Proud Parents

Chapter 24 - Best days of our lives?

Albus was livid before he arrived in the Great Hall for the sorting feast. Lupin had promised him Potter would be on the Hogwarts Express today. After staking out platform nine and three quarters until the express left for Hogwarts, he could say with a degree of certainty that Potter wasn't on the train. Not only that, the platform appeared a lot less crowded than Albus had expected.

He then had to suffer the ignominy of being given the runaround by that blasted goblin inside Gringotts, the creature had the gall to confirm Lupin was inside the bank - but too busy to see him. A raging Albus had headed back to Hogwarts, with the added intention of checking on just what their actual student numbers were this year.

Discovering Dolores didn't know those figures, didn't even know it was part of her job to tally the numbers, only exacerbated his anger. Hearing her admitting to not visiting any potential new muggleborn students almost saw Albus explode. Only spotting the magical register sitting in the corner of Minerva's old office offered some comfort, knowing it would still automatically generate and send the letters to students applicable to join as a Hogwarts first year. Any sense of comfort soon vanished however when he asked Dolores for the new timetables.

"Any time we've had a meeting, the only subject you ever discussed was Potter. You never told me what else I was supposed to know and do as your Deputy. At least Cornelius always explained exactly what he wanted to happen, and then it was up to me to make sure it did."

He was left wondering whether it was Dolores's total ineptitude at any task or grating 'constipated donkey' droning tones that saw that same Cornelius offload his Senior Undersecretary into Albus's fiefdom.

Thus explaining the various reasons behind why Albus Dumbledore was in such a snit. A quick glance around the Great Hall did nothing to alleviate his temper. Between those who had fled Britain and were attending Potter's school, it would seem at first glance Hogwarts was running with about half the students it would normally hold. Albus couldn't see any fourth years sitting at the Gryffindor house table, that had never happened before. Things certainly didn't improve when the new first years were led in to be sorted, all eleven of them. With eight of those being sorted into Ravenclaw, two Slytherins and a lone Hufflepuff - that left Gryffindor with no first or fourth years.

Hagrid sitting down and telling everyone within earshot, which was the entire Great Hall, that he would be spending Christmas with Harry Potter in Italy left Albus fit to be tied. Hagrid's retelling of talking with Potter and Granger while putting the first years on the boats had the headmaster seething at how close Potter had been - almost within his grasp. Only the largest number of announcements Albus could remember after an opening feast kept him sitting on his throne, though his food remained untouched.

While he was desperate to rant and rave about how unjustly Albus Dumbledore was being treated - by absolutely everyone - he was the headmaster and stepped forward to inform the students of the decimation of the school's staff. After getting that mammoth task out of the way, Albus moved on to the announcement he'd actually been looking forward to.

"It is also my painful duty to inform you that the Inter-House Quidditch Cup will not take place this year."

There were a few derisive shouts at that announcement, which Albus ignored and simply continued on to the meat of what he had to say.

"This is due to an event that will be starting in October, and continuing throughout the school year, taking up much of the teachers' time and energy — but I am sure we will all enjoy it immensely. It gives me great pleasure to announce that this year Hogwarts will have the honour of hosting a very exciting event. Over the coming months, an event that has not been held for two centuries will be held here. It is my very great pleasure to inform you that the Triwizard Tournament will be taking place at Hogwarts."

Albus was hoping hearing this news would generate at least some excitement, all he got from the students was apathy. He could only assume it was because none of them had ever heard of the tournament, so set out to rectify that.

"Some of you may never have heard of this tournament, so I hope those who do know will forgive me for giving a short explanation. The Triwizard Tournament was first established some seven centuries ago to be a friendly competition between the three best magical schools in Europe..."

Now Albus got a wave of very enthusiastic reactions - just not the ones he was looking for.

"Does that mean the Potter Institute will be coming to Hogwarts?"

"Will they be bringing any professors with them?"

"Hogwarts will be safe if Potter returns..."

"SILENCE! THE POTTER INSTITUTE IS NOT ONE OF THE BEST SCHOOLS IN EUROPE - AND INELIGIBLE TO ENTER."

After screaming at the entire great hall, Albus needed a couple of deep breaths to regain control of his anger. He also needed at least one Hogwarts student to put their name forward for the tournament. Looking around at the collection of terrified faces, that currently wasn't looking such a likely outcome. It was time to talk himself out of this deep hole he'd just dug and then jumped head first into.

