Return to Hogwarts
"Amaralda Dickinson," Mr. Weasley was scratching his chin back in the hotel room, "No, I can't really have a clue what that look might have meant, Harry. From what I've heard she never really even knew your parents well."
"Well that look was there, Mr. Weasley, and it was directed at me," Harry restated, "What else do you know about her?"
"Apart from the fact she's the single wealthiest witch in all Britain, and perhaps the biggest donator to the Ministry, and that her family's been making cauldrons for close to twelve centuries?" Mr. Weasley shrugged, "She's a very private witch, Harry, never talks to the press, works from noon to midnight, always has the best cauldrons shipped the fastest. Remember, she was just coming out of an intensive meeting, as you described it to me, she may have just wanted to vent, and you were the first person she saw."
"Possible," Harry didn't believe it though. His mind turned to Emma. "Poor girl, stuck alone all day during holiday with no one around."
"Just what she deserves for choosing Slytherin if you ask me, Harry," Ron snorted from the big armchair near the fireplace, where he was showing Derek several of his Hogwarts books. There came a tapping sound at the window. A large great gray owl was perched on the sill. "Well, what have we here?" Mr. Weasley opened the window. and took the parchment in its talons, "Ah, it's for you, Harry. From Dumbledore."
"What about it?" Harry took it and unrolled it. He read it out loud for Ron and Hermione's benefit:
When the Hogwarts Express arrives tomorrow, there will be a special carriage for you and Ron's cousin at the station-look for the red roof. It will take you to Hagrid's hut. He'll let you go to Number Twelve to make further arrangements for the young man's safety while he is at Hogwarts. Not a word of this to anyone, please. I must let off here, for I have business at the Ministry to attend to, so all I have to say is to welcome your friend to Hogwarts and express hope that he enjoys his stay.
"It looks like this is more serious than we thought," Hermione said softly once she'd finished reading. She glanced at a completed befuddled Derek. "Those Death Eaters must have had something really bad in mind if Dumbledore's willing to give this much protection for you-invoking the Order directly."
"But I didn't do anything to them, whoever they are!" the boy protested.
"But there's got to be something you don't know about," she scanned him over like an X-ray machine, "Something we've got to find out soon."
"Regardless, I think it's time for bed, all of you," Mrs. Weasley stuck her head out from her bedroom door, "You need to be ready to leave at promptly ten in the morning."
"But wait, you said this Hogwarts Express leaves from London?" Derek inquired, "We'll never get there in time from here."
"Oh don't you worry, dear, we'll get you to King's Cross in time," she reassured him with a warm smile. Seeing that he was plopping down on the floor by the couch, she said kindly, "Oh you don't need to sleep there, Derek dear, there's another bed for you in Harry's room."
"You sure I won't be...?"
"Derek, you don't have to apologize over everything," Harry told him, "It's perfectly fine by me."
Derek smiled fully for the first time that night and followed Harry into the bedroom, magically enlarged to comfortably fit two king sized beds. Derek eagerly jumped onto the one closest to the door. "Oh, so big, so soft!" he mumbled excitedly, rolling about, "It's been too long since I've had a decent bed at night."
"I had a feeling it was that way," Harry unlocked his pet's cage, "I'd like you to meet Hedwig, she makes a great pet; Hedwig, say hello to Derek Robert Whitesell."
Derek extended an arm and rubbed Hedwig's feathers. "I think she likes me," laughed as Hedwig rubbed her head softly against his arm. She turned towards Harry and hooted loudly. "Right, of course," Harry cracked open the window and let her fly outside for a night of hunting. "Don't mind the cold too much," he told Derek as they slipped under the covers, "I think Ron's mother put extra blankets on the bed for us. Hedwig'll be in before dawn, so if you're up then shut it for us." He leaned over on his side. 'So, how does it feel to be going to the best school for witchcraft and wizardry in the whole country, Mr. Whitesell?" he asked his friend.
