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A/N: A lot happens in this chapter; the new Hogwarts cast is revealed, and we meet some crazy new characters. There is one point I fail to explain; I assure you it is completely intentional…I just want to make you all excited before the story explodes in a few chapters. If you think this story will be predictable…think again. Don’t hate yet because I promise it will make the story more interesting later on. Any who, I will let you get back to the reading. Please remember to R&R :)

Chapter Four:
Circle the Welcome Wagons

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Alex was staring at the ceiling, fighting to suppress the feeling of dismay eating at the pit of her stomach. James let out a snort in his restless sleep, and she envied his ability to sleep through just about anything, including the wooden floor beneath them. Alex was completely wrapped in the covers, and James was sprawled out in nothing but his boxers. Without the curtains on the windows, the early morning sun poured through. But it didn’t matter; it wasn’t like she had been able to fall asleep anyway.

There was this inescapable feeling that she was leaving; and that when she came back, nothing was going to be the same. She wondered briefly if it was too late to change her mind, that she could unpack her stuff remain unemployed…at least that way things could be easy. But if there was one thing Alex had learned about her life, it was that things were rarely ever easy.

Pulling her eyes away from the water-stained ceiling, she turned on her side to look at James. Reaching out her hand, she brushed his untamed hair away from his forehead. With a sigh, she kissed him softly; and in his sleepy state, a smile managed to stretch his features. She couldn’t help but smile as she kissed him again, “James-”
He grunted and rolled over onto his stomach, “five more minutes.”

“We need to be at my parents’ in twenty minutes.” When she wasn’t able to elicit a response, she took the more aggressive approach, “Well okay, I was just going to take a quick shower before we left…but if you want to sleep, that’s fine with me.”

Alex was already halfway across the room before James managed to jump off the floor and was running in her wake.

Alex and James arrived in front of her parents’ house just in time. She let them in but found the house deserted except a dozen or so boxes that she could not recognize. Before she could investigate, her father came down the stairs carrying another box that he set aside before he hugged his daughter. "Dad, are you moving out?"

Oliver merely shrugged his shoulders, "Got an apartment in London; it'll be easier this way."

Alex struggled to find words but was spared the necessity as her mother came out of the kitchen. They both looked older than they should and both looked like they needed a decent night of sleep. Alex looked from one adult to the other, trying to wrap her head around the state of her parents’ relationship. Behind her, the front door opened and Alex turned to see Halie, Naomi, and Ace walk in.

Saying goodbye had never really been Alex’s thing; so after a few awkward hugs, Mr. Wood walked outside to summon the Knight Bus. The procession was moved to the front porch, and after a few more hurried hugs, she found her family and friends discretely attempting to give her a moment alone with James.

She briefly noted the violently purple bus as it mounted the curb and came to a screeching halt. James pulled her close, placing his hand on the small of her back. In a low voice, he whispered, “We’re going to get through this.”

Alex sighed, only managing to nod lightly. It wasn’t the first she had faced doubt, but somehow it never seemed this insurmountable. He lifted her chin with a finger and she looked up into his eyes. A sad smile played across his features as he bent down and kissed her softly.

The air was suddenly filled with the clicking and flashing of a camera and a familiar condescending sigh. James looked up and groaned softly. Alex turned to find a short unfamiliar man holding a camera, Bridgette Skeeter, and her Grandmother stepping in front of the bus.
“Mr. Potter,” Grandma Callista’s voice was crisp and cold.

Alex turned to her family and friends and gave a small wave. She faced James, giving him a brief peck on the lips, and then, completely ignoring her Grandmother, she handed her trunk to the conductor and mounted the stairs to the bus.

The driver’s mouth gaped open as she passed. Alex intentionally averted her gaze and aimed for one of the tables near the back of the bus. A half dozen or so people stared wide-eyed as she passed and muttered words at her retreating back. She groaned as her grandmother, Bridgette, and the camera guy mounted the steps. The conductor, wide-eyed, appeared at the top of the stairs. As he shut the door, the bus shot forward at a breakneck speed.

Alex suppressed a laugh as her three person shadow was sent flailing in opposite directions, but quickly straightened her face as they all managed to take seats around her.