"The rules have been changed to make it safer, due to the odd accident in past tournaments. Participants have to be of age, and I understand none of this institution's students have even sat their O.W.L.s yet. The three competing schools will be Hogwarts, Beauxbatons, and Durmstrang. A champion will be selected to represent each school, and the champions will then competed in three exciting magical tasks."

Deciding that now would be a very bad time to mention high death tolls amongst participants, and even the occasional spectator, Albus just skipped over that part. If their greed for gold let to potential participants not doing their research on past tournaments, that could hardly be counted as his fault.

" Beauxbatons and Durmstrang will be arriving with their contenders in October, and the selection of the three champions will take place at Halloween. An impartial judge will decide which students are most worthy to compete for the Triwizard Cup, the glory of their school, and a thousand Galleons prize money to the victorious champion."

As expected, the sum mentioned had perked up a few sets of ears. Albus decided to send them off to bed, leaving them concentrating more on a thousand galleons - rather than his earlier burst of temper. Albus didn't speak with his staff either, Hagrid's wide grin left him wanting to curse the giant fool, and he deliberately avoided looking anywhere near a mightily miffed Horace Slughorn. He was going to be spending half the night timetabling all the classes that were taking place in Hogwarts this year. There currently wasn't any staff Albus could pass the task onto, even the witch whose job it was supposed to be in the first place.

-oOoOo-

Tom felt the cold hand of fear travel slowly down his spine. This was of course purely psychological, since he currently didn't have a body of his own - far less a spine. Something hadn't felt quite right at the Gaunts' former home, so Nagini had been sent in to do a bit of scouting.

She'd returned to report that there was no sign of anyone there, nor any trace of foreign magic. He'd still sported great care approaching and entering the cabin, only to find one of his greatest treasures missing. Tom then began casting more aggressive spells, looking for clues. It was with one of these spells Tom discovered the actual spot where someone had destroyed a part of his soul.

It felt a bit like standing at your own graveside, that was the only analogy a now terrified Dark Lord could come up with. The need for speed was now going to dictate, as well as limit, his available choices. Tom really needed a body of his own as quickly as possible. The entire Quirrell fiasco had highlighted just how vulnerable his current situation was, and also how quickly his host's body would start deteriorating.

If they began brewing the required potion immediately, it would still take at least three weeks to complete it. With only Wormtail to assist, it would be nearer a month. There was also the choice to be made of whose blood to use for the ritual. There was a balance to be drawn between selecting the most powerful enemy, and choosing someone they could actually capture. Bertha wasn't what could be considered a powerful witch. Peter was able to control her, and he was at best mediocre in terms of raw magical power.

It brought him back to the dilemma that had haunted him since taking control of Bertha. Tom certainly had the power and ability to use a possessed Bertha and Peter's dark mark to summon any of his followers still at large.

The plus side would have been the possibility of more competent followers. The negative sides were many, and so far had forced him to ignore this option. His power was what held his followers in check - power he wouldn't have until his spirit was contained in a body of his own. Since none of his followers had sought him out for over a decade, their continued loyalty was at best questionable. After reading of the Ministry purge on his followers, Tom wasn't even sure if the risk was worth it anymore.

He would make plans to get the potion brewed, and work on a list of suitable candidates to snatch and use their blood in the ceremony. Once Tom had his own body, he wouldn't hesitate to call his followers - and see if any dared to appear in front of him.

-oOoOo-

Friday at the Institute was spent sorting out classes and timetables. The first and second years presented no problems, third years now had to choose their electives. It was the fourth years where the headaches began.

Since Care of Magical Creatures, Astronomy and Divination were all subjects not being offered at the Institute, this left large gaps in a number of students' timetables. Added to that, the Institute students would be sitting the more comprehensive European exams. This meant dropping into fourth year Arithmancy or Ancient Runes wasn't a realistic option for anyone who hadn't any prior knowledge of the subjects. They would simply be too far behind their classmates - who themselves were playing catch-up.

With Italian language classes and Modern Studies - replacing the poorly named Muggle Studies - now compulsory for all students at the Institute, this at least filled some of the gaps. A new elective was also added, Basic Healing, where Poppy would teach the spells, Pomona the plants and Professor de Marco the potions part of this course.