"I'm still not entirely sure I'm living in reality at the moment, Harry," Derek confessed, "One moment I'm alone and starving in the alley back in Little Whingling, and the next thing I know I'm lying here in a big warm bed with a full course meal in my stomach and surrounded by people who seem to care for me. Part of me doesn't want to go to sleep; that when I wake up, I'll be back in the alley and just be another dirty homeless orphan."
"Oh it's not a dream, Derek, it's very real indeed," Harry smiled at him; he felt even more now like he was talking with his younger, innocent self of a few years ago. "Did you ever dream at night that something better would come along, that there's this wonderful place out there where you'll be accepted and never be without a good meal?" Seeing Derek nod emphatically to this, he said, "Hogwarts is that place; it's really my home now, my real home. Maybe it can be your home too, when you get there-for a little while, anyway."
"A home would be wonderful," Derek sank deeper into the covers, smiling himself, "A home with a loving family. So I know, could you create one with the magic you know?" he asked Harry, sighing when he shook his head. "Well, just got to keep looking," he said softly. There was a brief pause. Then he added: "You know Harry, if I'd known you'd be there to pick me up out of that alley tonight even though we hadn't seen each other for so long, I...I'd thought you'd forgotten about me, like everyone else seems to have."
"I never forget friends, Derek," Harry assured him, "Even after I met Ron and Hermione, you were always on my mind. I do appreciate that you tried to be friendly with me when Dudley's back was turned when no one else would. If there was one person I'd want to share the wizarding world with, it would be you. I hope that puts you at ease a little, doesn't it?"
The response to this was a loud snore. Harry chuckled softly and put his glasses on the nightstand. "Sleep well, Derek," he whispered, blowing out the nightstand's candle and pulling covers over his head, eager for a good night sleep of his own.
Only it didn't quite work out that way. For he immediately found himself inside a dark cave of some kind, pointing his wand at two familiar figures on the floor. "Crucio!" he bellowed, making them wince in extreme pain. "My Lord, please, it was not our fault!" cried the taller one.
"I accept no failures for anything, Gavertson!" Harry hissed cruelly, firing another blast of the Cruciatus Curse at the two of them. The men screamed in utmost agony. "But Harry Potter, he snatched the child away!" the shorter one protested, "It was merely an unlucky accident, My Lord, if you give us another chance...!"
"Another chance!? You dare to ask me for another chance!?"
"We can kill Potter for you too, my Lord, it would be our great honor," the taller man said very quickly.
"Very well," Harry grumbled, "The two of you get a second chance on the child and Potter. But know that if you fail this time, the penalty shall be harsher than you can both imagine. Now leave my sight, both of you!"
He fired curses from his wand that sent the two of them scattering out of the cavern. Many hundreds of kilometers away, Harry woke up with a start, clutching his scar. He glanced over at Derek, still blissfully sleeping, unaware of exactly how badly Voldemort wanted him. Harry hoped that whatever security the Order could arrange would be enough-he couldn't bear to lose a friend again so quickly.
He was awakened the next morning by someone poking his shoulder. "Not yet!" he mumbled softly.
"Come on Harry, time to wake up!" Fred called excitedly in his ear, "And I've got a treat for you. Read this."
He extended the newspaper in his hand forward. Harry was surprised at the image on the front cover: Uncle Vernon and a still comatose-looking Aunt Petunia being loaded into the back of a padded wagon in straitjackets. COUPLE COMMITTED FOLLOWING LITTLE WHINGLING FRACAS stated the headline. Harry eagerly read on:
A Little Whingling couple were sent to Our Lady of the Useless Miracle Psychiatric Hospital in Suffolk following an altercation at their residence last night. Authorities received a call around six claiming that shots were being fired at the residence of Vernon Q. Dursley, 4 Privet Drive. Police upon arriving found Mr. Dursley with his head somehow stuck in the living room ceiling, ranting about a "giant beast of a man" who'd broken in and attacked him and his family. No signs of a break-in were visible, however, and the neighbours testified they'd seen no one around the house all day. Mrs. Arabella Figg, 11 Privet Drive, says she was out walking and heard Mr. Dursley go into a wild shouting spree for no particular reason whatsoever. A search of the house revealed caches of both large and small firearms in the attic that M:I-5 contacts tell this paper have been reported missing for some time now. Interrogated as to why he had an illegal stash of weapons on his premises, Mr. Dursley growled that he had to be ready in case "their lot," came, and refused to elaborate on who "they" might be.
