The train ride, and the opening dinner -- some characters get surprises
Friday, September 1, 1995
Hermione Granger had had her parents bring her to the station two hours early, which was when the platform would first be accessible. Crookshanks was in his travel basket and Hermione was scanning the gathering crowd, hoping that Harry would be early . . . hoping, in fact, that Harry would actually show up.
Hermione’s breath caught when she saw someone shimmering into being off to the side. Then, to her additional surprise, she realized that it was Harry, without a trunk. Harry was taller, although he could not certainly be called tall, or muscular for that matter. Hermione decided that he should now be called ‘lanky’ rather than ‘scrawny’. He no longer wore glasses, and was dressed all in black. With a quick movement of his left wrist he flipped a black cloak around himself. Harry glanced around and then made a bee-line toward Hermione.
Hermione gave Harry a hug, which to her surprise he returned more than he ever had before. When they separated, Harry grinned and said, “Congratulations on being made prefect.”
Hermione frowned and looked down. Sure enough, her prefect’s badge was hidden. Then Hermione realized how Harry knew she was wearing it, and blushed slightly. “And you?” she asked, to break the sudden tension.
Harry shook his head. “The Headmaster wouldn’t give it to me now. He probably gave it to Ron.”
“Ron? He’s about the most un-prefect-like person I can think of!”
Harry shrugged. “Maybe. Neville should get it, but I doubt he will. I also won’t be playing Quidditch.”
He nodded his head. “I have other responsibilities.”
“Ron won’t like it,” Hermione warned.
Harry shrugged. “I can’t do everything and I can still fly for fun.” He looked down. “Shall I take your trunk and the beast while you do prefect-stuff?”
“Where’s your trunk?”
“My trunk is in my pocket,” Harry answered. Hermione nodded, and Harry went off to find a compartment.
Harry was about to enter a compartment, but stopped when a somewhat oddly-dressed blonde did the same from the other direction. “Go ahead,” Harry said.
“You’re welcome to join me, Harry Potter.” She glanced at the trunk and caged cat. “So is Hermione Granger.”
“Thank you. And you are?”
Harry looked at her thoughtfully. “Don’t you live somewhere near the Weasleys?”
“On the other side of the village,” she acknowledged. “My father publishes ‘The Quibbler’,” she added.
“I’ve seen it,” Harry answered politely. He had never really read one.
Harry and Luna chatted for over an hour before the train started, and then for an hour more before Hermione showed up, followed by Ron, who wearing a prefect badge and dragging his trunk from wherever he had stored it. Harry introduced Hermione and Luna. Hermione had obviously read ‘The Quibbler’, as she had rolled her eyes when Luna wasn’t looking.
“So, where have you been?” Ron asked.
Harry shrugged. “Can’t really say.”
“Why not?” Ron asked, confused. “Don’t you trust me?”
“Sure. Do you trust Snape?”
Ron pulled a face. “No, why?”
Harry explained, “Because Snape is constantly practicing something called ‘Legilimency’– that means he’s almost always trying to read your surface thoughts. He can also probe deeper. So, anything I tell you, he can probably find out.”
Ron paled. “Really?”
“Really.” Harry slipped a pamphlet out of his pocket and gave it to Hermione. Seeing it was a book, Ron ignored it.
“There are those who believe that when the Headmaster’s eyes twinkle, that is what he is doing,” Luna commented from behind her upside-down newspaper.
Before Ron could comment, Harry merely said, “It’s certainly possible.”
Ron decided to ignore all this, especially Luna’s eyeing him around her ‘Quibbler’, and gave voice to his main complaint. “Can you believe it? Malfoy and Parkinson are prefects!”
“I can see you being surprised at Parkinson,” Harry agreed. “Davis or Greengrass were at least just as good possibilities. But of the fifth year boys? Nott’s family is just as involved in the Death Eaters as Malfoy’s, and Crabbe and Goyle would have been impossible. What luck would Zabini have had against the sons of four Death Eaters?”
