"It is my pleasure to welcome you all back to a new year at Hogwarts, and a new chapter in the history of this institution," McGonagall said in her crisp, clear Scottish brogue."This has been a difficult time for everyone in the British Wizarding world, but thanks to the dedication, perseverance, and sacrifice of certain individuals…" Her eyes roamed to Harry sitting with Ginny, Ron, and Hermione at the Gryffindor table inside the Great Hall. "…we can all put the past behind us and look to the future."
Her eyes searched for and sought out every individual in the room."That is not to say that we will ever forget," she said sternly."The world has changed.Today, more than ever, we must have tolerance for each other and our differences.We must celebrate each other's uniqueness's, but never turn a blind eye to the potential of even one individual to create mayhem and harm by their actions.This war is your legacy.Remember it, children, and do not repeat the mistakes of your elders.Never forget the lessons we have learned in the past few years... the people who gave their lives to fight a great evil."
She raised her arms, indicating for the students to stand.There was a rustling of robes and scraping of benches as the population of the Great Hall stood sombrely."A moment of silence, if you please, for those who were lost."
The room was silent as each contemplated the people who had fallen, some in this very room.Finally McGonagall lifted her head and picked up her glass of pumpkin juice, raising it in the air.
"To Hogwarts," she said in a clipped, grave voice.Harry could see, even from a distance, that the Headmistresses eyes were moist with unshed tears.His own throat felt tight and a knot was forming in his stomach, but he raised his glass proudly with the others.
"To Hogwarts!" the room replied as one.
Harry drank along with them, feeling the impact of Professor McGonagall's words keenly.He not only understood them, he had lived them.Next to Ron and Hermione, he was the oldest student in residence and, at the moment, he felt ages older than the oldest teacher in the room.Being here was important on so many levels, but for some reason he couldn't bring himself to care whether he passed a single NEWT.Marks were pointless compared to the past few years.Part of him yearned to be out there tracking down renegade Death Eaters and conspirators of Voldemort's – those who had escaped justice.Like Draco Malfoy, for instance.Instead, he had a year of boring lessons and endless revision to look forward to, then the NEWTS.
After the Great Hall had settled itself once again, Harry listened with half an ear as the Headmistress introduced her staff, many of them new.Among the new teachers were Professor Remus J. Lupin for DADA; Professor Tonks-Lupin as the new transfiguration professor; Professor Charles Weasley for Care of Magical Creatures (Hagrid had decided to give up teaching and focus on "other things", which Harry presumed to be the restoration effort, but he still held his original job as Keeper of Grounds and Keys, allowing him to stay in his cabin and tend to Grawp and the Enchanted Forest); and Charlie's new wife, Professor Amanda Weasley, for potions.Professor Slughorn had gone back to retirement and the leisurely life he preferred, far away from Hogwarts and his tumultuous past with Tom Riddle.
Firenze had taken over the Divination position fulltime after Sybil Trelawney's death.He was still not welcome back in the forest and had grown quite fond of the stables where he had moved to after Hogwarts collapsed.Anyone taking Divination – which Harry was not – would have to trek to the adjacent classroom that had been built off the stables.It was rumoured that classes would be held at night to study the patterns of the stars more fully.No one could seem to master the replication of the night sky with all its nuances quite as well as Dumbledore had, so they had built an observatory into the new classroom ceiling and charmed the glass roof to stay free of snow and frost.
Professors Vector, Sinistra, Flitwick, and the others would all keep their positions and classrooms.The magic of the castle had helped them tremendously by remembering most of what it had contained and either repairing what it could or replicating it, so furnishings, portraits, suits of armour, trophies, and in some cases even the personal items of the professors had mysteriously appeared in their same places once the structure of the building had been restored.The one exception was the magic of the ceiling in the Great Hall.A special team of spell casters had been called in to work on the problem and it, too, had finally been fixed to the satisfaction of everyone.
