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Harry sighed jokingly. [b "Fine, I solemnly swear that I will be up to no good, but not enough to get caught by Malfoy. Better?"]
By the time they join their friends, there was just enough room for Harry and Hermione to squeeze in at the Gryffindor table. [b "Just in time,"] he said, watching as Dumbledor started the welcoming speech.
He heard Hermione behind him, but couldn't understand what she meant. The portly woman in obnoxious pink was certainly new, but how would Hermione know her? And why did she continue to interrupt the headmaster? [b "Who's that?"]
Almost as if answering his question directly, Dumbledore clapped his hands together to get everyone's attention. [i "What better opportunity to welcome our new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher? Please welcome Dolores Umbridge, who will be taking over for Professor Moody."] He turned and looked at the woman. [i "Would you like to introduce yourself?"]
Harry could see her sourpuss expression from his seat. Everything about her tight-lipped smile oozed fake pleasantness. [i "He can't be serious,"] Ron muttered under his breath, catching Harry's eye.
The dark haired boy didn't have time to ask what was so bad about her before the woman in question opened her mouth and the shrillest voice he'd ever heard spewed from her. [i "I believe you'll find that I teach differently than previous professors. But, I trust there will be no questioning of my rules during this transition. The Ministry has been quite concerned with the recent events of Hogwarts, and we will be working towards remedying the curriculum to an appropriate format. I'm sure we will all get along famously,"] her cement smile was still in place as her eyes scoured for any disagreement.
[b "She's like a pink Medusa,"] Harry murmured to Hermione and Ron.
Though she knew her friend were joking, it was sad in a way. Their years as she looked back at them had never been normal or even safe. In their first year Voldemort had been a parasite to their first Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher and had tried to kill Harry. In their second Lucius Malfoy had slipped Tom Riddle's diary into Ginny's cauldron and the Chamber of Secrets had been opened. In their third year they had a werewolf teacher and had to save an innocent man from a terrible fate. And just last year there had been the tournament which got Cedric killed, nearly killed her best friend, and brought Voldemort back. So they were right, they really had no chance at normal. But it wasn't like things could get worse, right?
Hermione was pulled from her thoughts when Ginny mentioned making bets and then had scoldee the twins on how they still owed her money. [b "You know you're m wouldn't approve of the betting. Especially about Harry or Ron in the hospital wing."] The girl said, though couldn't hide her small smile. Even she had to bet that five times would be the least amount of times as their little group was always in trouble. But aftee she spoke, the others began to head up the steps leaving her standing at Harry's side.
[b "You know..I almost don't doubt it. Just promise you won't let Malfoy carch you. Ron and I can cover if we do..but he'll make your life as hellish as he can."] She said with a small smile, blushimg a little when she was nudged. And as they walked into the Great Hall and to their house table, Hermione took her usual seat between Harrt and Ron. But her eyes were on the row of Professors and one, a woman in pink caught her eyes. And for some reason, the toad of a woman gave her a bad feeling. [b "You don't think...."] However, Dumbledore quieted them all before the girl could finish and began his speech, only to be interrupted by their newest professor.
Harry laughed quietly. [b "I think Buckbeak would be offended if I didn't say that he's pretty."]
The carriage came to a slow halt and Harry stepped down first to give everyone space to get out. He felt that sense of home he'd had in his chest every time he looked at Hogwarts. Despite the slightly terrible memories, it was the only place that had ever made him feel like he belonged.
[i "When have we ever been lucky enough to have a normal year? Between Dementors and dragons, I'd say we've surpassed any level of normalcy around here,"] Ron joked.
It was true. Every year they'd managed to find some kind of trouble to get in to, even if it wasn't their fault most of the time. [b "Let's at least hope for no Hospital Wing visits, then,"] Harry remarked.
Ginny snorted. [i "With you two running around? I'm betting on at least five this year."]
[i "What's this we hear about bets?"] the twins appear beside them, looking mischievous as always.
[i "You two aren't allowed to play. After last year, you still owe me money!"] Ginny scolded them as they walked up to the castle.
Harry made his way to stand beside Hermione, looking up at their school. [b "Here's to the start of another absurd year at Hogwarts."] Catching her eye, he winked. [b "I solemnly swear that I'll be up to no good,"] he altered the Marauders' words to get a smirk out of her.
