Year 6 at Hogwarts
by Jessica X
~Chapter One: Post Peculiarity~
The waning summer sun shone brilliantly through the window onto the face of a young man. He beamed back up at it with equal enthusiasm. The round-framed glasses resting on the bridge of his nose caught the glare of the sun's rays, reflecting back in the window and into the other parts of the automobile he was seated in the rear of. As the car sped off toward its destination, he turned his attention from what lay outside the glass to what was reflecting in its surface.
He was pleased with the fact that his sixteen-year-old face had not grown yet paler in the past months. In fact, it held a slight hint of tan, one that would be hardly noticeable to any but those closest to him. His daily excersize routine that he had developed, hoping it would aide in passing the time, had developed his body. Where there had been merely a sickly, scrawny physique now lay muscle tone. All these factors contributed to a general appearance of good health.
But alas, he could never prevent the shadow of a frown that descended upon him the instant his eyes rested on his face's lone blemish, leering out at him from beneath his unkempt hair. The lightning bolt-shaped scar, a constant reminder of who he was, and why he had it. For you see, the boy approaching manhood in question was the furthest thing from an ordanairy child that you could hope for.
Harold James Potter, the discontented individual in the backseat, was nothing short of one of the greatest wizards of our time. His victory over the vile Lord Voldemort at the tender age of one has worked itself into the stuff of legends in the past fifteen years. As if that weren't enough to ensure his place in wizarding history, he has thwarted the Dark Lord's attempts to regain power at every turn since; that is, with the exception of his most recent. Ever since then, he has merely been able to escape with his own life, and aided at holding Voldemort's malevolence at bay.
These triumphs, however, are certainly nothing he likes to go on about. The price paid for fame in this case is higher than Harry would have been willing to pay. Nevertheless, it has been thrust upon him, and for the past five years since he became aware of the wizarding world, he has had no alternative but to make do with the hand he's been dealt.
A deep sigh issued from his throat. He wouldn't let it overshadow this day, the day he would again see his friends. The day he would return to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.
He had been hoping that over the summer he could visit with his friends; in fact, after the sendoff he had received last year, he had almost counted on it. But things had been so hectic at The Burrow, home to the Weasley family, that he hadn't even been invited. He understood the reasons why; ever since Lord Voldemort had returned to power, Mr. and Mrs. Weasley's duties in the Order of the Phoenix had undoubtedly increased exponentially. Ron and Ginny, the two Weasley children that still remained at home, were probably caught up in the whirlwind as well. But, of course, Ron had found time to send an owl now and then, though the letters were always unsatisfyingly short.
Then there were his other friends and acquaintences; Fred and George Weasley had sent him an owl lugging a sack of Galleons, informing him that it's his share of the profits in their joke shop and that business hasn't yet faltered. Of course, Harry wanted nor needed any money from them, but the twins seemed to predict this, and the letter stated adamantly multiple times that they wouldn't accept a single Knut back. Remus Lupin, his former Defense Against The Dark Arts professor and something of an uncle to him, had written him of events transpiring within the Order. Everything was quite vague, which was to be expected, considering the secrecy they had to operate under to ensure that information could not be leaked to You-Know-Who. As everyone else had done, Hagrid, the Hogwarts groundskeeper, had sent him a birthday present. His gift was a knife made of a hippogriff claw, which was something he would only expect from Hagrid. Surprisingly, he received a birthday card signed by several members of the Order, including Lupin, Nymphadora Tonks, Mad-Eye Moody, and strangely enough, Professor Snape. Undoubtedly he'd been pestered into signing by Lupin or someone else.
A dull ache resonated through him at the thought of the card from the Order. His godfather's name, the signature of Sirius Black, should have been on there. But he had spent weeks grieving. He was determined not to sink back into the depths of depression. Sirius would have wanted it that way.