Harry's article in the Daily Prophet concerning his return to Hogwarts had the desired effect on the public.Parents had responded by entrusting their children once again to the magic of HogwartsSchool for Witchcraft and Wizardry under the watchful eye of the young war hero.The tables, while not quite full, were littered with students, old and new alike.Classes had to be rearranged to compensate for a very large group of first years, since several years had to be combined into one.But, all in all, everything was going rather smoothly in Harry's opinion.
And that's when McGonagall dropped the news.
"Before we begin our traditional Welcoming Feast this evening, I have a special announcement," the prim Headmistress said, reading from a small piece of parchment through her bifocals."As some of you may be aware, every five years a friendly competition is held between the three largest European schools of magic – Hogwarts, Beauxbatons Academy of Magic, and Durmstrang Institute.This competition is called the Triwizard Tournament.Traditionally, three champions are chosen by an impartial judge, and a year-long competition is held that comprises three dangerous tasks.This year Beauxbatons has extended the invitation to all students seventeen and older who wish to compete."
A gasp went out from the crowd, mostly from those students old enough to remember the last Triwizard Tournament.McGonagall waited patiently for the din to subside before continuing.
"Applications will be available from your heads of houses beginning tomorrow, and a delegation of the fifteen most capable students will be picked to represent Hogwarts.Those eligible will leave for BeauxbatonsAcademy on October 29th to arrive at the destination on the 31st, as is tradition.All delegates must be prepared to stay the entire year and support the Hogwarts champion chosen by the Goblet of Fire.Appropriate arrangements will be made for the completion of your education while you are there."
Her eyes roamed the Great Hall, seeking out the older students in particular."Think long and hard about this decision ladies and gentlemen, because once your name is chosen there is no backing out – you are magically bound to compete.The prize is twelve thousand Doubloons, which roughly equates to 1,000 Galleons – but many have died over the years seeking the title.Only the best will succeed.If you think you have what it takes to compete and win, then I encourage you to enter... but beware.You are taking your lives in your own hands."She straightened and squared her shoulders.
"That is all.Please enjoy your meals, and don't forget to see your house prefects for this year's passwords."
The Great Hall erupted in a roar.Harry looked around at Ginny, Ron, and Hermione who looked back at him in shock as the feast magically appeared before them, ignored by all.He felt his heart beat at the possibility of joining in on the delegation, then immediately squelched those feelings.He was needed here; after all, that's why they had come back.
"Why are we just learning of this?" Ginny asked sounding rather put out."I mean, we've been here for months rebuilding the school and no one bothered to tell us."
Shaking off his restlessness, Harry shrugged and picked up a dinner roll.Across from him, Ron began loading his plate with servings from the various dishes set out before them and eventually the others did the same."It's what they did before, isn't it?" Harry said as he buttered his roll."No one knew until the beginning of term.Then Dumbledore announced it during his address to the school."
"Yes, but Harry," Hermione reminded him as she slapped Ron's hand away from grabbing a second piece of cobbler, "the Tournament hadn't been played in years then.It was supposed to be a big surprise.No, I think that everyone has been so focused on the war and rebuilding that they simply forgot.Beauxbatons and Durmstrang may have planned to hold it without us then changed their minds when we won the war and decided to reopen."Her eyes took on a dreamy, nostalgic look."Can you believe it's been five years already?Who knew we'd still be around to see the next Triwizard Tournament!We're actually old enough to enter this time if we wanted to."
"Hermione!" Ginny cried in disbelief."After everything Harry went through last time, do you really think he'd want to do that again?"
"No," Harry agreed, looking down at his plate with a concentrated effort, "I don't."He felt retched that his first impulse had been excitement.After what had happened last time, he knew he had no business even entertaining the thought that he might compete again.He was already aware of the gossip mill around him beginning.Some were staring at him with awe and respect, and he could see a few of the older students pointing him out to the younger ones.No, the last thing he needed was to enter the Tournament again.Once was definitely enough.
"I wasn't talking about you, Harry," Hermione clarified."I was just making a general comment that we're of age now... even Ginny."
"I wouldn't min' having 'm thousand galleons, m'self," Ron said through a mouthful of mashed potatoes as he shovelled it in his mouth.
