Sequel to Blind Faith. Harry's second year at Hogwarts begins and something sinister stalks the halls. Muggleborns are being petrified by someting unknown, and just who could be the Heir of Slyth...
Chapter 4: Barriers
The final weeks of summer vacation passed far too quickly for Harry's taste. It wasn't that he didn't want to get back to school; in fact, returning to Hogwarts was something he wanted to very badly. The problem was that with everything happening, he'd barely had a chance to open h is new books.
A great deal of his time had been spent with Aunt Petunia preparing Dudley for his classes. Having been unconscious so long, Dudley's reading and academic skills were far below his classmates. Even with the progress he'd made in the year since his reawakening, Duds was having a hard time understanding the texts. It fell to Harry, for the most part to explain magical concepts to him that Petunia protested she would never understand. Leaving that part to Harry, Aunt Petunia had drilled Dudley on his letters, determined that by the time they left, he would be able to read at a passable level. Though the studies took much of their time, it was the move that dominated their lives in the final weeks of August.
The new house in Hogsmeade had finally been finished around Harry's birthday. They'd celebrated it with a small party in their new home, and one of his presents had been to have first pick of the bedrooms. He'd again picked the smallest, preferring a smaller area because it was easier to organize. Professor Snape had been present for his party, as had Hagrid, Professor Dumbledore, and a man who turned out to be a friend of his parents from school.
Remus Lupin arrived as the party was in full swing, knocking on the door almost too quietly to be heard. Harry, being the closest to the door, opened it and was nearly floored by the wave of emotion coming from this somehow familiar stranger. Shock, sadness and longing seemed to radiate from the man as he studied Harry for long moments. There were other things about the man's aura that Harry found confusing as well. It had a shimmer similar to Professor McGonagall's, but different somehow as well. Lupin's magical aura resonated with power, yet his physical presence radiated weariness and wear.
Harry did notice that both Remus and Severus became very uncomfortable when they saw each other for the first time. Lupin's aura flashed with shock and sadness, while Snape's reddened with anger. Still, whatever differences they had seemed to put aside for his sake. He didn't know Remus well enough to ask yet, but Harry planned to track Severus down first chance he got and find out what was going on between them.
One of Harry's best presents that day were the stories that Remus told of his parent's days at Hogwarts. Aunt Petunia listened as well, torn between the old jealousy that she'd worked hard to get past and the hunger to share some part of her sister's life that she had denied herself. Lupin also found Harry's tale of his first year fascinating, seeming to take special interest in Harry's description of Neville's invisibility cloak. Harry had been saddened when Remus had left quickly after Dumbledore's hasty departure, though he did promise to come visiting often.
The next day, Severus and Professor Flitwick had set up a temporary static floo connection between the Shrieking Shack and Privet Drive, effectively creating a portal directly between the two houses, allowing them to move everything quickly. Petunia, Harry and Dudley had spent much of their final week before school moving the last of their possessions out of Privet Drive and setting them up in their new home.
The final move would be on September 1st; at that time, they would leave Privet drive for the last time and travel as a family on the Hogwarts Express to their new home. Harry couldn't wait to explore the wizarding village their new house rested beside. During the move, he'd sensed so much happening outside the walls that he'd almost dared his aunt's wrath to take a look. He and Dudley were grounded, however, and though he had no one to blame but himself, Harry was still a bit angry at Loki for giving up the game.
Harry knew it was wrong to blame the mini-dragon for the chaos that erupted two days after their return from Diagon Alley. He'd tried to hide his new pet from Petunia, and trapped the little creature in his room alone. Little did Harry know how spectacularly it would blow up in his face.
Harry, Petunia and Dudley had been downstairs, packing the china in crates when a loud crashing sound came from the second floor. "What was that?" Petunia began uncertainly as she rose to her feet. "You did tell that elf-thing not to come back, didn't you?"
"Of course I did Aunt Petunia," Harry replied. "But I don't think -" Anything further he might have wanted to say was forgotten as Harry sensed the mini-dragon come careening down the stairwell, and by the sound of it, Hedwig coming swiftly behind.
Surging to his feet, Harry could only grimace as the two aerial acrobats swooped into the hallway, to be followed swiftly by the sound of breaking glass. "Hedwig," Harry called desperately as his aunt stood up beside him, emitting a growl that would have given a mountain troll pause.