An attempt was made to get information out of Mrs. Dursley afterwards, but she had apparently experienced a total nervous breakdown from the evening's events and could only muster the words, "Nephew...their lot...giants...sister..." Neighbours told the authorities that the Dursleys had told them their nephew, Harold James Potter, went to St. Brutus's, but records show no one with their nephew's name was ever enrolled there, and the school could provide no help as to what the rest of her ramblings could possibly mean. Authorities now suspect the nephew could have been a victim of foul play.
"It was getting almost surreal by that point in the investigation," Chief Constable I. L. Ketcham told this paper, "These people seemed increasingly unstable, bordering on outright insane, and I was wondering about the safety of my men in there, not to mention the safety of their son. So I called Our Lady and told them to send a unit down, that I was dealing with a pair of looneys."
Mr. Dursley, upon learning he was to be institutionalized, assaulted the psychiatric staff and had to be straitjacketed and tranquilized. Although not imminently deemed a threat, the procedure was repeated on Mrs. Dursley. The two of them were then taken to Our Lady in Suffolk for what the asylum has informed this paper will be a weeklong evaluation of both Dursleys' mental health. When contacted concerning Mr. Dursley's condition, Mr. Giles Fireham, president of Grunnings Drill Corporation, at which Mr. Dursley works, told this paper that he had to put Mr. Dursley on leave lately for questionable behaviour.
"It's not like Vernon," he said over the phone, "He's always been a model worker up to now. My guess is he's been under too much stress lately and just snapped. I hope the asylum can fix him in the end."
Regardless of whether they can or not, Mr. Dursley will be facing changes of unlawful possession of deadly weapons and assaulting officers of the law once the evaluation of his sanity is complete. His wife may also face complicity charges in this matter. Their son was taken by Child Services to a foster residence not far off, and will remain there pending the results of the tests on his parents. Police, meanwhile, will be searching 4 Privet Drive from top to bottom for any clues as to what set the Dursleys' tirade off, and to see if their nephew has in fact been murdered by them...
Harry couldn't believe it: the Dursleys' perfectly ordered existence was now wrecked beyond any capability of their to fix it. Part of him wished he could have been there to see them carted off, to see the expressions on their faces and knowing that Dudley would at least for a moment end up in a normal lifestyle for which he was ill-equipped. It was like a belated birthday present. "But, won't the Ministry just erase all this from everyone's minds?" he realized with an abrupt heart sag.
"Oh, they don't move in right away if other Muggles think the person's insane," Fred grinned, "I'd say they'll let your uncle sweat it outa little bit longer before they wipe his mind good."
"Last call if you want breakfast," Mrs. Weasley's firm voice echoed into the bedroom. Harry dressed as quickly as he could and sauntered into the living room. "What've you got, Mrs. Weasley?" he asked her.
"The finest waffles the hotel could cook up," she set a plate before him on the table that easily contained two helpings of the waffles, "I always make sure my guests have the best meals."
There came a loud zap to Harry's left, followed by a small blast of weak purple sparks. "No, no, you'll have to put more emphasis into it!" Hermione, frustration all over her face, was telling Derek, who was holding what Harry recognized as Ron's old wand that had been broken in his second year. "You're going to have to show some semblance of proficiency at this if we're going to pull this off!" she said firmly.
"Give him a break, Hermione," Ron snorted, "Not everyone who picks up a wand becomes an instant expert. We're giving him that old piece of trash to use, Harry," he explained upon noticing him, "It'll help the cover that he's new to the Wizarding world and couldn't afford anything better."
