Harry hopes for a quiet year, but Draco and Pansy have other plans.
Several groups had been keeping a general eye out on a patch of forest where they thought Voldemort's essence had taken refuge. As soon as the last two Horcruxes had been discovered (the searchers had quickly found the locket) and then destroyed, these groups had put together a plan and stormed the area. Harry was not present for the actual assault, but he had been brought to a magical village outside of Tirana, which had managed to escape the Communist persecutions.
The assault teams had found nothing.
The groups, supplemented by even more Druids and members of the Brotherhood, combed the forest in more detail. They found evidence that suggested that Voldemort had been in the area as recently as one to three weeks previously.
Worse, they found the body of a missing Albanian wizard, who had been tied up and executed by the Killing Curse. Although they could not be certain, all the signs pointed to the possibility that Voldemort had either remade himself, or was at least in some sort of physical form, and had created at least one more Horcrux.
The news was kept secret from the general public, but the Ministries around the world were put on alert. There would be extra security provided for the Quidditch World Cup, to be held in England in 1994, and some of that security would stay stationed in Britain should the proposed Triwizard Tournament be held the following autumn and spring.
While many were more worried or anxious, no one was as disappointed by these events as Harry. He had hoped that it would all be over before the school year started. He had hoped that he would have his life for himself, rather than still being the tool of prophecy, the instrument of fate.
His mentors amongst the Brotherhood saw this, and understood the teen's reasons. Their solution was simple. They gave him as much time as they could with Hermione, and filled the rest of his time as best they could with flying and training. Jason and Sirius were a bit disappointed when they found out Harry and Hermione had not progressed beyond hugging and heavy kissing, but everyone ganged up on Sirius to prevent him from encouraging Harry to go further faster.
As the end of August approached, Harry managed to cheer up just alittle. He decided to put all thoughts of Voldemort and any possible Horcruxes out of mind, while of course continuing his training. He would let Osiris and the Brotherhood, the Druids, Dumbledore and his group, and the Ministries all worry about the problems Voldemort presented.
'I'm really fourteen,' Harry told himself several times. 'I'm going to enjoy this year.' He told himself this enough times so that even he believed it.
He also swore that if anything or anyone interfered with his having at least one good year, they would regret it.
Draco Malfoy was sent back to Malfoy Manor a few days before the school year started. He was not allowed to leave the Manor, and as his parents had been very detailed in their instructions, the elves wouldn't even punish themselves when they thwarted him.
The last day of August, Draco finally built up enough nerve to go into the secret stash of Dark artifacts his father kept hidden under the floor of one of the rooms. He wasn't sure what he was looking for, and when he finally selected one object to take to Hogwarts, he wasn't sure exactly what it was. All Draco knew was that it was a very wicked-looking dagger that made him shudder to even touch it.
Draco packed it away very carefully.
Harry and Hermione were both at the platform early. They had met Luna and her father in Diagon Alley early that morning, and the students and their parents/guardians enjoyed a late breakfast in anice hotel on the way to the station.
Luna had changed the most over the summer, having grown nearly an inch. She was nearly as tanned as Harry and Hermione from running around the woods of the far north. Luna seemed somewhat dreamy to Harry and Hermione, but then Harry realized that this meant that Luna's 'gift' must have started to mature, along with Luna's body.
Harry really did not want to think about the implications of that. It was enough that, while acting a bit disconnected to the everyday world, Luna also seemed calm, and happy to be with her friends.
Once they were left on the platform, Hermione and Luna staked out a compartment, while Harry looked for Neville, Ron, and Ginny. Neville was soon found, but the Weasleys showed up with only a few minutes to spare. As Harry started to move towards the gaggle of red-heads, he saw Percy scowl at him, and then glare. Fred however blocked Percy from approaching, and George came over instead.
"What's wrong?" Harry asked.
