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Elizabeth slowly pushed her trolley through the bustling throng of Muggles as she made her way to the pillar between Platforms Nine and Ten. None of the Muggles gave her so much as a passing glance, although the boy with the caged owl who was following her got many strange looks from those that he met. The girl ignored the fact that her parents were walking next to her, she would have been more than happy if her father had remained at home but he had insisted on accompanying them. A sudden impatient yowl from Tiger drew her attention as she neared her destination and she looked down to see the cat looking up at her with green eyes.

“Don’t worry, Tiger, as soon as we are on the train and in the compartment you can get out of your cage.”

The pillar loomed before her and she paused as a group of Muggle tourists passed her and paused by the pillar that she needed. That they were tourist was obvious, they were craning their necks as they looked about at every small thing that they could find and they spoke differently than the others around them. Still, here was no reason to create hysteria in the station by going through the portal when the Muggles might observe it. She sighed with relief as the group moved on, then pushed the trolley towards the pillar and a moment later was standing on Platform Nine and Three-Quarters. A quick glance behind her proved that her parents had come through the portal as well, but she relaxed as she saw the Hogwarts Express in front of her. In less than a half an hour she would be on the train and it would be making its way to Hogsmeade Station which meant a whole term away from her father and sister.

She pushed the trolley to the edge of the platform where the station-elves would deal with her baggage. One of the elves stepped forward and took instructions from her and then her luggage, including the cage that Tiger was in, vanished. There wasn’t the smallest amount of worry in her mind about her pet, the cage that he was in would appear in her compartment once she was seated.

“Elizabeth,” she heard her mother ask. “How long is the trip to Hogwarts?”

“Several hours, but the time passes quickly. I’ll be sitting with my friends,” she said as she shot a glance at her father. He was clearly not happy with the statement that she had just made and it pleased her immensely.

Her mother hugged her gently as the conductors of the train announced the boarding call. She looked at her father in the vain hope that he would offer to embrace her, but he had stepped back to open the distance between them and now stood with his back to her. She kissed her mother on the cheek and then turned back to the passenger car that she was about to board. A nudge from her mother caught her attention and she turned to accept the small pouch that was pressed into her hand.

“You wanted this, plus I’ve included a little something extra.”

Elizabeth’s eyes widened and she leaned forward to kiss her mother once again. Then she turned, boarded the train and hurried to her compartment where she found a seat near the window. She watched as he mother pressed her hand against the glass and Elizabeth pressed her own hand on the window. Elizabeth wasn’t surprised to see tears in her mother’s eyes, although she could see that her father still had his back to the train.

“I love, you, Elizabeth,” she heard her mother say.

“I love you too,” she answered.

A moment later Lily, Rose and Beatrice rushed into the compartment to take their seats for the trip to school. Then the train lurched and began to move slowly away from the platform. Elizabeth noticed that her mother tried to watch her for as long as possible while her father, who had turned back towards the train, was staring at his watch. He was clearly disinterested in her departure and couldn’t wait to see her gone so that they could return home.

When she could no longer see her mother Elizabeth turned back to her friends to find Tiger’s cage in the compartment. She pulled her pet out of his cage and released him to visit her friends. Tiger, glad to be free of his confinement, was soon busy making the rounds as the other girls played with him. Rose ran her fingers through the fur of the cat as she talked to her friends.

“Have you heard?" Rose said quickly.  "Scorpius’ cousin Alexis is coming to Hogwarts this year. I’ve heard that she’s a true Malfoy, just as nasty as the rest of the family. She’s the daughter of Scorpius’ cousin and is already swearing that she hates anyone who is wearing Gryffindor robes. She keeps insisting that someday she’ll be a prefect and maybe Head Girl. Wouldn’t that be just lovely?”

Lily grimaced at the news that she had just heard, but looked longingly at the crimson and gold Prefect’s badge that was now pinned to Rose’s robes. She was about to say something when the compartment door opened and Albus stepped in. Elizabeth smiled at her boyfriend and he returned the smile, then leaned forward to kiss her before looking at his cousin.

“Come on, Rose, the Head Boy and Girl have instructions for us in the Prefect’s car.”

Elizabeth watched as Rose stood to leave, but not before handing Tiger to Beatrice. Albus smiled at her again before he vanished down the passageway. Elizabeth was slightly disappointed at the brevity of their contact, but knew that they would see each other later once they were at school. She turned back to Beatrice with a question on her mind.

“Beatrice, is Maureen coming back this year?”

