The group rode on in silence together. The sun was nearly touching the mountain tops when the train began to slow. “Here we are,” said Harry. “Hogsmeade station. End of the line.” He picked up Hedwig, and Hermione returned Crookshanks to his own cage. Giles and Lupin were already out of their compartment, and everyone followed them down the aisle and off the train after it pulled to a stop.
Dawn looked around at what looked like a train station platform for a small village, as they moved back to where the baggage car was being unloaded…actually, it seemed to be unloading itself. Harry and Hermione put Hedwig and Crookshanks onto the carts that their trunks had been placed on.
There really wasn’t much for Dawn to see. A fringe of fir trees to the north cut off the view that way, and the train cut off the view to the south. A narrow slice of what might be a very nice sunset was visible to the west, and to the east…was the biggest man that Dawn had ever seen. He was huge and had a thick, dark, bushy beard and hair. He was wearing a black overcoat, with lots of big pockets in it.
He came lumbering toward them. “Welcome back Harry!” he bellowed. “And Hermione too! I wasn’ expectin’ to see yeh for another three weeks! The Professor told me tha’ there was a surprise comin’, but I didn’ expec’ it to be you!
“And Professor Lupin! Now yer I was expectin’! Glad ter see tha’ they finally came ter their senses, and hired ya back!”
“Hagrid!” cried Harry. “Good to see you too! It’s good to be back! How’s Fang?”
“Fang’ll be glad ter see ya!” said Hagrid. “Now are yer goin’ ter introduce me to yer new friends?”
“Oh, yeah,” said Harry. He turned to Dawn, Buffy and Giles. “This is Rubeus Hagrid. Professor of Care of Magical Creatures, and Keeper of the Keys and Grounds of Hogwarts. Hagrid, this is Dawn Summers, her sister Buffy, and their friend Mr. Rupert Giles.”
Hagrid held out his hand to each in turn. “Glad ter make yer acquaintance!” Dawn was surprised by how gentle the grip of his huge hand was around her own. “So what brings yer ta Hogwarts?”
“Dawn may be coming to school here this year,” said Harry. “She’s kind of an American exchange student. Professor Dumbledore invited them up to have a look around before they make up their minds.”
“Oh, there’s no finer school than Hogwarts!” said Hagrid. “I’m sure you’ll decide to stay!” He waved for them to follow. “Come along then! Since yer new, we’ll take the boats across! Follow me!”
Giles pointed back toward the baggage coach. “Ah, what about our bags?”
“Don’t worry yerself about them!” said Hagrid. “Everything will be taken care of! This way now!”
Hagrid led them along a narrow path that wound its way down a steep slope between the trees. The trees opened up and Dawn found herself on the shore of a small lake. Its surface was lightly rippled by the slight evening breeze. Across the lake, perched on top of a cliff was a castle, its turrets shining crimson in the light from the setting sun. “Wow!” said Dawn.
Hagrid let them all look at the view for a couple of minutes. “Alright then! Everyone into the boats. Two to a boat I think. We do four with the firs’ years, but yer all a might bigger than they are.”
Dawn got into one of the boats with Harry, and Buffy and Hermione got into another. Giles and Professor Lupin took the third. Hagrid took the fourth boat for himself. Dawn wondered if it would actually be able to float with his huge bulk in it. She also wondered how the boats were supposed to move. She couldn’t see any sign of a motor, and there weren’t any oars or paddles.
Hagrid fished a pink umbrella out of a pocket in his coat. “Right then! FORWARD!” He pointed toward the castle.
The little fleet of boats pushed off from the shore and skimmed quickly across the water. Dawn watched the cliff on which the castle was perched grow rapidly ahead of them. She glanced down at the water and thought she saw something moving beneath her. She looked closer, and saw a huge eye looking back at her.
She grabbed Harry’s arm and gave it a shake. “There’s something down there!” She pointed at the eye.
Harry looked. “Oh, that’s the giant squid.”
“Yeah, it always follows the boats across, in case someone falls out.”
“So it can eat them?”
Harry shook his head, and smiled. “No, so it can put them back into the boat. It’s kinda the lifeguard for the lake.”
