been taken unawares by the end of the speech, not having listened to more than a few words of it, and before they could start applauding properly, Dumbledore had stood up again.
“Thank you very much, Professor Umbridge, that was most illuminating,” he said, bowing to her. “Now — as I was saying, Quidditch tryouts will be held …”
“Yes, it certainly was illuminating,” said Hermione in a low voice.
“You’re not telling me you enjoyed it?” Ron said quietly, turning a glazed face upon Hermione. “That was about the dullest speech I’ve ever heard, and I grew up with Percy.”
“I said illuminating, not enjoyable,” said Hermione. “It explained a lot.”
“It sure did.” It was Iliana's voice, but Hypatia was using it. Judging by the lack of any change to the faces of her friends, their eyes hadn't changed color this time.
“Did it?” asked Ron. “Sounded like a load of waffle to me.”
“There was some important stuff hidden in the waffle,” said Hermione grimly.
“Was there?” said Ron blankly.
“How about ‘progress for progress’s sake must be discouraged’? How about ‘pruning wherever we find practices that ought to be prohibited’?”
“Well, what does that mean?” said Ron impatiently.
“I’ll tell you what it means,” said Hermione ominously. “It means the Ministry’s interfering at Hogwarts.”
Ron looked worried at this knowledge. He wasn't the only one.
“Hey, you lot,” said a voice behind them. They jumped in fright, but it was just Sirius. He was looking displeased. And only then did they notice everyone was getting up to leave.
“Sirius!” Iliana said.
“Hey, Iliana,” he said. “Anyway, I came over here to tell you that the toad-looking woman--”
“Works at the ministry. Yeah, we recognized her name when Dumbledore said it.”
“And Iliana recognized her face from one of Al's visions!” Ron said.
“Really? You'll have to tell me about that later. I didn't know who they'd gotten for History of Magic until McGonagall told me who she was. Stupid Fudge. Anyway, you lot better get going, so you don't miss the password.”
“Don't you know it?”
“Er... about that, one of the caveats of my working here this year is I'm to avoid the Griffindor common room if I can. Seems the Fat Lady still hasn't forgiven me for attacking her, even though I've apologized and explained that I was half-mad from dementor exposure. But I got better.” He said that last sentence with a familiar accent, and a grin.
“'She turned me into a newt'!” Iliana quoted back at him.
“Ha!” Sirius barked with laughter. Hermione giggled, recognizing the line. Ron just looked confused.
“Muggle cultural reference,” Iliana explained. “So you've watched Monty Python?”
“Yes I have. Lily introduced me to it, back during the war. I used to binge-watch it whenever we had to wait at her place or James's house. James's was the one that blew up when... well... anyway, you'd better run along now.”
“Right, Professor Black,” Iliana said, winking at him as they got up, just before running to catch up with everyone else.
“Oh wait,” Hermione said, “I'm a prefect. I have to catch up to Neville.”
She ran along ahead, catching up with Neville. The two of them were guiding the first-years with the other Prefects. It took nearly the entire flock of Prefects to watch the large group of new students this year, there were so many compared to before.
Iliana's eyes met the eyes of one of the first-years, one that Hypatia informed them was named Euan Abercrombie. She grinned at him, but he looked petrified with terror and ran off. Another boy next to him had a similar terrified expression and stole a horrified look at Iliana, who felt the grin slide off her face like Stinksap.
She'd been stupid to not expect this. They got a lot of weird looks anyway, mostly from Muggle-borns who'd been taught by Muggle culture that multiples were dangerous monsters, which was more often than not completely false. While their collective wasn't trauma-based, or at least they didn't think they were, and even if they were they still didn't match the stereotypical pattern of MPD, a lot of collectives did in fact have a trauma factor in their formation. She didn't think it could be 'just' trauma; if it was, there'd be millions, maybe even billions, of such collectives in the world. But yeah, whatever other factors were involved, some collectives did have a trauma basis, and so they generally tended to be victims rather than villains. Even the few collectives with violent members usually had that violence aimed either inward or out at their abusers. It was absurd to think multiples would be any more likely than singlets to be violent towards innocent people.
Anyway, she should have known the weird looks would increase. The Daily Prophet had been spouting lies about them all summer long, and Rita Skeeter had been doing it long before that.
“Quite a wrackspurt infestation in here, Iliana,” said Luna from beside her.
“They fly into your head through your ears and make your brain go fuzzy. I thought I saw some buzzing around your head just now.”
“Just thinking about the people who think I'm mad.”
Luna nodded sagely. “If you want to get rid of wrackspurts, Iliana, you have to think positive thoughts. They feed on negative thoughts, you see. Daddy thinks they're distantly related to dementors and lethifolds.”