His thoughts returned to the last bit of post he had received. Cho Chang, a girl he'd fancied very much during the past few years, had sent an owl bearing what was more along the lines of a note than a letter. It said merely:
Sorry about last year. Truly. See you in September.
He'd been tempted to toss it in the bin the instant he'd finished it. Things had grown so strange between them over the past year at school that he wasn't even sure if he cared to talk to her anymore. He realized it was merely due to a series of misunderstandings, but the fact remained that they hadn't said a single word to each other the last several times they saw each other. Hermione had tried to explain this all to him, but it still made no sense.
Of all the owls he'd received over the summer, none of them puzzled him more than what he received from Hermione Granger. For the better part of the summer, not a word had come to him from her. It was inconceivable; Hermione loved reading and writing more than anything else on the planet. Then, in the past week, she'd sent one on:
I know I haven't written a word to you all this break, and you have my sincerest apologizes. Hope you've been well! Did you have a chance to pick up your schoolthings? I've been away from home, summering in America - I've only just got back. It's really been quite the experience, and I can hardly wait to tell you all about it, but I'll save that for when we arrive at school, as I know how much you hate to read (only kidding; though you STILL need to read Hogwarts: A History!).
See you soon!
This letter, penned in her immaculate handwriting, seemed to fill in all the holes, and everything now made sense. That is, it did for a whole three days, until he received another hastily-scribbled post the previous evening.
If you can, please meet me at Platform Nine-And-Three-Quarters a bit early. There's something I wish to tell you that I've been putting off for ages, and I don't think I can bear the burden any longer. But it must be in private. An hour or so should do it, but don't feel bad if you can't turn up early.
It had addled him for hours, causing him to have a fitful sleep. He did, however, manage to awaken an hour earlier than he normally would. He had convinced his legal guardians to drop him off earlier as well, which was not an easy task, considering...
"For God's sake, STOP THAT, you wretched little cur!"
Harry's eyes darted upward. He'd been tapping the glass of his window absent-mindedly, which had, of course, upset Uncle Vernon.
"Sorry, I was only-"
"Only trying to drive me mad, were you?" he growled from under his bristling moustache, beady eyes glaring at him from the rearview mirror. "Kindly keep your fingers away from my windows, boy, or we'll dump you on the spot and you can leg it all the way to your ruddy train!"
Vernon Dursley, his gangly horse-faced wife Petunia, and their corpulent son Dudley had been nothing short of a nightmare to live with for the past fifteen years. Ever since he'd been deposited on their doorstep, he'd been viewed as a blight, an unwelcome pet they'd been forced to take care of for a vacationing friend. Though this past summer had been a dull one, it hadn't been as unbearable as summers past; the words Mr. Weasley and Mad-Eye Moody had left with the Dursleys (particularly Moody's words) seemed to have stayed with them, and they'd mostly ignored him since. Aunt Petunia was staring out the window listlessly, and Dudley was absorbed in his handheld video game. The only way he'd gotten them to agree to taking him early was the incentive that they'd be rid of him sooner.
"I want another game, Daddy."
"You can get one after we make our deposit, Diddums," Aunt Petunia cooed. Their "deposit" was undoubtedly dropping Harry off at the train depot.
Dudley's fat face pinkened. "Now! I've nearly finished this one, and it's boring!"
"We'll get you one later, son," Uncle Vernon said, firmly but with an undercurrent of pride. "We'll just get rid of him first, then we'll take you to the toy store to see about it."
Dudley grumbled for a moment, then settled back to his game.
Harry's thoughts returned to all the strange letters he'd received. He'd actually received one from Seamus Finnigan and his mother, apologizing for their behaviour the past year. Neville Longbottom had written him to ask if they'd be continuing the D.A. meetings, which they'd only started to learn proper Defense Against The Dark Arts in the absence of a proper teacher. He'd even received scattered post concerning the Daily Prophet's article on him, either commending him for his bravery against Voldemort, or assuring him that they'd always believed him, or both.