Modern Studies was considered to be a better course subject title, since students would be using the skills being taught every single day they attended the Institute - and also when they entered the modern world outside their wards.

The Headmistress had already emphasised in her opening speech that no spells were to be performed in the accommodation block, due to the electrical systems and phones. As most students had now witnessed at least one person phoning home, no one wanted to mess with that system. There were also a number of letters forwarded to Gringotts in London, asking their families to have one of these systems installed as soon as possible.

History of Magic was another tough choice for the Institute, since the course taught at Hogwarts in no way prepared their students for this new exam. Goblin rebellions barely rated a historical mention outside of the British Isles - and most of the Hogwarts students had slept through Binn's classes anyway - the new History course consisted of a completely different curriculum. The collective decision was taken to start the fourth years at third year level and see how they progressed. Professors Vector and Babbling also made the same offer to any fourth years wanting to give their subject a try - start at third year and see how things go.

Harry and Hermione were sitting in their massive garden, while Harry made his mind up exactly what courses he was choosing. They had been 'stitched up' by their friends and the staff, with everyone pairing up for rooms and leaving them as the odd ones out. That this had been organised became clear as Harry and Hermione were allocated their rooms. They had adjoining rooms on the ground floor at the very end of the accommodation block - with a large living area between their bedrooms. That there was also an additional small bedroom - presumably set aside for Joan - settled any doubts this had been well planned.

Their garden took up the entire end of the student accommodation block, and a swing park was now tucked into a little space on the other side of their garden fence. This was proving very popular amongst the staff who had small children, with even some of Signora Riccio's day-care classes planned to be held there. Both could hear Joan's laughter as they watched a smiling Dan push her on one of the swings.

Harry couldn't help but smile to himself. "It's wonderful to hear her so happy, and I love the swing park they sneaked into the design. Dudley and his gang made the park at Little Whining a scary place - when there weren't any parents around. That will never happen here."

He received a kiss on the cheek before Hermione asked him if he'd made his mind up about classes. "Yes, I certainly want to put my name down for the healing elective, and ask for entrance exams into fourth year Ancient Runes and Arithmancy - might as well see if Tom's knowledge can be used for something useful. Along with Charms, Transfiguration, Potions, Defence, History of Magic, Herbology, Modern Studies and our Italian classes, that puts both of us on the same course load."

"Babbling and Vector will certainly allow the Institute's owner to sit those exams, don't expect that position to gain you even one extra mark though." Hermione's smile was because he wouldn't need any favours from the professors involved, they were in each other's heads so much now Hermione would ensure Harry passed, even although she was right and both Professors would certainly play everything entirely by the numbers..

Sharing the thought of Professor Vector playing strictly by the numbers had both of them laughing.

As Harry set off to discuss his situation with the professors, Hermione casually vaulted over the garden fence into the swing park - they still trained every day and both had never been physically fitter. Harry suggested asking her mum and dad to spend the evening with the three of them. Their special accommodation was actually larger than the Grangers' staff ones, and the five of them would have far more room in their garden - rather than trying to crush onto her parents' balcony.

-oOoOo-

Since she'd first set foot in Italy, Joan had eaten every meal sitting beside either Harry or Hermione - usually between both. She didn't think the fact they were now living at the Institute, or that there was now another eighty students there, were any reasons to stop having her meals with them.

As Harry, Hermione and their friends who had holidayed with them over the summer just treated this as normal, none of the other students thought to say anything about the four year old sitting amongst them. Then again, with no house or staff tables, sitting for meals was a fluid situation that could see you having dinner with a few of your professors - and even their families.

There was some semblance of normality though for the former Gryffindors as Professor McGonagall handed them their timetables. All conversation ceased for a few moments while their attention focused on how they'd be spending their time until the summer.

A grinning Ron summed it up nicely. "There's nothing on here to complain about. Even starting our week off with three hours of potions doesn't bother me."

With his eyebrows wagging in what Seamus thought was a suggestive manner, he couldn't wait to comment on that. "Could it be because the subject will be taught by the gorgeous Professor de Marco, and not some greasy bastard."

Harry was all over that, knowing this would carry more authority coming from him - rather than Hermione verbally tearing Seamus a new one. "The rather large wizard sitting next to Professor de Marco is her husband, who just happens to also be the Italian Ministry's version of a hit wizard. Their children are also becoming friends with Joan, and children innocently carry stories about what they've heard and seen to their friends - and parents."