“Good point,” Hermione agreed, which made Ron frown. It was only then that he noticed that Harry and Loony Lovegood were seated across from each other in the window seats, while Hermione was not only sitting next to Harry but closer to him than Ron considered she needed to be. He, of course, was sitting as far away from Loony as he could. This made him frown more.
Harry, seeing the frown, pulled a small magical sack from under his cloak and dumped a pile of treats on the seat next to Ron. Ron’s eyes lit up and he grabbed two bags of crisps and three chocolate frogs from the pile. Ron heard Hermione mutter, “Bits of string and shiny objects,” and Loony’s giggle, but ignored them both, just as he ignored the small pile of wrapped Panini and the bottles of lemonade (he did grab the two bottles of pumpkin juice, however) which Harry had also produced. After they had all eaten their fill, the quartet allowed the rhythm of the rails to lull them into light dozes, although Ron’s snores prevented the other three from sleeping too deeply.
It was nearly two hours into this comfortable part of the ride that the door to their compartment was yanked open. Hermione and Luna saw that Harry was already sitting up straight, his wand hand under his cloak, looking at the sneering Draco Malfoy in the doorway, his two goons behind him partially blocking the corridor.
“Hope you enjoyed your summer, Potter,” Malfoy spit.
“I did, for the most part,” Harry answered tonelessly. “Thank you for asking.”
“Get out,” Ron spat back, managing to stand.
“I’m not here to talk to the likes of you, Weasel,” Malfoy retorted.
“Sit down, Ron,” Harry commanded.
To his surprise, Ron sat.
“Did you want something, Malfoy, or are you just here to remind us that your Death Eater father re-enslaved himself to his half-blood master last June, and that we should be afraid of him, even though I disembodied him as fifteen months and over-powered him in a duel that night while your father and his friends kissed his robe like the servants they are?”
Malfoy was too shocked to say anything, although his mouth was moving.
“You should really think for once in your pathetic life, Malfoy,” Harry said seemingly carelessly, although Hermione and Luna both noted that Harry seemed ready to spring into action if necessary. “I’ve over-powered your father’s master twice. If you think you are a bigger threat to me than he is, he will likely Crucio you until your eyes pop and what passes for your brain fries.”
Malfoy flushed during this speech and started to pull his wand. Harry was out of his seat, and had pulled Malfoy’s wand out of his grip with his left hand while slapping Malfoy on each cheek before Malfoy could hope to react. “Go away, Malfoy, and stay out of my way.”
“Give me my wand, Potter!”
“No. I’ll give it to the Headmaster at the Feast.”
“Give me my wand!”
“No,” Harry responded calmly.
Malfoy tried to lunge at Harry, who easily batted his hands away while repeating the two sharp slaps to the face. Harry then shoved Malfoy into Crabbe and Goyle. “If you or anyone else tries anything this year, that was just a taste of what I’ll do to you.”
“I’ll. . . .”
“Yes, you’ll whine like the little shite you are to your father and to Snape because you can’t stand up for yourself,” Harry stated coldly. “Now, leave or I’ll snap your wand.”
“You wouldn’t dare!”
Harry feigned surprise. “Your father didn’t tell you? I’d be surprised if he didn’t know, since he pays off most of the idiots at the so-called Ministry. I have assumed all my rights as the Head of House Potter, and you threatened me. What can I do to you, little boy?”
Malfoy turned paler than he had been, while Crabbe and Goyle actually looked worried. Goyle put his hand on Malfoy’s shoulder, and Malfoy allowed himself to be led away.
"And just WHAT did all that mean, Harry James Potter?" Hermione demanded. Ron looked stunned, while Luna went back to reading her ‘Quibbler’.
"We both knew that the wizarding world is bigoted and backwards as well as corrupt, right?"
"I suppose so. . . ."
"Come on, you two," Ron started, but stopped at a glare from Harry.
"Corrupt . . . Malfoy and Buckbeak, need I go on?"
"No," Ron and Hermione both admitted.
