A/N: So, here stands the new, revised version of Destiny's Path. It's only taken me several years to do this, so let's all be proud. :-) Getting this piece up to the standard I'd like it to be at will require extensive editing, a decent amount of re-writing, and a lot of time. It will be a chapter-by-chapter process, but I'll press on through, and by the end of summer 2006, this undertaking will be finished. The old version had a lot of errors, and considering I wrote it when I was 13, I can understand why. Now, at age 17, this is my attempt to correct said errors, and for anyone who tried and failed to read this story before, I hope you'll give it another shot. Thanks.
"I'm standing here alone
The memories remain
The same familiar home
But nothing looks the same."
Rain pounded the glass of the windows of the Hogwarts Express with enough force to make them rattle as the train pulled along, slower than usual due to the darkness and harsh conditions. The darkness of the night outside was no more normal than the train's speed. It was a deeper, harsher blackness that seemed to envelop you in a never-ending night as soon as you entered it. The deep gray clouds shielded the moon and stars, leaving a darkness that was penetrated only minimally by the light pouring from the train windows. The weather outside fit the students' moods perfectly. Normally, on the ride to Hogwarts the students were raucous and excited, happy and loud. People ran to and from cars, stuffing themselves with junk food, playing pranks, and yelling. No matter what the teachers did, the mood was never dampened.
Not tonight, though. Tonight, the students sat in their own cars, not frequently crossing the threshold into others. The only sound came from the movement of the train, the quiet talking of the students, and the rain. Even under normal circumstances, there would have been a definite decline in the pranks pulled due to the absence of the Weasley twins, both of whom had graduated from Hogwarts last year. Had they been there, they would have been grandly disappointed at the fact that no one even thought of playing pranks that night. Happiness seemed to be long abandoned and the feeling hovering in the air was a melancholy one.
In one car, near the back of the train, three students were seated. One was a fifteen-year-old girl who sat curled up on a seat of her own, a schoolbook propped open in front of her as she munched on a Cauldron Cake. Two others, boys of the same age, sat across from her. One of the boys was polishing a broomstick while the other stared out the train window into the dark black beyond. Though all of them kept up their facades of normalcy, it was apparent that their hearts were not in it.
Harry Potter sat down his Firebolt on the floor and its movement blended with the train's, vibrating in an unsteady manner. He tucked away the polishing kit and looked up. Neither of his friends had moved. Hermione Granger was still staring determinedly at her book, which would normally have been quite an average sight. However, Harry had been watching her, and the normally fast reader had been staring blankly at the same page for fifteen minutes, her eyes unmoving. He looked over at Ron Weasley. Ron noticed his friend's gaze and met Harry's eyes. He was expressionless and when he spoke, breaking the silence for the first time in over an hour, his voice was just as toneless as his face had been. "Time to change into our school robes, I reckon. We should almost be there by now."
No one moved, though Hermione did look up, apparently confused. Harry and Ron had no doubt she'd been lost in her thoughts until Ron had spoken.
Harry scowled. "This is rather ridiculous, guys. We haven't seen or spoken to each other for an entire summer, and now I'm wondering if we're going to talk at all during the school year, either."
Hermione looked a bit shocked. "But, Harry, you can't tell us you aren't scared. You, of all people . . ."
"I'm not happy," Harry said in a distant voice. "But I'm not terrified, either. The fact is, this is what he wants: terror, mayhem, disruption. We're giving it to him. If we can't fight him mentally, we certainly can't do it physically."
Ron remained quiet and looked back out the window. Hermione and Harry exchanged knowing glances of sympathy for their friend.
Voldemort was back. He'd returned to full strength the year before, at the final event of the Triwizard Tournament. Harry had witnessed it. It was not until recently that Voldemort had acted, though, but he hit hard when he finally did. One week before, there had been a Ministry conference in eastern England, the point of which was to discuss the impending threat of Voldemort's return. Death Eaters had swarmed the conference about halfway through. The final death toll was thirty-two—men and women from all different departments of the Ministry. Cornelius Fudge had been present, but had amazingly managed to escape the destruction and horror, along with twenty-seven others. Ron's brother Percy had attended the conference, and had not been so lucky.