"Harry," she snapped. "Get that feathered menace under control this instant. And what is that thing she's chasing?"
"It's," Harry stammered, "(cough) mypetdragon (cough)."
"Your what?" Petunia fairly screamed.
"It's not a real dragon; he doesn't breathe fire or anything. The man at the pet store says that they're dead-smart and really won't be any trouble -" Even as he said it, Harry's words were punctuated by a loud crash from the kitchen.
Having had quite enough, Aunt Petunia roared, "Just Stop!"
Both animals, distracted by her forceful yell, forgot where they were going and flew directly into the wall ahead of them. Rattled by the impact, a picture of Uncle Vernon, the last taken before the crash, broke free of its fasteners and fell toward the floor.
Hearing his aunt's horrified gasp, Harry somehow sensed what was happening, reached out with his magic, and called "/Accio picture!/" Harry had little hope of the spell working; his senses were nearly blind to non-magical or non-living things. It was with a lot of surprise that he felt the picture frame slap firmly into his outstretched hand.
Sighing in relief, Harry passed the picture to his aunt, who after pausing a moment to hug it tightly to her bosom, said, "Thank you Harry. Now take your - animals - and lock them in your room until further notice!"
Harry was about to protest, but was sidetracked by a tapping at the window. Turning his senses toward it, he recognised the aura of an owl. Seeing that Aunt Petunia was quite fed up with magical animals for one day, Harry went to open the window, as the owl wouldn't leave until it delivered its message.
Letting in the large bird, Harry untied the note from its leg and gave it an owl treat from a jar on the counter. Running his fingers over the Braille writing that appeared just for him, Harry cursed as he read.
Dear Mr Potter,
We have received intelligence that a summoning charm was used at your place of residence this afternoon at eleven minutes past four.
As you know, underage wizards are not permitted to perform spells outside school, and further spellwork on your part may lead to expulsion from said school (Decree for the Reasonable Restriction of Underage Sorcery 1875 paragraph C).
Enjoy your Holidays!
Improper use of Magic Office
Ministry of Magic.
Frustrated beyond words, Harry just groaned as Aunt Petunia took the note from his hands. Skimming its contents with her eyes, Petunia snorted derisively. "What's the point of sending children to school nine months of the year to learn magic, and then tell them they can't use it? Harry, don't worry about this letter, we'll just be careful not to have you doing any more magic until I can talk to Severus."
"Thanks Aunt Petunia," Harry said, relieved.
"Think nothing of it," she replied. "Now take your animals, Dudley, and yourself upstairs. You two had to work together to keep that little monster secret from me until now, so you're both grounded until school starts."
The sense of utter glee Harry got from the encounter pegged the little creature as a trouble maker, from there; it was with little difficulty to find a name for him: Loki, god of mischief. Fortunately for Loki and Harry, the mini-dragon was able to stay out of trouble for the rest of the summer.
From that day until the start of school, the only times Harry and Dudley were allowed outside was for their runs and moving chores. One bonus to all the extra work they had to do around the house was that Dudley was finally beginning to put on a little muscle. Vernon had been a big, beefy man and though Harry could never picture his cousin being fat as he used to be, Dudley did take after his father and was showing the promise of being quite sturdy someday.
At last September 1st arrived. Their day started obscenely early, even before the sun had risen. After a quick breakfast, the last of their possessions, save the boys school things, were packed and sent through the floo.
"The taxi is here mum," Dudley cried excitedly from the front lawn. Harry stood with Petunia at the front door to their old house as she took one last look at their home for so many years. He could feel his aunt's sadness as she relived memories, both good and bad that resided here. Harry waited patiently as Petunia laid so many ghosts to rest, but time was against them and they had to be going.
"He would've wanted you to be happy," Harry tried to reassure her in his most convincing tone. The thing was, even though he didn't remember his uncle that well, Harry had a nagging feeling that Vernon would have been less than pleased with this move.
Petunia sighed one last time as the cabbie tapped impatiently on the horn. With, or perhaps in spite of Dudley's help, the driver had already loaded their bags and was waiting behind the wheel. Closing the door to Number four, and that chapter of their lives, Petunia, Harry and Dudley climbed in the back of the car together on the way to their new life.
"Kings Cross, in London" Petunia informed the driver shortly. Turning her attention to her two boys, she explained what would be happening when they got to the school. "I spoke with the headmaster about you two possibly staying at the new house the first few days of classes."