Bridgette pulled out a quill and a sheaf of parchment with a flourish. With a intense gaze, she asked, “So Alexandra, is it true that you and James are calling it quits?”

Alex arched one brow; the woman had to be blind. Had she not just seen and taken pictures of them kissing not but thirty seconds ago? Alex turned her frigid gaze to her grandmother, “So when I told you I had no interest interviewing for an article, you decided that I was just playing hard to get?”

“Alex, you are being impossible.”

Alex seethed, leaning across the table, “I am not the one pretending to be deaf!”

Her anger was interrupted as a camera suddenly flashed mere inches from her face. She turned her angry glare to the poor cameraman who managed to shrink by inches. Alex grabbed the camera that dangled around his neck, causing him to jerk across the table. Despite his whines of complaint, Alex popped the back of the camera and unwound the film.

She managed to tear it in two as she stood and walked toward the front of the bus. She turned to face the conductor, who was suddenly sweating bullets and shifting nervously in his seat. Alex saw an opportunity and plastering a fake pout across her features, she simpered, “I was hoping to get to Hogwarts in peace, but those people are bothering me. Is there anything you could do to help me?”
“S-sorry miss- they paid the fair same as you, there is nothing I can do.”

Alex continued to look helpless but flashed a dazzling smile, “Please! There has to be something you can do?” He shook his head in dismay, and Alex lost all her nice pretense, “Look, really, just name your price.”
A small smile crept onto the conductor’s lips, “Will you sign my head?”
Alex’s eyes went wide, “Sign your what?”

The conductor pulled off his hat, and he was indeed completely bald. Alex balked slightly but folded, “Fine, you’ve got a deal.”

The bus suddenly came to a stop. Alex toppled to the side, but when she managed to stand upright again her grandmother was being ushered off the bus…much to her displeasure. Alex smiled for real when the door closed and silence settled over the bus. The conductor took his seat, pulled off his hat, and held out a pen.

She took it with a grimace but, with a flourish, signed her name on the hairless scalp. She did her best to smile, “I am going to go sit back there; thanks for your help.”

Both men nodded eagerly and Alex returned to the back of the bus where she picked up the remnants of the film. She looked up to find a man completely turned in his chair, staring at her with a frightening degree of intensity. He was blonde with plain, unassuming eyes. He wore an odd lopsided grin and was gripping a pen like it was the only bottle of water for miles of desert.

Alex tore her gaze away with an awkward sigh, “It’s rude to stare…”
He stood and took the chair beside her, beaming, “Sorry, but it’s nearly impossible to turn away…”

**cue dramatic eye roll**

“Is there something you need?” Alex hissed, losing patience.

“Can I have your autograph?”

Shocking. She looked into his eyes. He was innocent enough, but he had fallen victim to her perpetual bad mood. She smiled stiffly and signed the paper, silently shooing him back to his seat. She slide her gaze to what she thought would be a safe direction, only to find the gaze of a precocious five-year-old who was staring over the back her chair. How could she had forgotten—infamy and public transportation never mixed.

~


Both men found it necessary to get off the bus when they had pulled to a stop outside of Hogwarts’ front gate. With a permanent frown etching her features, Alex refused their help to get up to the castle and bid them goodbye. She levitated her trunk and pushed through the gate. She didn’t remember the walk to the castle being quite as long as it was but she found herself winded when she reached the bottom of the stairs.

She gaped openly at the enormity of the structure; it had been little over five years since she had graduated…but now, it seemed like an eternity. Snow covered her shoes and the hem of her cloak and as her teeth began to chatter, she remembered that maybe she should walk inside instead of waiting out here like a fool.

The entrance hall was warm and Alex loosened her cloak as she paused outside the Great Hall. It was late morning and the hall was full of the students who hadn’t gone home for the holidays. She managed to smile as she picked up her trunk. Just then, four figures came dashing from the hall.

They slammed into her at once, her trunk went skidding across the floor and Alex, herself, skid back several feet. Only one of the boys actually cared to stop. He looked to be about fifteen or sixteen, with choppy blonde hair. He clicked his tongue, snapping a finger in her direction, “Sorry, Hot-Stuff!”

Alex’s mouth fell open as the boy turned heel and continued down the hall in pursuit of his friends. She sighed when a hand reached down to her—it was Professor Marks, several years older, but she could still make out the severe-looking frown.