Hearing that had Seamus sitting his knife and fork down, he'd suddenly lost his appetite. Seeing this, Harry continued and now included everyone sitting there. "This is an entirely different setting to Hogwarts, and we all need to think about what we say and do while sitting here. If what we say or do would be out of place if a Professor was having breakfast at the table with us, then it's simply out of place full stop - so keep it to yourself."

While nodding in agreement with that sentiment, Dean tried to deflect some of the attention away from his roommate. "No problem, but can I ask why - not meaning Joan - there are other kids here?"

This earned a shoulder shrug from Harry. "They live here, the Institute is currently their home."

It was left to Hermione to explain the reasoning behind that. "We wanted the Institute to be the best, so that means you need the best people teaching too. These same people, due to the fact they actually are some of the best, need to be enticed to work here. Providing free family accommodation and childcare as part of their employment package was a big enough incentive to get them to come here and teach you lot."

Ron's chuckling saw quite a few people focusing on him. "What? You think this place just came about by chance? The clue is in the name - Potter Institute - that means these two were involved in everything. They worked their backsides off all summer - even when they were supposed to be on holiday."

Joan's giggles at her 'Uncle Ron's' use of the word 'backside' perfectly illustrated that little ears could and would pick up everything. Hugging the girl, and promising to see her at lunch, Joan quickly left to join her new classmates and Signora Riccio. The fourth years headed off to their first class at the Institute - a full morning of potions.

It was a group of stunned students who left the class, Harry found himself being hugged by Susan and Hannah in thanks. Ron was sporting a wide grin, and not just because Millie was on his arm. "That certainly didn't feel like three hours - best potions class ever! I'm also loving the idea of one class, then lunch."

The normally unflappable Miss Greengrass appeared to be in shock. "What just happened in there?"

Su Li was broadcasting a smile that looked wider than her face could accommodate. "I agree with Ron, quite simply the best potions lesson we've ever had. I guess we now know the difference between elite and ordinarily. Thank you so much for inviting me here, Harry, and I promise I won't let you down. I want to be a potions mistress, and my chances of becoming one just got a huge boost."

"Face shields, gloves, aprons - with fume removal systems above your cauldron and sinks between stations. That's before we even consider the light and airy room - and superb Professor. What we just experienced is so far removed from Snape's dungeon that it should be classed as a different subject." Justin was spouting rapturously about the lesson they'd just left when a horrible thought just struck him.

"What do we say to anyone stuck at Hogwarts? Most of us still have friends there - but it would be just too cruel to write them how great the Institute really is..."

The sound of laughter cut Justin off. The people who had made it here were more determined than ever to do their best, and well understood that anyone at Hogwarts would steal their place without a second's hesitation. They did agree it would be cruel to tell them though - except most knew someone at Hogwarts they'd love to see turning green with envy.

"And that Justin is probably the biggest compliment you could have paid us. What about you, Nev?" Knowing that Snape picked on his godbrother almost as much as himself, Harry was interested on how he'd found that class.

"To be honest, I'm actually livid. I feel as if I've wasted three years with Snape, and had come to loathe potions. I agree with Justin, that lesson was like being taught an entirely different subject. Professor de Marco was amazing, and I loved every minute of it. I'm now really looking forward to the new healing initiative too, using ingredients we've grown ourselves."

It was an extremely happy class of fourth years who headed off to lunch. The first taste of lessons at the Institute had certainly whetted their appetite for more of the same.

-oOoOo-

Hermione dragged Harry over to the table where her parents were sitting, desperate to hear how their first lesson had gone. She barely got her first question out before they were joined by an ecstatic Joan, who just had to tell them in great detail how wonderful her morning had been.

A smiling Dan couldn't help but find the situation funny. "Don't worry, our first lesson is going to be pretty much the same for everybody - covering systems at the Institute few witches and wizards will have come across before. We get your class next, though will go into those systems in a lot more depth as you are fourth years. How are the double periods working out? I know Pomona was concerned it might be too long."

It was actually Millie who answered for the group, since Harry and Hermione were focused on Joan while Ron was eating. "The first one was great, it flew past. We have you next, third year Arithmancy or fourth year Runes. Our timetable sees us end everyday with Italian language classes, before dinner at six. That's why Ron is loading up on food, so he can make it to dinner time."