Harry and Dudley both stilled at her words, both wanted to be with her after the move, but for differing reasons. Harry knew his aunt would be alone in that big house with nothing to do, and he worried about her. Dudley, on the other hand, hadn't spent a single night away from his mother since his reawakening. And though he was trying to act brave like Harry, Duds was terrified.
"I thought it would be nice, the first few days, for you both to sleep over in your new rooms," she explained. "Dumbledore, unfortunately, was insistent that you be at the school." Squeezing Dudley's arm, she went on, "He said that you would need the time to accustom himself to whichever house he was placed. When I asked about you, Harry, he said there was something going on with Merlin House as well. I tried everything, but the frying pan, but he was insistent."
Dudley sighed unhappily at not being able to stay with his mum, but Harry was curious. Merlin was as ancient as any of the other houses at Hogwarts, even if it hadn't been used in hundreds of years. The rules concerning Merlin and its students had been a bit murky last year and he wasn't sure what this new development could all be about, but he decided not to worry about it until they got back to school.
Their ride to Kings Cross was largely uneventful. Hedwig rode invisibly o Harry's shoulders, while Loki perched in his usual spot behind Harry's ear. That hiding place wouldn't work much longer, however, as the little dragon had doubled in length over the last four weeks. Only its chameleon-like ability kept people from noticing it now.
Dudley, Harry could tell, was a nervous wreck. From past experience, Harry knew it was car rides that upset his cousin so much. For Dudley, anyway, the memory of the accident was just too fresh for comfort. Tribble, Dudley's new pet, was helping though. The steady purr from the little orange cat soothed the boy as he stroked her fur.
Arriving at Kings Cross, Harry and his family unloaded their things and hung about between platforms nine and ten, waiting for a chance to slip through the barrier unobserved. They were startled when, out of nowhere, someone called out to them.
"Potter," drawled a familiar and welcome voice. "Going to hang about with the muggles all day, or are you coming to the train?" Stepping through a seemingly solid brick wall, Draco Malfoy strode up to them as if he owned the station.
"Mrs Dursley, Dudley," Draco said by way of greeting. "There's five minutes before the train leaves," he continued, directing his words toward Harry. "Can we talk for a minute... alone?"
Sensing a stab of anxiety from his aunt, Harry reassured her as best he could, "We'll be right behind you; would it be okay? You and Dudley could find us seats on the train."
Petunia seemed ready to say no, but relented after a few moments. "Alright then," she harrumphed. "Mind you that you just came off being grounded today, I'll have no more monkey business, especially today."
With a smile Harry reassured Petunia he'd be along directly. After his relatives passed through the barrier, Harry turned back to his friend, who was regarding him curiously.
"Long Story," he answered. "What did you want to talk to me about?"
"I can't just want to talk to my best mate?" Draco asked sounding slightly put out.
Harry snorted with disbelief. "Right. And you couldn't have done that on the train. So what's so important you needed to talk alone?"
"Father's up to something," Draco said quietly after looking about to make sure no one was listening. "I don't know what, exactly, but before I left this morning, he made me swear that I not be caught alone anywhere in the castle or be out of the Slytherin dorms after dark."
"You know you're the second person to say something like that to me this summer," Harry answered. "A crazed house elf named Dobby popped into my bedroom a few weeks ago and tried to get me not to go to school. Why would your father tell you not to leave the /Slytherin /dorms?"
"Dobby?" Draco squeaked. "That's one of our family elves! What else did he say?"
Before Harry could answer, new voices entered the conversation as two figures emerged from the barrier. "Here he is Nev," said Ron Weasley. He's got/ Malfoy /with him too."
Harry winced at the way Ron spoke Draco's name. He'd hoped that after events at the end of term last year, some of the resentment between the two would have faded a bit, obviously not. Knowing Draco as he did, Harry knew that a fight was about to start.
"Well look who it is," the blond sneered. "Weasel and the Hero of Hogwarts." Turning back to his friend, Draco explained, "You know that's what everybody is calling him. Word got back to the Prophet over the summer, what the headmaster said happened with the stone. They ate it up and hailed Longbottom as the brightest young wizard at Hogwarts."
"But I am!" Neville exclaimed, shocking Harry. "Professor Dumbledore said so!"