The boats started to slow, and Dawn looked ahead again. She saw they were moving toward a curtain of ivy hanging down the cliff.
“Heads down everyone!” called Hagrid. Dawn ducked as her boat moved through the curtain, into a low passage cut through the rock. It was pitch dark at first, until Hagrid lit a lamp that she hadn’t noticed he had before. The boats moved through the passage until it opened up into a small underground lagoon, and Dawn’s boat came to rest on a pebble beach.
Everyone climbed out of their boats. Hagrid lifted the lamp and led them toward a steep passage that led up through the rock. “This way then!”
The passage opened up onto a smooth grass lawn, near the main entrance to the castle. The wall loomed above Dawn. She craned her neck, but she was too close now to get a good look at it. She turned her back to the castle and looked to the west, where the sun had just vanished behind the mountains. The clouds in the sky were painted with red and orange, and a broad lawn sloped down away from her toward what looked like some sort of large stadium. “Oh this is beautiful!”
“It is a mighty fine sight, but come on now! Don’t want ter keep the Professor waiting!” Hagrid went up the broad steps to the front door of the castle, raised his huge fist, and knocked three times.
The huge doors swung open. Hagrid led them into the main entrance hall, lit by torches in brackets on the wall. “The Professor is expecting you all. Yer can leave yer guitar here, Miss, if yer like. It’ll be taken up to yer room for ya.”
Buffy smiled up at Hagrid. “No, that’s fine. I like to keep it with me.”
“Okay then. This way!” Hagrid led them up the marble staircase.
Dawn looked around at the paintings on the walls, and was surprised to see them looking back. It wasn’t just the eyes that followed her the way they seemed to do in some paintings. People in the paintings were moving around, and some even waved to her. “Just when I think I’ve seen the weirdest thing possible, it gets weirder,” she whispered to herself.
Harry had overheard her comment. “I know. I’ve been coming here for five years now, and I still keep finding stuff that’s weirder.”
Hagrid led them up a couple of flights of stairs, and down a long corridor. He stopped by a statue of a gargoyle standing beside an opening in the wall. Through the opening was a spiral staircase, moving upward like an escalator.
“Here’s where I leave yer,” said Hagrid. “I have ter get back ter feed Fluffy. He gets a might rambunctious when he’s hungry. Go on up, the Professor’s waiting.”
Everyone stepped through the door and onto the stairway that carried them upward. Dawn heard the scraping of stone on stone, and looked back just in time to see the hole in the wall seal itself shut.
The spiral stairway carried them upward. Dawn tried to count the revolutions to get some idea of how high they were being taken, but she was soon too disoriented. The stairway finally ended at a small landing in front of a polished oak door. Professor Lupin waited until everyone had arrived before he took hold of the griffon shaped brass knocker, and knocked on the door.
The door opened silently. “Come in!” They could see Dumbledore, getting up from behind his desk and coming around to greet them. “Come in! Welcome to Hogwarts. I hope you had a pleasant journey.”
Everyone filed through the door. Dawn looked around the circular office. There were shelves full of books. Portraits of witches and wizards hung on the walls: most of them appeared to be asleep. There were tables on which rested all sorts of strange devices. Dawn couldn’t guess what most of them could possibly do. She glanced toward Dumbledore, and saw he was smiling, and waiting for his visitors to have a good look around. Dawn’s eyes were drawn to a beautiful bird with bright red and gold plumage that nearly looked like it was on fire, roosting on a stand behind Dumbledore’s desk.
“Good lord!” said Giles. “Is that a phoenix?”
“Yes, indeed he is,” said Dumbledore. “Fawkes has been my most faithful companion for many years now.”
“I’m glad to see he’s fully recovered,” said Harry.
Dumbledore’s eyes twinkled. “Yes, like a certain Slayer, phoenixes refuse to stay dead.”
Dumbledore went back to his desk. “So, to business! Remus, your old rooms and office have been made ready for you. Everything Professor Umbridge left behind has been tossed in the trash. Miss Summers, and Miss Summers, your things have been taken to the Gryffindor girls’ dormitory, where you will be staying with Hermione. Mr. Giles’ things have been placed in the room beneath Harry’s. They can show you the way, once we are finished here.