"Ginny's sort of nervous," George said with a shrug. "So, Mum has decreed that all of us have to share a compartment. It won't be too bad, since Percy made Big-head Boy and won't be there too much, but you just know he'd tattle."
Harry nodded. "Are we okay though?" he asked.
"You and your girlfriends are with me and Fred," George teased,"and I'm pretty sure you and Hermione are with Ron. He's still not too keen on Luna. Ginny is still very quiet."
"Will she have to be Sorted again?" Harry asked.
"I hope not." The whistle blew and the two teens gave each other afriendly punch on the shoulder.
Severus Snape hurried away from the great hall, still hungry. He was NOT happy with the new Defense teacher. Still, the Headmaster had made it very clear that his choices had been Lupin or one of the Brotherhood. Snape, seeing the choice, had agreed that Lupin was the lesser of evils.
Granted, these 'Brothers' were able to quickly reverse Lupin's transfiguration. Still, the fact that there had been a full moon just the night before made Snape's skin crawl, and had certainly ruined his appetite the day before (since Lupin was in the castle)-- and Snape had still not fully recovered.
Draco sat in a compartment with just Pansy and Crabbe. After nearly an hour of silence, Pansy asked, "What are you thinking so hard about?"
Draco looked up and thought a moment. "Make certain we aren't listened to," he told Crabbe. Crabbe nodded and went to stand outside of the door.
When Crabbe had shut the door behind him, Draco said, "Let's just say I came across an interesting object, and I need to figure out a way to give to someone without being caught."
"That would be my first choice," Draco agreed.
"What sort of object?" Pansy asked.
Draco thought again, and then described the dagger. When he was through, Pansy said in an exasperated tone, "You really don't know what you have, do you?"
"A cursed, and maybe poisoned, dagger?"
"Yes, but it sounds like a Dagger of Hera."
Draco frowned. "What's that?"
"For the charmed poison to work, one woman has to use it against another," Pansy said. 'And then, only if she is envious of the other woman for some reason,' she added to herself. "Give it to me. I'll see that Potter's Mudblood gets it." Pansy suspected Granger was behind her problems with mirrors the previous years, and she could not understand what Potter saw in the girl, since she was fairly flat and had teeth like a chipmunk. Pansy was almost ecstatic as she fantasized about wiping what she thought of as asmirk of the girl's face.
Draco nodded his agreement. He was all for someone else running the risks.
Had he asked, Pansy would have agreed.
Much to her embarrassment, Ginny Weasley was indeed Sorted a second time. She spent over five minutes under the Hat, and to her surprise, she actually ended up in Ravenclaw. This time, the Hat had not even considered Gryffindor; Ginny's only options were Slytherin and Ravenclaw. As the Hat pointed out, the very fears that Slytherin now inspired, not to mention the fear of the embarrassment being in Slytherin would cause her in her family, was enough to prevent her being Sorted into Gryffindor. The Hat had nearly laughed out loud, as opposed to only in Ginny's mind, when she had mentioned Hufflepuff as an alternative to Slytherin. It was only the knowledge, gathered from the thoughts of the students at the Slytherin table during the Sorting, that so many would love a chance to harass or even harm a Weasley prevented the Hat from sending Ginny to where she really belonged more than anywhere else.
Remus Lupin had been visible enough the previous year that he was not seen as a totally unknown quantity. He was also dressed better and looked much healthier than he had at any time during the previous winter and spring. That announcement that he was also awerewolf had startled most of the students so much that Dumbledore had managed to allay most students' fears before any of them could vocalize them.
When Harry made his way to the Gryffindor common room, therefore --hand-in-hand with Hermione, side-by-side with Luna -- he was feeling fairly content. Colin had given up stalking Harry in what little spare time he had the previous winter, and again would merely follow Percy around on their project. He would show no sign of resuming any stalking this term, for which Harry would be grateful. Ginny did not know that Harry had had any connections with defeating Riddle or his monster, and so did feel she owed him any favors. Harry hoped that the jealous looks she had given Hermione and Luna that evening, and any occasional stalking, would be more difficult two classes down and in another House.