"You were unconscious!" Harry reminded Neville as Draco and Ron squared off and continued insulting each other.
"But it was my magic that saved us," the podgy boy insisted. "The headmaster explained how I instinctively used it to stop him!"
"Nev," Harry began wearily. The Gryffindor boy was so caught up in the story spun by Dumbledore, that he couldn't see the obvious. "You can't really believe all that.
"And I suppose you want us to believe that you did it?" asked Neville hotly. "You can't even see, let alone fight!"
Everyone froze at Neville's words; no one could believe he'd said something so rude, not even him. Ron and Draco, who'd been trading insults, both gaped at the podgy boy, while Harry just stood immobile with his face turning a deeper and deeper red.
"Harry," said Neville apologetically, "I...."
"Don't Longbottom," Harry grated as Hedwig reared up in alarm. Unnoticed by the boys, trashcans nearby were rattling as if being shook by an unseen hand. "Just don't. Ron, I think you and him should go get back on the train.
"Harry," Weasley said hastily. "You know I'd never...."
"I know Ron," Harry said tightly, the blood pounding so hard in his head that he felt a bit faint. "Please -"
A gentle hand closed around Harry's arm and Draco muttered quietly, "Close your eyes."
"What?" Harry asked in confusion.
"I don't know why, but you've got light coming from them bright enough to see around your glasses."
Draco's words were distraction enough for Harry to forget his anger a bit, and things on the platform settled back down. Ron murmured a quiet apology and turned away with Neville. Harry really wouldn't have noticed, except for the loud thump that came shortly after from the direction of the barrier.
"What's wrong Weasley?" laughed Draco. "Miss the entrance?"
"No," Ron answered sounding confused. "This is it, I should have gone through."
Turning his senses toward the barrier, Harry gasped in shock. The portal was gone!
"You obviously missed it," snapped Draco impatiently as he came over to inspect the wall, becoming agitated when he couldn't find the entry either. "It's got to be here! It's always open until the train leaves!"
"What time is it?" asked Neville in a panic.
"Ten fifty-nine," squeaked Draco, looking at his watch. "We only have thirty seconds."
"Let me try to unlock it!" Neville said, pulling out his wand.
"It's not a door Longbottom," growled Draco. "Your spell wont do anything but get you expel - oh wait... go right ahead then."
"Ha - Ha," answered the podgy boy scornfully. He was cut off from saying anything further by the sound of the station clock ringing the hour.
"Eleven o'clock," moaned Ron. "We missed the train! If the barrier's blocked, then maybe our parents can't get back! We're stranded in London!"
"Relax Ron," Harry said, thinking furiously. "We'll get to school another way."
"Yeah," Ron mumbled. "We could always go wait by my dad's... that's it! My dad's car!"
"You want to drive to Hogwarts?" Draco scoffed. "There aren't any roads to it, as far as I know, and don't you have to be an adult to drive?"
"It flies," Ron growled at the blond. "Fred and George nick it all the time from my parents all the time. They never get caught."
"I don't think it's a good idea, said Harry uncertainly.
"No, it's perfect," countered Neville. We'll follow the tracks and get to the station first. We'll just join everybody as they get off the train."
"I'm not doing it," said Harry firmly. "Too much can go wrong."
"Good for you," Neville answered cheekily. "You're smart to know your limits."
Harry flushed again, but checked himself when Draco gently squeezed his arm again.
"I'll stay with you," the blond said. "We'll find another way."
"Right," Ron said uncomfortably. From his aura, Harry could tell that the redhead was having second thoughts, but his Gryffindor pride kept him from backing down. "We'd best be going if we want to get ahead of the train."
Ron and Neville ran off toward the parking area, leaving Harry and Draco alone by the barrier. Pausing for a few more moments to make up his mind, Harry flicked out his cane and headed the same direction as the other two boys went.
"You haven't decided to go with them?" Draco asked uncertainly.
"Of course not, we're going to catch the Knight bus."
"To Hogwarts?" the blond asked incredulously. "That would take all night!"
"To the Leaky Cauldron," answered Harry with a shake of his head. "We'll floo to my new house and send a message to Professor Snape when we get there."
Stepping out of the main entrance, Draco let out something between a curse and a laugh. "Idiots."
"Do you suppose the muggles will find it odd to see a flying car? A galleon says they don't make it, probably crash into a tree or something."
