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Inside the Great Hall, the first-years lined up, ready to be sorted. Albus didn’t really focus his mind on the first-years. None of his cousins were being sorted, so why should he pay attention? Albus’s mind drifted over to thestrals. They were so creepy looking, like Albus was staring into the face of death itself. He remembered James’s taunts about the thestrals before he came to Hogwarts last year. Luckily, he wouldn’t have to see them until the end of the year, when they went back to Hogsmeade station. Wait, what about Christmas, if he went home? Would they use the carriages then?

Before Albus could ask Rose, he was interrupted by the singing of the sorting hat inside the silence of the great hall.

Once upon a time
Over twenty years ago
The Hogwarts houses united
To defeat a common foe.
Gryffindor, the house of the brave,
Valiantly arose to the task
While the kind-hearted Hufflepuffs
Removed their shy mask.
The sharp-witted Ravenclaws
Performed every spell within their means
And several Slytherins
Fought behind the scenes.
So wherever you go,
Do not be afraid,
For each house has some good
Even though with time their acts might fade.

As everyone started clapping, Albus glanced over at the Slytherin table. Really? They fought for good during the Battle of Hogwarts? He assumed the hat must be thinking of Severus Snape, who ultimately changed the outcome of the battle even though he didn’t do much actual fighting. But were their other Slytherins as well, who did behind-the-scene fighting? Albus never thought about that before. Snape‘s acts stuck out like a sore thumb in Slytherin house. Snape was the only one against the death eaters, right? But the sorting hat said "several Slytherins". Who else fought? Did they make the ultimate sacrifice, like Severus Snape, or did they survive and disappear back into the shadows? Overall, Slytherin seemed like one of the most mysterious houses.

“Psst, Albus,” James whispered to him across the table as the first few names were called.

“What?” Albus hissed.

“This is the first year in ages where none of our cousins have been sorted. Victoire graduated last year, now Dominique’s in her seventh year, Molly and Lucy are in their sixth, Louis and Fred are in their fifth, Roxanne is in her fourth, I’m in third year, and you and Rose are in your second year."

“Wow,” Albus whispered, as “Brooks, Tanya!” was called. “Lily and Hugo are coming next year, though. That’ll be terrifying: Lily at Hogwarts. She’d go nuts living her greatest dream since she was two.”

Professor Selwyn called another name. Brought out of his thoughts, Albus remembered that Professor Fuchs, who was deputy headmaster, now had left Hogwarts, so his good friend Professor Selwyn, the charms teacher, was now deputy headmistress. Albus instinctively looked over at the staff table to see who replaced Fuchs as Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher. A man with messy black hair was seated up at the staff table. He was wearing staff robes, so it was difficult to tell much else about him. His hair looked strangely like Albus’s own hair. Same shade and everything. Weird.

The new teacher was wearing a wide, almost satanic, grin as he stared down at the Great Hall. The man’s eyes flickered briefly, until he locked eyes with Albus. Al instinctively moved his eyes away. Albus pretended to pay attention to the small blonde girl who was being sorted, instead of looking at the new teacher. Once the sorting hat shouted, “HUFFLEPUFF!” Albus took a quick glance back at the new teacher. He was still staring right at Albus. That was so creepy.

“Rose?” Albus whispered.

“What?” she whispered. Her voice was so soft Albus was almost lip-reading.

“That new teacher at the staff table- he’s staring right at me.” Rose looked skeptical, and turned around towards the staff table. Albus didn’t dare look, and instead gazed at the sorting hat, his eyes glossing over.

“That is so weird,” Rose said. “He was staring at you so intently, and looked like he might explode from happiness. Then he spotted me looking, and he glanced at me, looking more joyful by the second.” David and Art, who sat across from them, both looked at the new professor.

“He’s now alternating between you and James, I think,” Art whispered. “It’s difficult to tell. But he seems oblivious to the fact that I’m staring right at him.”

“Is this the same guy who assigned us all the Lockhart books?” David whispered.

“I think so,” Albus replied. “But James didn’t have to get the Lockhart books. It might be some mistake.”

“Possibly,” Rose said, shrugging. “What type of teacher would give kids in different years a completely different set of books?”

“An insane one,” David whispered. “And that grin looks kind of insane. And he’s still looking at you, Albus, so don’t turn around.”

“Shhh!” Albus’s cousin, Molly, hissed, louder than their small conversation was. She silently glared at them. Albus glanced back at the sorting hat, knowing he couldn’t go back to talking. Molly was keeping a close eye on them now.

“Green, Agatha!” Professor Selwyn shouted. Albus’s eyes flickered over the clearly terrified first-years. Was that really him last year? He supposed it was. Since when had he gained so much confidence? Even James’s teasing didn’t have much of an effect anymore.

Well, he was given the opportunity for independence last year, with no parents around, and a brother who he rarely interacted with at school. And then, everything massively changed at the end of the year…. even now, Albus’s knowledge that he defeated Slytherin was like a talisman against his heart. Things like a new professor seemed trivial, almost unworrisome.
Except for the creepy stare. Could the new professor be working for Lord Zajecfer? He didn’t have a body anymore, but he certainly wasn’t dead.