[b "Come on then, don't want to be left behind,"] he nudged her and started walking towards the castle doors.
She had read of such creatures back in their third year when she had been reading about other creatures of the magical world. But with everything over the last couple of years, Hermione could honestly say she had forgotten about Thestrals and hearing them explained was more than thankful she couldn't. They honestly didn't sound pleasing and like they could give people nightmares. Even worse than dementors or Voldemort could.
Because she couldn't really contribute to the conversation, Hermione was silent. She took in what was said and when Nargles were mentioned her head even tilted. Never had she heard of them or read of them, so she couldn't say they were real. And she really didn't believe in such things, especially with the way Luna spoke of them. But instead of being cruel and calling the girl on something she was clearly passionate about she only listened.
Honestly when Harry spoke she was thankful. She was able to pull her attention away from Luna and the talk of strange creatires. A small smile played over her lips. [b "And would you even say pretty?"] The girl asked, head tilting. She wanted anything that would be a distraction and anything that meant not having to listen to Luna for the moment.
When the carriage did finally come to stop before the castle, Hermione got out and stood with the others. As brown eyes looked up at the school, their home, a chill went through her. She didn't know why but it almost seemed forboding. Quickly she shook her head and looked to Harry and the others, forcing herself to smile. [b "Well welcome home everyone. Lets hope maybe this year will be more normal?"] The girl questioned.
Harry hesitated, not wanting to bring the mood down with talk of the Thestrals, but Luna was not at all bothered. [i "Thestrals are what pull the carriages. We were just admiring them."]
[i "Nothing pulls the carriages,"] Ron countered, waving a hand to gesture towards the air in front of them.
Harry didn't say a word but almost snorted as Ron's hand passed right over the flank of one of the beasts. [i "Thestrals are very real. The fact that you can't see them is a good thing. It means you've not been around death. If you've seen someone die, the Thestrals become visible to you."]
The Weasleys frowned. [i "What do they look like?"] Ginny asked.
[b "Horrible,"] Harry finally spoke. [b "Like leather stretched over the bones of a horse. Giant wings. It's disturbing, really."]
[i "They're not pleasant,"] Luna agreed. [i "You should be thankful you can't see them. They give some people nightmares. I'm more afraid of Nargles, myself."]
[i "Nargles?"] Ron raised an eyebrow.
The conversation pulled away from the Thestrals as Luna explained the small creatures. Harry tore his eyes away from the animals before them and focused instead on Hermione. He gave her a smile. [b "I'd take a hippogriff over these things any day. They make Buckbeak seem entirely friendly."]
Luna seemed odd but Hermione also often remembered passing the girl on walks through the corridors. And from what she had seen, the girl was kind but also had trouble with others who made fun of her. A particular blonde git that they were not fond of and who like them had gained an awful lot of power recently. She could remember a particular time when Malfoy had been pointing and laughing getting a few others calling Luna, Looney Lovegood. The next day half the school was calling the poor girl by that name, but yet she seemed as normal as could be. Even said that the name had been "great fun".
Hermione shook her head slowly to bring herself back to the present and even offered the blonde a small smile after Ginny had introduced her. [b "It's nice to meet you, Luna."] The girl said and then slowly moved towards the line with the rest of the group. She was only partly aware of Neville telling them about his new plant and Ginny saying how she was thinking to try out for the Gryffindor team. Her eyes were instead trained on both Luna and Harry who both seemed to be staring at something that wasn't there. They seemed so entranced too. Or rather they had until Ron had called to them asking if they would be joining them.
[b "It's alright.. But I have to ask, what were the two of you looking at? " Hermione found herself asking, head tilting a little. If she had to admit it, the girl was a bit worried.
He must have lost them in the crowd because Harry didn't see the two until he felt the pressure of her hand on his shoulder. Turning to grin, he shrugged against her hand. [b "I was giving you two more minutes before I started yelling,"] he joked. [b "Carriages are filling up quick, so yeah, we better snag one."]
Before they move, they're joined by a blonde girl that Harry remembered seeing in passing around school. [b "No problem at all. More the merrier. Hello, Luna,"] he greeted her with a smile.
They took their place in line for the carriage, chatting quietly among themselves. Harry stared ahead, barely hearing the words of his friends. Instead, his attention was focused on the creatures pulling the carriages. The ones he swore had never been there before. Glancing around, it didn't look like any of the other students took notice of them.
