Chapter 10: The Hogwarts Express
Snape was his usual coolly distant self. He acted as though his outburst towards Harry had never occurred, which didn't surprise Harry in the least. Snape had been avoiding every uncomfortable truth between them since the start of summer and Harry simply made a mental note of the latest unmentionable topic.
A week before the start of term Snape appeared at breakfast in his traveling cloak.
"I'm leaving, Lupin. Dobby will see to the rest of my things."
"You're going back to Hogwarts already?" Harry asked.
"Yes," Snape replied. "You've learnt as much as you're going to this summer and delightful as our time together has been, I have to prepare for term before the newest swarm of students descends to wreak havoc on my classroom and patience."
Snape's sarcasm was largely lost on Harry who was too busy trying not to grin at the prospect of having no more Potions lessons to pay much attention to Snape's remarks. Snape seemed to realize this and scowled at Harry.
"In case it's slipped your mind, I do expect all of your regular homework to be complete by the first day of class. I trust you've been working on it, since a week is hardly enough time to do an adequate job and given how woefully lax you were last year I will be paying particular attention to your work this time. I promise you won't get away with a slipshod effort."
"Of course, Professor," Harry said with what he hoped was a convincingly serious tone.
It wasn't. Snape shook his head in evident disgust then swept out of the room without another word. Harry smiled. He was delighted at the prospect of being free from Snape and Potions for an entire week. But even more than that, it had suddenly hit home that the start of term was looming and Harry felt the thrill of excitement that always accompanied the prospect of returning to Hogwarts. This excitement was tempered by a tinge of melancholy though: this would be his last year at the school he had come to think of as home and he couldn't help but wonder what might lay beyond.
The house was bustling as Harry and his friends raced about gathering up the last of their belongings for the trip to Hogwarts. Hermione was the first one to finish packing and spent her time fussing over Ron who seemed to have barely begun. His things still lay strewn all around his and Harry's room.
"Ron, if you had this much to do, why didn't you start last night?" Hermione scolded.
"And miss the party in the common room and that feast Dobby prepared? Are you barking? Harry, have you seen my latest issue of Quidditch Quarterly?"
"Here it is." Harry tossed the magazine to Ron who laid it in his trunk then grabbed the rest of his magazines which he'd piled precariously atop the bureau. A hand mirror fell to the floor and shattered, making all three of them jump.
Ron groaned, dumped the magazines in his trunk then scowled at the shards of glass on the floor. "Where'd that come from?"
"It's mine." Harry bent down and picked up one of the larger pieces. "I'd forgotten I put it up there."
"Funny, you've never struck me as the sort to have a mirror, Harry."
"Sirius gave it to me. It's not a normal mirror. He had one too and we were supposed to be able to use them to communicate." Harry looked back at the piece of broken glass and continued in a voice heavy with regret. "Only I didn't realize that until it was too late."
"I've heard of these," Hermione said, looking over Harry's shoulder at the fragment in his hand. "They're very rare. This one must have been in the Black family quite a long time."
Harry nodded. "I thought I saw something in it once at the start of summer, but I reckon I imagined it. I just keep hoping… But even if Sirius had had his mirror with him at the Ministry, I don't think he'd be able to talk to me now. I'm just being stupid."
Hermione picked up a shard of glass to examine. "You're not stupid, Harry," she said and at once the fragment of mirror Harry was holding shimmered and a tiny image of Hermione's face appeared in it, staring up at him.
"Hermione, I can see you!"
Hermione peered into her own small mirror. "I can see you too!"
"Whoa, that's cool!" Ron said. He picked up a piece as well. "Harry, say something."
Ron's face appeared in Harry's mirror and Harry grinned.
"What are you all doing?"
Ginny stood in the doorway, looking at them curiously. Harry grabbed another fragment of mirror and took it over to her.
"Here, have a look."
Ginny frowned at him in confusion, but looked in the mirror.
"What do you see?" Harry prompted.
"Noth – Oh! Harry, that's amazing."
Harry quickly explained the history of the mirror to Ginny.
"So then we can communicate with each other anywhere with these?" she asked.
Harry shrugged uncertainly. "I reckon so, but I've never actually used it."
