Chapter 7 - Train Ride
As predicted by Ron, the ride back to Hogwarts was like a circus. In more ways than one.
The first thing everyone noticed was, well, Harry himself. 14-year-old Harry had effectively become—physically-17-year-old Harry, and this drew a lot of attention. And, well, Harry just looked good.
Harry had chosen a pair of dark wash jeans, a light t-shirt, and his new leather jacket. The leather was beautiful, a very dark brown that produced a high luster. It was supple, and very comfortable. It had been chosen by Mrs. Weasley, Hermione, and Ginny while Harry and Ron were getting their ice cream. Harry didn't think he himself could have justified the extravagance despite his small fortune, but the jacket did look really good. He had drawn the line at his shoes that morning. Hermione had argued with him endlessly, trying to convince him to wear one of his new pairs, but Harry wanted to wear his old Chucks. And so he did. They were a little incongruous with the rest of his outfit, but Harry didn't care. They were comfortable, and were at least one more thing that hadn't changed.
Getting himself and his friends onto the train became an ordeal when old friends from Hogwarts had swooped down on them.
"Harry! Wow mate, you must've grown a foot!" from the boys,
"Hiya Harry…it's good to see you again," from the girls.
At last, though, Ron, Harry, and Hermione were comfortably settled into their own compartment. Each released a sigh and settled down for the train journey to start.
Harry jumped when a bird suddenly flew into the window. He stared at the glass. It was Hermione who finally leaned forward and pulled the window open.
"Honestly," she said, "It's like you've never seen owl post before!" That snapped Harry out of it, and he watched as a small spotted owl flew into the compartment. The bird dropped a letter into his lap, and settled onto the luggage rack above their heads to take a rest. Ron and Hermione eyed the letter curiously.
When Harry had first seen his name scrawled on the front, his heart had jumped to think that maybe, just maybe, Fleur had written to him. He now recognized Sirius' handwriting, however, and felt ashamed by the pang of disappointment he was now feeling. Feeling the curious stares of his friends, he looked up apologetically. "It's from Sirius." He informed them.
"Well, what's he say?" Asked Ron impatiently. Hermione smacked his arm in irritation. Harry felt his mouth quirk up into an unbidden smile before he tore the note open. He quickly scanned the contents before reading them aloud:
The pain you felt in your scar added to the events at the World Cup cannot be coincidence. I do not know what they mean yet, but it is clear that you are in danger. Hardly an unfamiliar condition, I know, but please be on your guard. I am coming back, though it may be some time before you see me. Stick close to your friends in the meantime.
Your Bond with this Veela girl worries me too, but it is not my immediate concern. From what I know of Veela bonds, they are supposed to make partners stronger. In your current situation, any added strength is a bonus. The situation may not be ideal, but I say never look a gift horse in the mouth. And who knows? Maybe you will grow to like this Veela girl, and the personal side of things won't be so bad.
We'll talk more once I'm there. Stay safe.
It was probably one of the longest letters Sirius had ever written him, and Harry savored every word. Up until it hit him exactly what it meant that he was coming back. Hermione beat him to the punch.
"No! He can't come back—the Ministry is still looking for him!" Her eyes were wide with concern, and she was staring at Harry like she expected him to do something.
Harry frowned, "I can't stop him, if that's what you mean. I don't even know where he is!" Hermione opened her mouth to argue, but Ron grabbed her arm. His face paled.
"Harry," said Ron, his voice had a sickly quality to it. "How did Sirius know about Fleur?" Silence met his question as both Harry and Hermione found themselves at a loss for words.
The compartment door suddenly slid open.
"Well look here boys, we've found Potter and his little sidekicks." The mocking voice of Draco Malfoy sent an instant shard of anger through Harry. Harry stared up at Draco's pale, sneering face with undisguised hatred. "Should we be worried," Malfoy drawled, leaning against the door frame, "about your "evil seductress"? I wouldn't want to be a "hapless victim"." Harry's look of rage became tinged with confusion. This seemed to be what Malfoy was looking for, because he pulled out a paper with a flourish.
"Here you are Potter," Malfoy was smiling in the way only true snakes smiled, "enjoy the read. I sure did." The copy of the Daily Prophet landed in Harry's lap. Harry looked down and stared at the front page headline: BOY-WHO-LIVED SEDUCED BY FRENCH VEELA.
Harry's mouth fell open. He tried to read the article, but the words were blurring as his mind raced. How had this happened? How had the Prophet found out? And why, WHY, was it so DAMNED important that everyone in the world know about his life? His breathing picked up. Harry was so tired. Tired of everyone making a big deal out of everything he did, or said, or thought. He was tired of the looks he got from people, the way everyone always looked right at the scar on his forehead instead of seeing him, an actual person.
Malfoy was still talking, but Harry didn't care. At least, not until he heard Fleur's name. His green eyes came up, rage-filled. Malfoy kept talking, not noticing the murderous look on Harry's face.
"Not sure why any girl would choose you, but then, maybe she's not right in the head." Malfoy's sneer widened as he relished in his own voice. "As the daughter of the French Minister, no doubt she'll be turning up at Hogwarts soon. Perhaps we Slytherins could show her that there are…better men…to choose from. We'll be sure to show her a good time for you, Potter." It was then Draco's eyes fell to Harry's, and for the first time saw the look on his face. Malfoy paled.
Harry flew up out of his seat and fisted his hands in Malfoy's robes, shoving him bodily out of the compartment and into the corridor wall. Harry brought his face down close to Malfoy's, and it seemed as if only now was the Slytherin boy realizing that Harry had had a growth spurt.
