Gradually the sounds of eating slowed and gradual conversations started. Dumbledore had rather enjoyed his own meal - and hoped his staff had, though he couldn't deny that he had had to swallow thoughts of one of his staff choking lightly, and distinctly harmlessly so, on their vegetables.
Dumbledore chided himself; he wasn't given to rash or petty jealousy, let alone harbouring thoughts of pointless vengeance and on some level it irked him that he had descended to such a place. He knew with that, that hiring Montgomery had absolutely been the right choice. Next up was the rather studious Arithmancy professor, he supposed, who appeared to have rather delicate sensibilities and a keen sense of tactful silence, at least when not being professionally awkward. Dumbledore was aware just how deeply Prendergast's knowledge went, as the hiring choice had been complicated - truthfully the amount of time Prendergast had spent in a lab had concerned him, but the practical applications of that knowledge were displayed for all to see. If Montgomery was as subtle as a sledgehammer, Prendergast was a screwdriver on a stripped bolt.
Collecting his thoughts over a last sip from his goblet, he rose and stepped towards the lectern. Spreading his arms wide, beaming a wide and genuine smile, he addressed the assembled throng with a polite cough that somehow seemed to echo through the room and allowed the discussions to fall naturally to silence.
"Well, that was rather splendid, and I trust we are all fed and watered and that the distance of a long summer is now behind us, with our new students less strangers, and more kindling friendships."
He paused for a moment to let that sink in. There seemed to be a general murmur of assent from across the room before him, even if behind him was slightly less in agreement.
"I have a few announcements for you for the start of term, which I shall keep short and then I shall leave the evening to you all as you see fit in your respective common rooms."
Dumbledore coughed, and blinked precisely once to remind himself of all the announcements.
"Firstly, new students should be aware that while the castle grounds are generally available for excursions in free periods, the Forest on the edge of the grounds is named the Forbidden Forest and students are - as the name suggests - forbidden from entering the forest unaccompanied by a staff member."
Dumbledore's eyes twinkled for a moment. "May I also remind returning students that the Forbidden Forest is indeed as forbidden as its name suggests."
A few enthusiastic laughs came from the Gryffindor table at that.
"Secondly, I regret to note that Mr Finlay has been unable to join us for today's feast. Do not be alarmed; Mr Finlay is fine and will rejoin us shortly and he is in fine health and eager to return to his studies."
There was a stony-faced reaction from the Ravenclaw table, especially from students more familiar and friendly with Larry. There was a palpable sense that answers will be inquired about.
"Lastly, the caretaker has asked me to remind students that magic in corridors is not permitted. Students who do perform magic in the corridors without appropriate permission may find themselves thoroughly entertained with an evening's detention cleaning the stones individually with water, soap and a toothbrush."
A few nervous laughs from each of the tables, but if Dumbledore had to guess, he would have thought the Slytherin table had been the most prominent.
Dumbledore smiled again, though this time it was not quite as genuine as his earlier one. He paused for a moment, but decided he was not feeling quite buoyant in spirits enough to ring in the new school year with a verse of Hoggy Warty Hogwarts, especially with the mood being what it currently was.
"And so, I leave it to the prefects and heads of house to guide you all to your dormitories and common rooms and I look forward to seeing you all bright and breezy tomorrow for classes!"
And with that, he clapped his hands and with a puff of smoke, was no longer visible in the Great Hall. He thought he would leave his 'vanishing' a mystery for others to solve, though in truth no mystery at all. Dumbledore didn't need an invisibility cloak to be unseen - and what he did need was time to think. Something must be done.