Floating above the groups of Hogwarts students was a freakishly realistic phoenix created entirely out of flame that had a wingspan of at least thirty feet. Fawkes had regained his perch on Dumbledore's shoulder. If a bird could look satisfied, Harry was sure that this one did.
It was not until a collective "Aw" came from a decent distance away that Harry realized they were not alone. He craned over the heads of those in front of him and saw a large group of students lamenting the fact that the fire-phoenix had dissipated into ash. They were dressed in heavy cloaks lined with fur, making Harry realize that he was cold. He shivered involuntarily, wishing their trunks had come along for the ride.
"Welcome, Dumbledore," said a tall man coming up to the group. A fur cap covered part of his long, coarse hair.
"Headmaster Karkaroff," Dumbledore said with a nod. "Thank you for having us."
"Of course," Karkaroff said with what seemed to be forced graciousness. "I assume you would like to come inside? Your students are improperly dressed for this weather." He looked upon them with mild disdain.
Harry scrutinized the man whom he believed to be a former Death Eater by Severus's warning. He looked a little menacing but not nearly as bad as he had first believed Snape to be. Nevertheless, Harry hoped that he would not have to see him often.
"Where are we anyway?" Harry whispered to Draco. "What country?"
Draco looked around at the mountains that surrounded them and shrugged. "Not sure."
They moved forward as a group, shuffling through the snow towards the castle. Harry had not looked closely at the structure when they first arrived but he did so now. He had expected a castle much like Hogwarts; that was not, however, what loomed in front of him. The castle stood tall and intimidating, steely black and gothic. Its tall spires reached toward the sky almost challengingly. Hogwarts was of comparable size but Durmstrang definitely gave the illusion of being the larger. A frozen lake sat at the bottom of the hill upon which the castle was settled. A large old-style ship was docked at the edge of the lake. Harry could only imagine what it was used for.
Soon enough, they had entered the castle which, while definitely warmer, still held a chill that Harry was unaccustomed to. He drew his rather thin traveling cloak tighter. The halls were a little dim and the the grayish-black stone looked polished and sleek. It was a relief when the corridor opened into a wide room with high ceilings. Harry assumed it was their version of the Great Hall. In actuality, the layout was very similar to that of Hogwarts. Many students were already sitting down and the "welcoming committee" from outside joined their classmates readily.
Dumbledore turned to his students after Karkaroff headed off towards the Head table.
"You are encouraged to mingle with the Durmstrang students and make friends. After all, you will be here for a school year and you will share classes," he said. "The goal of the Triwizard tournament is inter-school unity. It is up to you to uphold that," Dumbledore said. He clapped his hands together. "Well, go have a seat. Your luggage will be taken to your dorms. One of the Durmstrang students will presumably show you to those after dinner. Go on," he prompted when a few Hogwarts students hesitated.
"Let's go," Draco muttered, leading Harry off. Harry noticed a handful of students scattered in small clumps wearing flimsy, light blue robes. He assumed they were from Beauxbaton's. "How about there?" Draco asked, gesturing to an empty spot between two students who didn't look entirely menacing. They seemed to be about Harry and Draco's age.
Harry shrugged. "Sure."
They headed over to that spot.
"Do you mind?" Draco asked, putting on his best polite voice.
One of the students shook his head. He had the dark skin of a middle eastern and fairly handsome features. He flipped his straight dark hair back and looked up at Harry as he took a seat next to him.
"You are Harry Potter?" he asked with a mild accent.
The boy offered his hand. "Aris," he said. "You are well known here."
"I know," Harry breathed. The other boys at the table were staring at him. Idly, Harry wondered if there were girls at Durmstrang. Thinking back, he remembered a few in the group that had met them outside. For some reason, that made him feel a little better. It almost proved that the school had a human side after all.
"This is Dian, Gregor and Bennet," Aris said, introducing the others closest to them. They were all of lighter skin and looked irritable. They scowled at Harry and Draco.
"This is Draco," Harry said to Aris. They nodded at each other.
"Are you seventeen?" Aris asked, brow furrowing. "You do not look it."
"No, we're both fourth years," Harry replied trying to ignore the disconcerting looks coming from the other side of the table. "There was a mistake or something and we, or I, was kind of forced to come. I'm not going to compete though," Harry added quickly.
"Ah," Aris said. He then quieted. Food appeared and Harry took some. The table, and the rest of the hall for that matter, was oddly quiet as they ate. It felt so strange compared to the chatter and liveliness of Hogwarts. Draco shared a knowing look with Harry and Harry cracked a small smile.