"But as I've said before, it does have to look natural, and clearly we've got a long way to go there," Hermione took hold of Derek's arm and held it out straight. "Now see that candelabra over there? See if you can at least try to change its color. Concentrate, imagine it, and say the words with feeling."
Derek squinted his eyes shut. "Um...presto chango!" he called out, prompting only a weak pop of yellow sparks from the wand. Hermione groaned in frustration. "That's not the spell, I told you spells don't work that way!" she said, barely able to contain her disappointment, "You've going to have to give all the books I've got on basic spells a look-over when we're on the Hogwarts Express."
"But then he'll be reading till he's eighty," Ron quipped, "You wouldn't want to take away any fun he might have in life like that, would you Hermione?"
She glared at him. The door to the hotel room swung open. "Look sharp, Weasleys," Mr. Weasley was pushing several luggage racks, "Time to move on out and go back to school."
"Drat," Harry heard George mutter from the den, "I was really hoping they'd forget!"
In no time everyone's luggage was loaded onto the racks. Quick goodbyes were said to the Grangers, who would be staying in the hotel while the Weasleys took everyone to King's Cross, and soon the large group was in the lift heading down the basement. The doors opened into a small clearing along the road behind the hotel. "You never did tell me how we'd get to London in time, sir," Derek pointed out to Mr. Weasley as the latter approached the road.
"Please, call me Arthur," he said, smiling nonetheless, "Sir just sounds too formal, Derek my lad. And we will be going to London, to answer your question, in style."
He extended his wand hand into the road. Seconds later came the pop of the shockingly purple Knight's Bus appearing out of thin air, making Derek gasp in surprise. "All aboard," the familiar face of Stan Shunpike appeared in the doorway, "King's Cross I presume?"
With several waves of his and the Weasleys' wands, the luggage was levitated on board. Harry led everyone up the steps, waving hello to wizened old Ernie Prang at the wheel. He took note that the first level was today decorated for Christmas; a very large tree, almost up to the twelve foot ceiling-stood on the port side of the passenger area, and a roaring fireplace surrounded by presents was on the starboard side. Several huge armchairs were scattered in between. "There can't be enough room for all this!" were Derek's first words to this strange new development, but there was a look of rapt wonder in his eyes, as if now that his fear of the unknown had passed, he was ready to take whatever wonder came next.
"'Nuff room ter satisfy all our passengers' needs," Stan stared him over, "Truthly, haffink ever seen you on this bus before, Mr...?"
"He's my cousin," Ron blurted out almost automatically.
"Cousin?" the even more familiar face of Neville Longbotton appeared from the depths of one of the armchairs, "You never said anything about a cousin, Ron."
"Oh hello Neville," Harry greeted him, thinking hard over what information was right to reveal to the usually trustworthy Neville, "Derek, this is Neville Longbottom, he's in Gryffindor with us; Neville, Derek Whitesell."
"Pleasure to meet you, Derek," Neville gave his hand perhaps too vigorous a pumping, "You're first time at Hogwarts?"
"Yes, indeed," the homeless boy told him, "I was told that it's a nice place. Is it?"
"Pretty much, yes," Neville nodded, "Especially Herbology; I can give you some tips on Herbology if you need them."
"He'd greatly appreciate that, Neville," Harry nodded, "He's, um, had a little trouble with it in preliminary..."
"All seated!" came Stan's magically amplified voice from all over the bus, "Next stop, King's Cross Station, the heart 'o London. Hit 'er, Ernie."
Derek tumbled into an armrest as the bus took off at well over a hundred kilometers an hour. "How's it doing that!?" he cried, jumping as he watched several overpasses slide out of their way on the road ahead.
"'Ts not how it does it 'ts important," Stan came in again and leaned close to him, "All't matters's you'll be at King's Cross in less'n 'alf an hour. Refreshments're on the fourth level."
"Um, no thanks, I'm kind of not hungry right about now," the homeless boy seized both armrests as several factories now jumped out of their way.