“Now, Dawn. We can sort you into your house now, or we can wait and do it at the start of the term, when we sort the first years. It’s up to you.”
“Um, but I haven’t made up my mind yet about whether I want to come here,” said Dawn nervously.
“Quite true,” said Dumbledore, “but the sorting places no obligation on you, and may help you make up your mind.”
Dawn thought about it a bit. If she waited to be sorted with the first years, it would mean that she had already accepted the offer to come to Hogwarts, and it would be too late to back out. What if the hat put her into Slytherin? From what Harry and Hermione had said about it on the trip up, she really didn’t think she’d like spending a year there. Best to find out early. “Okay, sort me now.”
“Very well.” Dumbledore got up from his desk chair again, and picked up a battered old witch’s hat from the shelf behind it. “If you’ll just step over here.”
Dawn came forward, and Dumbledore placed the hat on her head. It was much too big for her, and came down over her ears and nearly covered her eyes. “Oh, this is most interesting!” said a quiet voice in her ear. “A very difficult choice indeed.”
‘What?’ thought Dawn. She had been warned by Harry and Hermione that the hat would talk to her and could read her thoughts, and managed to keep her question from being spoken out loud.
“You would do well in any of the houses,” said the hat. “Very sharp wits, and a love of learning would serve you well in Ravenclaw. Hard worker, loyal to your friends matches well with Hufflepuff. You have bravery to spare for Gryffindor, and a cunning and ambition that would make you an excellent Slytherin.”
‘Not Slytherin!’ thought Dawn.
“Ah, you have been talking with Harry Potter, I see,” said the hat. “Are you sure? You want to get out from under your sister’s shadow, really accomplish something on your own, show everyone that you too can do great things. There’s more to you than being the Key, or the Slayer’s little sister. Slytherin could help you do that.”
‘Not! Slytherin!’ thought Dawn, even harder.
“Oh very well,” said the hat. “GRYFFINDOR!”
Harry and Hermione cheered and applauded as Dumbledore took the hat off Dawn’s head and returned it to its place on the shelf. He waited for them to settle down before he spoke again. “Harry, and Hermione, why don’t you show our guests to their rooms, give them a bit of a chance to clean up and rest from their trip. Dinner will be served in one hour in the Great Hall. Remus, if you would care to stay behind, there are a couple of things I would like to discuss with you about your classes.”
“Okay Professor,” said Hermione. She and Harry led Dawn Buffy and Giles back out to the spiral staircase, which was now turning the other direction.
“What happens if someone’s coming to see Dumbledore at the same time someone else is leaving?” asked Dawn as they rode the stairs back down.
“I don’t know,” said Harry. “I’ve never passed anyone coming or going.”
The wall was open again when they got back to the bottom, but the opening closed up again immediately after they had passed through it. The stone gargoyle that had stood beside it shuffled over and settled down again, making the entrance invisible to anyone who didn’t know where it was.
“I guess Dumbledore doesn’t like visitors,” said Dawn as she followed Harry and Hermione back down the hall.
“It’s not that,” said Harry. “It’s more like the castle has a mania for hidden doors and secret passageways. Pretty much everyone knows where the door to Dumbledore’s office is, and his password isn’t hard to guess either. Just keep trying different types of sweets or desserts.”
“Password?” asked Dawn.
“Yeah, say the right password, and the gargoyle steps aside and the door opens,” said Harry. “Of course if Dumbledore really doesn’t want to be disturbed even knowing the right password won’t let you in.”
They started up the stairs toward Gryffindor tower. “Hey, Hermione?” asked Harry. “The Professor didn’t say anything. What’s our password?”
“I don’t know,” said Hermione. “Hopefully we’ll find out when we get there, or maybe they haven’t changed it from last year yet.” She hopped over a step. “Watch your step. That one’s not really there, it’s an illusion.”
Dawn poked her foot at the step, and saw it appear to sink into it. “Huh? What’s the school’s liability insurance like, for, you know, when someone falls and breaks their neck?”