After a while, Dian's eyes narrowed beneath his thick brows. In a gruff voice he asked critically, "This is how you dress coming here?"
Draco shrugged. He didn't seem like he was going to say anything, so Harry spoke up. "We didn't know where Durmstrang was. It's a little warmer at Hogwarts."
Dian huffed. "Hogwarts," he stated. "They teach well there?"
"I think so," Harry said glancing at Draco who was still silent.
"What do they teach?" Gregor asked from next to Dian, addressing Draco.
Draco shrugged. "Same thing as here, I expect. Transfiguration, Herbology, History of Magic, Potions, Defense Against the Dark Arts..."
Gregor let out a low chuckle. A strange sneer formed on his thin face. "Herbology?"
"What's wrong with that?" Harry asked defensively.
Gregor scoffed. "It is hardly practical."
"Knowledge of Herbology saved my life," Harry challenged.
Gregor's eyes narrowed, "What, when the Dark Lord came for you as a baby, did you throw a Venomous Tentacula at his face?" he asked snidely. His friends chuckled beside him. Harry was unsure if he liked this boy.
"No," Harry said calmly. "But I wouldn't have lived to encounter him a second time if my friend had not known how to get past Devil's Snare."
"You faced the Dark Lord a second time?" Aris asked, speaking up after a long period of silence on his part.
"And a third," Draco added.
Harry neither confirmed nor denied this. He simply stared into his goblet of pumpkin juice. When at last he looked up, he found the others looking at him with grudging respect. Gregor eyed him for a minute before casually returning the conversation to where it was before the talk of Voldemort had begun.
"Defense Against the Dark Arts, you say?" he asked Draco. "Here we have both kinds."
"Both as in...?" Draco asked.
"Dark Arts and Defense Against," Gregor said with a light sneer.
"Why?" Harry asked. "Why would you want to learn Dark Arts?" From what Severus had told him, he could not imagine it being enjoyable.
"How can you defend against something you know nothing of?" Dian replied in what seemed like a rehearsed answer. Harry expected that they were instructed to say such things. He shrugged and let it go.
Harry pushed his food around with his fork while some of the Durmstrang students chatted around him. He looked up when he heard a new voice speak for the first time.
"The headmaster is trying to speak," Bennet said, instantly causing those around him to silence. Harry wondered what he had done to earn that level of obedience, or perhaps respect.
Harry and the others turned their attention to the front of the long hall where Karkaroff was indeed trying to call the attention of those in the hall.
"Silence!" he bellowed. Immediately, the hall fell so quiet that had Harry closed his eyes, he would have believed it empty. "Thank you," Karkaroff said rather ungraciously. "I would like to welcome our guests," he said with a forced smile. "I believe you all know why they are here. Durmstrang has been chosen to host the Triwizard Tournament this year."
No one looked surprised at this news.
"Krum, if you would," Karkaroff said, gesturing with his hand. Harry recognized Viktor Krum in his black and red school robes that loosely resembled the Quidditch Seeker's uniform he had worn at the World Cup. He stepped forward carrying a roughly hewn wooden cup and set it on a small stand in the center of the hall. He shot a spell at it and it filled with dancing blue flame. "Should you wish to enter, write your name and school on a slip of paper and put it into the goblet. An age line will be drawn, do not try to cheat it," he said, an undercurrent of threat in his voice. Harry doubted that even the twins would risk it with Karkaroff watching. "Be warned: this is a contest for the brave. If you are not so, do not enter. Dismissed."Karkaroff stepped off of the platform with a swish of his cloak and returned to his seat in between Dumbledore and a thin, pensive looking man whom Harry did not recognize.
"Who's that beside Headmaster Karkaroff?" Harry whispered in askance to Draco.
"Barty Crouch," Draco whispered back. "He worked at the ministry with my father. Must be supervising the tournament."
Harry nodded, recalling Dumbledore mentioning his name in his office only last night. He looked around as the others stood to leave. Harry and Draco rose as well.
Gregor, Dian and Bennet left without a backwards glance but Aris looked them over with consideration. He stood with perfect poise, seeming to be conscious of his every movement.
"Are you in need of a guide to your quarters?" he asked with a slight tilt of the head.
"Yes, please," Harry replied gratefully. He had been a little worried that they would not be able to catch up to the other Hogwarts students in this sea of people. "You know where they are?"
"Only one wing is empty; it is the only available possibility," Aris replied as if it were obvious.