But above all, the abruptly frank note from Cho and the two conflicting letters from Hermione kept swimming to the forefront.
Before he knew it, he was arriving at King's Cross. Uncle Vernon grudgingly unloaded his trunk and the cage containing his owl, Hedwig, onto a trolley.
"Bye, then," Harry said. His uncle merely grunted and stomped back toward the car.
As Harry pushed his things toward the barrier between platforms nine and ten, he couldn't help but begin to feel apprehensive. Was Ron supposed to be there early as well? He checked his watch: 10:02. What did Hermione want to talk with him about that would take an hour? He hoped it wasn't something terribly upsetting, not the first day. He hated himself for feeling so selfish, but he couldn't help it. The last year had been such a ghastly ordeal that this year had to be a good one... it just had to.
Casting a wary glance around him, he strode quickly through the barrier and emerged on the magically-hidden Platform Nine-And-Three-Quarters. Before him gleamed the Hogwarts Express, brilliant red and highly-polished as ever it was. A handful of students were already littered about; most of them seemed to be either prefects or first years.
One of said prefects, a girl with bushy brown hair, came running up to him.
"Oh, Harry, you made it!"
"Hello, Hermione," he replied, grinning. "All right, then?"
"Yes, of course," she said breathlessly with a pleasant smile. "You?"
"As good as can be expected," he said, trying not to frown as much as he wanted to.
"Oh..." Evidently, he hadn't succeeded, and her mouth slanted slightly. "That's right, Ron told me you didn't get to visit The Burrow."
"Yeah. It's okay, I know they're busy and all that... it's just, I wish I could've at least stopped by for a weekend."
Hermione smiled. "I'm sure once you pass your Apparition tests you'll be popping in constantly."
"That's right," he said, cocking his head slightly. "I'd nearly forgotten we've only a year or so to go."
"C'mon, let's stow our things in the train!"
They picked an empty compartment in the very rear and put their trunks up top. Harry set his owl cage on the floor near the window, and Hermione set her new pet-carrier containing her cat, Crookshanks, next to it.
"Wow, Harry!" Hermione suddenly said, her eyes slightly wide. "You look... great!"
"Well, you look a shade darker, and... have you been working out?"
"Oh, yeah..." he grinned sheepishly. "I had to do SOMETHING to keep from going mad over the summer, and I figured it might as well be something healthy."
She squeezed his bicep somewhat cheekily. "So, heavy weights and all that lot?"
"Just exercise... bit of running, pushups, the like." His ears were a bit red now. "I biked to London."
Her eyes widened further. "All that way?!"
"Well, I couldn't see any other way of getting to Diagon Alley. By the time the owl with my list turned up, I was more than fit enough for the journey."
"I'm impressed, Harry. Good to see you haven't been squandering the summer, even IF you haven't been studying."
He coughed slightly. "Er, who says I haven't been studying?"
She smiled slyly. "Oh, come off it. For the many things Professor Potter is, 'workoholic' is not one of them."
"Well..." He let out a gust and sat down. Her ribbing him for his role of teaching D.A. classes kind of caught him off guard. "Okay, fine, but I have been studying! Just not loads and loads or anything."
His eyes moved from her stern-yet-amused expression to her tapping shoe. "I flipped through the new Charms book... and I worked out the first few inches of the Astronomy essay."
"HARRY!" Crookshanks meowed at her outburst, clawing at the cage bars.
"I know, I know." He shrugged while Hermione shook her head at him.
"There's really nothing for it, is there? You are hopeless, Harry Potter."
She stared him down for a few moments. It was obvious her goading was good-natured; she was smiling all the while. Harry cast around for a subject that didn't involve how dim he was.
"So, er... I made it early, as you asked. It was lucky my Aunt and Uncle were in a good mood."
"Oh, yeah..." Her face suddenly fell slightly, and her voice seemed to shrink. "I'd... sort of forgotten..."