“Sorry about that, Professor Wood. Most of the school’s miscreants decided to stay here for the holiday…I am afraid you just ran into a few of them, or rather they ran into you.”

Alex smiled as he helped her up, “It’s okay. I think I may have been one of those miscreants once.”

“No, no, you always had more of a dramatic flare—purple slugs and fabulous quidditch saves.”

Alex grimaced, “Yeah, well…What do I need to do first?”

“I have some paperwork you need to fill out. Then, I will introduce you to your precept, and she will help you get settled in.”

Alex’s heart began to race when she stepped into the Headmaster’s office. This was weird, yep, definitely weird. Why did she ever think she could do this? Professor Marks indicated for her to sit down and a serious frown crossed his face, “I have to be honest with you, Ms. Wood…”

Oh, how quickly he dropped the ‘Professor’ bit. Alex felt her stomach sink as he continued, “You are very young, possibly one of the youngest in the history of the school. You will be under constant scrutiny and there is a very real chance you will not be asked back for the next school year. You are incredibly gifted with transfiguration, but you have very big shoes to fill, and there are several people who believe that your young age will cause you to fail…”
So long self confidence.

Alex shifted nervously, “Sir, I look forward to the challenge.”

Several lectures and contracts later, Alex began to remember why she didn’t like the headmaster in the first place. Eventually, he ran out of things to say and decided to lead Alex from the office to the teachers’ lounge on the second floor.

Alex cringed away from the door as it opened and a primal squeal of girly joy clawed through—a noise Alex was sure she had never made. The door was ripped open the rest of the way and in a flurry of curly blonde hair and pink cardigan she was nearly tackled her to the floor. In the commotion, Professor Marks announced, “Alex, this is your Precept, Jane Patience.”

Alex suddenly found herself free of the chaos, and the woman named Jane beamed, “That’s me, Jane, the school counselor. You must be Alexandra Wood. I’ve been looking forward to meeting you for like forever.”

“I took the job four days ago,” Alex replied blankly. Jane was expending so much energy and joy Alex felt numb…and grumpy, “Since when has Hogwarts had a counselor?”

“Since we ran through three nurses, two caretakers, and four professors in a school year,” Marks noted darkly as he retreated down the hall.

Jane did an odd sort of dance that made Alex wonder if she had to use the bathroom and continued, “Well, let’s get this show on the road. I’ll give you the grand tour.”

Alex frowned, “Umm…that won’t be necessary. Not that much could have changed in the five years since I graduated.”

Jane stopped dead with a frown so pronounced that Alex wondered briefly if she had multiple personalities. She looked down at the woman, “Umm, is there something wrong with that?”

“You went to school at Hogwarts?”

“Yes.”

“Oh, well, Professor Marks failed to mention that-”

“I’m sorry. Is there something wrong with that?”

Jane shifted uncomfortably, “Well, no, not specifically, it’s just that in the past, teachers who returned to teach at their old school encountered more difficulties with establishing authority with their students. That coupled with your very young age, and your recent brush with the press…it’s just concerning.”

Alex understood that she had two ways to respond; she could either explode (which considering the morning she’d had, seemed like the obvious option) or she could ignore the semi major insult and pretend like she hadn’t noticed, “You were going to show me around?”
Jane beamed, “Well, that’s the spirit! Come on; but first, let me introduce you to the gang…”

She pushed open the door to the lounge, and with another frightening squeal of happiness, pulled Alex into the room. Seven exhausted faces looked back her, apparently Alex wasn’t the only one to find Jane’s charm a tad grating. “Everyone, I would like to introduce to you the newest member of our staff, Alexandra Wood.”

“Alex.”

“Sorry, what’d you say dear?”

“Alex-everyone calls me Alex, not Alexandra.”

A short, squat man, who was going mostly bald, allowed his mouth to drop into an unflattering ‘O’ shape. Jane seemed to take no notice of the awkward silence that now filled the small space. She indicated the man, “This is Professor Cohen; he teaches Defense.”

Alex worked to control the shock that threatened to stretch her features. He looked far too frail to teach such a dangerous subject. Jane continued, “Of course, having only graduated five years ago, you will know Professor Mansfield of Potions and Professor Longbottom of Herbology.”