"Right," Harry replied. "Lead on," he said, gesturing vaguely with his hand.
Aris turned and headed confidently out of the hall. They followed him through a series of corridors and up a few sets of stairs. Harry tried to remember how they went so that he wouldn't get lost when he was forced to do this alone. What threw Harry off the most was the fact that there was no Grand Staircase that tied everything together. Without that, every stairway and corridor looked the same. Few paintings graced the walls and the ones that were there seemed remarkably similar. After a few minutes, Harry wondered if they were going in circles. At last, Aris stopped in front of a door.
"You are here," he said. "I presume it is unlocked now."
"Thank you," Harry said. Draco nodded beside him.
Aris inclined his head. "Am I correct in saying you will need a guide for tomorrow's classes?" he asked.
Harry glanced at Draco who nodded fervently. "Yeah, that'd be great."
Aris nodded once. "I will meet you here at 7:00."
Harry tried to hide his dismay at how early that was.
"We'll be there," Draco promised. "Come on, Harry."
"Thanks," Harry said again before following Draco into the room.
Aris's dark eyes searched Harry's for a moment and followed him as Harry stepped through the doorway. As Harry closed the door behind him, he considered that, while helpful, he was unsure of what he thought of Aris. Harry felt that he needed to know a little more about him before passing judgement. He seemed very reserved, though, so finding out his story might be difficult. He resolved to ask Draco for his thoughts.
Harry looked around and found himself in a square room similar to the common room with which he was familiar. It was, however, decorated in red and black rather than the red and gold of Gryffindor tower. Two doors sat in opposite walls with a fireplace across from the entrance. A few couches and tables filled the space in between.
"Not bad," Draco commented. "How do you think the dorms are going to work?"
"I don't know," Harry admitted. "There was another door across the hall and Aris said this wing was empty. Maybe we won't all be in here."
As it turned out, he was right. A few minutes later, three of the other Hogwarts students entered; the Ravenclaw, Hufflepuff and Slytherin boys. Apparently, they had been separated by gender.
Roger, the Slytherin, eyed Harry for a moment. Then his gaze turned to Draco. "Sharing a dorm with the traitor and the cheater. Fabulous," he muttered sarcastically. Neither Draco nor Harry responded.
Cedric stepped forward and peeked into the two rooms connected to the common room.
"This one has three beds and is larger," he announced, coming out of the one to the right. "I guess you two are on your own," he said, pointing to Harry and Draco.
"Alright," Harry said easily.
"The password is 'dormiens' from now on," Cedric informed them, assuming his role of Prefect even though they were not at Hogwarts. "Breakfast is at seven, classes start at eight. We'll get schedules in the morning."
"Okay," Draco acknowledged.
Everyone stood around quietly for a moment. Finally, Cedric broke the silence. "I don't know about you guys, but I'm tired. I'm going to unpack then call it a night."He went to his room and the two older students followed without comment. Draco looked at Harry who shrugged. They went to their own room and found it spacious with two beds and an adjoining bathroom. Lacking a fireplace, it held a similar chill to that of the rest of the castle. Luckily, the blankets on the bed looked soft and thick; Harry couldn't wait to collapse into them.
Assuming his owl had been sent to the Owlery, Harry pushed his trunk to the foot of his bed and decided that he could worry about that in the morning. After changing and readying himself for sleep, Harry climbed into bed. He looked over and found that Draco had done the same.
"So what do you think of Durmstrang?" Harry asked. "Does it live up to your expectations?"
Draco appeared to shrug. "It's a little...colder than I imagined. In many ways. Ask me again in a few days," he said with a small grin. "I expect I'll have made up my mind by then."
"What do you think about Aris?" Harry asked. "Does he seem...guarded, I guess, to you?"
"Yeah, a little," Draco said. "He seems nicer than the others though, if only because he doesn't talk much.""I guess that's alright," Harry said.
"Yeah," Draco agreed.
"Well, goodnight then," Harry said, using his wand to plunge the room into darkness.
Harry rolled onto his side and pulled the blankets tight. It took a very long time for him to drift off to sleep despite what a long day it had been. As he stared at the wall, Harry was acutely aware of the silence. He sighed quietly, missing Hogwarts, missing his friends, missing his guardian more than ever. It was going to be a long year.
AN: I think I'll leave it up to you to imagine accents, if you want. I don't know enough about other dialects to write them, not to mention the pain that would be. Most of the students will probably be Russian though Aris is Greek.