Harry hesitated a moment. "Wh... What's up?"
She looked at him. It was a furtive, apprehensive look. She tried to smile, but it didn't quite agree with her actions.
"I... I almost didn't write that note at all... it... I was quite nervous..."
"I noticed you'd written it in an awful hurry." He placed a hand on her arm tentatively. "What's wrong?"
She quickly sat down across from him, pulling out of his grip. He blinked for several moments, his mind racing. He had an inkling what was coming next, but he couldn't be sure, and it was so outrageous... was she going to tell him that she...?
"H-Harry," she began in a voice that was shaking slightly. "I've been meaning to tell you something for the past few years. It's... it's something I think you deserve to know."
He began to lean in and put his hand on her thigh or arm or something, but she didn't seem to want to be touched, so he refrained.
"Oh, Harry... I'm sorry... I should've told you a long time ago."
"Told me what?" he said, curiosity seeping from every inch of his being.
It was perhaps the worst possible timing in the history of this or any other planet, but right then Neville Longbottom poked his round head into their compartment.
"Have either of you seen- oh, it's you! Hi Harry, Hermione!"
"Ehrm, hi, Neville!" Hermione shouted a bit loudly. Harry beamed, trying to cover up his disappointment with not being able to find out what was bothering Hermione. He stole a glance over, and she was feigning delight as well. Neither of them disliked the boy; on the contrary, he was one of their closest friends. But this had been a most inopportune moment! "Looking for Trevor, I suppose?"
"Yeah," he said, eyes moving over the room, searching for his pet toad. "I swear, one of these days I'm just gonna bin him and get an owl or something."
Harry shrugged. "Haven't seen him, mate, but good luck!"
"Thanks," he said absentmindedly, ducking back out of the compartment.
"Okay," Harry said, clearing his throat slightly, "now what were you saying?"
"I... oh nevermind."
"Look, I don't think this was a good idea," she suddenly blurted, "talking about it here, I mean. I'll... I'll tell you some other time." She sighed heavily, as if she wanted nothing more in the world but to tell him whatever she was hiding, and that putting it off was killing her inside.
Again, a head poked into their compartment, and Harry broke off as he looked around.
"Thought I recognized those profiles," Seamus Finnigan said, grinning. "All right, Harry? Hermione?"
"Yeah," Harry said. He had a feeling his grin was more of a grimace.
"Great!" Hermione said brightly. "How've you been?"
"Pretty good. Mum's been in a right state all summer. She keeps pouring over books on countercurses. Reckons You-Know-Who's gonna drop down the chimney and start blasting any day now."
Harry and Hermione laughed appreciatively.
"Quite the turn-around, eh?" Seamus grinned, then glanced over his shoulder. "Dean's saving me a seat, I'd better go claim it. Later!"
"Bye, then," they said in unison. The doors had barely shut when Hermione spoke.
"Harry, please, just drop it. I... I don't want to talk about it anymore."
"I don't even know what you don't want to talk about!" he replied indignantly. "You send on this cryptic little note that's got my curiosity all peaked, then you change your mind? That's not on, Hermy."
The instant the last two syllables had escaped his lips, he wished they hadn't. He hadn't meant to use the nickname Grawp had for her, which he knew she loathed (not to mention the fact that she was scared witless at the sight of Grawp); his tongue had just sort of slipped up. But that didn't explain why she looked so aghast. Her eyes had shot wide the instant he'd finished, and suddenly they darted toward the door and back to him.
"I- sorry, I didn't mean to call you that, really, I know you don't like it." He chanced a look at her, and she seemed to have relaxed a touch.
"Oh... no, it's okay, don't worry about it."
"Hermione-" he made extra care to pronounce it correctly this time "-what is the matter?! Please, I want to know... maybe I can help somehow."
She laughed, a hollow, mirthless laugh. "I don't really think you can."
"Then just tell me!"