Iliana chuckled. “Sounds like good advice, Luna. Thanks.”
“You're welcome. See you later, Iliana.”
The two girls hugged each other briefly before returning to their own dormitories.
Despite Luna's advice, her thoughts went negative again. Soon, she reached the end of the corridor to the Gryffindor common room and had come to a halt in front of the portrait of the Fat Lady before he realized that she did not know the new password.
“Er …” she said glumly, staring up at the Fat Lady, who smoothed the folds of her pink satin dress and looked sternly back at her.
“No password, no entrance,” she said loftily.
“Iliana, I know it!” someone panted from behind him, and she turned to see Neville jogging toward her, a couple first-years trailing behind him. At her curious look, he explained, “These two got lost back there, I went back for them while Hermione went on ahead. Anyway, I know the password. Guess what it is?”
“If I could guess, I would have.”
“Right. Anyway, I’m actually going to be able to remember it for once —” He waved a stunted little cactus he had shown them on the train. “Mimbulus mimbletonia!”
“Correct,” said the Fat Lady, and her portrait swung open toward them like a door, revealing a circular hole in the wall behind, through which Iliana and Neville now climbed, letting the first-year students in ahead of them.
Passing by everyone in the common room, she was half glad she had her own room, and half wishing she had company. She passed a curious-looking Seamus Finnegan along the way, with his friend Dean Thomas. She waved hi, but was too tired to talk. She wanted to go right to bed as soon as possible.
But it was not to be. They followed her, Dean looking like he'd rather not be doing so. When she noticed, just outside her door, she turned to look curiously at them.
“Hey Iliana,” Dean said. The feelings coming off him were pretty close to Seamus’s. She remembered, then, that Dean was Muggle-born and Seamus's father was a Muggle.
“Hi Dean, Seamus.”
“You have a good holiday?”
Deciding a true account of her holiday would be too long to explain even if most of it weren't top secret, she settled on, “Frustrating. You?”
“Yeah, it was okay. Better than Seamus's, anyway.”
Neville appeared behind them and said, “Why, what happened, Seamus?”
Seamus didn't answer right away, pretending to be examining Neville's plant. Then he said, not looking at Iliana, “Me mam and Da didn’t want me to come back.”
“What?” said Iliana, confused.
“They didn’t want me to come back to Hogwarts.”
Seamus again paused, considering the ugly plant, before saying in a measured tone, “I suppose... because of you.”
“What d’you mean?” said Iliana quickly. Her heart was beating rather fast. She felt vaguely as though something was closing in on her.
“Well,” said Seamus again, still avoiding her eyes, “they … er … well, it’s not just you, it’s Dumbledore too …”
“She believes the Daily Prophet?” said Iliana with forced calm. “She thinks I’m a liar and Dumbledore’s an old fool?”
Seamus looked up at him. “Yeah, something like that.”
“Did you tell them what Cedric said?”
“Aye. But, well... they think you're mad, and dangerous. More me Da than me Mam, at first. Then Da explained what Muggles think of... well...”
“So they believe those lies that popular Muggle culture tells about multiples?”
He nodded glumly. “An' what's more, they think you Confunded Cedric.”
“And what about you?”
“I... well... you're mostly okay, but well... Al did shake the castle that one time when 'e was riled, an' some of you've attacked Malfoy an' Rita Skeeter...”
“Different people react differently to the same things sometimes,” she said, her voice like ice. “That has nothing to do with whether I'm a multiple or not. We never hurt anyone permanently, and we're not proud of what we did. And have we ever attacked anyone other than Dra-- er, Malfoy or Rita Skeeter, to your knowledge?”
Seamus looked thoughtful. “Er... Crabbe and Goyle, but those two berks are Malfoy's bodyguards, so...”
“Al does have an issue with escalating conflicts, an issue we're going to work on, especially as it sometimes bleeds over to Chandra; but aside from that, we haven't attacked anyone who hadn't already attacked us at least once before. And Zoey's pranks do go overboard at times; we're going to make her work on that, too. But my point is, we've been known to be a Multiple for nearly four years now, and in all that time we've only ever attacked four people, three of whom truly deserved it, and we didn't do anything more than make them uncomfortable or scared. And trust me, we intend to apologize to Rita Skeeter if we can manage to contact her. Malfoy, too, if he'll listen.”
“The papers made it seem like you lot lash out at anyone who annoys you,” Seamus said.
Iliana snorted with laughter. “If that were true, we'd have attacked over half the school several times over by now. Remember our second year, when everyone thought we were the Heir of Slytherin? Or last year, with the 'Support Cedric Diggory' badges?”
Seamus was still thinking about everything she'd said. A minute or two later, he shrugged and smiled a little, holding his hand out. “Er... sorry. You've got a point. Sorry I doubted you.”