[i "You see them, don't you?"] Luna's soft voice came from beside him.
[b "What exactly am I seeing?"]
[i "Thestrals. Interesting creatures, aren't they?"]
That was quite the understatement. [b "I've never seen them before."]
[i "You can't see them unless you've experienced great pain. Unless you've witnessed death,"] she stated as calmly as if she were discussing the weather.
Harry's thoughts immediately flew to Cedric, and the event of last year. His stomach churned and his jaw tightened. It made sense that he could see them now, but how desperately he wished that he didn't have to.
[i "You two coming?"] Ron's voice broke them of their spell.
The others were squeezed in to the carriage so Harry gave Luna a hand up to get comfortable before he climbed up after her. He was sort of wedged between the door and Luna, sitting opposite his friends. [b "Sorry. Didn't mean to hold us up."]
As she had expected, Ron had to stuff the rest of the treats into his robes. But it really wouldn't be Hogwarts, or normal if he didn't. As much as the redhead annoyed her and got under her skin at the rate they were going ANYTHING normal from years past would be nice. And she hated to admit it, but even she was scared to be returning back to school. She knew many of the students read the prophet and even believed it, so that meant many would turn on both Harry and Dumbledore and it would be even worse than the year before. Just that thought alone terrified the bushy haired brunette as truly there was not much she would be able to do to help. And she hoped being there would be enough.
Those thoughts were all but storming in her head as she stood slowly to make her way out of the compartment after Ron so they could do their rounds. Or that was until she felt the gentle grip on her arm and brown eyes found green ones. The faintest of smiles graced her lips, though not fully meeting her eyes. [b "I know Harry..I've not been much better. But the feast should help us both. After all...almost home, right?"] She said quietly and then couldn't help the red in her cheeks or her squeak. [b "That's not fair! You know so many things and any one of them could get everyone's attention. We'll find you, promise."] Hermione said before she smiled again amd left to meet Ron and go on rounds.
It was odd being back and among their fellow classmates. The atmosphered was just so different, almost tense. And having to see and listen to what the others were saying was almost unbearble. When she and Ron had collected the first years and led them to the professor going to lead them in, who she noticed was not Hagrid, the girl was more than thankful to be releaved of her duties until after the feast. And when that had become the case, Hermione gripped Ron's arm and all but pushed and shoved her way through the other students until the pair came up behind Harry, Ginny and Neville. Her hand released Ron's harm and she slowly touched Harry's shoulder. [b "Think we'll be able to find a carriage for all of us?"] The girl asked as she couldn't help blinking at the blonde girl who had stopped beside them. Well more like beside Ginny.
[i "Oh this is Luna Lovegood. She's a fellow fourth year and a Ravenclaw and I told her she could join us. I hope you don't mind."] Ginny said as she noticed the look of those around her.
He didn't want to think about how right she was. If Dumbledore had no authority on the matter, they were left in the Ministry's hands. Never before had Harry felt such anxiety upon returning to school. Hogwarts had always been home, but now it was becoming a source of infinite stress and unknown territories.
Hermione mentioned their soon arrival and Harry glanced at his watch. At least it meant they would eat soon. [b "You guys go ahead and do your round. I'll get changed and meet you on the platform."]
He stifled a smile as he caught Ron stuffing the last of the candies in his robes before exiting the compartment. Before she could join the redhead, Harry caught Hermione by the hand. [b "I'm sorry for being a grump today. I'll be better at dinner, I promise. I'm always happy once I get some food in me,"] he joked.
It wasn't a complete lie. His hunger had certainly made him more irritable than usual, and a homecooked feast would surely appease him before bed. It was hard to stay angry when trays of potatoes and meats lined the table. [b "If you don't see me on the platform, I'll just yell something really embarrassing to get your attention,"] Harry warned her playfully before letting her go.
Donning his robes gave him a bit of comfort. The gold and crimson tie hung loosely around his neck and his uniform was a bit too big from the weight he'd lost at the Dursley's over the summer, but they made him feel like Harry again. Suddenly his anxieties of the school year melted away and his thoughts began to calm. He was almost home.