"You know, it's a pity we didn't have these first year," Ron said. "Think of how useful they might have been all those times we were sneaking around the castle."
"Think how useful they might be this year," Ginny retorted.
"Here, everyone give me your mirrors for a minute," Hermione said suddenly. She took the four fragments and laid them on the desk. Next, she pulled Harry's cauldron out of his trunk and set it upside down on the desk as well.
"What are you doing?" Ron asked.
"If we're seriously going to use these, we might as well avoid slicing our fingers on them." Hermione placed the first fragment of mirror on the upturned cauldron and drew her wand. "Candeo!"
The tip of Hermione's wand began to glow, but not with the cool light that Lumos produced. This was the glow of iron being heated in a fire. It began as a smoldering dull red then quickly brightened to orange, yellow and finally a dazzling white. Even from several feet away, Harry could feel the intense heat emanating from the small point of light.
Hermione touched the tip of her wand to the edge of the first mirror fragment and the sharp glass immediately melted. She carefully worked her way around the entire piece, dissolving the jagged corners until she had fashioned it into a smooth-edged, if irregularly shaped mirror. She handed it to Harry then began work on the second piece.
Harry stared down at the small mirror which fit in the palm of his hand and smiled. Thanks, Sirius.
Hermione had just finished working on the last mirror and pocketed it when there was a soft knock at the door. Remus stuck his head in and smiled. "I don't think you want to leave without this, Harry."
Remus held out the battered cardboard box Harry had received from the Dursleys on his birthday and Harry took it gratefully. He had forgotten his mum's keepsakes entirely in the wake of the Death Eater attack and spying on Snape.
"You're welcome." Remus looked past Harry at the clothes and books strewn all over the beds and raised an eyebrow. "We're leaving in half an hour, you know."
"Don't worry, we'll be ready."
It was a quarter to ten by the time Harry, Ron, Hermione and Ginny were finally assembled in the entrance hall and Harry was surprised that neither Remus, Tonks, nor Moody seemed at all put out by their lateness. However, this mystery was immediately solved as Remus spoke up.
"Dobby is going to see your things to the station so that we can Apparate directly to Kings Cross. Given what happened the last time we went for a walk through London, we thought that might be the safest course." Remus nodded at Dobby who was hovering in a corner and the House Elf immediately perked up, snapped his fingers and vanished along with all of the luggage.
"There will be Aurors at Kings Cross," Moody said. "And more will meet the train in Hogsmeade."
"What about on the train itself?" Harry asked.
"There are no worries there," Remus assured him. "There will be plenty of Aurors on board."
"We'd better go or they're going to miss it," Tonks said.
Moody grunted in acknowledgement and opened the front door. He peered cautiously outside then beckoned them to follow him. A cold drizzle was falling and the skies hung low with clouds as Harry and the rest of the group crossed the court to the alley opposite the house.
One by one, they Disapparated. Moody vanished first, followed by Tonks. Harry formed a mental picture of Kings Cross Station, spun around and felt the familiar sensation of having the breath squeezed out of him. With a slight 'pop' he appeared in an alley across from the station where Moody and Tonks were alertly surveying the street beyond. Three more 'pops' announced the arrival of Hermione, Ron and, last of all, Ginny who had Apparated with Remus. They all made their way across the busy street and into the station where they slipped unobtrusively through the barrier to platform 9 ¾.
The first thing Harry noticed was that Remus hadn't been exaggerating about security. There were alert, grim faced figures everywhere who couldn't possibly be mistaken for friends or family of any of the students. Despite the security however, there seemed to be a sense of anxiety running through the crowd that Harry had never felt before. The usual calls from parents to their children to be careful and stay safe seemed to be particularly heartfelt this morning.
"This way," Remus said, leading the way through the mayhem of hundreds of students rushing to get on the train while parents clucked last minute instructions at them. Harry spotted Mr. Weasley who was waiting by their luggage, having naturally come to see them off. He greeted them all warmly just as the train's whistle sounded.
"You four had better hurry," Remus said. Ron and Ginny hugged their father goodbye then they all grabbed their things and climbed aboard the nearest car. They found an empty compartment and stowed their trunks just as the whistle blew once more and the train started to move.