"Nothing's going to happen," Neville patted his hand, "We're well in control here. So, where were your parents from again?"
"Mercia," Hermione interceded before Derek could say anything, "Half-bloods, Ron's told me."
Ron nodded feverishly. If Neville suspected anything, he didn't say it. "Your parents come to see you off?" he asked Derek.
"They died a long time ago," Derek admitted sadly, "You should be lucky you have yours, a good...are you all right there?"
Tears were flowing in Neville's eyes from the mention of his parents. "It's OK, Neville," Harry moved quickly to diffuse the situation, "He didn't mean any harm..."
"I know, Harry, I know," Neville settled down into his seat and glanced drearily at the window. "Well, while we've got time then, Derek," Hermione came over to his seat with close to fifty books of all shapes and sizes in hand, "Let's go over the basics, one at a time."
"Nice knowing you, Derek," Ron sniggered, trying to open one of the presents before the fireplace. "Bloody Unwrapable Hex!" he grumbled to himself, unable to tear even the smallest hole in it, "I always wished they'd take these off these presents before Christmas comes!"
Harry chuckled to himself. The rest of the trip on the Knight's Bus went relatively smoothly-if one were to discount Stan forcing the twins out of the third level for trying to give their creations to sleeping old women. Between he, Ron, Hermione, and Neville, Derek was very soon indoctrinated into the ways of life at Hogwarts and the classes therein-Neville gave Derek so much Herbology information that he had to ask him to write some of it down for them. Several other familiar faces popped into their level over the course of the trip, first among them Oliver Wood to tell Harry he'd come up with the secret play to end all secret plays during the break (the twins sighed and rolled their eyes). Seamus Finnigan and Dean Thomas, whom been on the second floor together for the last three hours, also stopped by to say hello. And about thirty kilometers from Birmingham, Emma Dickinson the Slytherin came down the marble stairs to ask Stan for a hot chocolate and crackers. She shot a brief glance in Harry's direction-one he interpreted as saying she'd like to have another word with him under better circumstances-before slipping quietly back upstairs. "Don't even think about it, Harry," Ron had seen the look as well.
"She's a Slytherin, Harry, you know they're all crooked," Ron said matter-of-factually, "It would just be another one of dear Draco's wonderful schemes to get you expelled."
"And if you're..." Harry was drowned out by the squeal of brakes. They were now right in front of King's Cross. "Four minutes to go," Mrs. Weasley observed as they hopped down to the sidewalk, "Better put some leg power into it, Weasleys."
With all of them straining hard with their loads, they still had two and a half minutes to go at Platform Nine and Three Quarters. "Are you sure this is going to work!?" Derek had to ask, watching Fred and George run towards the barrier and disappear.
"You just believe and it'll go just fine," she told him, "Harry?"
"Lend me your hand, Derek," Harry took hold of it and, with a deep breath-there was no knowing whether the barrier would noticed Derek was a Muggle and leave him on the other side-ran forwards as fast as he could. There was low whooshing sound as they came through to the other side, and he was delighted his friend was still with them. Derek stared in wonder at the giant red Hogwarts Express belching smoke before them. "Isn't she a beauty?" Harry confided in him, "The first time I laid eyes on her, I..."
"Come on Harry, last call!" Hermione was already on board and waving them towards the compartment she and Ron were in. Harry and Derek leaped inside just before the conductor slammed the door shut. "And this thing does have a perfect safety record?" Derek had to ask again, largely drowned out by the Express's whistle signaling the return to the school.
"As long as no Dementors come in, everything's tip top shape with this one," Ron reassured him, "You're on your way to the greatest place in the world, Derek, and nothing's going to screw it up."
He may not have spoken those words, however, if he hadn't noticed the pair of figures in black cloaks slipping through the barricade just before the train left, then going around to the other end of the platform so they could slide unnoticed underneath the train and take hold of the undercarriage, to wait for the opportune moment to strike...