“She’s a proud new member of Gryffindor.”

“Your sister left Slytherin to join Gryffindor? I thought that she hated Gryffindors.”

“Well, after a certain Gryffindor went to the Ministry and Office of the Aurors and got her conviction overturned so that she could be released from jail she had a change of heart. She decided that she owes you a lot and she couldn’t see herself staying in Slytherin house. Of course, I doubt that the other members of Slytherin will be happy about it.”

“I know that she will be more than welcome in Gryffindor.  I've found that she’s really very nice once you get to know her and had a great time talking to her over the summer.”

“She’s really sorry about what she tried to do to you last term. We never heard the end of her talking about what you did for her to get her out of jail and what you did for our family that day in the catacombs.”

“How’s Isabelle doing since her father is in jail?”

“She was really hurt at first and sort of angry about the whole thing, but she is better now. She understands what her father was doing at Hogwarts and what he tried to do us down in the catacombs.”

Elizabeth nodded as she reached into her pocket for the pouch that her mother had pressed into her hand before she had boarded the train. She knew that, at the very least, there was money in the pouch, but she wondered what else it might hold. A moment later, the pouch was open and she reached in to find a piece of folded parchment which she quickly pulled out. It was swiftly unfolded and scanned and almost instantly she squealed with excitement.

“She signed it!”

“What did she sign?” Lily asked as she recovered from the squeal of a moment before.

“The permission slip to go to Hogsmeade. Father put off signing it all summer long, he always found a reason not to sign it. He was always after me for something that I had done wrong, even if I hadn’t done anything. In the end he straight out refused to sign it, he said that he would have no part in it.”

“Elizabeth, please pardon me for asking, and if you don’t want to answer I’ll understand, but what is with your father?” Lily asked. “I saw him on the platform when you were hugging your mother and then looking at him. He actually turned his back on you and acted like he didn’t care that you were leaving. My parents were in tears when we got on board.”

Elizabeth paused for a moment as she thought about what her friend had asked. It had pained her to watch the parents of other students embrace their children while only her mother had hugged her. She really didn’t understand why her father was so distant to her, it was the way that things had always been. There wasn’t a time that she could remember when he hadn’t been so eager to avoid her.

“Lily, I really don’t know what’s going on with my father, he’s always been this way with me. Anne has always been his favorite I’ve never been anything but second best with him. It didn’t get any better when he got the news that I had been placed in P.E.T.S. and that the Ministry said that he couldn’t stop me from returning to Hogwarts this term. He barely spoke to me all summer and when he did it was to argue with me. I spent most of the summer confined to my room because he was mad at me.”

“It must have been horrible.”

“The sad part of the whole thing was that the best days of the summer were the ones when he was off traveling with Anne. He would plan things for them to do without me. My mother was included in the outings, but he would always make certain that they were when I couldn’t go for some reason. It really didn’t bother me because it was rather nice to not be yelled at or given the silent treatment the entire time.”

Beatrice and Lily sat silently as their friend talked about her relationship with her father. Neither of them could imagine living like Elizabeth did, they were used to affection being given to them freely by their fathers. In fact, their fathers were prone to publicly displaying their love for their daughters. Both of the girls felt very sorry for their friend because of the hostility that she faced at home.

Elizabeth looked down into the pouch once more and saw the unmistakable glint of gold Galleons. A moment later the sound of the treat trolley incited the girl to pull one of the coins out of the pouch and they were soon gathered around the trolley with other students as they selected treats. Elizabeth sat back down in the compartment to enjoy her Pumpkin Pasties and Licorice Wands while her friends ate Bertie Bott’s Every Flavor Beans and Chocolate Frogs. Tiger was content with treats that his owner had brought along for him, although he did nibble on a bean that Lily put on the floor for him to try.

Rose had a chance to join them briefly when she took her break from patrolling the passenger cars. She sat down in the compartment with her friends to enjoy the treats that she had selected from the trolley. Her friends gathered from the look on her face that she already didn’t like being a prefect.

“Being a prefect is going to be a real pain, I think. People treat you differently when you have one of these on your robes,” she said as she indicated the badge on her robe front. “Some people are really nice to you, while others talk about you once your back is turned and they think that you are out of hearing range.”

“Please tell me that Scorpius isn’t one of the fifth year Slytherin Prefects,” Lily said.