"You're on," Harry answered as he raised his wand hand. Seconds later, the magical triple-decker bus skidded to a stop in front of them and they boarded, waving hello to Stan.
Fifteen minutes later, Harry and Draco stood a bit unsteadily in front of the Leaky Cauldron. He wasn't sure, but Harry had a sneaking suspicion that Ernie, the driver, went out of his way to make the ride more hectic. Stepping into the pub, they both froze as the noise inside stopped and attention was centred on them.
"Oi," said Tom, the toothless old barkeep as he approached the boys. "Shouldn't you both be on the way to school?
"Missed the train," explained Harry shortly. "Is there any chance we could borrow the use of your floo? I can pay for it."
"Sure you can," said Tom, refusing the galleons Harry held out. "You've paid more than enough for us all." Pulling a small jar from the mantle, Tom poured a handful of the powder in each boy's hand. "You know how to use it, right?"
Still blushing from the man's words, Harry nodded "Yes sir." To Draco, Harry said quietly, "The floo address is the Shrieking Shack and the password is Lily." Going first, Harry braced himself, then threw the powder and was on his way.
Floo travel was disorienting for Harry. Magic swirled around him crazily and it was easier to shut off his senses when travelling. Physically, he felt like he'd been thrown in a swirling river, unable to tell down from up. Soon, however, he arrived home, tumbling out of the hearth. Moments later, Draco came after, landing of top of Harry.
"Oh yes," Harry groused from under his friend. "So much better than taking the train."
Grinning down, Draco grinned and answered. "I don't know... my landing was pretty soft." Sitting up on his friends stomach, but not getting up, Draco made a show of loudly brushing the soot off his shirt. "It is faster, you have to admit, if a bit dirty."
"And thanks for brushing it all off on me," Harry groaned. "Are you getting up any time soon, or have I been made your official seat?"
Pausing another moment as if in thought, Draco reluctantly climbed to his feet and pulled Harry to join him. Hedwig and Loki, who'd both leapt free of their master when he'd come through the floo, sat on the back of the couch watching with amusement.
Digging through his bag, Harry came up with a quick quotes quill and parchment. Dictating two quick notes, he sent one to his Aunt with Hedwig, her being the stronger flier, and the other to Snape with Loki. The Coatl had already left with her letter, while Harry explained to Loki where he would have to go.
"Do you remember Professor Snape?" Harry asked the mini-dragon in Parseltongue. This was to be his first delivery, and Harry wanted to make sure Loki could do it. "The dark man that came to see Aunt Petunia, he's at the castle near us." Taking a tightly rolled up parchment that was almost larger than the dragon, he handed it to the beast, who held it tightly in his claws. "Give that to him, and him only. You think you can?"
The mini-dragon blinked at him once, then nodded his head slightly and let out a squawk of affirmation before launching himself and flying drunkenly toward the window with his heavy burden. Mini-dragons weren't technically snakes, but Loki did understand and speak it.
"Well," Harry said, sitting back on the couch. ""We just have to wait here, and Professor Snape should come to get us in a while."
Draco gaped at his friend for a few moments before snorting in disgust. "You're kidding, right? We're in Hogsmeade, Harry. Severus won't be able to come get us for a long time, I'd bet. Let's go look around!"
"I don't know," Harry murmured uncertainly. "What if he gets here and we're still gone?"
"We'll leave a note, then! Come on Harry, Honeydukes is out there somewhere." The blond cajoled in a sing song voice. "They make the best chocolate in the world."
A slow grin began to replace the worried expression on Harry's face. If he had one weakness, it was chocolate, and Draco knew it.
"Well, maybe just for a little bit," he relented. "I mean, the train won't be here until tonight."
Harry quickly dictated another note for Severus and spell-o-taped it to the front door. With Draco leading the way, the two boys left the Shrieking shack and made their way to Hogsmeade proper. When the village lay open to Harry's magical senses, any reservations he may have had, were forgotten.
Hogsmeade was the largest and only all magical settlement in Britain. More spread out than Diagon Alley, Harry could actually make sense of all the magic that flowed through the streets. Allowing Draco to pull him along, the boys made a bee-line for the first shop on their list of places to visit. Honeydukes.
Inside was a feast of different aromas and flavours that dazzled Harry. Draco would drag him from bin to bin, getting Harry to sample almost everything. They left the shop after a couple hours with several bags of candy stashed in Harry's special school bag.