"Bigoted? One whole House where Muggleborns are banned? Blood prejudice, sentients treated as slaves, and, well, need I go on? " Harry asked.
"I suppose not. . . ." Ron muttered, not totally agreeing, but not willing to argue.
Harry turned back to Hermione. "Now, legally, if there is a situation where it comes down to your word against Malfoy's, or Ron's for that matter, the system has to choose a Pureblood's word over the word of a Muggleborn of the same status, and what's more, you can't challenge his word."
Hermione frowned. "What does that mean?"
"It means you can't swear an oath or offer to take a truth potion in court to prove him wrong," Harry answered.
"Except in the case of rape," Luna put in, still behind the paper. "Then you could, but only because you are magical. Squibs and Muggles cannot be considered raped by the magical."
"That can't be right!"
"It is," Ron said simply.
"Now, Malfoy could ask you to swear or take a truth potion," Harry went on. "Until my birthday, Boy-who-Lived or not, I was legally just a half-blood under the age of fifteen who did not have a blood guardian -- a magical guardian who was a close blood relative."
"What does. . . ?"
"From eleven to fifteen, we are considered semi-competent witnesses, from fifteen until we turn seventeen we are legally competent witnesses, and at seventeen we are of course legal adults," Luna explained simply.
"By assuming my magical rights as Head of the Ancient and Noble House of Potter, whatever anyone might think of my blood status, that status is legally irrelevant. Any head of an ancient house over seventeen outranks me until I reach seventeen, but I outrank anyone else and I could force Malfoy to take a truth potion under certain conditions, and he knows it."
"And what else does it mean?"
"Well, if I had broken the Ferret's wand, or he one of ours, the minimum penalty is being confined to the common rooms except for class and meal time for six months, plus paying twice the value of a replacement wand," Ron answered. "Harry would just have to pay to replace his wand."
"And when I lodge my complaint against him, even he'll be lucky to get off with two weeks confinement," Harry added. "What's more, 'The Prophet' is being notified of my change of status. I'm not a member of the Ministry or anything. I might be famous, but I no longer fit the wizarding definition of a public figure because my new status gives me protection unless I actually do something. I can legally sue their arses for libel or slander as the cases may be, as well as any member of the Ministry for that matter, and the notification comes from a firm of solicitors famous for biting hard."
"Well, since they can report the Quidditch scores, that might not work," Ron said, some what apologetically.
"Ah . . . I won't be playing Quidditch."
The compartment was silent for several long seconds, and then Ron tried to shout, but could not make a sound beyond a slight squeak.
"I'd really love to," Harry told Ron, almost pleading with him. "But with Voldemort back, I have to train to face him. I can't do that and give my all to Quidditch."
"Bloody wanker," Ron muttered. Then, as Hermione and Luna both gasped at his comment, he colored. "I meant Volde . . . you know, the wanker!"
Harry left his friends behind as soon as the train arrived. They understood that he wanted to beat Malfoy to the castle. As the trio made their way towards the carriages, Hermione felt Luna tug on her robe. Turning, she saw Luna make a gesture with her head.
Hermione looked, and saw Malfoy, whining and surrounded by his minions, just ahead of them, while Harry was already on his way to the castle in the first coach. Hermione smiled grimly, and then noticed Luna starting to fall back. “Come on,” Hermione said, “aren’t you going to ride with us?” Hermione missed Ron rolling his eyes, but did not miss the surprised and pleased look on Luna’s face. Hermione, remembering how she had felt before the incident with the troll, smiled gently and held out her hand.
Luna smiled brightly and first took Hermione’s hand, and then linked her arm through Hermione’s. The pair happily talked about Runes from that point through the ride to the castle, and then into the great hall, much to Ron’s dismay.
Harry had arrived at the castle shortly after the other three had gotten on their carriage. Making his way into the great hall, he saw that none of the professors were there yet. He therefore went to the small room where they often gathered, dismissing the memories of the room from the TriWizard tournament the year before, and knocked.