Ron threw open the window and Harry and the others crowded together to wave to Mr. Weasley, Remus, Tonks and Moody. Then they were out of the station and headed for the outskirts of London. It was beginning to rain in earnest, so Harry shut the window tightly and flopped into an empty seat next to Ginny. Hermione pulled Crookshanks from his carrier and sat down opposite him next to Ron.
Without warning, the door to their compartment was thrown open. A large, severe-looking man with very short black hair and a long black mustache stood there holding Neville Longbottom by his collar. "In here and stay put. Students aren't allowed to wander up and down the corridors."
"But I have to find Trevor!" Neville implored the man. The fellow only grunted and shoved Neville into the compartment then shut the door.
"Hi Neville, Trevor gone missing again?" Ron asked, trying and failing to look concerned.
"Yes," Neville said, miserably sagging into a seat by the door. "But that Auror won't let me go look for him so I'm never going to find him."
"Cheer up, Neville," Ginny said. "He'll turn up. He always does."
Just then the door opened again. The Auror was back looking even fiercer than before. This time he had Luna Lovegood in tow.
"Hello," she said brightly as the Auror shoved her into the compartment without a word and slammed the door.
"Hi Luna, what are you doing here?" Harry asked.
In answer, Luna pulled a large toad out of her pocket.
"Trevor!" Neville leaped up and grabbed his pet in relief.
"I saw him hopping by and thought you must have lost him. Fortunately, that Auror was nice enough to take me to you."
Harry didn't think that 'nice' was an adjective he'd have used to describe the scowling man, but didn't mention that as Neville thanked Luna profusely and sat back down, shoving the miscreant toad into his pocket.
Ginny budged over to make room for Luna to sit down as well. "So what have you been up to all summer?" she asked the Ravenclaw.
"Helping my dad with the Quibbler mostly. Circulation has been up the last couple of months since the Death Eater murders began."
Harry started. "What!"
"Haven't you heard?" Luna asked in her dreamy, unconcerned way. "Someone's been killing them. Six Death Eaters have died so far and no one knows who's responsible. It's all very mysterious. The problem is that the deaths appear to be just random accidents or fights or something of the sort. But my father is convinced that they're actually murder."
There was dead silence as they all stared at Luna incredulously.
"So, Neville, how was your summer?" Harry asked, breaking the awkward silence. "Where's your Mimbulus mimbletonia?"
"It's at home. It was too big to bring to school and my gran's taken a liking to it. It hums to her when she's having tea."
"I always liked that plant," Luna said wistfully. "There was something very intelligent about it."
Fortunately, the compartment door opened again at that moment so no one had to think of a reply to that statement. This time a wiry old fellow who was completely bald stood scowling at them. "Just checking," he growled then shut the door.
"What are they checking for?" Ron complained. "Do they suppose we're hiding Death Eaters in our trunks?"
"They're just being cautious after what happened…" Ginny trailed off, but Neville's eyes widened.
"That's right! Harry, I read that you'd been attacked in London by Death Eaters! Is that true?"
"Yeah." Harry shrugged. He really didn't want to talk about it.
"And you killed one of them?"
"Neville, it's not really polite to ask people about who they've killed," Luna said mildly.
Neville looked abashed. "Oh. Sorry, Harry."
"That's all right. How about a game of Exploding Snap?" Harry suggested, desperately trying to steer the conversation away from Death Eaters and killing. It worked. Everyone agreed to play and soon the compartment was filled with laughter and easy conversation which passed the time as the train sped north and the storm steadily worsened.
At last, tired of games, they drifted off to separate pursuits and fell into a comfortable silence. Neville who was sitting across from Harry had fallen fast asleep. Trevor had hopped out of his pocket and was exploring the compartment, while Crookshanks eyed the toad, apparently too content in Hermione's lap to bother pouncing on it. Hermione sat next to Neville reading their new Defense text. Ron was slouched next to her reading The Chudley Cannons: Hopes for the Next Hundred Years. Luna sat across from Ron staring dreamily out the window at the storm-whipped countryside, seemingly oblivious to anything else. Ginny was also asleep. Her head rested on Harry's shoulder and he smiled down at her then turned his attention to the cardboard box he'd retrieved from his trunk.