Harry smiled. “There’s a kinda safety net spell that catches you if you do that. No one’s been injured by it yet, but lots of kids have scattered books all the way down to the ground floor.”
They continued up the stairs until they came to the seventh floor corridor where the entrance into Gryffindor tower lay. Dawn saw that there was a woman waiting for them, by a painting of a fat lady. She was tall and stern looking, with black hair, streaked with grey, pulled back into a bun at the back of her head. She was wearing a tall pointed hat, and an emerald green cloak. She looked at them through rectangular spectacles.
“Hello Professor McGonagall!” said Hermione.
“Hello Miss Granger, and you too, Mr. Potter,” said McGonagall. “Back to start your mischief early this year I see.”
“Hello Professor,” said Harry. “Er, this is Dawn Summers, and her sister Buffy, and their friend Mr. Giles. Dawn may be coming to school here this term, and she just got sorted into Gryffindor!”
“So Professor Dumbledore has informed me,” said McGonagall. “Welcome to Hogwarts Miss Summers. The password is ‘Queerditch Marsh.’”
The fat lady in the painting bowed slightly. “You may enter,” she said, and the painting swung open like a door, revealing a round opening in the wall.
“Show our guests to their rooms, and then I’ll see you at dinner,” said Professor McGonagall. She turned and swept away down the hall.
Harry and Hermione showed them into the Gryffindor common room, with its comfortable chairs, and a cheery fire burning in the large fire place. “Professor McGonagall is the Deputy Headmistress, and she’s the head of Gryffindor house,” said Hermione.
“And her bark is a lot worse than her bite,” said Harry. “She seems really stern, but she’s fair, and though she works hard to hide it, she does have a sense of humour, but it tends toward the sarcastic. She teaches Transfiguration.”
Harry took Giles up to his room while Hermione took Buffy and Dawn up to theirs. When Dawn had heard it called a dormitory she had feared the worst. She’d expected an institutional look, with rows of beds, and was quite pleasantly surprised by the cozy circular tower room that Hermione took them into. There were four four-poster beds spaced out around it, and each bed had a desk and a wardrobe beside it. Dawn and Buffy’s suitcases were sitting on top of chests of drawers at the feet of two of the beds, and Hermione’s trunk was at the foot of a third.
Dawn sat on her bed, and bounced up and down a bit. “Ooh, comfy!” The mattress was just the way she liked it, not too hard, or too soft.
Hermione showed them the bathroom next. “You have to share it with three other girls, but there are two toilets, and two bathtubs, so it’s not too bad.”
“Hey, I spent half of last year living in a house with twenty girls and only one bathroom,” said Dawn. “You had to take a number to get your turn.” She looked behind a curtain and saw a huge bathtub. “This is great!”
They went back out into the bedroom and started to unpack their bags, hanging some of their clothes in the wardrobes, and putting others into drawers. Dawn placed her new Powerbook onto her desk and looked around. “So, is there someplace I can plug this in?”
“Oh, I’m sorry, but there’s no electricity in the castle,” said Hermione. “Witches and wizards have other ways of doing most of the things that electricity does.” She pointed to the candles that were providing the illumination. “They’re heatless, smokeless and odourless, and they never burn down. They light up and go out automatically as required.”
“No electricity?” asked Dawn. She pulled out her iPod too. “So once the battery’s dead in this, I’m tuneless?”
“’Fraid so.” said Hermione. “They probably won’t work at all. Too much magical interference for Muggle electronics to work properly.”
Dawn pressed the power button on her computer. Nothing happened. She tried to turn on her iPod and got the same result. “This place just lost a whole lot of points.”
“Oh, don’t worry,” said Hermione. “There are lots of things to make up for the lack of computers and such.”
“Such as?” asked Dawn.
“There’s an amazing library!” said Hermione.
“You have got to meet Willow sometime,” said Buffy.
They went back down into the common room and saw that Harry and Giles were talking with a floating, semi-transparent figure that was dressed in a plumed hat and doublet with a ruffed collar.
“Hello, Sir Nicholas!” said Hermione.
The figure turned toward her. “Hello Miss Granger.”