This drew chuckles from everyone sitting at the table, which Ron took in good nature. He even swallowed the food in his mouth before defending himself, Millie really was having a good influence on the redhead. "Hey, I love one class and then lunch. We now have three single period classes before dinner - that's a long time."

It was then Emma let them into a little secret. "We're all trying to keep our lessons relevant to you all. Professor Palazzo has her classroom set up like a cafe today, teaching you to go up and ask for things in Italian..."

"Do you get to eat the snacks?" Emma's nod of confirmation put a wide smile on Ron's face. "Mate, have I told you how much I love your institute?"

This reduced Millie to kinks of laughter, and had everyone else smiling too.

Since Joan looked as if she was going to talk the entire lunch hour, Hermione was having to coax her to eat in between stories, Dan and Emma headed off to their classroom.

Setting their equipment up, Dan couldn't help but chuckle. "Joan will either be too excited to sleep tonight, or will conk right out from all the energy she's expending." Feeling sadness being transmitted over their bracelets, He immediately stopped what he was doing and had his wife wrapped in his arms. "What brought this on?"

Knowing she couldn't hide her feelings from Dan, Emma tried to explain what just happened. "I watched those two dealing with Joan, they're just so natural at it. Then I remembered Hermione, only a couple of years older than Joan is now, coming home in tears. One of the girls at school had cruelly asked her if she brushed her hair with a toffee apple, just the retelling had Hermione breaking into sobs. I told her not to be silly, and sent her off to wash her face before we had tea. It's a sad indictment on my parenting skills when our teenage daughter is already a better mother figure now than I ever was to her."

"Hey, that's not fair on you. We're getting better at this parenting lark all the time, and I just love our new family - as well as our new jobs and lives. I hardly recognise the people we were before the summer, and I'm certain we're going to be kick-ass grandparents. I just hope those two take some time to enjoy their lives together before taking that step."

This drew a wan smile from Emma, and a confident prediction. "They will." Dan's raised eyebrow left her having to explain. "You are well aware the difference these bracelets make to our lives..."

A sexy growl from Dan of 'best invention ever' also saw Emma getting well kissed.

Wearing a genuine grin now, Emma held him close so Dan knew she agreed with his opinion on their bracelets, but continued with her explanation. "We both know their rings connect those two to a far higher degree than we are, and everything they do is focused on protecting and growing that bond they share. Hermione explained it to me as something like an emotional feedback loop. Kissing Harry may be very pleasurable, but feeling how much each other is enjoying the experience too then amplifies both their emotions... well, you get what I mean. If they lose control, then she says it's like they lose themselves, and that would never do for either of them. They're trying to dampen it down to a level compatible to what our bracelets do for us. Since dampening their feelings toward each other goes against everything they currently believe in, their physical relationship is going to probably progress at a snail's pace."

She could feel the joy coming from Dan as she said that, which quite annoyed his wife. "Really? You're pleased about that?"

Knowing where his wife's thoughts had taken her, Dan couldn't help but smile as he answered. "No, I was not pleased at our daughter's slight problem, we both know there will be marriage, children and even grandchildren from that relationship. It was something completely different that made me happy. You have this image of yourself as a bad mother, yet our daughter could talk to you about her relationship with Harry in such depth. I think you're being much too hard on yourself. There's also the example of Joan to consider, that little girl adores you..." Dan paused as his thoughts had taken him in a different direction. "Do you think this emotional feedback loop played any part in their adoption of Joan? Their relationship with her built very quickly..."

Emma soon put that idea to bed. "That's easily answered, just ask yourself what you feel toward the child? We both certainly consider her part of our family, and that's all down to the adorable little cutie called Joan Potter. The connection between her and Hermione was almost instantaneous, we were both there at the time to witness it. We also know Harry would give our Hermione anything she wanted but his emotional connection to Joan is every bit as strong."

Dan had only to think of the little girl, holding his hand and skipping as they made their way toward the swing park to know his wife was right. In a mere matter of months, Joan had become a big part of their lives too. Their first students beginning to appear focused both back on their lesson.

-oOoOo-

Ron knew he wasn't the brightest in this class but he was pleased to see he wasn't the only one struggling to believe what he was hearing here. Dan was explaining that, while they had used runes to handle all the Institute's plumbing needs, the electrical, phone and tv's were all connected by cables running under floors, between walls and over ceilings. When asked if this was dangerous, he held the power cord currently connecting the projector to the mains.