“He’s really mad about the fact that he didn’t get selected and is letting everyone that will listen know about it. Evidently, he didn’t totally get away with what he pulled last term, he’s just lucky that he didn’t have to go before the Wizengamot. I have no doubt that he’s going to blame you for the fact that he wasn’t chosen to be a prefect,” she said to Elizabeth. “But I think that he’s smart enough to leave you alone while Albus or I are around, then again you didn’t seem to need help last year in the corridor. Just don’t slug him again where I can see it, I don’t want to have to take points away from Gryffindor. I think that he doesn’t want to be responsible for Slytherin losing points again, so you should have a quiet year.”

“What about James? Is he going to be Gryffindor Quidditch Captain again?” Elizabeth asked Lily.

“It was kind of weird the way that it worked, but in the end it was decided that he will get his spot back. Madeline Parker decided to step aside when she found out that he was coming back. She said that she would rather go back to being a Beater, that way she didn’t have to call the shots.”

“He and Albus are getting along now, aren’t they?”

“It’s been a little tense at times, but yeah, they’re finally able to be in the same room without trying to kill each other. I think that he has finally accepted the fact that you and Albus are a couple,” Lily said. “Mom and Dad had some really long talks with him to bring him around. You might still catch him watching you sometimes, but I think that it should be okay.”

“I really hated the fact that they were fighting each other because of me. Believe me, it was interesting keeping my father from finding the notes that Albus sent me over the summer, I had to keep them really well hidden to keep him at bay. He suspected something was going on, but didn’t know what until he and I argued the morning that we met in Diagon Alley. I told him that you were my friends and that I was seeing Albus, he was furious with me when he realized that I had been keeping a secret from him.”

Rose got up and left to go back on patrol as the girls continued to talk as the train put more and more distance behind it. The conversation quieted and they finally began to drift off to sleep as the motion of the car gently rocked them. Tiger found a comfortable spot to curl up into a ball and fall asleep next to Elizabeth, who leaned against the wall as she tried to clear her mind. Thoughts of the conversation about her father kept replaying over and over as she tried to sleep, but failed. She looked around at her friends and envied the ease at which they fallen to sleep and finally resorted to pulling a book out of her bag to read. She had gone through several chapters when the door to the compartment opened and Rose stepped in.

“Everything okay in here?”

“Yeah, how about out there?”

“It’s been really quiet tonight, but you might want to wake them up to change. We’ll be at Hogsmeade in about a half an hour and they won’t want to wait until then to get ready.”

Elizabeth nodded and watched as Rose left then reached over and began to shake her friends awake. Lily opened one eye to look at the person who had rudely disturbed her dream and was about to say something when Elizabeth reached over to pull down the curtains over the windows.

“I guess that you want these down while you change into your robes, I know that I really don’t want to show it all to the world.”

The girls were soon changed and Tiger was imprisoned once again in his cage. Elizabeth reached into the cage to comfort the cat as she spoke to him.

“You won’t be in there for very long, Tiger. Once the train gets to the station the house-elves will transport you to the castle and then up to the common room. We’re nearly home, Tiger, a whole term with no arguments from Father or Anne.”

Tiger didn’t have long to wait for it was only a short time before the students were able to perceive that the train was slowing down as it approached the platform of Hogsmeade Station. Elizabeth looked out through the window and could see the buildings of Hogsmeade crawl by as the train slowly approached its destination. She also saw Hagrid standing on the platform and, in the distance beyond the lake, Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Her heart swelled with happiness as she saw Professor McGonagall standing on the platform as well. There was no doubt in her mind that it would be a very good year and she was looking forward to its start.

The girls joined the surge of students as they exited the passenger cars to gather on the platform. Elizabeth looked back at the now nearly empty Hogwarts Express and was kind of sad, but more grateful that she wouldn’t have to board it again until the holidays. Actually, she rather hoped that she wouldn’t have to go home at Christmas unless it was to the home of her grandparents, she hated the thought of spending weeks with her father and sister.

She knew that this year she would ride up to the castle in one of the carriages instead of crossing the lake in one of the boats. She also didn’t have to worry about the Sorting Hat putting her in a house that she didn’t want to be in, this year she could watch as the nervous first years were sorted while she sat with her friends. The wait for a carriage took a while and she seized the chance to speak with Professor McGonagall, who was standing in very nearly the same spot as she had when Elizabeth had first met her the year before.

Minerva McGonagall watched as the girl approached her, but with a much more sure step than she had possessed the year before. The girl had grown over the summer, both in stature and confidence, and was still the very pretty young woman that she had been the night that they had first met.

“Hello, Professor McGonagall, how was your summer?”

