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In the Name of the Brave

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 Harry felt that Hagrid had greatly underexaggerated the wonders of Hogwarts. He felt warm and sleepy with the best meal he’d ever had in his life. He could have fallen asleep at the table, but instead he looked up at the High Table again to find the giant man at the far end. 

 Hagrid was drinking deeply from his goblet, talking excitedly with an equally merry, although much shorter man. This normal-sized, white-haired man only had one eye, one arm, and an enormous moustache that curled at the ends. Harry wondered who this man beside Hagrid was and what they were talking about with such excited, arm-flapping, air-clawing gestures.

 The elderly witch sitting next to the excited duo, with close-cropped grey hair and a pointed chin, appeared to be disapprovingly chewing on her pipe at their conversation. Every now and then, seemingly whenever Hagrid made a particularly wild gesture, she frowned and puffed out a cloud of sparkly white smoke.

 Harry wondered who she was too – actually, he wondered who all the teachers were, what they were talking about, and what subjects they taught. Looking along the High Table, Harry had never seen such a strange and colourful cast of people. There were people of all shapes and sizes, more than two dozen teachers along the long table, and every one of them was like visiting Diagon Alley in all its wonders and seeing all those strange shoppers again.

 Only, the staff of Hogwarts seemed to all be dressed in their very best robes and hats for the Welcoming Feast. So, underneath the shifting night sky and floating candles of the Great Hall, they looked even brighter and stranger and more wonderful.

 For example, not far from Hagrid was a man so tiny that Harry would have been taller than him, with many little bronze wings on his hat that fluttered occasionally, like the hat might take off into the sky-like ceiling of the Great Hall at any moment. This tiny man was sitting next to a fat woman who appeared to have living, moving flowers on her hat and clothes. Beside her was a very narrow-faced woman with little planets orbiting her fancy hat.

 Although, of course, Headmaster Albus Dumbledore in the middle of the High Table outdid them all by leagues, in his splendid golden robes that were covered in gleaming fiery birds, with his golden half-moon glasses and ruby earrings, and his tall hat with such long scarlet feathers. He made his own wizardly Chocolate Frog card look dull by comparison. He was having an animated conversation with strict Professor McGonagall, who, in her emerald-green robes and wide-brimmed hat, now almost looked ordinary in comparison.

 Every single bizarre one of the Hogwarts staff would have sent the Dursleys into a fit and it made Harry, secretly and maybe a little spitefully, very happy inside. They were like every strange dream he’d ever had finally made real – except with ridiculous hats.

 Harry continued contently along the High Table and saw Professor Quirrell, the nervous young man in the purple turban from the Leaky Cauldron.

 Quirrell was talking to a teacher wearing all black robes. The teacher in black looked younger than most of the others, as young as Quirrell if not younger, and he was considerably good-looking. He had pale skin, a striking nose, long and lustrous black hair, and an air of casual elegance about him. His dark robes had many silver fastenings, gleaming in the candlelight, and he had a matching hat that was much more dashing than his companion’s.

 It happened very suddenly. Quirrell turned away to speak to another teacher who had come up behind him, the teacher in black looked directly at Harry, and their eyes met. A sharp and burning pain shot through Harry’s forehead in a flash – it came from his scar.

 “Ouch!” Harry clapped a hand to his head, surprised.

 He looked quickly away, but not quickly enough not to catch the sudden narrowing of the teacher in black’s stare.

 Percy, seated nearby, noticed this. “What’s wrong, Harry?”

 “N-Nothing,” Harry assured him quickly, still rubbing at his forehead.

 Percy didn’t look entirely convinced, but he didn’t ask any more questions. Thankfully, no one seemed to have noticed this bizarre moment and even Harry could have wondered if it had happened at all, if Percy wasn’t still looking uncertainly at him. The pain had gone nearly as quickly as it had come.

 Harry frowned and dropped his hand, then sneaked another glance at the High Table. The teacher in black had resumed conversation with Professor Quirrell and was no longer looking at him.

 “Percy? Who’s that teacher in the dark robes?”

 Percy looked over the High Table, then furrowed his brow. “Who do you mean, Harry?”

 Harry followed Percy’s gaze, looking all the way down the High Table, and realized that there were a few other teachers in darker robes near the other end of the table. One of them was an angular woman in a square-brimmed hat, one of them was a woman with a feathered hat and a pinched expression, but the last of them was a man who looked a bit like the teacher talking to Quirrell.