Harry had never had the opportunity to properly examine his mother's keepsakes and had decided to take advantage of the long train ride to do so now. There were the photos he'd seen before, her Head Girl badge and the results from her OWLs and NEWTS.
Harry was quietly proud that his mum had done very well in her exams. She'd received nine OWLs including 'Outstanding' marks in Charms, Herbology and Potions. She'd got 'Outstanding' marks in the same subjects on her NEWTs as well and had received 'Exceeds Expectations' in DADA and Transfigurations. Clearly Lily Evans had been an excellent student.
Harry laid aside the exam results and picked up a bundle of folded papers, untied it and discovered that he was holding a collection of letters. There were nearly two dozen, all of which appeared to be from the summer after Lily's first year at Hogwarts and there were similar bundles that Harry guessed were from subsequent summers. He unfolded the first letter and read it.
Greetings from France! Or should I say, Bonjour! The letter began, followed by a gushing description of Paris and ending with, Au revoir! Violet. Harry laid it aside and continued with the others in turn.
I can't believe that sister of yours tossed out your Potions ingredients. She's jealous, that's what. Oh, if only we could do magic, you could fix her! Don't worry. My dad's good friends with the Apothecary in Diagon Alley. I'll send you some new Potions supplies .
I hope you're having a good summer. My Uncle's got us tickets to the Quidditch World Cup! Isn't that brilliant!! I can't wait! I'm for Scotland, of course, but my brother says Germany's bound to win. Violet thinks she's really something, going to France this summer, but that's got nothing on the World Cup! I'll bring back lots of photos. See you next term.
I found the book I was telling you about and I was right. The venom of the Stinging Tentacula is one of the few poisons that can't be treated with a Bezoar though the book doesn't say why. Maybe because it's an odd sort of half-plant, half creature. It's really nasty too – much more dangerous than its cousin the Venomous Tentacula. I've got a book on exotic plants and animals that tells all about it. The poison will kill you, of course, but that's not nearly the worst of it. –
"Hullo, dears," The witch with the sweets trolley had appeared. "Anything from the trolley?"
Harry laid aside the stack of letters and nudged Ginny awake as Hermione did the same for Neville. They all bought enough sweets to see them through the rest of the trip to Hogwarts, but as the witch continued down the corridor, another familiar but much less welcome figure appeared in the doorway. Draco Malfoy stood with his hands thrust deep in the pockets of his expensive robes and his languid voice oozed contempt.
"Well, well, if it isn't the great Harry Potter, savior of the world. That's what the papers are all calling you these days, isn't it?"
"Go away, Malfoy," Harry replied irritably. He stood up to shut the door, but Malfoy stepped forward to block him.
"Term hasn't even started yet and you've already got to play the hero, haven't you? What with that fight in London… It was all over the papers for days. Pity no Muggles died."
"You're sick, Malfoy!" Ginny said.
"At least I've never killed anyone." He turned back to Harry. "I bet you're proud of yourself for that, though, aren't you, Potter? Did you enjoy it?"
Harry had gone very cold inside. "Get out," he whispered.
"Or what, Potter? You going to kill me, too?"
Ron jumped to his feet and his voice trembled with rage as he spoke. "You're a real maggot, Malfoy, you know that. Why don't you go crawl back where you came from?"
Malfoy ignored Ron. His hate-filled gaze never left Harry's face. "Of course I don't suppose it's any surprise that you killed yourself a Death Eater, Potter – not given the company you keep."
Hermione bristled. "What's that supposed to mean?"
"What do you think?" the Slytherin snapped impatiently. "You think I don't know who put him up to it?"
"Shut it, Malfoy!" Harry said angrily.
Malfoy looked from Hermione to Harry and his eyes lit with understanding followed by malicious glee. "They don't know?" Malfoy laughed heartily. "Oh, that's brilliant, Potter! Are you ashamed to tell them? Shall I do it for you?"
Harry grabbed Malfoy by the collar and shoved him out into the corridor and up against the opposite wall. "You don't know anything Malfoy and if you spread one rumor or say one poisonous word to anyone, I swear you'll be sorry."