Harry was glad to see it was Professor Sinistra answered. “Yes, Potter?” she asked.
“I need to see the Headmaster before the feast starts,” Harry answered. “Is he available?”
Sinistra shrugged and replied, “I’ll see if he has time to see you.” She shut the door, and Harry waited.
In less than two minutes, Dumbledore opened the door. Harry was not surprised, although not pleased, to see Snape standing well within hearing distance. “Yes, Harry?”
“Headmaster,” Harry said formally, “I wish to file an official notice, as allowed and even required under the Hogwarts Code of Conduct. A common underage student, Draco Malfoy” (here Snape edged closer to the door) “pulled his wand and threatened the Head of a Noble and Ancient House and three other students. I reprimanded Mister Malfoy and relieved him of his wand.” Harry pulled the wand from his cloak and handed it to Dumbledore. “As the Head of the Ancient and Noble House of Potter, I am willing to swear out a formal complaint.”
“Thank you for bringing this to my attention,” Dumbledore replied. “Professor Snape?”
“Yes, Headmaster,” Snape responded, his face impassive.
“And your suggestion?”
“I shall of course investigate.”
Neither Dumbledore nor Harry moved or said anything. After several seconds, Harry could see Snape’s jaw muscles clench for a moment, and then he said, in a slightly strained voice. “Depending on the outcome of the investigation, Mister Malfoy may be subject to more than the minium required penalty.”
“Should I have someone else take the time to monitor Mister Malfoy’s confinement? Or will you leave that to me?”
Snape nearly ground his teeth, but replied, “Thank you for taking your time to do this, Headmaster.”
“Oh, I assure it is no burden. I have decided I shall have to take a more active role in all our students. This is an obvious place to start. Shall I return Mister Malfoy’s wand.”
“I can do that for you, Headmaster.”
“Do you have any objections, Mister Potter?” the Headmaster asked, with not a glimmer of a twinkle.
“Of course not, Headmaster,” Harry replied. He noted a slight movement under the Headmaster’s beard, perhaps indicating just the slightest smirk of approval.
“Professor,” Dumbledore said, now fully turning to face Snape, “I would hope you will impress upon Mister Malfoy, and his friends, that I am looking over all the infractions, and rewards, very carefully this year.”
“Of course, Headmaster,” Snape replied. “I am certain all the staff will remind their charges of this.”
“Of course.” Dumbledore turned to Harry. “Was there anything else, Mister Potter?”
“No, sir,” Harry replied formally, adding a very slight bow. “I thank you and Professor Snape for your time.”
Snape’s eyebrows went up a bit at being included. ‘The boy is actually trying,’ he noted with a bit of surprise. Snape would never understand that what he would have called Harry’s passive-aggressive stance against wizarding manners had been pure ignorance.
“If I could have a short moment of your time tonight after the feast, I would appreciate it,” Dumbledore told him.
“Of course, sir,” Harry answered. “Shall I wait for you here?”
“The entrance to my office will be fine.”
Harry bowed again slightly and walked off. He just barely heard Snape admit, as the door closed, “His manners have certainly improved.”
Harry saw that most of the students were milling around the tables. When the staff came out, they would all take their seats. Malfoy and Parkinson were glaring at him, which is all he would have noticed in previous years. This time, he noted that Zabini, Greengrass, and Davis were looking at him with slight smiles. Harry wasn’t sure if that meant they approved of what he had done to Draco or if they were just hoping to watch Draco get his revenge.
Harry stopped and greeted a few people in Hufflepuff and Ravenclaw, stopping for a moment to speak with Luna, much to the shock of her Housemates. “I’m glad we got to know each other on the train,” Harry told her.
“So am I,” Luna said, flushing slightly from the attention. Harry moved on, and Luna meandered over to a seat.
“We see that. . . .”
“. . . little Harrikins is making new friends.”
“Fred, George, how goes the business?” Harry asked cheerfully, taking the time to nod at Ginny, who was passing by.