Harry's voice came low, his eyes flashing dangerously, "If you so much as look at Fleur, I will make you wish you'd never been born." Harry balled a fist and slammed it into Malfoy's gut, smiling in satisfaction when the other boy doubled over, gasping for breath. "Where are your smarmy words now?" Harry brought his knee up into Malfoy's face, and found himself immensely pleased by the spurt of blood he saw. There were just some things magic couldn't replace.
Perhaps having this big new body wasn't such a bad thing. Harry glared at Malfoy's henchmen, and the two boys immediately backed off. Harry shoved Malfoy down the corridor, enjoying the stumbling of the blond monster. Giving Malfoy something more than gossip to think about was refreshing.
Harry stilled, and looked around. Several heads were poked out of compartments, staring at him and the retreating Malfoy. Ron's head was among them.
"Excellent! Maybe they'll leave us alone this year, eh?" The optimistic look on Ron's face was so surprising that Harry had to laugh. Ron frowned, "Nah, they'll always be gits won't they?" Harry laughed again, and slipped back into their compartment. The laughter died when he caught the look Hermione was giving him.
"You're awfully protective of a girl you just met…" Hermione stated, her voice and face serious. Harry raised an eyebrow.
"Or maybe I just liked having a reason to punch Malfoy." Harry smirked, and Hermione sat back, miffed. Harry softened. "Hermione, I just don't want them to give her a hard time. She's not a bad person." He paused, and glanced out the window. "And maybe I am a little angry about all this attention. I get tired of it, you know?"
Harry picked up the Daily Prophet and stared at it. "How on earth did they even find out? I only told you guys, and…" Harry looked up even as Ron spoke.
"Yeah. Us, and my mother." The look of guilt on Ron's face and righteous justification on Hermione's was enough to tell Harry that something had happened.
Harry's eyes narrowed. "What happened?" His friends sat back a little at the sound of his voice; Hermione spoke first.
"She was just trying to help Harry, I mean, it is a difficult situation you've found yourself in." Harry stared piercingly at her, and she swallowed.
"What did she do Hermione?" Harry's voice came out harsher than he'd intended, but it got the point across. Hermione leaned a little away from him, not meeting his eye. Ron, for his part, just sat silently. Waiting.
"Em," Hermione whispered nervously, "She may have sent a letter to the Ministry."
Harry closed his eyes and leaned back in his seat, utterly silent. His hands curled around the seat cushion under him, fingers tightening until his skin was stretched tight across his knuckles. His eyes snapped open and landed on Ron who actually jumped a little. Ron had mentioned the night before that his mother had sent a letter to someone about what had happened, but he had been so tired he must have missed exactly who she had sent the letter to.
"Ron." His best friend eyed him nervously. "Why did your mother send a letter to the Ministry without asking me?" Harry thought his tone was quite polite, but Ron paled. In actuality, Harry's voice was very scary. Its lower pitch gave it a darker feel, which got even worse when Harry looked all still and quiet.
Ron finally answered.
"I dunno mate. She just…does things sometimes that she thinks are for the best! I know she didn't mean any harm by it…" Ron trailed off, wincing slightly as if expecting Harry to explode all over him like he had done to Malfoy before. Harry took a deep breath and closed his eyes again.
What Mrs. Weasley had done, however well intentioned, had just left Harry in a very awkward—and potentially painful—position. In addition to what it would inevitably do to Fleur's reputation in France. Harry had wanted to keep the whole thing under wraps for as long as possible, at least until he had talked to Fleur again. He was angry with Mrs. Weasley for going behind his back. But he certainly couldn't throw her against a wall. Opening his eyes, Harry pulled out a piece of parchment, and wrote her a letter:
Dear Mrs. Weasley,
I appreciate everything you have done for me over the years. Taking me into your home, and into your family. I have always counted myself very lucky to have become friends with Ron, and to have met you when I did. Without you and your family, I am sure my time at Hogwarts would not have been as enjoyable.
However. As much as I appreciate your good intentions toward me and all of the help you have rendered thus far, I would rather that you did not contact the Ministry on my behalf again. I want to keep my private life private, and it is for me to decide who gets to know what and when. I told you in confidence what happened to me at the World Cup because I trusted you, and I feel that you have now betrayed that trust by telling the Ministry. Once again I am plastered all over the front page of the Daily Prophet, and I don't think I need to tell you how uncomfortable that is.
You do not have the authority or the right to make decisions like this for me. That being said, I want you to know that I still do care deeply for you and your family. Please in future respect me enough to make my own decisions.
It took Harry the rest of the train ride to finish his letter. He wanted it to be polite, but firm. Then he tied it to the leg of the spotted owl Sirius had sent to him, and sent him on his way to Mrs. Weasley. Both Ron and Hermione were trying to look small in the seat across from him. Harry didn't bother trying to make them feel more comfortable. He pulled on his Hogwarts robe over his clothes, and got ready for his homecoming. At the very least, he thought, the feast would be good. And he might actually make the sorting this year. Feeling slightly cheered, Harry spent the rest of the trip looking out the window, lost in thought.
Remembering Sirius' letter, he was comforted by his godfather's practical view of his situation with Fleur. No doubt Sirius had learned of the situation from the Prophet. If Sirius wasn't worried, then Harry wouldn't worry too much either. He would write to Fleur tomorrow, he decided. It was about time he sent her a letter. Frowning, he remembered what Malfoy had said about seeing her soon. Fleur had said something about that when he had seen her before as well. He hoped the feast tonight would answer the question of why they were expecting students from other schools.