"Each individual cable is wrapped in its own protective sleeve, and then the group of them are held together by another protective sleeve."

It had been a simple request to the builders for samples of the type of cables used in the Institute's construction, he was now able to pass some of those samples around the class. With the ends stripped back to reveal what was underneath, he then explained the colour coding - so things could be connected correctly.

Emma then came in with the next part of the lesson. "We have no idea how using magic around electricity and electronics would play out, since Hermione was forbidden by British Magical law from casting spells outside of Hogwarts - hence the blanket ban on magic in the accommodation block and non magical classrooms. All the devices and circuits have in-built safety features, but we just don't know if they would be effective against miscast spells."

Dan had a demonstration board built, where he could increase the electrical power to a light bulb. It grew brighter and brighter before blowing with a little pop. Replacing the bulb, Dan then incorporated a circuit breaker into his model. The entire class heard the click of the circuit breaker as the bulb again went out. Turning the power back down to normal levels before resetting the breaker saw the bulb shine once more.

With his laptop, Dan fired up an educational animated clip of how electricity was generated, and then distributed around the country. A small video clip followed, featuring Emma in a room with panels everywhere. "We've got special permission to film in here, and an electrician is in the room with us. This is where the electrical power comes into the Institute, and then gets distributed around the building." Dan, who was obviously operating the camera, zoomed in on some of the open panels that were all clearly marked with locations in the Institute.

"You wouldn't want one mishap to deprive the entire Institute of electrical power, so each area has its own circuit breaker to localise any outage. Should that happen, battery powered emergency lighting would immediately kick in."

Millie just couldn't help herself from blurting her thoughts out loud. "People of Malfoy's ilk constantly proclaimed muggles were nothing but stupid beasts - but this is amazing!"

Not even attempting to hide her smile, Emma answered right back. "Why thank you, Miss Bulstrode - and this is the easy stuff. We're just about to move onto communications. I'd also like to point out to those not in the know, the lady who designed the entire Institute is not magical either - and one of the smartest people we've ever met."

Dean was the one who phoned home, quickly explaining to his mum nothing was wrong - he was just demonstrating phones as part of the Modern Studies class. A quick confirmation from Emma had Mrs Thomas gushing about how much better this was, rather than having to wait for a bloody bird delivering a piece of parchment. Dean being able to talk to his mother, who was over a thousand miles away, took some explaining.

Having already heard how electricity ran through cables, it wasn't such a big stretch to understand that sound could be transported that way too. Another short animated film explaining how calls were passed to the correct phone, and images of the Institute's switchboard helped generate a bit more understanding.

"As you can see, the Institute has more phones than lines attached to the outside word. This is perfectly natural as each line costs money, and phones aren't being used every minute of every day. If you're trying to make a call and get the 'no lines are available' message, it just means you'll have to wait a few moments and try again." Emma also explained that a few lines were dedicated to the actual running of the school.

Dan then had the job of explaining the large satellite dish on the Institute grounds, once again using some simple animation examples. It was actually Ron though who came up with an analogy that neither Granger would ever have considered.

"It's like chasers, passing the quaffle to each other before firing it into the hoop - only here it's the satellite dish."

Looking again at the animation of a signal being transmitted from one country, bouncing off a couple of satellites before reaching them, Dan understood where Ron was coming from. He also promised to credit the boy when using his analogy with other classes. Dean's heartfelt comment of how having tv - especially Saturday night football from the BBC - would make a massive difference to his time at school set a few people thinking.

Liking the relaxed atmosphere of the class, Daphne felt comfortable adding her own comment. "I don't think any of us realised how much the muggleborn students gave up to attend Hogwarts. We're still struggling to cope with the Institute, how much harder was it for them being stuck on a train to a totally alien environment. Dealing with all that, Hermione was still top student every year she attended."

This started some good natured chuckling as Harry slipped his arm around his now blushing betrothed. Standing at the front of the class were two proud parents, both thinking the exact same thing - how much more they enjoyed their new lives.

-oOoOo-

Almost seventeen hundred miles away, Draco Prince was sitting down to dinner at the Slytherin table in the Hogwarts great hall and reflecting on his new life. Being able to see his mother every day was a big plus in Draco's book, and Severus too. Neither party had felt right using the term 'father' for their new relationship, though both were delighted that relationship now existed.