 This other man was also dressed in black robes, but his had a greenish tinge to the fabric, and he had no gleaming fastenings or stylish hat. He also had black hair, but only down to his chin, and it looked somewhat greasy. He was broader and plainer; and he had a very unimpressed look about him that made his age difficult to tell. Sharp black eyes flicked briefly over Harry and the man’s frown deepened.

 Harry looked quickly away at being noticed and hid behind Ron. But despite his racing heart and singing nerves, he still pointed subtly at the first teacher for answers.

 “Who’s that teacher talking to Professor Quirrell?”

 “Oh, that’s Professor Black,” Percy said knowledgeably. “He’s one of the Potions professors. He’ll be one of your teachers, actually. He teaches the younger years, from first to fourth.”

 “Oh,” Harry echoed, and snuck another glance at the man.

 But Professor Black was still deep in conversation with Professor Quirrell and didn’t look their way again, so Harry didn’t know what to make of the sudden pain he’d felt in his scar. All he had now was the wary feeling that Professor Black might not like him.

 “Not to worry, Harry, he’s quite good at his job,” Percy assured him quickly, sitting straight-backed for emphasis. Before he again leaned in and said more conspiratorially, “I’ll be taking Potions with Professor Snape this year – he teaches the fifth to seventh years – for the first time. He’s the one I thought you might mean. He’s sitting between Professor Vector and Madam Pince there; he’s the man in the black robes and with the black hair.”

 Percy pointed subtly towards the other, greasy-haired man in dark robes. Professor Snape was thankfully no longer frowning at Harry either, having started a conversation with one of the witches next to him, but he didn’t really look less intimidating or unimpressed.

 Much like Professor Black, Harry had gotten the impression that Professor Snape didn’t like him either, with the way he’d frowned at Harry’s attention. (At least Snape’s look hadn’t cause him pain?) Harry had assumed that this would be the case with some of his teachers – it was always the case with some of his teachers – but it was still disappointing, and Harry now wasn’t at all looking forward to finding out for certain in Potions class. He’d hoped Hogwarts would be different and now he was afraid to find out it might not be.

 “You know Quirrell already, do you?” Percy continued conversationally. “That’s good. He’ll also be one of your teachers. Very polite man, if a bit quiet; I had him in Muggle Studies, before he took a year off to get some first-hand experience. I wonder why he’s looking so nervous now, talking to Professor Black. I’ve never heard about Professor Black having an interest in his job, unlike…”

 “Unlike…?” Harry repeated.

 “Well, unlike Professor Snape,” Percy said, glancing nervously towards the other end of the High Table, as though he thought the man might hear him over all the chatter around them. “It’s common knowledge throughout the school that Snape is after the position – one of them – and that he knows an awful lot about the Dark Arts.”

 “One of them?” Harry asked.

 Percy cleared his throat. “Ah, well, there’s only really one Defence Against the Dark Arts position,” he corrected. “I’ll be taking Defence Against the Dark Arts with Professor Feasance – but, of course, she will only be substituting for Professor Quirrell if necessary and absolutely isn’t the teacher for Defence Against the Dark Arts for the fifth to seventh years.”

 That last part sounded very hastily added and it only confused Harry. Unfortunately, before Harry could ask why Percy would be taking Defence Against the Dark Arts classes with someone who wasn’t a Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher, Percy hurried the conversation on.

 “Besides, I heard that Snape will only be satisfied with the official position, which Quirrell now holds.” Percy was looking deeply flustered now and, glancing nervously up at the High Table again, he quickly changed the topic of conversation. “I’ve just been going on by myself here. Harry! What was your impression of Professor Quirrell returned from Albania?”

 “Er, he seemed nervous. Kind of like he was terrified of his own subject?”

 Harry wanted to push the subject of these confusing professors, especially Professor Black, but he didn’t want to bother Percy into not talking to him. He felt worried enough when his answer made Percy frown. Should he not have said that?

 “Well, he reportedly returned only very recently,” Percy said carefully. “I wonder if he encountered anything unusual while he was abroad. Although, of course, when you met him, it may have been…”

 “Been what?”

 Percy only looked flustered again, red up to the tips of his ears. “Never mind,” he said firmly, but his eyes flickered up to Harry’s forehead.

 At the lightning-shaped scar, Harry realized, hidden beneath his bangs.

 The conversation between them trailed off at that point and neither of them seemed to know how to continue it. Was Percy saying Quirrell was nervous because Harry was “the Boy-Who-Lived”? With Percy picking awkwardly at his pudding, Harry finally turned politely away and pretend to be interested in Ron’s conversation beside him.