“It was wonderful, Miss Blackwell, but I am certain that yours was not so pleasant.”

Elizabeth felt her jaw drop as she realized that the professor had been informed about the happenings in her home over the summer. She wondered what else the woman knew about what had been happening in her life.

“How did you…”

“I have my ways, Elizabeth. We will discuss this later in my office, but you need to get back to the carriage before they leave without you.”

Elizabeth turned around and saw that her friends were next in line for a carriage. She said a quick goodbye before rushing back to the line and didn’t see Professor McGonagall simply vanish. It wasn’t long before the group was seated in the carriage and it began to move up the road towards the castle that stood with its windows ablaze with torch light. The girl gasped with delight as she beheld the picture before her, the lake glistened with the reflections of the lights of the castle and the stars and moon above it. The small fleet of boats resembled a swarm of giant fireflies, adding their own reflections, as they made their way across the darkness of the lake. Elizabeth felt as if she had never seen anything more beautiful that what she was now seeing and the others in the group wondered at first about her silence until they followed the direction of her gaze. They understood her entranced state once they realized what she was staring at.

When they reached the gates of the castle the doors of the carriage opened and they climbed out to join the line of students who were streaming into the castle. From her vantage point Elizabeth could see what appeared to be a large black undulating snake that was disappearing through the entrance doors of Hogwarts Castle, but she knew it for what it was and walked along with her friends until they were within the Great Hall.

She and her friends hurried to their customary spots and Albus sat down next to her as they clutched hands under the table. Elizabeth looked around the colossal room and then at the High Table as she wondered about the new headmaster or headmistress. She saw two new professors among the staff and wondered which one would lead the school this term, but she was also puzzled by the fact that there was still an empty seat at the High Table and wondered who would fill it.

A moment later the doors and the end of the Great Hall opened and the first years began to enter as they followed Professor McGonagall. Elizabeth could read the apprehension on their faces as they walked towards the stool where the Sorting Hat rested. She watched along with the rest of the school as the first years gathered at the front of the room.

This year, unlike most, the Sorting Hat was strangely quiet and didn’t offer a song. The waiting students, who always enjoyed the song and actually looked forward to it, began talking quietly among themselves. Then Professor McGonagall turned to face the upper classmen to offer an explanation.

“I’m afraid that I must offer an apology to you all, there will be no song from the Sorting Hat this term. It is feeling a bit under the weather and so I will announce the houses to which these first years are sorted.”

The Sorting Ceremony that followed was one of the strangest in the long history of the school. Instead of shouting out the house to which the new student belonged, the hat merely pointed its tip at the necessary table and Professor McGonagall announced the results to all. When it finally ended Professor McGonagall picked up the hat and stool and then moved them aside as the tall professor that had been sitting at the headmaster’s chair stood and walked to the podium. The room came to a silent pause as he surveyed the room and then began to speak.

“Greetings to all of you, I am Professor Tobias Leeds, your new headmaster and I am very excited about being here with all of you at this fine school. It seems like only yesterday that I was being sorted in front of this podium and attended classes in the very rooms in which you now study. I promise to all of you that very little shall change here at Hogwarts except for that which is absolutely necessary.”

“I know that all of you are aware that Madame Dayle and Professor Grims departed at the end of the last term, they will be sorely missed as they were wonderful teachers. To that end, I have selected new professors to fill their posts. Professor Jonas Mayre shall be your new Flying Instructor, he has spent many years teaching the art of flying and also some time on the Quidditch pitch, I know that he is looking forward to some very spirited games of Quidditch as I am.”

A tall, balding man rose from his seat and bowed to the politely clapping students. Elizabeth was clapping when Lily leaned over to her and whispered into her ear.

“So who’s going to teach Defense Against the Dark Arts? The chair at the High Table for them is still empty.”

A puzzled murmur began to circulate around the room as all began to wonder about the other new professor. Professor Leeds began to speak again before he noticed that the seat was still vacant.

“The post of Defense Against the Dark Arts shall be filled by…”

The announcement was disrupted by a banging as the doors to the Great Hall opened and a tall, white-haired woman entered to stride to the front of the room. Hundreds of pairs of eyes watched in surprise as she made her way to the empty chair, but one heart nearly stopped beating in horror. Professor Leeds watched as she stood at her place and then made the announcement once more.

“The post of Defense Against the Dark Arts shall be filled by…”

Elizabeth, her face drained of color, finished the sentence for those who could hear her.

“Professor Monique LeBlanc!”
 

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