The crowd on the platform dispersed quickly in to groups, and Harry found himself standing with Ginny and Neville. [b "Once the other two find us, we can go,"] he told them, standing slightly on his tiptoes to see over the other students.
The girl's eyes went to the small pile of treats that Harry had pulled down and she couldn't help a roll of her eyes as Ron went straight for them. But what could she expect? Their friend always did seem a bottomless pit and ALWAYS hungry. And if she were honest she was starting to get hungry herself because of not eating much that morning and having been so on edge. So slowly she did take the first thing her eyes settled on, a chocolate frog and begin nibbling on it.
She had her book closed and was listening to both Harry and Ron recollect what kind of teachers they had had. All of them, except Lupin had been nuts or not exactly qualified to teach. Even she was worried about what kind of Professor they would be having. Like Harry had pointed out this year would matter even more especially after the last year's choice and the Tournament. There was no way the Ministry would be making things easy.
[b "I've honestly no idea. It has been rumoured that Dumbledore didn't even get a real say this year. And if that is the case...we may not be very lucky. The only one that even remotely cared for the students or had an intent to teach us was Lupin. Though I don't think we can get very much worse than Crouch had been."] Her words were thoughtful as she spoke them, brown eyes watching her two best friends.
For a few moments she fell into silence and wrapped the rest of her chocolate frog, deciding it hadn't really been what she had wanted. Her gaze shifted from Ron and Harry to the window and in the distance she could see the lights of the station. [b "You might want to get changed into your robes.. I expect it won't be much longer until we arrive.."] Hermione said quietly, leaving out that she and Ron would have to leave him again for a little while.
[b "Speaking of treats,"] Harry reached to the shelf where their bags were and pulled down handfuls of sweets. [b "Promise kept."]
Ron quickly started picking through the small pile, ruffling through chocolate frogs and gummy candies. [i "All is forgiven,"] he sighed in relief, stuffing a frog in his mouth.
Harry stretched his legs out so his feet rested on the seat across from him, next to Hermione. He was glad for the topic change. Their new professor was something he'd thought about several times over the summer, no longer feeling confident in the selection process after the nightmare with Moody came to light. [b "I don't think we'll get anyone as good as Lupin. So far most of them have been absolutely nuts,"] he added his input.
The redhead nodded and plucked up another sweet. [i "So far, two have been working for You Know Who, one was a complete idiot, and the only one that was competent had to retire. Think it can get any worse than Mad Eye? I mean, even if it wasn't actually him. Seems the real one is just as intense as Crouch played him off."]
God, he hoped not. They had enough to worry about without panicking over a new professor. [b "All eyes will be on Dumbledore's decisions this year, after the mess of the Tournament. I can't imagine he'd take the situation lightly. Even if no one at the Ministry believes us."]
He glanced to Hermione. [b "What do you think? Can it actually get worse from the ones we've had?"]
The boy's words made her laugh a little bit. She knew he wasn't one to throw about hos fame and even hated it. But she also realized he was trying to make things as normal as possible, especially with both their slipping up. Ron was already almost practically breathing down her neck about her and Harry both acting so oddly. But mostly her.
[b "Twenty would work well enough if you know who to ask. But being stidents maybe five and treats is a good price?"] The bushy haired brunette asked as she pushed her hair back over her shoulder. She was trying to seem as normal as she could, but more than anything was just wanting the time on the train over. At this rate all she really wanted was her bed in the girl's dormitory to either read or to actuslly sleep since she hadn't much in the last couple of days.
[i "You're no help, Mione!"] Ron teased the girl as he then gave Harry a playful shove. [i "But she is righr, trading them for treats is a good idea."] It was obviois the redhead was thinking with his stomach again.
Hermione rolled her eyes and smiled at her two best friends. She then looked down at the book she had in her lap. [b "Who do you think will be our next Defense Against The Dark Arts professor? I mean after everything not many would be crazy enough."] She hoped getting the topic on class would seem more like her. And she hoped at least for a little while it would distract them until the train got to Hogsmeade Station and could get a carriage up to the school.
Harry had zero luck with resting, as the train lurched with every curve in the tracks. [b "A firewhiskey would probably be fantastic right now,"] he grumbled under his breath, wiggling to try and get comfortable.