The fact that Draco was sitting by himself at the Slytherin table was due purely to the number of students missing from the house of the snakes. He'd known beforehand that certain members of his year group would be missing from Hogwarts come September, since their families had to flee Britain. Draco had also guessed that Bulstrode would attend Potter's school along with Weasley, Millie might actually have been cleverer than her house had given her credit for. Worming her way into Potter's school, by taking Weasley as a boyfriend, was a move he reckoned worthy of a Slytherin.

That Draco was the only fourth year Slytherin currently attending Hogwarts came as a complete shock. Blaise had simply dropped off the planet, with no one currently having any information regarding why he wasn't attending. The real shock though was his parents being able to confirm that Greengrass and Davis were actually attending Potter's school too.

This had left a couple of glaring questions Draco desperately wanted the answers to - why would they choose to go there, and how did Greengrass and Davis manage it? His mother was trying to teach Draco to look for answers himself, rather than randomly ranting about how unjust the world was to him. Those weren't her exact words but that was the clear message coming across yesterday.

His mother's message to her new husband also couldn't have been any clearer, as Severus was ranting about Potter being to blame for Dumbledore rescinding on the Potions Master teaching his much coveted Defence position within Hogwarts. When Slughorn had seen the meagre number of students at the opening feast - and no boy-who-lived amongst them - he'd had a massive row with Dumbledore that evening and told the old fool where to stick his job.

"We're well rid of Slughorn - that man always gave me the creeps. With so many influential students missing from the castle, Sluggy would have been all over our Draco like a rash - and I would have eventually pulled my wand on him. You're back to being Head of Slytherin too, something I'm really pleased about. Severus, you might still get your wish to teach defence though, for Slytherin students that is. I can't see Umbridge being competent enough to accomplish anything, other than her usual modus operandi of stabbing people in the back."

Resting her hand reassuringly on her husband's arm, Narcissa finished what she needed to say. "We both know Dumbledore is only saying the words 'temporary appointment' to appease his new deputy - he has no one left to fall back on and no more favours owed to call due."

Severus reluctantly had to admit his wife was correct in all that she said, he was once more going to have to try and teach potions to dunderheads.

Sitting enjoying his quiet dinner in the great hall, Draco couldn't wait to tell his mother he was sure that he'd worked out the answer to one of his original questions.

Whatever grudges he'd held against the former Head of Gryffindor, any student who'd ever studied under McGonagall had to admit she was a superb teacher - who also knew everything there was to know about her subject.

One lesson with that pompous fool Percy Weasley was enough for Draco to know the same didn't apply to her replacement. With first to fourth years condensed into single classes - due to the severe drop in the number of students attending - Weasley had barely coped with the current fourth years. Merlin knows what will happen when he has NEWT students - only a year younger than the professor teaching them - asking him complicated transfiguration questions.

Since he had double defence timetabled for tomorrow, Draco was certain this would further cement his theory that, with the exception of his mother, Dumbledore had scraped the bottom of the barrel trying to replace very experienced and knowledgeable professors. The blond Slytherin wasn't too hopeful that Umbridge's class would be any better than Weasley's had been today.

Dumbledore's big tournament announcement had also gone down like a lead balloon within Slytherin House. With loads of former Slytherins fleeing Britain for their safety, no one still remaining in their house wanted to draw the entire castle's attention to themselves by recklessly volunteering for something that Albus Dumbledore was giving the hard sell to. Whoever eventually got chosen as Hogwarts champion, Draco was certain they wouldn't be wearing green and silver on their robes.

With really only the new first years chatting away at dinner, the mood inside Hogwarts was pretty somber. Having already spent three years at Hogwarts, Draco could easily see the effect Potter's school opening was already having on the castle. When they finally reached the position of taking students from all seven years, that would probably be the death knell for Hogwarts. Until then, this just might become the longest wake in history. At best, they had around four years before Hogwarts was forced to accept its seemingly inevitable outcome and the castle became a corpse. At least he would miss the funeral, hopefully sitting his N.E.W.T.s before that fate finally came to pass.

A/N Alix33 has been trying her best to make me a better writer for over a decade now, and I really appreciate all her time and efforts. I would like to take this opportunity here to wish Marianne a very Happy Birthday for later in the month. It's one of those birthdays that end in a 0, so sending best wishes from over five thousand miles away. Robert.