Bitter Sweets

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As they entered the Great Hall, the usually boisterous chatter that Iris had come to expect from the first meal of the year was somewhat subdued.

"How many people do you think were affected by the dementors?" she asked her friends.

"Since Professor Lupin said that they were searching for Sirius Black," Rin said. "I assume they searched the whole train and affected almost everyone."

"I get the feeling that our car was a special case though." Hermione raised a finger to her chin. "I don't think they mobbed the other cars like they did ours, though I'm still not sure what made them do that in the first place." She glanced over at Shirou. "And one of them even attacked you. Why did that happen?"

Shirou shrugged. "I don't know enough about dementors to even guess."

"I guess I'll have to do some research." Despite the depressing topic, Hermione's eyes lit up at the idea of a new thing to study.

They eventually split apart to go to their respective tables. Shirou to Hufflepuff; Rin and Luna to Ravenclaw, Illya to Slytherin; Iris, Hermione, and Sakura to Gryffindor.

As she sat down, Iris noted the new faces at the Head Table. The Professor from the train was there, looking extremely out of place with his worn-out robes and downcast demeanor. He didn't look nearly as bad as Snape, who was sending hateful glances down the table towards the new teacher.

At the end of the table sat a short woman wearing a set of eye-searing pink robes, whom Iris recognized. Dolores Umbridge, the snooty woman whom the Minister of Magic had introduced to Iris during the summer holidays.

Pulling her gaze away from the teachers, Iris turned to her tablemates and joined in the conversations about everyone's summer adventures.

This went on for a little while before the side doors of the Hall opened up and everyone quieted down.

The new first-years filed into the room and lined up under Professor McGonagall's watchful eyes.

Once that was done, McGonagall brought out the Sorting Hat and placed it on the stool for sorting.

Having heard the Hat sing before, Iris did her best to ignore it this year as it belted out a pithy poem and then went silent.

Finally, the actual Sorting could commence.

Not knowing anyone involved, and not hearing anything exciting from her housemates, Iris could only clap politely as each person was sorted into the respective houses. Though she did clap a bit louder for each new Gryffindor.

When everyone was seated, everyone turned to the Head Table, expecting Headmaster Dumbledore to give some quick words before letting them all eat. Instead, Madame Pomfrey stood from her seat and called out to the gathered students.

"To the assembled students here," she started. "I know you may have had a frightening experience on the train here. Exposure to dementors can be a very trying experience. However, chocolate is a great remedy for their influence." The Hall filled with susurrations as the students remembered their own encounters with the monsters. Madame Pomfrey waited for the room to quiet down before she continued. "For that reason, we have made a bit of a change to tonight's menu. Expect a lot more chocolate dishes and desserts. Those of you still feeling the effects from the train should be sure to eat a lot of it."

Whispering broke out again among the students. The hushed conversations were split between excitement over the new menu and trepidation over the dementors.

Having said her piece, Madame Pomfrey nodded towards Dumbledore and sat down.

Dumbledore stood up and the room immediately became quiet.

"Welcome," he said. "Welcome to another year at Hogwarts!" He smiled at the assembled students and then waved his hands. "I have a few things to say to you, and as one of them is quite serious, I think it best to get it out of the way before you become befuddled by our excellent feast" Despite seemingly speaking at a normal volume, his voice carried to the far ends of the Great Hall.

"First, our school is playing host to some of the dementors of Azkaban. They are here on Ministry of Magic business." Murmurs broke out amongst the students but broke off as Dumbledore continued speaking. "The dementors will be stationed at every entrance to the grounds, and while they are with us, I must make it clear that no one is to leave the school without permission." Iris frowned as a sudden cacophony broke out from the students. No one was happy with that news. Iris herself was wondering if she would still be able to sneak out for her occasional nighttime broom rides. "Dementors are not to be fooled by tricks, disguises, or even Invisibility Cloaks."

There went that plan, though Iris wondered if her Invisibility Cloak might fool them.

"It is not in the nature of dementors to understand pleading or excuses," Dumbledore continued. "As such, I look to our prefects, as well as our new Head Boy and Girl to enforce the rules and keep everyone safe." He nodded toward each of the tables. "Miss Dolores Umbridge is here as a Ministry representative and will be overseeing the dementors to make sure there are no issues." Dumbledore gestured towards the woman, who slapped a plastic smile onto her face and waved at the crowd.

"Now, onto happier news. Two new teachers will be joining us this year.

"Allow me to introduce Professor Remus Lupin. He will be instructing you all in Defense Against the Dark Arts." The shabby-looking man stood from his chair and waved to the assembled students.

A weak applause came from the assembled students, probably because of the man's unkempt appearance. He didn't quite inspire confidence next to all the other teachers who wore their finest robes.