The only thing that would make this day even remotely would be the feast waiting for them at Hogwarts. Harry practically salivated at the thought of steaks and roasts and potatoes lined on platters, ready to be devoured. He could stuff himself and then make a quick exit to bed with the excuse of being tired.
He heard the compartment door and kept as still as possible until he registered Ron and Hermione's whispers. [b "It's not polite to stare, you know,"] he joked dryly, raising his arm up to peak at them. [b "If you want my autograph, all you have to do is ask."]
[i "As if anyone could read your chicken scratch in the first place,"] Ron taunted back, shoving Harry's feet off the seat to make room for himself. [i "I bet it wouldn't even go for five galleons."]
Harry slapped a hand to his heart. [b "Betrayed by my best friend. How ever will I recover?"] His eyes turned to Hermione. [b "Don't you think an autograph would go for at least twenty galleons, Hermione?"]
If she picked up on his desperation for things to be normal, she didn't show it. He was making a light-hearted attempt at mending things to prevent further suspicion from Ron, but he was unsure if she'd be willing to play along.
The smile that Harry had forced to his lips that she was sure was meant to try and reassure her didn't serve its purpose. Instead it almost made her feel worse over them having to leave him. And when Ron had mentioned for Harry to try not to punch anytone while they were gone made her shoot the boy a glare. His words had not been funny or even called for. Espfcially since Malfoy had very much gotten under their best friend's skin and the two had nearly had a go.
[b "We'll be back as soon as we can. And do try and leave us some treats too."] The girl said with a smile. To anyone who didn't know her well, it could have passed for a real one but it did not reach her eyes. However, she didn't have much time to say anything else before Ron motioned she go first and both left Harry on his own.
[i "You really are acting weird, Hernione. And I mean weirder than usual. Going to tell me what's gotten into you? The BOTH of you?"] The red haired boy asked, giving her a pointed look.
A sigh slipped her lips as they walked the halls between compartments and checked on students. She had been trying to avoid talking to Ron or even looking at the boy for that matter. [b "It's just everything is changing this year, Ronald. And I just feel bad for everything Harry has already been through...And then Malfoy just.. he added to it."] The girl said quietly.
[i "I get you feeling bad for Harry. And the things changing, but how did Malfoy add anything? He was just being his usual self."] Ron said, with a raised brow.
The boy really was clueless it seemed. He had not seemed to get what Draco had implied. But did she dear say it? No because the previous year had been bad enough with all the scruitiny. And if anyone heard what she told Ron, IF she told him it would start again. Rita Skeeter had been right about her feelings towards The Boy Who Lived but she could never say it and for that it got her and Harry both into trouble.
[b "I just...He has more power and I don't like it going to his head.."] Those were her chosen words as she turned on her heel and made her way back to the compartment she and Ron had left Harry in. She was thankful Ron stopped and they were silent when they got back, taking their seats once more. The pair saw Harry sprawled out and figured he was asleep.
Harry nodded, sinking further in his seat. [b "I'll be fine. You two go on ahead. I'll get some snacks from the trolley and get some more sleep or something. Really, I'll be okay."]
Ron took his word for it and motioned for Hermione to go ahead of him. [i "We'll be back in a while. Try not to punch anyone while we're gone."]
Harry gave Hermione one last small smile to try and reassure before she left. He was almost positive that it did nothing of the sort. Once he was alone in the quiet compartment again, he huffed and kicked the seat, replaying Malfoy's taunts over in his head.
The last thing he and Hermione needed was Malfoy spreading more rumors about them. They'd already had a headache with it last year during the Tournament with Rita Skeeter running around. Then again, she hadn't exactly been wrong, at least on Harry's behalf. But still, he didn't want his best friend facing more scrutiny when she already got enough torment for being around him.
He stocked up on chocolate and pastries when the trolley came around. He ate through his anger but left some food for his friends for when they returned. Much like a child, he grew more tired after filling his stomach. This time, he stretched out along the entire seat and threw an arm over his eyes to block the light. He just wanted to get to school so he had something to think about other than how amazing Hermione Granger was.
At one point during the ride, Ginny attempted to come speak to him once more, but Harry faked sleeping until she finally left him alone. He could hear her grumbling to herself before the door slide shut, but he couldn't be bothered to get up to apologize. He was sick of having to justify his emotions to everyone. Harry Potter was allowed to have a bad mood, just like everyone else. Let them talk.
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