“Oh, Buffy and Dawn, this is Sir Nicholas de Mimsy-Porpington,” said Hermione. “He’s the Gryffindor ghost.”
“Also known as Nearly Headless Nick.” said Harry.
“I prefer Sir Nicholas,” said the ghost.
“Nearly headless?” asked Buffy.
“I’m afraid I’m the victim of a botched execution,” said Nick. He took hold of his left ear and pulled. His whole head flopped sideways, his neck was nearly completely severed, with just a bit of skin connecting it to the rest of his ghostly body.
Dawn let out a bit of a squeal.
“Eww!” said Buffy.
Nick replaced his head and smiled, obviously pleased by the reaction he’d gotten. “So you’re our new Gryffindor,” he said to Dawn. “Pleased to meet you.” This time he doffed his hat, leaving his head on his shoulders.
“Um, nice to meet you too,” said Dawn. She had no idea what the polite greeting for a ghost was, but this guy looked a little medieval, so she tried a curtsey. This was a mistake, because Sir Nicholas bowed in response, and his head fell off his shoulders again.
Harry stifled a laugh. “Come on,” he told Buffy and Dawn. “Time to head down for dinner.”
“I think I’ve lost my appetite,” said Dawn softly as she followed him toward the exit.
Professor Lupin met them just inside the door of the Great Hall, and invited Giles to join him at the head table with the other staff. Harry and Hermione showed Buffy and Dawn to the Gryffindor table.
Dawn looked around the huge room. The hall was lit by hundreds of candles that seemed to be floating in the air above them. She could see stars and a crescent moon above them. “There’s no roof!”
“Yes there is,” said Hermione, “but it’s enchanted so it shows the sky overhead. Really impressive during thunderstorms.”
Dawn kept looking around the nearly empty hall. “Feels weird, just us in all this space.”
“Yeah,” said Harry. “Even at Christmas there’s usually a dozen students who stay over during the holiday. I’ve never seen it this empty. Maybe I’ll talk to Dobby, arrange for us to eat in the common room.”
“House-elf,” said Harry. “They take care of all the cooking and cleaning and stuff around Hogwarts.”
“Slave labour you mean,” said Hermione.
Buffy and Dawn frowned. “What do you mean?” asked Buffy.
“The house-elves are slaves,” said Hermione. “Hogwarts exists on a base of slave labour.”
“Losing more points,” said Dawn.
“Oh!” said Hermione. “You have to join the Society for the Promotion of Elvish Welfare!”
“SPEW?” asked Dawn. “Must’ve been named by someone who went to the same school of acronyms as Mom.”
“We work for the liberation of house-elves,” said Hermione.
“Main problem being, they don’t want to be liberated,” said Harry.
“I spent the whole summer knitting more hats!” said Hermione.
“Hats?” asked Dawn.
“You free a house-elf by giving it clothes, so I’ve been making hats for them,” said Hermione.
“Which is why nearly every house-elf in the castle runs the other way when they see Hermione coming,” said Harry. “They’re afraid she’ll give them a hat. Dobby and Winky are the only ones who’ll come into Gryffindor tower any more.”
“What?” asked Hermione.
“Oh, didn’t I tell you?” Harry grimaced. “Dobby and Winky collected all the hats you’d hidden last year—she was hiding them under loose bits of paper and such in the common room hoping that an elf would find them and get freed when it was cleaning up, even if it didn’t want to be,” he explained to Buffy and Dawn. “But since none of the other elves will come anywhere near Gryffindor anymore, Dobby and Winky collected them all. Last time I saw him, Dobby was wearing about a dozen.”
“So why will Dobby and Winky come into the tower, but not the rest?” asked Dawn.
“Because they’re already free elves,” said Harry. “Dobby used to be bound to the Malfoys, and they really abused him until I tricked Mr. Malfoy into giving him a sock, so now Dobby works here, for a wage. Winky used to work for the Crouch family, but she got fired a couple of years ago. Given clothes and sent away, it was really unfair too, she hadn’t really done anything wrong, so Dumbledore hired her too. I haven’t seen her recently, but she used to spend a lot of time drunk. She was deeply shamed by being freed.”