She looked steadily at him, and her expression had never looked more sober. Her jaw was set, and there was a hint of a wrinkle in her forehead. Her breathing was quick and shallow.
"Harry," she said, and her voice, barely above a whisper, shook slightly. "You cannot breathe a word of this to anyone, you understand me? Not even Ron."
His eyebrows shot up into his hairline. "Not even Ron?"
"Swear to me, Harry," she said, a quiet desperation quivering in her words. "You have to swear it. Please."
Harry gaped at her. The fleeting, ridiculous notion that she might have fallen for him was obliterated by the strange way she was acting. It seemed more serious, and less pleasant.
"SWEAR!" she repeated, fidgeting absentmindedly with her skirt. "Not a single soul, including Ron!"
"Of- of course," he stammered. "But I don't-"
Again the door slid back, and almost as if on cue, Ron walked into the compartment, his owl Pigwidgeon's cage swinging from his hand, a large grin spreading across his freckles.
"Wotcher, you two!" he said, winking at them.
"Hello, Tonks," Hermione said with a wry grin. "Why on earth would you want to assume such an ugly shape?"
Ron's grin fell in indignation. "UGLY?!"
Harry and Hermione burst into fits of laughter, and after a moment Ron joined in as he set Pig's cage next to Hedwig's. Pig tittered excitedly, and Hedwig refused to acknowledge him.
"Back in half a mo, just got to grab my trunk," he said, hastening back out.
Harry glanced around, and saw that Hermione was still staring at the compartment doors with a grin hitched onto her face. He looked harder, and realized that her eyes were still filled with sadness.
"Not a word," she said in a strained sort of voice. She did not turn to look at him. "You swore."
'Not a word of WHAT?!' he thought heatedly. But Hermione was his friend, and he would, of course, honor his word to her.
The remainder of the trip to Hogsmeade Station was pleasant and uneventful; mostly due to the fact that Ron and Hermione had to go and sit with the other prefects in the first car, then trudge up and down the aisles keeping students in line. Neville, Ginny and Luna Lovegood eventually joined him as had been the case the year prior. As the train set off through the countryside, they discussed the events of the summer, reminisced on the events of last term (carefully avoiding tender subjects such as the Veil and Bellatrix Lestrange), and listened politely to Luna's passionate tale of her and her father's hunt for the Crumple-Horned Snorkack (fruitless, of course). Eventually, as the sun began to set, their two prefects rejoined them and their attention turned to Hermione's summer, spent largely in New York City. Ron and Ginny were doubled up at her explaination of how Muggle lifts work.
"And they fly up and down when you press the buttons?" Ron asked skeptically.
"Well, not so much FLY," she replied patiently. "They're pulled on ropes."
"And who pulls them?"
"Well, no one."
"NO ONE!" Ron shook his head, chuckling. "I swear, you ought to write a book on all the mental things Muggles think up. It'd be a riot, nobody would believe it!"
As they got off the platform ("Firs' years, over here!") and reached the procession of carriages, Harry, Neville and Luna gave the ghastly thestral hitched to their cart an appreciative pat, while Ron, Hermione and Ginny hung back warily.
"Those mad things really hitched up there, then?" Ron asked.
"Just because you can't see them doesn't mean they're going to pull us straight into the lake," Luna said casually.
As they rode up to the castle, Harry kept stealing brief glances at Hermione, who was talking animatedly to Ginny about the Statue of Liberty. It was as if he had shown up at Platform Nine-And-Three-Quarters on time, and he and her had never had any form of private conversation. Once, her eyes fell briefly on him as she was laughing; they lingered for a moment, then snapped back to Ginny. He would barely remember later what Neville was telling him about his mimbulus mimbeltonia, or Ron's umpteenth apology for not inviting him to summer at the Burrow. His mind was filled with one nagging question: what the bloody hell was going on with Hermione?
~ To Be Continued ~