“Does this mean you believe me about Voldemort?”
He sighed, but nodded. “Yes. You and Cedric and Dumbledore are all saying it. I believe you. I'll try to explain it to Mam and Da.”
She took his hand and shook it.
When they let go, he said, “I won't pretend it isn't a bit weird, though, always has been. Y'know, this...” he gestured at her.
“You're preaching to the choir on that one, Seamus,” she said with a smirk. “And what about you, Dean?”
“My parents don't know anything about you. I've mentioned some of your names before, but they think you're all... that you all have your own bodies.”
“That's good. But what about YOU?”
“I'm with Seamus. It's a bit weird. Still haven't really gotten used to it. I uh... I thought the Prophet had a point, until you said your piece.”
He held out his hand, too, and she shook it.
“Oh,” Seamus said, “I need ta warn ya, but we're in the minority, I think. We've overheard loads of bad things about you lot over the years, and this year there's been a lot more of it already.”
She groaned. “Thanks for the warning, Seamus.”
“I reckon part of it is you've never really been very friendly. Bit stand-offish,” Dean said. “You know, you've got Ron and Hermione and Neville and Luna, then that's mostly it. Oh, and Ginny and the Weasley twins. And Javier, I guess. You barely talk to anyone else. I think you only talked to Seamus and I as much as you did because we used to share a dorm.”
“Well I never had friends growing up; my cousin bullied anyone who tried to be my friend. So I'm still not entirely sure how to be social with people. Then there was that whole Heir of Slytherin business, where most of the school turned on me. That didn't make things any easier. But yeah, we could try harder.”
“And then you were worried about Sirius Black the year after that,” Neville guessed.
“Yes, I was. Then when he was found innocent, distracted by getting to know him better.”
“An' that Triwizard Tournament,” Seamus said.
“Yes. Hard to make friends with people who think you're an attention-seeking prat. Oh yeah, and being famous for not dying, that doesn't help. It irritates me that people think I did something to Moldyshorts to made him vanish. It wasn't me at all, it was Mum's sacrifice. If anyone should be famous for bringing down Voldemort, it should be Lily Potter, not me.”
Seamus and Dean looked surprised by this information. But then they thought about it, and the pieces fell into place.
“That makes a lot more sense than a baby defeating him,” Dean said.
“Aye,” Seamus added.
“Right, I'll try to spread that fact around, Iliana. Dunno how much it'll help, but I'll still try.”
“Me too,” Seamus said.
Very soon after that, their group dispersed, everyone getting ready for bed in their own dormitories. Iliana fell asleep glad to know she had two more people on her side, even if they did think the Potters weird.
'We ARE weird, though,' was Al's last thought before sleep took them for the night.
Endnotes: Yes, there's eight members of the Potter collective. That's all I'm willing to do, even though our own collective has nine, mainly because of those nine, there's three of them that have been silent so long they may well have died for all we know. I blame depression. They were all active once, but years of depression and stress have made three of them go dark. Even Pi, the basis for Tier, sleeps more often than not.
Anyway, eight is a lot to keep track of, even with Mother and Tier being mostly quiet. So eight is the max. I am, however, thinking about adding another collective – one that doesn't transform – to the story. If I do, they will only have a smaller number, maybe 4 at the most. Just a thought for now.
This thing of Al and Zoey recognizing their behavior as wrong comes from a reader pointing out how wrong these behaviors were. Like Al and Zoey, we got so caught up in these moments that we didn't realize they would be wrong. Even though the person who pointed these things out was a bit of a jerk themselves in the end, I decided it was a good idea anyway to take their advice to heart. After all, we never got to see James and Sirius and their redemption arc from bullies in canon. This isn't quite the same thing; most of Al's problem is escalating during confrontations, Chandra's issue is letting Al's emotions bleed into his own too much and also escalating, and Zoey's problem is mostly just not thinking of consequences ahead of time, so none of them are being truly malicious.
And to explain why the staff have been weirdly lax with their actions... well, there's a lot of stuff that happens in canon that really shouldn't, that's fucked up and nobody seems to think there's anything wrong with it. Putting a bunch of minors – including an eight year old girl who isn't even fully human and thus might not react the same as humans – under a freezing cold lake in February in Scotland, likely without even consulting their guardians, comes to mind. So I consider it an extension of whatever it is in the wizarding world that does that nonsense.
As to the aliases 'Willow Pond' and 'Hyacinth Jones,' I didn't notice they were both surnames of Doctor Who companions until after the fact. *grin*
Lastly, when I think of Zoey, I think this girl looks pretty close to looking like her: http://78.media.tumblr.com/def59696b37c7085a266c7b34ae93432/... All she's missing is the mischievous grin and the heterochromia.
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