“I think you need to rethink your strategy, Hermione,” said Dawn. “Maybe a new name too. How about the House-Elf Liberation Party? HELP. Sounds much better.”
“Oh, I like that!” said Hermione. “Want to join? It only costs two Sickles. That gets you a S.P.E.W. badge…I guess it’ll be a H.E.L.P. badge now, and the rest goes to finance printing our information fliers and things. Ron’s the treasurer, and Harry’s the secretary.”
“She drafted us,” said Harry.
“Sure I’ll join!” said Dawn. “Buffy too!”
“I guess Hermione isn’t the only one who’ll draft members for this outfit,” said Buffy.
Their conversation stopped because Dumbledore had entered the hall. He made his way to the centre chair at the high table and had a look up and down it, as if checking that everyone was present before he spoke. “I would like to say a few words of welcome to our guests.” He gestured toward the Gryffindor table “Miss Dawn Summers, and Miss Buffy Summers, and…” He gestured to where Giles was sitting with Professor Lupin. “…Mr. Rupert Giles, and the returning member of our staff, Professor Lupin: Trivet! Bodkin! Honeysuckle! Tuck in everyone!”
Dishes full of food appeared in front of everyone. Dawn was amazed by the quantity, and variety available. Breads, and soups, and meats, and vegetables, and drinks, and salads, and desserts. She forgot all about what Nearly Headless Nick had done to her appetite. “Wow! Do you guys eat like this all the time? ’Cause, you know, lots of points!”
Harry laughed. “No, not every night. Looks like they laid this on special for you. There are a few feasts like this. The Welcome Feast for new students, Halloween, Christmas, Easter, and the End of Term Feast. They feed us pretty good though. No one’s ever complained about the lack of food, and it’s always good, and if you get hungry between meals you can always nip down to the kitchens, and the house-elves will be glad to give you something. I’ll show you after dinner.”
Dawn glanced toward the high table. There seemed to be a lot of empty chairs there. “So tell me who the teachers are.”
Harry looked at the high table too. “A lot of them aren’t here. Of the ones that are, we have Professor Sprout at the far end. She teaches Herbology, and is the head of Hufflepuff house. Beside her is Professor Vector. She teaches Arithmancy.”
“Arithmancy?” asked Dawn.
“Wizard maths,” said Hermione. “Pretty much the same as Muggle maths. More emphasis on non-Euclidean geometry, and some other areas, but math is math, whether you’re a wizard or a Muggle. Wizard Arithmancians quite often publish in Muggle Mathematics journals, and vice-versa.”
“Next we have Professor Flitwick,” Harry nodded toward the tiny wizard. “He teaches Charms, and is head of Ravenclaw house. You’ve met McGonagall and Dumbledore. That’s Professor Sinistra on the other side of him. She teaches Astronomy. Again, pretty much like the Muggle version, with more emphasis on actually making your own observations, and not to be confused with astrology, which is taught in Divination. Divination is being taught by Professors Trelawney and Firenze this year. Firenze is a centaur that Dumbledore hired when Umbridge fired Professor Trelawney last year, but Dumbledore hired her back as soon as Umbridge left. The other centaurs made Firenze an outcast for working for wizards though, so Dumbledore kept him too. Most centaurs don’t like us much.”
“Everything Trelawney says is nonsense,” said Hermione. “I wasn’t too sorry to see her removed from the staff, even if it was by Umbridge.”
“Divination is the only course Hermione ever dropped,” said Harry. “And only 99.9 percent of the stuff Trelawney says is nonsense. There’s that last .1 percent though. Sometimes something comes over her, and she says something completely unlike the nonsense that she usually spouts, and when it’s passed she doesn’t even know she’s said it. That stuff isn’t nonsense.” He gave Buffy a sheepish smile. “Which I suppose means that we should ignore it even more than we ignore the nonsense.
“Next to Sinistra is Madam Pomfrey, She’s the school nurse, and that’s Madam Hooch beside her. She teaches flying, and is the Quidditch instructor and referee.”
The rest of the people at the high table were ones that Dawn had already met. Hagrid saw that she was looking his way, and gave her a little wave and a smile. She waved back nervously. “What about Hagrid?”