Malfoy had not bothered him or his friends on the train ride. Harry rather hoped that the 'blond ponce' (as he and Ron often referred to him) had learned his lesson and would just leave Harry alone. Granted, Malfoy had sneered in his and Hermione direction when he had realized that he could again see them, but hopefully, that would be as far as things would go.
Harry hugged and kissed Luna goodnight on the cheek, and then hugged Hermione a bit more firmly, kissing her goodnight briefly but properly, before heading off to bed.
While Harry was sleeping the sleep of the just and well-fed, another was having a more difficult evening. Since his run-in with the mysterious trio who had assaulted him, Lucius Malfoy had many difficulties sleeping. Therefore, he generally woke up around 2:00 am, stayed up for an hour nursing a brandy, and then returned to bed.
This night, as he poured his brandy, a voice said, "You might offer me one."
Malfoy spun around and saw a man sitting in the shadows. A snap of the man's fingers, and the lights came up. He was a slightly swarthy man of average height and with oily curly hair. He was not in any way overweight, but there was a fleshiness about him, which suggested good living. The man's mouth was smiling, but his eyes looked deadly.
There was also a trace of magic about him which reminded Malfoy of his Master, not to mention the trio who had attacked him. "Who are you?" he demanded. He was unarmed, and so had to bluff.
"Someone who can help you, in a limited way."
"And how is that?" Malfoy demanded.
"Temper, temper," the man scolded, and then he looked at the brandy bottle. Malfoy bit his lip and poured the man a brandy. "Thank you," the man said. "First of all, I apologize for your injuries last winter. I am part of a group, and a faction of them got a bit carried away when they confronted you."
"Is that what you call what they put me through!"
The man sneered at Malfoy. "No, that is probably how you would have described it, if you were talking to a person tortured by your fellow Death Eaters."
Malfoy swallowed his response.
"They belong to a faction within our Sodality which desires greater interaction with the magical world. My faction wants more separation. There is nothing more about us that you need to know, other than knowing that we are powerful, and not to be crossed."
"And because of our factional divide, my group finds itself barred from Britain. We would like full reports, from multiple sources. We know you have a network in Britain. We are presuming you also have contacts other than your son and Severus Snape at Hogwarts?"
"Yes, but little that is as direct," Malfoy admitted.
"Are you willing to fully share that information?"
"What do you have to offer in return?" Malfoy asked.
"I cannot protect you from my Brothers," the man admitted."However, should your Master return, we can protect you to a large degree if you stay here. You would have to inform us your Dark Mark was bothering you. We should be able to break the pain of your being summoned for five to eight days at a time. Interested?"
Lucius Malfoy struggled within himself, but said, "Yes." He was unsure what he would do if the Dark Lord returned, and this might keep more options open at little risk.
"Good. Then we have a deal. I will send a vampire to meet with you tomorrow night at midnight, in your back garden. Do not harm her."
"A vampire? Not you?"
"I think we would both prefer to keep out contact at a minimum,"Agathon said, finishing his brandy before slipping through the wards.
Lucius Malfoy tossed his brandy down and poured himself a double. He very much hoped this would not come back to haunt him.
Hermione was thrilled by her new classes, and Luna a little jealous that she would have to wait a year. As she was already familiar with the basic rune sets, she set herself to study that subject, at least, with Hermione and Harry.
Hermione was a bit doubtful at first, but Harry was very happy Luna was joining them. He was already operating at a near-N.E.W.T. level, beyond that, actually, in Egyptian and Thracian. Coaching Luna made the subject tolerable for him. Ron, unsurprisingly, was already complaining about the amounts of work by the end of the first week.