Throughout his years at Hogwarts, Ron had always made sure all of Gryffindor knew he hated his brother. He'd frequently described his older sibling as annoying, egotistical, power-hungry, arrogant, and a disciplinarian. He'd always supported--even helped--Fred and George when they bewitched his Prefect and Head Boy badges, or when they played pranks on him. He never missed a chance to put Percy down, but in spite of that, he had always loved his brother. Losing Percy had torn him apart inside, and had done the same to his entire family. Ron wasn't letting his pain show to his friends—or so he thought. Despite his illusion of normalcy, his grief showed in his distant stares, his silence, and his refusal to eat anything. So far, Harry and Hermione had been careful not to say anything to him.
The whole of Hogwarts was frightened by this recent act of terror. Many that now attended Hogwarts had not been alive during Voldemort's first reign, and none, had they even been born, were old enough to remember. This was all new and terrifying to them. The only ones who had any idea of the type of terror Voldemort could inspire were Harry, Hermione, Ron, and Ginny.
In an effort to escape the depressing, anguished feeling that had come over them, Hermione stood. She picked up her Hogwarts robe and slipped into it. She had already been wearing the typical gray uniform so that this was all she had to do, aside from putting on the tie, which she decided to do later.
Just as she was shrugging into the redlined black robe that proudly bore the Gryffindor lion, she heard the door slide open behind her. She was startled, as the only people to stop by all day had been Ginny and the snack lady, both of whom had departed hours before. She spun around and felt herself grow even more surly and melancholy. Draco Malfoy stood just inside the door, smirking. He hadn't bothered to close the doors, allowing the icy chill and rain to sweep inside. Hermione expected Crabbe and Goyle to step in at any moment, but for once in his Hogwarts career, they didn't flank him.
Harry and Ron turned to look at him in loathing and disgust. Ron appeared nervous, as Hermione and Harry could tell instantly. They knew that Ron was still in too much pain to care about sticking up for himself. He was just hoping that Malfoy hadn't come there to further his anguish.
Instead of turning immediately to Ron, as they'd expected, Malfoy turned to Hermione, his cold eyes boring into hers. "Granger, Granger, Granger," he said in a mock-disappointed tone. "Stripping for Potter and Weasley? Didn't think you had it in you." He looked her up and down. "Does it cost to see the show?"
Hermione stiffened and glared at Malfoy witheringly. "You're disgusting, Malfoy. Keep your indecent assertions to yourself."
"You sure speak highly for a Mudblood," he sneered.
She sighed and rolled her eyes skyward. "Oh, ouch," she said sarcastically. "That hurts so much as you say it for the four thousandth time."
He feigned innocence and concern, all the while a teasing glint danced in his eyes. "Oh, I just meant that it must be most unsettling to be a Mudblood right now, what with You-Know-Who on the rise again. You know how much he hates Muggle-borns. I'd hate to see anything happen to you just because of your parentage."
She narrowed her eyes and sat back down, picking up her book defiantly. "If that was supposed to be a threat, it was weak. Go away."
"Have it your way, then," he said, turning to Harry and Ron, who had been watching the whole exchange silently, knowing better than to jump in unless Hermione needed their help. "Well, Potter. Looks like everyone's been overestimating you for the past fifteen years, huh? 'The Boy Who Lived', 'The Boy Who Conquered the Dark Lord'. What rubbish. You just delayed Voldemort—you didn't destroy him. Some big hero you are. You even provided him with what he needed last year to come back to power. What a disappointment."
Harry stood still as a stone, his face relaying no emotion until Malfoy had finished. Finally he spoke, an icy edge to his voice. "Better to have delayed him than to have done nothing at all, Malfoy."
"Is it, though? Is it, if he comes back even more powerful than before?" Malfoy sidestepped Harry, feeling he'd inflicted his desired damage. He finally set his sights on Ron. Harry and Hermione watched silently, waiting to jump in, feeling they would be needed.
"Weasley, long time no see," Malfoy said in a sickeningly sweet voice. He pulled a Daily Prophet out of his robes and tossed it on Ron's lap. "Brought you a present." Ron looked down at the front page, read the headline, saw the picture, and tossed the paper back at Malfoy, who batted it aside. Hermione and Harry looked down to where it had landed and saw an animated picture of the Dark Mark hovering over the meeting hall where Voldemort had attacked, followed by the bold headline: "You-Know-Who Returns".
