Foreign Exchange Chapter 6

The Welcome Ceremony

“So, breakfast?” asked Henry, checking his watch. “Do we have time? Kingsley?”

Henry looked up and saw that Kingsley had already taken off down the hall, his midnight blue robes gliding above the stone floor in his stead. Henry picked up his pace and hurried after him. The halls were a lot fuller now, students of all ages hurried down the stairs in their haste to get to what Henry could only assume was the Great Hall. Here and there he saw a student transform into their bird Animagus form and leap from the stairs, soaring above the heads of students before gracefully landing on the bottom floor, reverting to their original form, and walking to the Hall, their bags enchanted to follow. 

Henry and Kingsley raced down the steps, Henry’s stomach growling in anticipation of the feast he was expecting. He hadn’t realized it but he was starving — the events of the early morning had wiped all thoughts of food from his mind until now. He was now envisioning a great traditional full breakfast: bacon, eggs, sausages, black pudding, baked beans — the thought alone was enough to make him break into a full sprint as he followed Kingsley down the steps. 

They finally landed on the main floor and followed the students through a large golden door that was engraved with runes and sigils that appeared to be moving around the door, Henry touched it andー “Argh!” he quickly withdrew his hand. It was burning hot to the touch! How did the students open it? Who had opened it in the first place? 

“Henry, you coming?” Kingsley’s deep voice reached Henry, who was snapped out of his reverie. Still rubbing his slightly sore hand, he walked through the entryway. Burning doors notwithstanding, the Great Hall was impressive. Of course Henry’s biased mind flashed back to his sorting at Hogwarts. That had been the first time he had been greeted to the view of the Great Hall. Its high ceilings, the enchanted skylight, the long wooden bench tables that separated the students by house. Henry smiled to himself, remembering the day fondly. 

This Great Hall wasn’t that, however. The first thing Henry noticed was that there were no “house tables.” The multitude of students in the room all wore different colored robes with their house badge pinned securely to their front. They all sat next to one another, chatting enthusiastically about the coming events of the day. There didn’t seem to be the same “house rivalries” Hogwarts tended to foster. Or if there were, it was a healthy level of school competition. Like Hogwarts, however, the teacher’s table was set on a plinth that allowed them to oversee the students. The food magically appeared on the plates, but most if not all of the students didn’t use forks or spoons. Rather they just ate with their hands. 

“Erm…” Henry began but he was quickly ushered to a seat before he had a chance to get the words out. He looked over to Kingsley who was piling food onto his plate, clearly ready to eat. Henry’s eyes fell on the medley of food. They certainly weren’t bangers and mash, but there was still bacon and sausage, there was no Yorkshire pudding but there was a puff pastry dusted in white sugar, and where was the pumpkin juice? 

“Kingsley…Kingsley!” Henry tried to wave Kingsley down but he was now engrossed in a copy of The Daily Prophet, a piece of bacon hanging loosely from his lips as he chewed and silently read. You-Know-Who was on the front page, menacing as ever. At least some things never changed. Shaking his head at You-Know-Who’s picture, Henry helped himself to some sausages, what looked to be an omelette, though the filling was a bit different, and a cup of orange juice. He looked around for a fork and resigned himself to having to use his hands. “When in Rome, I guess…” He muttered to himself. 

He gingerly tore off a piece of the omelette and placed it in his mouth. His tongue was met with the most peculiar blend of spices he’d ever tasted. Though unusual in presentation, Henry couldn’t deny, the food was amazing. He ate enthusiastically, grabbing a bit of everything he could see from the surrounding plates. They had what looked to be fried bananas, an assortment of fruits and vegetables, fish, rice, various breakfast pastries, coffee, tea, orange juice, milk, something that looked like porridge, stacks of hotcakes, along with actual dishes with full breakfast entrees on them. As he chewed, Henry looked to the ceiling as he usually did at Hogwarts to see the weather for the day. 

There was no enchanted skylight like at Hogwarts, and the walls, now that he paid closer attention, were slanted inwardly almost as if he were in a pyramid. At the tip of the pyramid floated a golden orb of light that Henry would’ve sworn was a miniature sun, except it didn’t burn to look at as it flooded the hall with a warm, natural light. The walls were lined with sleek, elegant, black stone statues in a repeating pattern. There was a man with wings and a bird’s head that Henry knew to be Thoth from his early library trip, a man’s body with a dog’s head adorned with a golden collar and golden wristbands, a woman with a bow and a quiver of arrows on her back, and a woman in a hooded robe. Unlike the rusty, creaking metal suits of armor that stood in the halls of Hogwarts, these statues were all adorned with golden bands from head to toe and stood tall and proud, each holding a golden bowl of colored fire, giving life to their stone eyes. The dog-headed man carried the black fire, Thoth held the green flame where his book would be, the woman with the bow and arrow held the red flame, and the hooded woman carried the white. 

“Interesting.” Henry made a mental note to read up on the symbolism and the statues later.