When the sorting was finally over, Professor Flitwick allowed them all to eat, and once they were done they could await further announcements. Flitwick seemed slightly paler, and his confidence seemed to be lacking. It made sense. Flitwick was under the Imperius curse for almost an entire year. Albus couldn’t even begin to fathom what that would be like. Worst still, he was the headmaster, and Flitwick’s duty was to protect the students. He’d failed so abysmally at that fact last year.

Albus cut some of his turkey, and pushed the fork into his mouth, still wallowing in his disappointing thoughts. But this year would be okay, right? Well, except for the fact that some scary dementor was on the loose, but that was all the way in Antarctica. He had nothing to fear… right? And surely that new professor wouldn’t hurt him? He never would have been hired if he was insane.

“Albus, that new teacher is staring at me,” James said, walking over to Albus from further down the Gryffindor table. “He was staring at you earlier.”

“I know,” Albus said. “But if he were dangerous, he wouldn’t have been hired,” Albus said.

“Well, remember how dad said that they were having trouble getting a new Defense instructor, because of the rumors of the position being cursed again and all of that?” James said. Albus let out a small groan. Why couldn’t Professor Fuchs come back? He was wonderful teacher. Better yet, he had helped Albus when he had trouble performing spells, and showed him that he could do the spells perfectly when not saying the words at all. Albus wished he had asked Professor Fuchs more about it. Why could he perform nonverbal magic with ease? That surely wasn’t common?

When the food at last disappeared from the tables, Professor Flitwick climbed up to the podium. He still looked pale.

“First, I’d like to introduce our Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher, Professor Rupert Unglesbee.” Unglesbee ran his fingers through his hair briefly, stood up, smiled at everyone, and sat back down. “Now, for the usual reminders, which will not be usual for the first years. All students are banned from the Forbidden Forest. And Mr. Filch’s list of banned items has been extended. You may see the full list on the door of his office. Finally, we have a speech from Lindsay Jones, a second-year Hufflepuff.” A girl from Hufflepuff table stood up. Her long, brown hair was pulled up in a messy ponytail. Albus vaguely recognized her from his Herbology classes. Wasn’t she the girl who was as fascinated with Herbology as Art? She stood up and walked towards the front of the Great Hall. She shyly tucked a small piece of hair behind her ear. But when she spoke, it was loud and confident.

“For those of you who don’t know, my name is Lindsay Jones. When I was a little girl, I always loved learning about the environment. Trees and plants were my friends. But I was heartbroken that such wonderful, peaceful places were being torn away by pollution, and forests were being cut down. I wanted do something about it, but I didn’t know what.

“When I was eleven, I was introduced to magic for the first time. I saw how easily wizards could accomplish anything. Muggles have put hard labor into cleaning up rivers, yet wizards could get rid of this massive problem quickly and easily. But they didn’t. They left the muggles to their own devices, sat back, and said it wasn’t their problem. It was the muggles’ fault, so the muggles had to fix it. Or so they say. But we damage the environment too. Take a look at your wands, for example. Every single one of you have one. Did you ever wonder where exactly they came from? Did they just magically appear in Ollivander’s Wand Shop? No, they did not. They were all a result of cutting down trees. It used to be that wandmakers would just take a small branch, but now entire trees are being slaughtered as the wizarding population grows and grows. Do they replant the trees? No, they do not.

“Now muggles are cleaning up some of our mistakes. Don’t we owe them? Shouldn’t we help them? And it’s not just wand trees, either. Twenty years ago, when death eaters ruled the country, they would slaughter animals just for fun. Giants trampled entire forests. They destroyed so much. Yet, when the war was over, the only wildlife we fixed up was the Forbidden Forest. We payed no attention to any muggle things the death eaters destroyed. We were selfish, and only thought about ourselves. Even once the war was over, we still didn’t help. When I was introduced to this world, I wondered why wizards were so narrow-minded. None of them want anything to do with muggles, even though our actions makes a huge footprint on the muggle world.

“So we have to repay the muggles. We share this Earth with them, whether we like it or not. We have to help clean up this world, just like the muggles are doing. Even if wizards aren’t directly related to an event, can’t we help through the kindness of our hearts? Shouldn’t we extend hospitality to our brethren?

“So many of us are focused on OWLS, or NEWTS, or daily gossip. Have you ever thought about broadening your minds, to help change the world? Me, I want to change the world. How about you? Will you join me?”

On that note, Lindsay sat back down at the Hufflepuff table. Albus clapped his hands, but only about half of the hall did. A lot of people had troubled faces. Albus thought the same thing they were thinking. Are muggles better than wizards? Sure, wizards had their faults, and so did muggles, but almost every wizard, some point in their life, recognized that they were superior to muggles. After all, they had magic. Was that really the case? Were wizards lacking in certain qualities that muggles cherished?

His mind buzzing, Albus barely talked as he walked up to Gryffindor tower. Was this how he felt last year too? Did most students worry about dementors, seeing thestrals, unusual speeches, and frightening teachers on their first day back?