 Ron was talking with the boy who’d introduced himself as Dean Thomas. It seemed a very intense conversation, going back and forth about wizards’ Quidditch and Muggle football, which one was better and which one was just silly. Although both Ron and Dean were repeatedly admitting that they didn’t know anything about the other’s sport, before bluntly insulting it.

 Personally, Harry privately agreed with Dean: any sport played on flying broomsticks seemed a bit silly. Exciting, of course, but a bit silly. But he didn’t want to tell Ron that and upset his new friend. Not when Ron had made a very sincere effort at trying to explain Quidditch during the ride train. Harry still didn’t understand it at all, but Ron had still tried – while also simultaneously, passionately, and confusingly defending a team called “the Something-Something Cannons”.

 Out of the corner of his eye, Harry noticed Percy very relievedly enter a conversation with one of the older students down the table. He tried not to be too disappointed.

 Though Harry sincerely tried to listen to Ron and Dean’s argument, he couldn’t help but sneakily watch the High Table just behind them. But even when the puddings disappeared and Professor Dumbledore made his speech – even all through the funny school song, which the Weasley twins gasp through delight, and made many of the teachers smile very fixedly or even close their eyes in pain – neither Black nor Snape looked at him again.

 

~

 

 The Gryffindor first-years followed Percy and another fifth-year Gryffindor prefect, a fat blonde girl who had introduced herself as Camille Hewley, out of the Great Hall and into one of the most terrifying and wondrous stairwells Harry had ever seen in his life. It was enormous. And the dozens of great marble staircases moved. According to Percy’s proud tour, many of the staircases in Hogwarts did this, at their own will, but the main stairwell was particularly known for it.

 Harry tried to gape at all the great staircases and the many paintings, shining suits of armour, massive tapestries, and strange statues that lined the walls of the stairwells and corridors. The people in the portraits even whispered and pointed as they passed!

 But he was so tired and so full of food. He had no idea where they were going, in this great castle, as Percy led them all through doorways and sliding panels and hanging tapestries like they were on some marvellous expedition. It was a desperate relief when the other Gryffindor prefect, Camille Hewley, promised them all that the prefects would lead them to and from their classes for the first week or so. There was nothing to be frightened of here, she assured them.

 It was a bit of a fright when they happened upon a poltergeist named Peeves, but Percy quickly drove him off by threatening him with the Bloody Baron, the ghost of Slytherin House, who was reportedly the only one who scare the spirit. Percy seemed very put out that just being a prefect wasn’t enough for Peeves to behave and Harry saw Camille roll her eyes at him behind his back.

 The long trek finished at the end of a corridor, with anenormous portrait of a very fat woman in a pink silk dress. Percy gave her the password (“Caput Draconis”) and the frame of the painting swung open like a door, which revealed a hole in the wall. After stumbling through it, they found themselves in a room Percy declared to be the Gryffindor common room.

 The Gryffindor common room was a large room in mostly red and gold, warm and surprisingly cosy, with many squashy armchairs and comfy sofas and a large, crackling fireplace. The room was mostly decorated by tapestries of fantastic beasts, but there was a medium-sized full-body portrait of a beautiful witch above the fireplace, holding a wide-brimmed hat and gazing out the window behind her painted desk. Gryffindor students of all years seemed to be trying to linger around the lovely room and chat merrily, only for some older prefects – Harry could tell they were prefers from the shiny badges pinned to their robes – to shoo them off to bed through doors off to the side.

 In the middle of the room, waiting for them, was Professor McGonagall and another teacher Harry didn’t know. The unknown witch was as short as McGonagall was tall; a plump woman with shiny brown hair and prominent round and rosy cheeks. She was wearing blue robes that had a collar of tawny fur and embroidered bronze lions prowling around the hems, and Harry thought he heard one of them growl as it took a swipe at one of its fellows.

 “Welcome to Gryffindor House,” Professor McGonagall said. “I am looking forward to getting to know each and every one of you, and to come to know the credit you will surely do to our House. For those of you who were too busy gawping at the castle to pay attention, I am Professor McGonagall, your Head of House. This is my Deputy Head of House, Professor Ting.”

 “Hello and welcome,” Professor Ting said warmly. “I teach Charms with Professor Flitwick. Though I won’t be teaching you this year, I look forward to seeing you in my classes someday and to get to know you over the course of this year anyway.”