Alex smiled and waved at the two very intimidating, very familiar people. “The Muggle Studies teacher, Professor Dylan,” Jane indicated an ancient withered-looking old woman. An older gentleman who looked like death warmed over sighed, “Professor Tane, I teach Ancient Runes.”

“For the love of Merlin,” a husky male voice gasped, pushing away the hands of another woman who was dabbing at a serious gash that marred his forehead, “Did you say she only graduated five years ago? What are you…some kind of genius?”

Alex cringed; it had been a while since she had heard that particular sentiment. She was spared the need to respond when the woman kneeling on the ground seethed, “Merlin’s pants, Finn, If you don’t let me clean this cut on your head, I will make sure it gets infected. And while you writhe and seize in my hospital wing, I will do absolutely nothing to save you; in fact, I will make you sit your own-”

“KATIE!” It would be one of the rare times Jane would ever raise her voice, “Katie, I thought we were working on the patience thing.”
Katie, the dark-haired blue-eyed beauty, huffed sourly. With a dramatic roll of her eyes, she threw herself into an empty chair. Jane smiled serenely, “And this is Finn, the flying instructor and quidditch referee.”

Alex attempted a smile, “It’s wonderful to meet you all.”
Jane linked arms with Alex, and with another spine-chilling giggle, “Well, okay, we’ll catch up with you guys later; I am going to give Alex the tour.”

As Alex was pulled from the room, she heard Katie sigh, “If she graduated five years ago, why would she need a tour?”

~


Yep, it was weird, undeniably strange, to be back in the halls of Hogwarts. Things were pretty much the same as they had been; she spotted familiar shortcuts, moving paintings, and suits of armor that made good landmarks. What was weirder yet were the few students who roamed the halls. All stopped to gape at her openly, precisely the same as it had been when she graduated five years before. If she hadn’t felt so tall, she could have sworn she was still fifteen and awkward, instead of twenty-three and awkward.

Eventually, Jane showed her to the classroom she knew all too well. How many hours had she spent in there tutoring people? What she hadn’t seen before was the small room adjoined to it; it had a nice-sized bed and a wardrobe, it was all decorated with deep reds and gold, which Alex found oddly comforting.

Jane was leading Alex to the Great hall for dinner when the woman named Katie showed up, “Jane, I have the four children of Voldemort in my office, one is bleeding and another has a tail…What do you want to do with them?”

“I want you to stop calling them the children of Voldemort; they are just four troubled boys…” Jane admonished as she continued to lead Alex forward.

Katie continued to follow, “Well, your troubled boys are bleeding all over my ward; so what do you suggest?”

“Do your job Katie; and I will do mine.”

All three women stopped dead when a fourth woman stepped out of the library. In Alex’s life, she had had the opportunity to meet people that others considered to be good-looking, but the level of confidence this woman exuded was mind-boggling. Her dark hair danced behind her back and she wore a rather tight-fitting pencil skirt and button down blouse. Alex wondered briefly if it was advisable to dress like that in a school half populated by hormone-infested boys.

“Should you be dressed like a cheap hooker?” Katie asked boldly. Alex couldn’t suppress her smile. She liked this Katie, for nothing more than the fact that she spoke her mind. The woman came to a halt, and with a condescending glare replied, “Where did you learn to talk like that? Azkaban?”

Katie rolled her eyes and turned to Jane, “Deal with those boys before I have to or you’ll be looking for a new nurse.”

As Katie retreated down the hall, the smug woman smiled down at Jane. Jane shifted uncomfortably, even though she was easily better-looking than the dark haired beauty who wore a nasty and superior look.

You know that moment…the perfect moment of calm before the storm you could never have anticipated or prepared for? Well this was it; and in about thirty seconds, Alex would wish she could remember it, but no one ever does. Completely unaware of what was about to hit, she looked down at Jane with concern.

Jane seemed to finally find her voice as she indicated the woman, “Alex, this is Olivia Welthin; she’s the Charms Professor.”
Being confronted by your worst nightmare isn’t what you would call expected or enjoyable…Olivia Welthin was Ale’s nightmare. Alex’s eyes widened as she went to reexamine the woman she had found so un-extraordinary.