Malfoy shoved Harry away. "Don't threaten me. Just because you're too much of a coward to tell them the truth about Sn–"
Harry punched Malfoy in the mouth. The Slytherin staggered then glared at Harry, his eyes blazing with a mixture of surprise and outrage. With a snarl, he swung at Harry, but Harry had always been faster than Malfoy and ducked the punch easily. Then he slammed his fist into Malfoy's nose. The Slytherin swore and doubled over, holding his nose which was now bleeding profusely.
"You're as mad as he is!" Malfoy said, drops of blood splattering his robes as he spoke.
"I warned you."
"And now I'm warning you." Malfoy straightened up and Harry spotted the wand in his free hand just in time. He dodged out of the way as Malfoy yelled, "Reducto!"
Harry heard a crash and yelps of surprise as the spell slammed into something behind him, but he couldn't spare the time to see what damage had been done. He pulled his own wand out of his pocket. "Expelliarmus!"
Malfoy was slammed back against the wall and his wand went flying. Harry leveled his wand at the Slytherin, but just then another voice rang out. "Expelliarmus!"
This time it was Harry's wand that went soaring through the air as Harry staggered back into the wall. He looked around. Many of the students in the neighboring compartments had come out to see what the commotion was about but Harry's attention had been captured by three Aurors, all of whom had their wands trained on him. The bald, grizzled old Auror who had checked on them that morning strode forward and grabbed Harry roughly by his collar. He shoved the point of his wand up under Harry's chin and fixed Harry with an unforgiving glare.
"Under-age use of magic is forbidden by law and attacking anyone on this train is forbidden by me. You've just earned yourself a trip to the Ministry!"
"I'm not under-age!" Harry protested. "And I didn't attack anyone."
The Auror looked at Malfoy's bloody face and was clearly unimpressed with Harry's denial. "The Ministry deals harshly with liars and troublemakers these days," he said darkly.
"That's Harry Potter and he's not a liar or a troublemaker!" Neville said indignantly stepping out into the corridor with the rest of Harry's companions. "Malfoy's the one who started it."
The Auror glanced at Neville then back at Harry and his eyes darted to Harry's forehead. The effect was remarkable. He released his grip on Harry and stepped back. "You need to be more careful. I could have cursed you, you know." He spoke in a gruff, but clearly contrite tone then he turned on Malfoy and his eyes narrowed suspiciously.
"That's right," Malfoy snapped coldly. "Draco Malfoy."
The Auror grunted. "That figures." He turned to the other Aurors. "Get him out of here."
The fierce looking Auror with black hair and mustache seized Malfoy.
"What? Get your hands off me!" Malfoy spat furiously. "Potter hit me first!"
"You can tell the Department of Public Security all about it," the old Auror said. "I'm sure they'll be very interested in chatting with you."
"Leave him alone!" Harry barked.
Everyone turned to look at Harry in surprise and Harry realized that he had surprised himself as well. But now that he had begun he ignored the amazed stares of his friends and appealed to the old Auror who was obviously in charge.
"Let Draco go. He hasn't done anything wrong. It was just a stupid row over Quidditch. We're both Seekers on our house teams and we were arguing about who was going to win the Quidditch Cup this year. We just got carried away. That's all."
The Auror looked at Malfoy, then back at Harry. He didn't seem convinced that the fight had been caused by a Quidditch dispute, but he obviously wasn't prepared to call Harry a liar, either. He looked at his colleague who was still holding Malfoy and nodded curtly. The man released Malfoy and the old Auror glared at both young men.
"Get back to your compartments. I don't want to see either of you again before we reach Hogsmeade. If I do, I'll haul you both in for questioning." He raised his voice to address the onlookers. "The rest of you get back to your compartments too. Move!"
Reluctantly, the other students returned to their seats. Malfoy cast a suspicious and puzzled frown at Harry then hurried away.
"Stay out of trouble, Potter," the old Auror said then headed back down the corridor with his colleagues. When the Aurors were out of sight, Ron spoke up.
"Are you mad? What were you thinking, sticking up for Malfoy like that?"
"It just seemed like the right thing to do."
Ron stared at Harry for a moment and then said seriously, "You are mad."
"It was the decent thing to do, Ron," Hermione said. "After all, Harry did start the fight." She threw a pointedly disapproving look at Harry.