"Actually…" Ginny said absently, her chin resting on her hand."…It does sound sort of exciting," she admitted."I mean, a new school, a new country… all that excitement…." She had a far-away look in her eye that set Harry's senses on full alert.
Thoughts of what the last competition had resulted in made Harry want to expel the little food he had just put in his stomach."Do you remember the last time?" he said to them in disgust."Dragons, grindylows, enchanted mazes… and let's not forget the highlight of the event, getting Portkeyed to a graveyard to participate in the resurrection of Voldemort.That was a grand adventure."His voice dripped with sarcasm.
Ginny looked properly abashed for what she had said but she didn't apologize."I only meant that spending a year away might be fun.Not everyone who goes is going to be chosen champion, are they?Look at all the students who stayed to support Fleur and Viktor Krum."
"Ginny's right," Ron said."And, if I happen to get chosen and win, the prize money would pay my way through Auror training."He looked at Harry apologetically."Sorry, mate, but not everyone's got a vault full of gold."
"You can't go, Ron," Hermione corrected him. "You're Head Boy, remember?While McGonagall is away, I'm sure she'll be relying on us even more than usual.She's going to need us to watch over the school for her.We have a responsibility."
"I knew accepting that job was a mistake," Ron grumbled."Bloody responsibility.Do you think I could resign?"
"Not of you still want to have a girlfriend," Hermione threatened.
Harry held his breath.For some reason his insides were feeling queasy, but he breathed easier when Ron didn't protest.He thought the conversation had been dropped when Ginny spoke up.
"Well, I could still enter," Ginny said casually, taking a bit of pudding."I'm not even a Prefect."
Harry choked on his food and dropped his fork with a clatter, his stomach doing an unpleasant flip-flop."What?" he said more forcefully than he had intended.
She drew back as if he had slapped her."I didn't say I was going to enter, just that I could."
"Weren't you listening, Ginny?" he retorted angrily."Don't you remember what I went through – how dangerous it is?You heard McGonagall's speech."
"I remember very well, thanks," she said coolly."Are you telling me I can't enter, even if I wanted to?"She was glaring at him angrily.
"Why are you looking at me like that?" he said sharply."You weren't seriously thinking of doing it, were you?"
"And what if I was?" she retorted loudly drawing some unwanted attention."Would that be so wrong?"
"You could get hurt."
"I've battled Death Eaters since I was fifteen and even faced Voldemort himself once," she said rolling her eyes."I think I could handle a few Triwizard Tasks."
His mind raced to think up a good argument.Coming up blank, he looked at Ron for support.For once his best friend picked up on his nonverbals and backed him up wholeheartedly.
"I'm with Harry on this one Ginny," Ron told her definitively."The Triwizard Tournament is no place for a girl."
Both Hermione and Ginny recoiled as Harry groaned inwardly.That had not been what he was looking for at all.If anything, it just made the situation worse.
"Excuse me," Hermione said coldly, her eyes shooting daggers at Ron's confused face."Who was it that saved both your arses on numerous occasions over the years?Gender has nothing to do with it Ron."
"Well, yeah..." Ron spluttered.
"And Fleur was a champion," Ginny reminded him angrily."I don't recall you ever questioning her fitness to participate in such a dangerous competition."
"She was older," Ron said lamely.
"She was seventeen!" Ginny exploded."I'm a year older than she was then!"
Harry's nerves were frayed.It'd been a very emotional evening and this wasn't helping.
"It doesn't matter," he said angrily as he threw his napkin down on the plate and stood up."You're not entering – none of us are.I didn't kill Voldemort just to have one of you die in some bloody competition, and that's final!"
The Great Hall had suddenly become very quiet and all eyes were trained on him.Some looked at him curiously, but more than a few looked frightened.Voldemort's name still inspired fear in people, even from the grave, and most weren't used to hearing it spoken so loudly.He glanced up at the Head table where the teachers were watching him with interest.It suddenly struck him how odd they all looked.McGonagall, Lupin, Tonks, Charlie, Amanda… they all seemed concerned, but there were no twinkling eyes peering at him from behind half moon glasses.