Jane seemed to be unperturbed by the stony silence as she continued, “Olivia, this is-”

“Alexandra Wood,” Olivia drawled in her sultry voice.

“Alex,” Jane corrected mildly, “She likes to be called Alex.”

In a moment of silence, the women had already began to draw the lines in the sand; the lines, if crossed, would cause turmoil. Olivia stretched out a hand, “It’s very nice to finally meet the great Alexandra Wood.”

Without taking her hand, Alex managed to plaster an obviously fake smile on her face and responded, “Likewise.”

Alex turned to Jane, her mind fighting the angry haze threatening to descend in it, “Look Jane, go to dinner without me. I’m tired and I think I just want to get some sleep before tomorrow…”

Jane smiled, “No problem; I’ll see you later then.”

Alex gave the Charms professor one last piercing gaze before she walked down the hall. She ghosted through the halls, lost in her own haze, not even noticing the occasional student who froze in excitement as she passed. Before she became aware, she found herself in her room collapsing into her new bed.

She remembered that morning; waking up with the dread of leaving, knowing she wasn’t going to be the same when she came back. The cold dread settled into her stomach as she stared at the ceiling…things were never easy.

“Olivia,” she tested the words out on her lips, “Olivia Welthin-”

Anger and desperation finally broke the well-built surface; Alex screamed, a blood -curdling, bone-breaking, agonizing scream. She jumped off the bed and hurled her fist with all her strength against her headboard; except, she missed and punched the wall instead.

She heard the bones in her arm snap, and the scream of anger turned into a scream of agony, “God dammit! How could you do this to me; how could you?”

Using her good hand, Alex shoved her wand into her back pocket and walked out of her new classroom, cradling her broken arm. When she arrived at the hospital wing, she watched Katie literally throwing four boys from the infirmary. She recognized them as the same four boys that had bowled her out of the way earlier in the day. The sly-looking blonde one stopped dead at the sight of her, “Hey, hot stuff, we meet again.”

“Call me that again and I will turn you into a rat and feed you to a hippogriff.”

“It’s okay; I like a difficult woman, just ask Katie,” he winked at the brunette, who appeared in the doorway.

Katie completely ignored him, “Come on in, Alex, and I’ll have a look at that arm.” She led her into the room and smirked, “What? Did you punch your trunk or something?”

“No, I hit the wall after I missed the headboard…”

“So what made you angry…Jane or Olivia?”

“Jane is harmless…”

“So it was Olivia then. Don’t worry; she has that effect on pretty much everyone.”

“Yeah, I’m not so sure,” Alex cringed as Katie tried to rotate her wrist.

The nurse disappeared into her office and reappeared several seconds later with a small potion bottle, “Can I ask you a question?”

“I doubt I’ll have any way to stop you.”

“You live with one of the richest families in the wizarding word. Why on earth…why would you take a job as a teacher?”

“When you live under my parents’ roof, they run your life. Before this job, I lived in a one-room rat trap. I have been unemployed since my apprenticeship ended. It was either this job or a life of my mother’s cocktail parties; and if you think Olivia is bad, wait till you meet my grandmother.”

“I guess I could understand that.”

The clock tolled somewhere in the school and Alex sighed. Katie handed her the potion, “This will heal the bone?”

“No, that will just make you not realize the pain as I heal your arm.”

Alex set aside the bottle, “It’s okay. I’ve had worse, plus that stuff makes you groggy for hours.”

“Suit yourself,” Katie grinned, and Alex braced for the pain.

After a few bad seconds, it was done and Alex could move her arm again. As Katie began to clear up, she smiled, “The miscreants will all be back. Now, let’s go get some dinner and get the awkward gawking out of the way.”

Alex hesitated so Katie continued, “If you really want to stick it to Olivia, you’ll go to dinner and pretend like she doesn’t bother you at all.”

Alex nodded and the pair walked up to the Great Hall together. The room was once more full and buzzing, warm fires were lit and the school colors were draped everywhere. Alex took one step into the hall and every pair of eyes turned in her direction. For a second, silence reigned. Then, nervous whispers broke through the crowd, and finally, the hall exploded with screams of glee and astonishment. Alex grimaced, some things would never change.

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