“Oh, I know he looks scary,” said Harry, “But he’s my best friend on the staff. He’s really nice. Sometimes he’s too nice. He can’t really see bad in any creature, no matter how deadly, he loves them all. I sometimes think he loves the deadliest ones the best.” He glanced toward the high table to make sure none of the professors were paying attention to him. He lowered his voice into a whisper. “First year we were here, he tried to keep a dragon as a pet. Named it Norbert.”
Harry and Hermione spent the rest of the meal telling Buffy and Dawn the story of Norbert the Norwegian Ridgeback…with frequent checks to make sure they were still being ignored by the teachers. They were finishing their desserts by the time they got to the part about how they’d gotten caught out of the tower at night by Filch after some friends of Ron’s brother Charlie had taken Norbert away.
People started to filter away from the high table. Dawn saw that Professor McGonagall had a bit of a whispered conversation with Dumbledore, and then she got up from the table, and came around it toward the group sitting at the Gryffindor table.
She smiled and nodded at Dawn. “Miss Summers, we thought that perhaps you would like to spend tomorrow having Potter and Granger show you and your sister around the castle and grounds. Let you get your bearings.”
“Uh, yeah,” said Dawn. “That sounds like fun.”
“Then on Monday you can start to meet with the Professors. Let them evaluate you, see what you need to learn, and you can begin to evaluate us. Then we’ll make up a schedule for the next two weeks, let you get a taste of what classes at Hogwarts are like. Give you a bit of a crash course in the basics, so you won’t have to go to all your classes with the first years.
“I must warn you, we intend to work you hard, and we will try to give you what you need to take courses with students close to your own age, but even then I expect that you will have to work harder than most, just to catch up.”
McGonagall looked at Harry and Hermione. “I intend to work these two hard as well. For the next two weeks they will be your tutors. I intend for Miss Summers to excel, and I expect you two to do everything in your power to help her do so. You have both demonstrated that you are capable of doing great things—though Potter’s talents seem to lie outside the area of academics—I expect no less this time.”
She looked back at Dawn. “So, have fun tomorrow. After that you will have little opportunity for fun for some time.”
Dawn gulped. “Yes, ma’am.”
“Very well,” said McGonagall. “Any questions?”
“Uh, no ma’am.” said Dawn.
“All right,” said McGonagall. “See you on Monday.” She turned and started to walk away.
“Oh, Professor?” asked Harry.
She turned back. “Yes, Potter?”
“Er, we were wondering… It’s a little weird, eating here with just a few of us in the Hall. Could we take our meals in the common room, until the start of term?”
McGonagall nodded. “Certainly, Potter, but I might miss your stories. Hagrid had a Norwegian Ridgeback! I always thought that there had to be a story behind what you lot were doing sneaking around the castle at one in the morning! Good night!” She turned and swept away. Dawn heard her snort. “Norbert!”
Harry took Dawn and Buffy down to see the kitchens before they went back to their rooms. Since they didn’t want to scare off the house-elves, Hermione continued on her own up to the common room. They went down a narrow stairway into a corridor lined with pictures of food. Harry pointed out the entrance to the Hufflepuff common room as they passed it, and then stopped in front of a large painting of a bowl of fruit. He reached out and tickled the pear. It giggled and became a doorknob. Harry pulled the door open and took Buffy and Dawn into the kitchens.
The Hogwarts kitchens were a huge room, equal in size to the great hall, which Buffy figured had to be directly above them. She could see that there were five large tables, laid out exactly like the tables in the hall, on which food could be prepared, and she could see the leftovers and dirty dishes from their meal were now on two of them.
There were about a dozen small creatures, about waist high, with large eyes, and bat like ears bustling around, cleaning dishes and things. They all seemed to be wearing tea towels with the Hogwarts crest on them, wrapped around themselves like togas.
“House-elves?” asked Buffy quietly.
“House-elves.” said Harry. “When school’s in session, there’ll be about a hundred of them in here.”
One of the elves noticed that they were there, and instantly appeared in front of them. “Good evening, sir, and misses! Is there anything we can get for you? A snack perhaps?”