All the Gryffindors were happy with their new Defense instructor. All of the classes, third year and above, had to face a boggart the first day. The third years had all gotten a good laugh out when Neville had changed his Snape boggart into a Snapish version of alittle girl in a pink dress. The other Gryffindors also managed to deal with their fears as they came up, although Harry wondered if Ron would have done as well with a version of the giant spiders he had heard were in the forest as he did with the foot-wide one.
Hermione had been a bit challenged, as her boggart was a dead Harry. "Make me snore," Harry had magically whispered in her ear, and Hermione had passed the test. Harry had been a bit miffed that Lupin had refused to let him even try to face it.
"Anything that frightens you is likely too intense or private to show the others," Lupin had explained later that afternoon, after classes had ended. He had then let Harry try, and had to admit he should not have been surprised to see that Harry's boggart was adead Hermione, which Harry had fought by making it have hiccoughs.
After two weeks of classes, Harry took stock of things as he and Hermione snuggled against each other in a love seat, each reading while enjoying each other's company. Both were happy and content with their position.
Harry was not by nature a reflective person, but as he reached the end of a chapter, he did pause to take stock. Thinking first about how his life had changed, Harry realized that this was perhaps the first time he had even thought of the Dursleys since he had left Hogwarts the previous summer. Harry let a stray thought pass on towards Dudley. He had arranged for Dudley to stay at Smeltings, believing that no one, not even Dudley, should have to live with Marge Dursley year round.
Feeling Hermione snuggle a bit closer, Harry forgot about the Dursleys. Here, cuddled warmly against him, was affection and friendship -- everything he had been missing for ten years. His closeness with Hermione, and his adoption of study habits similar although not as fanatic as hers, had helped move him away from aclose friendship with Ron. However, his dating Hermione more than compensated for it, not to mention instead of being close friends with just Ron and Hermione, he had a companion with Hermione, aclose friendship with Luna, good friendships with Ron, the twins, and Neville, and was friendlier with a wide range of his fellow students, which had not been true his first year.
Because of his extra training, and the maturity the extra year of study had brought him, Harry was greatly enjoying most of his classes. History with Binns was still dead boring, but the Druids and Brotherhood were feeding him stories which helped him grasp magical history. Potions was also far from fun, but Snape now merely contented himself with his usual insufficient instructions, glares at Harry, and marking Harry as low as he dared. Because he was so advanced, Runes were also a bit boring for him, much to Hermione's dismay, as that was her most challenging class.
Harry was even more challenged by Arithmancy than Hermione was by Runes. The fact that Hermione had a natural grasp of the subject meant that it was difficult for her to give Harry any help. They had already had to agree that Runes and Arithmancy were sore subjects for them, and to try and avoid the topics.
The pair were happy that Hagrid was teaching Care of Magical Creatures. They had especially enjoyed looking at the unicorns he had provided for their (and his) first lesson. Hermione had been appalled when she learned that Hagrid had first wanted to have them interact with hippogriffs, only to be talked out of it by the Druids. Harry had merely shrugged -- anyone who still considered a giant three-headed dog as a 'pup' and thought dragons cuddly had different standards than most.
Harry was brought out of his reverie as Hermione closed her book and gently rubbed her shoulder against his. Even after all this time, Harry was still amazed at how easily he melted with any physical attention, something only Hermione and a few of the Brothers guessed at.
The couple hugged goodnight for a few moments, before briefly kissing. Harry went to bed, glad that things were so calm at Hogwarts.
Harry was not to know that Pansy Parkinson had been stalking Hermione since the first day of classes that term. She had hoped to entice Millicent Bulstrode into at least helping, if not striking out against Granger in her place.
Millicent had ignored all the hints. Pansy, however, had merely resolved to act alone. She was uncertain exactly how the Dagger of Hera worked, but thought she knew enough. She therefore resolved to strike whenever she was sure Granger would be alone for several hours, which would hopefully enable her to establish something of an alibi for herself.
Millicent had promised to help that much and Greg had agreed to go along. Pansy figured they would provide a better alibi than Draco and Vinnie.
Now all she needed was a chance.