Harry stepped past his friends and into their compartment before anyone else could comment on his row with Malfoy. The compartment was a wreck. Malfoy's spell which had missed Harry had blasted the luggage rack. Baggage and personal effects were strewn everywhere.
Crookshanks was curled up under a seat, looking extremely cross. His front paws were clamped firmly around Trevor, holding the toad in place and he growled deep in his throat at the sight of Harry.
"Great. Another critic." Harry sighed and bent to collect his mother's keepsakes which had spilled all over the floor while the others pitched in to help clean up as well.
Hermione repaired the rack with a flick of her wand then began gathering up her scattered school books. Neville, Ginny and Luna picked up the rest of the items while Ron shoved clothes into his trunk which had sprung open when it hit the floor.
Ron still seemed disgruntled over Harry having saved Malfoy from being carted off to the Ministry for questioning and muttered as they heaved the trunks back up onto the luggage rack. "Would have served him right."
"Well, I think you did the right thing, Harry" Ginny said.
"So do I," Luna agreed.
"Thanks." Harry smiled. He felt cheered, especially by Ginny's approval.
"Well I think you're all daft," Ron said. "There's a time to be noble and a time to shut it and let the Aurors do their job."
Hermione glared at Ron. "Since when is it an Auror's job to arrest students for fighting?"
"Since this stupid war started," Ginny answered with an equally grim look.
"My father says that personal liberty is the first casualty in any war," Luna said. "The Aurors have been given a free rein and he thinks the Department of Public Security is as dangerous in its own way as You-Know-Who."
"That's going a bit far," Ron scoffed. "The DPS don't torture and kill people."
"Not that we know of," Luna agreed placidly.
Everyone fell quiet at that statement. Hermione picked up Crookshanks and Trevor wasted no time in making a break for the door. Fortunately, Neville scooped him up and stuffed him into a pocket before he could get far.
"What was Malfoy on about anyway, Harry?" Neville asked, breaking the awkward silence as they sat down.
"Ragging us as usual," Ron commented in disgust as he slouched in his seat by the window directly across from Harry.
Hermione frowned thoughtfully. "But that doesn't make sense. None of us have killed anyone except for you, Harry, and that was self-defense. He acted as if –"
"Look, could we not talk about that?" Harry said.
"But Harry, the way you went after Malfoy –"
"Stop it!" Harry snapped angrily. "I'm not proud of what I did and I didn't need Malfoy goading me about it. That's all. So just drop it."
A strained silence filled the compartment, but Harry ignored it and turned away to look out the window. However, it had already grown dark outside and instead of the countryside passing by; Harry found himself staring at the reflections of his friends in the glass and couldn't miss the worried looks they exchanged.
"I reckon we'll be at Hogwarts soon," Neville said. "I'd better go find my trunk and change into my robes."
"Me too," Luna said. "I'll see you in class, Ginny."
As Neville and Luna left, Ron stood up and cuffed Harry lightly on the shoulder. "We'd better get changed too."
Grateful for something to do, Harry took his time to go through his trunk. After retrieving his robes, he made certain that his mum's box was securely nestled amongst the rest of his clothes. Then he pulled on robes and settled back into his seat.
The activity had dispelled the tension in the air and soon they were engaged in a lively conversation about the upcoming term and Gryffindor's Quidditch prospects in particular. Harry offered an occasional opinion, but for the most part was content to listen to his friends. He was still preoccupied by his run-in with Malfoy. He worried about what rumors the Slytherin might already be spreading about Snape. If it became common knowledge that Snape was suspected of killing Death Eaters, Harry's hopes of stopping him without involving the authorities might be seriously hampered.
For an instant, Harry wondered if Ron had been right and that he should have let the Aurors arrest Malfoy, but he rejected that notion at once. Dumbledore had told him to rely on his instincts and he hadn't trusted those Aurors at all. Malfoy was a git but he didn't deserve to become the victim of a paranoid justice system. Neither did Snape; and the thought of the man being arrested by those same Aurors or ones like them made Harry more anxious than ever. Luna's comments about the DPS hadn't helped either. Harry remembered Mr. Weasley saying that the Director of the DPS was trying to gain control of the Auror service and he wondered just how close Day was to succeeding.