“Great!” Fred said.
“We’re ready to start full testing on a wide-range of products,” George agreed.
“Testing?” Hermione nearly growled. “On whom?”
“Paid volunteers,” George answered quickly.
“We’ll discuss this later,” Hermione stated firmly. “You two, myself, and the other prefects.”
“What?” Ron demanded.
“That sounds like a very good idea,” Harry said firmly. “We wouldn’t want you two to get into any serious trouble, now would we?”
Seeing the steely look in Harry’s eyes, Fred and George looked at each other and nodded their agreement. Hermione gave the pair a shark-like smile, and then rolled her eyes as she grabbed Ron’s robe.
“What?” Ron demanded.
“We have to sit down the table,” she reminded Ron. “You know, since as the fifth year prefects we have to help the new students?”
“Oh, all right,” Ron grumbled, following Hermione reluctantly.
“Now that’s our kind of prefect,” Fred said mockingly.
“Seriously, Harry, why aren’t you the prefect?” George asked. “Somehow I think McGonagall would have been glad to hold off until you arrived at the station this morning.”
“I doubt she was given the option,” Harry replied. The twins frowned. “How competent does the Ministry seem to you, your father excepted.”
“Percy fits right in,” Fred pointed out.
“Shouldn’t have to say more,” George agreed.
“The Headmaster is powerful and knowledgeable. However, look at how the school’s been run since you’ve been here. How competent and wise would you say he’s been?”
The two looked at each other, surprised, and then thoughtful.
“Not very,” George said, surprising himself and his twin.
“Hate to say it, but I think we were all taken in by his reputation,” Fred acknowledged.
“Thought we were smarter than that,” George said with a sigh.
“Almost Percyish,” Fred added, grimacing.
“So, will you be a fourth corner in this fight the Ministry claims won’t be coming?” George asked.
“I might have to grow up to be just that,” Harry replied softly.
“Then we’re with you,” Fred stated firmly.
“Now go claim the seat Hermione’s saving for you before Ginny latches on to you,” George said. “She’s a bit obsessed.”
“We know you wouldn’t take advantage of her. . . .
“. . . more like she would take advantage of you. . . .”
“But we wouldn’t like to see either.”
“Thanks,” Harry said, and went to sit and await the Sorting Hat’s song.
The Hat sang a song pleading for unity in a time of growing danger, but only a few in the great hall paid attention to it. The new defense instructor, John Wilkes, was applauded to some degree by everyone except one person seated at the teacher’s table.
Dumbledore then introduced the other new figure. “While Hogwarts is independently governed, a series of modernizations took place during the 1860s and 1870s, which included the introductions of the O.W.L. and N.E.W.T. exams. Although not fully used since then, the Ministry not only has general oversight of Hogwarts, apprenticeships, and homeschooling leading to taking the general exams, but also the right to appoint a Visitor to assure the efficient running of the school or, if the Visitor is also a member of the staff, an Inquisitor. Madam Dolores Umbridge from the Minister’s Office will be taking the position of Visitor during the school year, and I expect we shall see her here quite often. Madam Umbridge.”
The squat woman in pink stood, and said in a surprisingly coy and even schoolgirlish voice, “The Ministry is quite interested in seeing that you all are properly educated and informed as you prepare to take your proper places within the wizarding hierarchy. I shall be in the castle at least every Monday, to attend and evaluate classes and instructors and to see that all is well. I can assure you, despite the insidious rumors floating around, the wizarding world is quite safe and the Ministry has everything well in hand. I am sure, by the end of the term if not before, you will all come to acknowledge that. All of you,” she repeated, looking towards Harry. “Thank you.”
As the food arrived, only Hermione heard Harry mutter, “The utter arrogance. Even if things were going well in Britain, the Ministry does not have any influence on the rest of the world.”
“Harry,” Hermione hissed quietly, “she made a direct threat against you.”
“She did, but don’t worry. Unless Dumbledore really wants her here, she’ll be finished by Monday morning, if not tonight.”