Iris's gaze swept the assembled teachers, only to stop on Snape, who was wearing a look of absolute loathing as he looked at Professor Lupin. It was well known that Snape wanted the Defense position, so some animosity could be expected. This was a whole different level though. It was a look that Iris recognized since it was the look that Snape wore whenever he looked at her.

"As for the second appointment. Well, it is with great disappointment that I inform you that Professor Kettleburn, our Care for Magical Creatures teacher retired at the end of last year to enjoy more time with his remaining limbs."

There were times when learning magic was a purely wondrous experience for Iris. Then there were times she was reminded of Shirou's little litany: 'To be a magus is to walk with death.'

"However," Dumbledore continued. "I am delighted to say that his position will be filled by Rubeus Hagrid, who has agreed to take on this job in addition to his gamekeeping duties."

Iris stood up and clapped for Hagrid, inspiring the entire Gryffindor table to join her in a small standing ovation.

For his part, Hagrid's face was solid red from his blush as he stared down at his hands in embarrassment. Iris could pick out a grin behind his bushy beard though and couldn't help but smile in response.

"That explains the biting book," Iris said as the applause died down and she returned to her seat. Around her, several students groaned in agreement.

"Well, I think that is everything of importance," said Dumbledore. "Let's eat."

The tables were suddenly filled with an excessive amount of food. Among the food, Iris could pick out some outliers that hadn't been present in the previous years. A large chocolate cake demanded attention from the center of the table. Rather than the usual pumpkin pie, there was chocolate pudding pie. On small platters scattered around the table were pastries with chocolate filling.

For a Hogwarts meal, it probably wasn't that much more unhealthy than a normal day.

Iris eyed the chocolate foods thoughtfully.

She was feeling better. She no longer felt cold. She could walk just fine and wasn't at risk of falling unconscious. However, she still couldn't get the sound of the woman screaming out of her head. She had no idea what dementors even did, but something about that scream tugged at her in a way that she couldn't quite describe.

Still, there was no reason not to load up on chocolate. It was free after all.

So, Iris loaded up her plate with chocolate delicacies until someone decided that a quarter of her plate had to be dedicated to salad.

Iris glanced up at Hermione with a look of betrayal.

"Come now, Iris, you can't eat only sweets," Hermione said with a look of admonishment. "Unless–" She suddenly became worried. "-Are you still feeling ill from the dementors?" She placed her hand on Iris's forehead as if to check her temperature.

"I'm fine." Iris lightly brushed Hermione's hand away. "It's just…" She glanced around at all the people around her then back to Hermione. "Not now."

Iris could see the glint of curiosity in Hermione's eyes. Not only did the girl like to have her nose in a book, but she could be quite nosy with her friends as well.

But, despite her curiosity, Hermione nodded and went back to loading Iris's plate with actual food.

Iris rolled her eyes but allowed it.

Before eating, she waved her thumb ring over the food to check for anything weird, then allowed Hermione to do her tests before digging in.

The Great Hall was filled with the sound of conversation and the clink of utensils as the rest of the students ate and chatted. Iris joined in the conversations with Hermione at her side, while Sakura spoke more to the other Second Years nearby.

By the time most of the food had disappeared into the students' bellies, Iris was completely stuffed and tired of the taste of chocolate. Around her, other students were patting their bellies and likewise done with food.

Maybe it was the same at all the tables because the food suddenly vanished and Dumbledore stood to tell them all to go to bed.

Taking the chance as the students shuffled around to find their prefects, Iris, Hermione, and Sakura made their way to the teacher's table to congratulate Hagrid, who was still teary-eyed from the news of his new position.

Shirou, Rin, and Illya also joined them at the head table to offer words of their own. The group only managed to say a few things before McGonagall sent them off when the big man started tearing up and wiping his eyes with the tablecloth.

Iris, Hermione, and Sakura quickly caught up with their housemates and followed them through the castle to the entrance to Gryffindor Tower. There, they were stopped by the portrait of the Fat Lady.

"Password?" the woman in the portrait asked.

"The new password's 'Fortuna Major'!" Percy Weasley called out as he pushed towards the front of the gathered students.

The portrait swung open to reveal the entrance to the Gryffindor common room.

The three of their group filed in and skirted around the first years, who were huddled together getting the usual spiel about the dorm from the prefects. They made their way up the girls' side stairs to their respective dorm rooms. Iris and Hermione into one room and Sakura into another.

As Iris looked around the circular room with its five four-poster beds and couldn't help but think of her room back at Shirou's house. Her private room with her bed; her quidditch posters; her desk with her mess on it.

For the first time since coming to Hogwarts, she felt that her home might be somewhere other than the castle.