Their next stop was Zonko's joke shop. Inside was every trick or prank item ever created. Draco spent an hour trying to convince Harry to at least buy some dung bombs to use on Neville, and eventually, he did buy a few items, though he doubted he'd ever use them. Finished there, the boys realized that they were getting hungry, and they were off to their next destination, The Three Broomsticks.
Inside, the place reminded Harry a bit of the Leaky Cauldron, but much nicer. The air was filled with the aroma of freshly cooked food and the sound music that Draco identified as the 'Weird Sisters' coming over the wizarding wireless. Finding a table, the two were immediately descended upon by Madam Rosmerta.
Finding out who Harry was, the matron was delighted. She'd heard that he and his family were moving to Hogsmeade from members of the school staff that frequented her establishment and demanded that Harry bring his aunt to come visit the first chance they got.
Harry and Draco had finished their meal and were on their third Butterbeer, when a familiar voice sounded from behind Harry.
"Mr Potter, Mr Malfoy," said Snape in his most chilling tone. "How is it that you not only missed the express, but I find you in Hogsmeade, which is off limits to students before their third year?" Both boys jerked in their chairs, not expecting someone to be there, Harry had closed his inner eye for a while, as his usual headache was beginning to creep in at the edges. Loki, returning to her master nuzzled his neck before crawling up to her hidden perch behind his right ear.
"We're not actually back in school yet, professor," said Harry, feeling a bit cheeky. "And being that I live here now, wouldn't it be more like wandering around my neighbourhood?"
Severus looked to Draco as if he was undecided whether to fly into a rage or (Merlin forbid) crack a smile. After fighting an internal battle for several moments, the potions master went on, "Be that as it may, you both should have been on the Hogwarts express and therefore on your way to school. You'll both return to the castle with me to await your schoolmates."
Gathering their things, they left the Three Broomsticks and Draco gasped. "It's dark outside!"
"Yes, you've had quite the day by yourselves. The train has arrived at the station by now and we'll be lucky to get back to the castle before the Sorting Ceremony.
Harry kept his inner eye closed as they approached the castle. He wanted to be able to 'see' Dudley's sorting, and knew that the intensity of the castle's wards would only make his headache worse.
Passing the entry doors, Harry then slowly opened his inner eye, hissing in pain as he adjusted to the intensity of magic. He wanted no repeat of his last year, where he'd fainted when first exposed to Hogwarts magic. As they came upon the entrance to the Great Hall, Snape bid them go through the main doors while he went around to the staff entrance.
Any plans the boys had of sneaking in unobserved to their seats, however, were dashed as the steady hubbub of voices dwindled to nothing. Harry and Draco, for the second time that day, found themselves the centre of attention, though to a much larger audience this time. Not waiting for an invitation, the two boys scampered to the Merlin table, where everyone started asking all kinds of questions.
Draco happily rattled on to Blaise Zabini about their adventure in Hogsmeade, while Harry did his best to do the same with Terry Boot. He could sense Hermione wanting to ask questions, but he really didn't want to talk to her at the moment, though he knew at some point he must.
After a few minutes, Dumbledore stood up and addressed the school. "Welcome to another year at Hogwarts. For those of you returning to us, I'm sure you've properly emptied your heads over the past few weeks, and everyone is anxious to have them filled again. As we do every year, we'll begin with the Sorting Ceremony for our newest students. Professor McGonagall, if you please."
The taciturn transfigurations professor stepped forward and was about to begin, when everybody heard the sputtering of a muggle engine and Harry sensed something barely miss hitting the great hall as it went by the high windows. Snape, who'd barely seated himself, rose at the headmasters nod and left the hall in a flourish of black robes.
At the Merlin table, Harry felt a slight nudge at his ribs from Draco and heard a snicker from the blond. "That's a galleon you owe me," Harry muttered to his friend.
"They haven't landed yet," Draco answered with a grin.
After a confused silence, the headmaster coughed lightly as a signal for Professor McGonagall to continue. Harry only half listened as the children were sorted. Some boy named Creevey, who seemed to have boundless enthusiasm, was sorted in to Gryffindor. Another, named Smith went to Hufflepuff with Merlin's crest. Harry's ears did perk up when McGonagall called, "Dursley, Dudley."