 Professor McGonagall nodded. “You will come to know the school, its staff, and your fellow students in time. During that time, if you have any questions, you can look to your prefects for guidance, or to myself and Professor Ting. You will receive your class schedules here in the common room at nine o’clock sharp tomorrow, after breakfast, from one of our prefects.”

 Harry drowsily tried to listen to them, but Ron was yawning beside him. It was very distracting. Thankfully, Professors McGonagall and Ting seemed to cotton on to the fact that the new Gryffindor first-years were practically asleep on their feet.

 “There’s so much to tell you,” Professor Ting said, “and luckily there’s so much time for the telling! We shan’t keep you from your beds any longer.”

 “Girls, if you would follow Miss Hewley over there, and boys, if you would follow Mister Weasley, they’ll show you to your dormitories,” Professor McGonagall said, as though there would be very serious consequences if they didn’t do so immediately. “Once again: welcome to Hogwarts and to Gryffindor House. Good night.”

 “Sweet dreams to you,” was Professor Ting’s offering.

 Percy quickly led them up a spiral staircase and Harry only had the time to realize that they must have been in one of the castle’s towers, before they found their beds at last and Harry had no other thoughts besides how quickly he could crawl into his. There were five four-poster beds with thick, velvet curtains in a round room, and one of them already had Harry’s trunk beneath it.

 Percy told them where the washrooms were and bid them a cheerful goodnight, but he got mostly mumbling in return. Harry was too tired to talk much to his new dormmates: Ron, Dean the football fan, Seamus the boy who was “half and half”, and Neville who’d lost his toad. Thankfully, the sentiment seemed mutual.

 Harry pulled on his pyjamas, fell into bed, and only just managed to hear the murmuring thread of a conversation from Ron about the Slytherin dormitories reportedly being in the dungeons under the Great Lake. Harry tried to say that that sounded cold and wet, but though he might have had Dudley’s second bedroom now, but he’d never had a bed like this before. He fell asleep in the middle of his own sentence.  

 

~

 

 Harry dreamed strange dreams that night.

 He was wearing Professor Quirrell’s turban and it kept talking to him, almost like the Sorting Hat had done. In the Sorting Hat’s voice, it kept telling him that he ought to have gone into Slytherin, no matter how much he insisted that he didn’t want to be in Slytherin.

 “Anywhere but Slytherin!” he shouted finally.

 But that only made the turban burn. It had been getting hotter and hotter as it hissed at him that he belonged in Slytherin because it was his destiny. Now it felt like it was on fire! It was on fire!

 Harry clawed desperately at his head, especially his forehead where it seemed to be stuck, but the flaming turban wouldn’t come off. It tightened painfully, it got heavier and heavier, and it just kept hissing. Harry scratched and clawed at his own face until his hands came away red with blood and fire. And still it burned. Harry’s eyes and throat were burning too from the terrible smoke.

 Harry thought he saw figures moving in the smoke and he tried to shout out to them for help. But Headmaster Dumbledore’s parade of colourful creatures, teachers, and students in silly hats couldn’t seem to hear him, as they were all shouting the school song at the top of their lungs.

 One of them, broke away to chase a giant toad and ran right past Harry, and Harry saw that it was Neville and tried to grab him. He missed, having apparently sunken knee-deep into a swamp of treacle tart and being unable to move. Then suddenly Malfoy was there, a blur through the smoke, and laughing at him as he struggled again with the fire on in head. Before Harry could shout at him, Malfoy turned into a teacher, looming over him, dressed all in black robes.

 The laughing didn’t stop. Instead, it turned high and cold. Harry tried to look up through the smoke, to see who the teacher was, but instead he found himself looking at the end of a pale wand.

 Harry tried to squint past it, but the face beyond was in shadow, and then suddenly there was a blinding burst of green light that became everything.

 Harry woke up with a start, sweating and shaking. He grabbed at the velvet curtains of his four-poster bed and, for several seconds, didn’t know where he was. It took the snoring of his dormmates for Harry to remember that he wasn’t still dreaming; he was now at Hogwarts, in the Gryffindor dormitories, in his new room and new bed. He rubbed at his prickling, still-hot scar. Then he realized with great relief that it had all only been a very strange and terrible dream.

 Harry tremblingly released the curtains and sank back down, into his new quilts and pillows and comfortable bed. He wondered if the dream had meant something. One of his new textbooks had said something about dreams sometimes being magic and having meaning, hadn’t it?

 But then Harry rolled over and fell asleep again.

 When he woke up the next morning, he didn’t remember the dream at all.