“Oh, no, thank you!” said Harry quickly. “We have just had a most excellent meal that you prepared for us. I was just showing our guests around, and wondering if Dobby was here.”
“Dobby is not here sir.” said the elf. “Dobby is on holiday sir.” The elf spat the word out like it was swearing.
“Oh!” said Harry. “Er, how about Winky then?”
“Oh, yes sir!” said the elf. “Winky is here sir! I will go get her for you!” The elf vanished with a sudden crack.
“Wow!” said Harry to Buffy and Dawn. “Dobby actually took a holiday! When he first started here, he refused Dumbledore’s offer to have weekends off.”
Buffy and Dawn wandered around the kitchen, looking around and fending off house-elves who kept popping up and offering them things to eat.
The first elf they’d seen popped back in, accompanied by a second, rather sad looking elf dressed in a skirt, with a matching blue blouse and hat. The other elves looked away from her, like there was something indecent about the way she was dressed.
“Winky!” said Harry. “Good to see you again!”
“And you, Mr. Potter sir,” said Winky. “Is there something Winky can be doing for sir? Winky likes to work! Winky is not taking holidays sir!”
“Work seems to agree with you Winky,” said Harry. “You’re looking better. I’m glad to see it.”
“Thank you sir,” said Winky. “Winky likes to work. How may I serve you sir?”
“I just came down to tell you that we’re going to be having our meals in the common room, from now until the start of term, so if you could be so kind as to have them delivered there, we would be very grateful.”
“Very good sir,” said Winky. “Um, is she here too sir?”
“Yes Winky, I’m afraid she is,” said Harry, “but I’ll try to keep her under control.”
“Oh, thank you sir!” said Winky.
“You are most welcome Winky,” said Harry. He took Buffy and Dawn back out of the kitchen, into the hall.
“‘She’?” asked Dawn.
Harry closed the door before he answered. “Hermione. I’m afraid that the house-elves are getting almost as afraid of saying her name as the witches and wizards are of saying ‘Voldemort.’”
“I hadn’t noticed anyone having any trouble with his name,” said Buffy.
“I was raised Muggle, so I don’t have any problem, and Hermione, who was also raised Muggle has managed to get over the aversion, since she wasn’t taught her whole life not to say it, but most witches and wizards call him ‘You Know Who,’ or ‘He Who Must Not Be Named.’ They have real problems saying his name, and cringe whenever they hear it. It’s nonsense really. Dumbledore says that being afraid to say his name just gives him more power.” Harry grinned. “Maybe we should start pushing that ‘Moldywart’ thing. Mocking should lower the fear level even more.”
They made their way back up from the kitchen level to the seventh floor entrance to the Gryffindor tower. “Whew!” said Dawn. “Haven’t you people heard of elevators?”
“At least I know you’ll bet getting lots of exercise,” said Buffy.
“Yeah, but what about Giles?” asked Dawn as they entered the common room.
“What about me?” Giles looked up from the book he was reading by the fire.
“All the stairs in this place!” said Dawn. “You’re liable to have a heart attack! Maybe we should get you a room on one of the lower floors.”
Giles gave Dawn a look. Her face was flushed, and she was taking deep breaths. “I seem to be able to handle it just as well as you…if not better.”
“Don’t believe him,” said Hermione. “He was looking pretty knackered when he came in here ten minutes ago. So how was Dobby?”
“You will be pleased to hear that Dobby is on holiday!” said Harry. “The other house-elves are all quite scandalized by his behaviour. I didn’t ask if it was paid. I don’t know if he’s fallen so far as to actually take a paid holiday. We talked to Winky, and she’s looking better. Didn’t cry once, and her clothes were all cleaned up. I arranged to have our meals delivered up here.”
“Maybe we should rethink that,” said Dawn. “I don’t like the idea of making those little elves carry all that stuff all the way up here.”
“Oh, don’t worry about that,” said Harry. “They won’t carry it up. They’ll use magic. House-elves are really very powerful in some ways. In an actual contest of magic between an elf and a wizard, bet on the elf.”
|Chapter 8: Hogwarts Express||Contents||Chapter 10: Castle Tour|