Albus didn’t think so.

"ALBUS! EARTH TO ALBUS!" David shouted. Albus blushed slightly.

"Sorry mate, I was thinking. What is it?"

"Well I was thinking… first day of term, haven't seen each other all term… want to pull an all-nighter? It'll be fun. Besides, we don't have class tomorrow."

"Sure, why not?" Albus replied. "That'll be fun. We should invite the entire dorm, and Rose too."

"No thanks!" Rose shouted. Albus hadn't realized that she had been listening.

"Why not?" Albus asked curiously.

"I was hoping to meet up with the girls in my dormitory. I've seen you all summer, and then David and Art at the feast, but I haven't seen them since last year."

"Like… who? Who are you friends with?" Albus asked, feeling extremely stupid. Of course she would have friends. He was such an idiot. Why would he think that her only friends were three boys?

"Well, there's Nicole Chandler, whose friends are in Ravenclaw so we hang out when she's not around them, and the other girls are nice too. Albus, you really ought to try making more than three friends. And I barely count, since I'm your cousin."

"Hmm." Albus said, deep in thought. What friends did he have besides his cousins and David and Art? For a moment his mind jumped to Marc Mysticus and Rob Kim, both in his dormitory, but how much did he know about them really? He barely even talked to them.

So when the Gryffindor boys tried to pull an all-nighter and have a little fun, Albus paid extra attention to Marc and Rob.

At two in the morning, after several hours of talking- looking back Albus would barely remember what they talked about- and eating fudge David stealthily stole from the kitchens, they finally broke out the exploding snap cards.

"So, Marc, you're muggleborn right?" Albus said during his game. "It must have been weird learning about Hogwarts and wizards and such."

"Yeah, it was a bit, but it my parents always knew something was weird- OUCH!" Marc yelped as a card burned his finger upon its explosion.

"Wicked," Rob said. "You alright, mate?"

"Yeah, I'm fine. Anyway, Albus, as I was saying-"

"What in the blazes is going on here?" a heavily annoyed face said, peeking into their dormitory. Albus didn't recognize him, but it was clearly an older student. He was wearing boxer shorts and some muggle sport jersey, and looked extremely tired and irritated. "Playing exploding snap in the middle of the night? What the hell? It's only my first bleedin' day as prefect, and if things weren't bad enough with Louis and Fred constantly causing a ruckus in my dormitory, the entire house is being woke up by some stupid second-years messing around? Playing exploding snap, the loudest game that has ever existed? Did you even think?"

The five of them look guiltily at the ground. "No, we're sorry," Albus muttered.

"Fine. If you guys stop I won't assign detention. Mainly because I'm too tired to organize it. So just shut up," the Prefect said, and left.

The five of them put Albus's cards away, but they were still to hyper to sleep so they just talked in low voices, sitting on a circle on the ground. Somehow the topic turned to their lives before Hogwarts.

Rob started talking. "Well, as I've said before, I live in Northern England with my sisters, who mainly just leave me alone. Mum had me go to muggle primary school because she said she didn't want me to be a wizard ignorant about muggles- she's muggleborn- and it wasn't too bad. I made a few friends, but they could never come to my house because it was all magicked up. So yeah, I was wizard, so I never really experienced any surprise at opening my Hogwarts letter," Rob said.

"I bet Art sure did," Albus said, grinning at his muggleborn friend.

"Actually, it was a surprise, but not as much as it could have. Accidental magic burst out of me lots of times- I remember, when I was seven, I accidentally blew up my dad's tractor. I was really upset about it, since it cost a lot of money and stuff. I just went to my dad and started crying," Art said.

"Was he mad?" Albus asked.

"No, he told me it wasn't my fault and went into some big explanation of how the gasoline probably cause an explosion or something like that. We didn't believe in magic, like most muggles, so dad didn't think I had done it. I knew, though. I didn't understand how I blew it up, but I knew I did."

"Wow, I don't think I've ever blown anything up," Rob said in awe.

Art flushed. "It isn't exactly something to be proud of."

"David, hey- David?" Albus looked over at his friend, who was slumped over, leaning against the leg of his bed, and had his eyes closed. He didn't respond.

"He isn't asleep. His breathing isn't right," Marc said matter-of-factly.

"Well, looks like you got that wrong, since he sure seems asleep to me. David?" Albus said, nudging his friend's shoulder.

"Hmm?" David said sleepily.

"Get into bed mate, you fell asleep. In fact, we should all probably get to bed. What time is it?"

"Three o'clock," Marc said.

"Then we should all head to bed."

Albus lay in bed, feeling weary. After several minutes, he heard the soft snores deep breathing from Art, Marc, and Rob around him. After being in a dorm with them for a year, he could tell the noises apart. Albus stole a quick glance as David. How come he didn't hear David's usual snores yet? He was, after all, the one who fell asleep during the conversation. Had Marc been right?

But his mind started going blank of tangible thought, and when Albus woke up in the morning, he barely remembered the incident.

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