From the plinth, Headmistress Oba stood — and the hall instantly fell silent. Henry tore his gaze away from the hooded statue that he could’ve sworn was staring back at him. 

“Habari za asubuhi wanafunzi!” She called out to the students. 

“Habari za mkuu wa asubuhi!” they responded enthusiastically.

As she spoke, her voice echoed strongly through the silent hall, “To those of you that are a part of our foreign exchange program, that means ‘good morning, class!’ the students in turn responded ‘good morning, Headmistress!’ As you journey through our halls, you will hear many languages and dialects, for Uagadou’s reach is as expansive as Alkebulan itself. Do not be discouraged, for within our walls we hope that you will forge friendships and connections that will help you overcome these barriers. Before there was language, there was only magic, and it is how we all communicated. We still carry that innate ability to understand. As you press forward in your pursuit of knowledge today, I ask that no barrier keep you away. Tafadhali simama! Sasa tutatoa baraka za roho!” 

At her command, the students all stood, Henry rose with them, nervously looking around. He found Kingsley’s face who gave him an excited smile. The students lined themselves on the walls of the hall, and as Henry began to follow suit, Headmistress Oba called out, “Will our exchange students please stand in the center of the hall!”

With a wave of her hand, the tables vanished and as Henry looked around he counted six other students, three girls and three boys, all who looked just as nervous as him. Inwardly he wondered what schools they all came from. They walked towards the center where they each gave one another a nervous grin. 

Professors Abdallah and Aagney now also stood and waved their hands in unison, dimming the surrounding fires. The rest of the teachers stood and joined the students on the wall, Henry now felt a sense of foreboding. What was going on? This felt more like a ritual than a welcome song. The other exchange students seemed to be having the same thoughts as they too looked around, clearly concerned. Henry tried to find Kingsley’s face in the crowd but it was now too packed and too dark. Above him, the miniature sun had floated down gracefully until it too became dim, and then no more. In its place had risen a silvery orb that looked astonishingly like the moon. The walls, Henry noticed, were no more. Instead, only an open night sky greeted them, speckled with stars, the view was quite breathtaking. 

“Will our foreign exchange students please take a seat.” Headmistress Oba called to the group of seven. Henry and the others complied, crossing their legs on the floor which had been turned to soft grass. She continued on, “Of all the students to take our exam, only you seven obtained a dream stone. This means that you were at one point destined to come to this school. But circumstances and life can be messy and so you were thrown off course. Maybe your ancestor was captured. Maybe you were taken away. Maybe your parents died. Whatever the case, you found your way home, and you found your way here to us, and we couldn’t be happier. In the tradition of welcoming our new students we’d like to offer you this blessing.” 

The surrounding students sat and joined hands. In the darkness, Kingsley’s deep voice rang out, “Nasubiri Ulinzi!” From the center of his chest came a silver ball of light, it leaped around the group of seven before finally forming a silver linx, its lithe body twisting through the air. Professor’s Abdallah and Aagney, and Headmistress Oba also called out, “Nasubiri Ulinzi!” and from their chests also came balls of silver light and as they bounded around the group they too settled and formed an albatross, a lion, and an eagle respectively. The rest of the surrounding students then cried out in unison, “Nasubiri Ulinzi!” and from all of them erupted orbs of silver light, some took the forms of animals and in the bright light Henry could make out a few of them: a panther that he thought gave him a wink, gorillas, a multitude of birds that soared through the open air, Henry thought he imagined a phoenix, an elephant that trumpeted loudly, what he could have sworn was a unicorn, and a number of smaller chittering woodland animals. The balls of light that didn’t become animals merely floated around them, their light emitting like wisps of smoke.

The animals settled around the group of seven as Headmistress Oba spoke, “We pass this blessing on to you, our walionusurika, in the hope that should you ever fear the darkness, the light will always guide you back home.” 

The Patronuses that had been summoned began to circle the group, moving faster and faster, picking up the wind as they did until they became nothing more than blurs of light, their summoners singing in the background. Trapped in the tornado of light, Henry felt them pass through him, touching his own soul as they did so. Almost as if communicating with it. He looked to the six other students and was overcome with an overwhelming sense of understanding. He was no longer alone in this journey. He saw that they too had the same feeling as they beamed at him, the Patronuses passing through them as well. 

Swept away in the emotion and ceremony of it all, Henry unconsciously found himself standing up. His cloak billowing around him, he closed his eyes, raised his hands to the sky and uttered to the star-speckled heavens, “Nasubiri Ulinzi!” To his shock, a giant silver orb of light came from his chest, rose high into the sky amidst the surrounding Patronuses and exploded in a burst of white light, taking the form of an enormous scarab beetle. The other students’ Patronuses all vanished, leaving only Henry’s as it crawled on the floor towards Headmistress Oba, who stared in silent shock. The scarab Patronus stared back unblinkingly, as if trying to communicate with her, before it too vanished. The room was quiet and Henry could tell that something was very wrong.