There was a sudden flurry of feathered wings and screams from the first years as Hedwig became visible and launched herself from Dudley's shoulders and flew to Harry. He felt her familiar weight settle on his shoulders as Dudley had the sorting hat placed on his head.
Moments dragged by and even from half way across the hall, Harry could hear his cousin arguing with the hat, though not what was actually said. The wait dragged on into minutes and McGonagall had started forward to find out what the problem was when the hat coughed and announced grumpily, "well then, better be... Hufflepuff!"
The hall broke out in applause and Dudley scurried to his new house table, radiating both relief and worry. So preoccupied with the emotions coming from his cousin, Harry only half listened as others were sorted. He did hear as both Luna Lovegood for Ravenclaw and Ginny Weasley for Gryffindor were given Merlin's Crest.
Again, Dumbledore rose to address the students. "Everyone," he said, bringing silence to the hall. "I've a few start of term announcements before we all tuck in. Firstly, the forest on the grounds remains for bidden to all students wishing to survive the school year. Mr Filch, our caretaker, has again asked me to remind you that there will be no magic in the hallways between classes. Also, the ever growing list of banned items will be posted on his door.
We have again found an instructor for the post of Defence Against Dark Arts. Everyone please welcome Gilderoy Lockhart and wish him the best of luck."
The headmaster tried to say more, but the sheer volume of squeals and applause from the female population kept him from going on for some time. Harry, disgusted with the whole thing, closed his inner eye and was tempted to stopper his ears with his fingers in an attempt to drown out the adoration that so many of his classmates were showing the Pompous fool at the head table. Eventually, everyone settled down and the headmaster finished his announcements.
"Lastly," he said. "After reviewing the performance of Merlin House last year, some changes have been made. While students with Merlin's crest will still eat together and share a new and improved common room, they will attend classes and sleep with their sponsor houses. In the spirit of inter-house cooperation, Merlin's will be allowed to participate in team sports or clubs for /any /house, not simply their own."
The headmaster stood calmly, waiting for all the muttered comments around the hall to pass after his last announcement. Harry, though really had no problems with the new situation, save that he would rather have been able to share a dorm with Draco. It was almost a relief, however, to find that he wouldn't be seeing Neville or Hermione as much. His problems with Longbottom only seemed to be growing; as for Granger, he'd promised himself that he would forgive her soon, but she'd been so unrepentant over the whole thing that he couldn't just yet.
"Now," said the headmaster, "If there is nothing else, let's all tuck in." With a wave of his hand, Dumbledore signalled the house elves, who made the banquet cover all the house tables. Having eaten already, Harry excused himself from the table and his friends and went over to check on Dudley. Making his way over to the Hufflepuff table, using his cane, he followed Dudley's voice to find his brother. Save his family, Professor Snape and Draco, nobody really knew about his abilities. Sitting down by his cousin as fearful 1st year made room for Harry and his pet, he ruffled the blonde's hair.
"Congratulations Duds," Harry said quietly. Several Hufflepuffs first years whimpered as Hedwig slithered onto the table to explore a bit, but Harry took no notice.
"You had Mum and I scared to death, Harry," Duds answered. "When you didn't show up in the compartment, Mum went looking. She got the prefects involved and was about to go after the engineer to get us to turn back when Hedwig showed up."
"Sorry about that," Harry apologised. "I couldn't help it... was she mad?"
Harry couldn't see it, but by the way his words came out, Harry knew Dudley was smiling through his words. "She's waiting for you somewhere in the castle, after the feast."
Harry wanted nothing more than to thump his head on the table in frustration. Setting aside his dreaded meeting, Harry asked, "Are you alright Duds? It took so long to sort you... did the hat have any trouble?"
Dudley's voice became a little nervous again and he answered evasively, "It wasn't anything really. Can we talk about that later?"
"Sure Duds," Harry grinned as he called Hedwig back to him. "I'll see you later. It's almost time to head to our houses."
Returning to sit with Draco, they all sat through the singing of the school song, in which the twins sang along to the tune of a Christmas carol. Everyone got up and was being led towards their respective houses when he heard Professor Flitwick call him from the head table.
Touching Draco's arm in farewell, hopefully not for the last time, Harry walked up to the head table.
"Yes Professor?" Harry asked.
"If you'd come with me," Flitwick said in a sympathetic tone, "Your aunt is waiting for you in my office."