And suddenly, all he wanted was to be alone.He had thought coming back to Hogwarts was the right thing to do, but he had been wrong.Nothing would ever be the same again, no matter how much he tried to make it right.The world was still without Albus Dumbledore, the greatest wizard to ever walk these halls.He hadn't realized that Hogwarts and Dumbledore were so interconnected in his mind, but they were.Seeing Professor McGonagall up there at the podium giving her introductory speech had reminded him of how much he missed the wizened old wizard and his odd sense of humour.This whole thing with the Triwizard Tournament was all too much.
"Coming back was a mistake," he whispered.Feeling embarrassed, claustrophobic, and half sick, he turned on his heel and stormed out of the Welcoming Feast.
"Harry, wait!" Ginny yelled as she burst through the doors that had closed behind him.
He slowed his pace to let her catch up but didn't turn around.
"Are you okay?" she asked gently, grabbing his arm and spinning him around to face her.
"Does it look like I'm bloody okay?" he snarled through clenched teeth.
"Oh, Harry," she sighed in frustration."It was only an idea.I didn't think you'd get all upset over it."She stepped back and regarded him shrewdly."That's not what's really bothering you, is it?"
His anger deflated like a popped balloon, leaving him only with doubt and restlessness."What am I doing here, Ginny?Why did I come back?" he asked as he paced wildly.Hogwarts suddenly felt like a cage to him – a cage he wanted desperately to escape from.
"What are you talking about?" Ginny asked, perplexed.She touched his chin and lifted his eyes so they were level with hers. "You were fine just a minute ago.What's brought this on?"
He shrugged."There's nothing for me here other than you and Ron and Hermione.I feel guilty for sitting here at Hogwarts while people are still trying to recover – to get their lives back in order," he admitted."...I wish I was out there helping track down Draco Malfoy and the others.I know he was never officially charged with anything, but he's one of them.So what if he was under age when he took the mark?That doesn't make him any less a Death Eater than his father!I should be out there trying to find him – trying to find them all."
Her eyes regarded him thoughtfully."You've done your part, Harry.It's not your personal responsibility to rebuild every house, to reopen every store… you shouldn't have to track down every person ever connected with Voldemort in any way.Let it go."
He exhaled slowly."I can't."
"Well, you'd better find a way," she said firmly."You did your part, and now it's time to move on.You've rebuilt the castle, now you need to focus on rebuilding your life."Her eyes bore into his and he was caught in her gaze."We have a chance to turn back the clock and be teenagers for a change.That's a rare gift.We deserve it after everything we've been through – especially you, Harry."
"I owe it to Dumbledore," he whispered stubbornly.
"He wanted you to live, Harry," she said gently."Now is the time to start doing it."
The doors of the Great Hall burst open and students spilled out, their excited chatter filling the entranceway with lively noise. She held out her hand to him.
"It's up to you, Harry."
He stared at her outstretched hand and suddenly knew that this was where he belonged.Ginny was right... the rest of the world could take care of itself.Right now he needed to get his own life back on track.Maybe Ginny was right.They had their whole lives in front of them after all, and there would be plenty of time for catching Malfoy after he became an Auror.
Slowly he took her hand and she guided him towards the throng of students.
"Thanks, Ginny," he said, wrapping an arm around her shoulder as they walked and pulling her close.
She smiled up at him warmly."Let's just agree to move forward from now on," she suggested."I don't want to look back on my life in fifty years and see a mountain of regrets, do you?Let's just have fun while we can."
He sighed."No, I don't."
She grinned."I was hoping you'd say that."
She nodded towards a familiar broom cupboard just up ahead."We won't be missed for a few minutes, Mr. Potter," she said suggestively."What do you say we conduct a little inspection?I'm not certain Fitch's brooms are up to snuff."
"Hmm..." he said, suddenly feeling much better."We can't have that, can we?"
Grinning, he pulled her with him into the seclusion of the dark room and the promise of a new future full of life where there was no more regret or sorrow.Starting today, he'd do as Ginny suggested and leave the past where it was – in the past.And, as far as he was concerned, that went for the bloody Triwizard Tournament, too.