Ron and Malfoy's eyes had remained locked the whole time. "I just thought you might want to clip the article. I know a lot of people do that when their relatives make the papers."
Hermione stood up furiously and Malfoy turned to look at her. "Well, then you must have a large collection of articles. There sure have been a lot mentioning You-Know-Who and the Death Eaters in the past two decades."
Malfoy's eyes narrowed dangerously. "Is there an implication in your words, Granger? Because if there is, spit it out."
Hermione feigned an apologetic tone. "Oh, I'm so sorry, Malfoy, so sorry indeed. I should have known you'd be too thick to pick out the implication for yourself. I'll be blunt—you're scum. You're a Slytherin, you're one of the leading Death Eaters' sons, and I'm pretty certain you're a Death Eater yourself. You support You-Know-Who; you support his murders, his torture, and his pain. You're as bad as your father and that's saying something, because your father is almost as bad as You-Know-Who himself!"
Malfoy took a step towards Hermione, putting them so close that they could feel one another's breath. "And you are a filthy Mudblood who pals around with poor, Muggle-loving wimps and loser glory-hounds. You might as well be a Muggle yourself, because you're no use to wizarding kind." His eyes traveled scornfully to the Gryffindor emblem on the front of her robes. "No Gryffindor is. Bravery is certainly not one of your traits; you're too afraid to even say Voldemort's name! I'll tell you one thing, though, Granger: you've made an enemy out of me. Before, all I could do was complain, and tease you, and get you in trouble. Now, though . . . well, let's just say I have connections."
"Your father, you mean," she replied acidly.
He made no response, but a faint glimmer in his eyes told her she was right. "All I need to do is let it slip that a certain Mudblood named Hermione Granger is meddling in certain things she shouldn't be, and those connections will take great pleasure in ridding me of the problem."
Hermione stared at him without any change of expression. "Tell your father and whomever else you plan to send after me that I do not fear you, or them, or Voldemort," she said calmly, stressing the last word and refraining from the flinch that normally would have accompanied it.
"There's a line you need to tread between courage and insanity. You've crossed that line, I'm afraid. You're plenty scared, Granger, because you know I'll do as I said. And trust me, my connection would love to kill you—and I assure you it would be a very unpleasant death."
"Tell your connection to try. I do not intend to be scared away by you, or anyone else," Hermione said defiantly, stepping away from him. "And I'd advise you to stay away from me, for my own safety and yours. I won't hesitate to hurt you, should we come upon each other in a deserted corridor, and should the opportunity strike my fancy. I'm sure most teachers would be more willing to take my side." She turned her back on him and faced Harry and Ron, who'd been watching the whole exchange with bated breath, waiting to attack should the necessity arise. "Now, leave, Malfoy. You're not welcome here."
The truth struck Malfoy and he spun, looking astounded. She truly wasn't afraid of him! He'd been raised in fear, seeing pain and torture every day of his childhood. When he'd grown old enough, instead of being the victim of the fear and the pain, he became the one that administered it. Whenever he'd chosen to truly use what he'd learned, his victim was afraid—always. Knowing that Hermione Granger—a girl, and a Mudblood no less—did not fear him angered him beyond his deepest imaginings. He'd teach her that he meant what he said. He raised his wand before anyone could stop him, before he could even truly think it through himself. "Jevolosia!" he yelled.
Hermione was suddenly flying through the air. She kept going until she slammed hard into the far wall of the train car. She dropped to the ground and lay there, motionless.
Malfoy had lost himself, back through endless childhood training. This was what he was meant for: causing pain and harming others. Why not experiment on Granger? He'd been dying to for years. Harry and Ron's presence had been driven completely from his mind. It was as though he were outside himself, watching from above, and Potter and Weasley were invisible. Granger lay on the floor, helpless, hurt, and all he wanted to do was finish her off. Oddly, the strangest thing he saw was not himself standing with his wand pointed at her still figure—he didn't see himself at all. Instead he saw his father.
He raised his wand again, his mind processing nothing but the desire to hurt, to kill. "Cruci—"
Malfoy's wand flew from his hand and into Harry's. He suddenly awakened to his surroundings, remembering where he was, who he was, what he'd been about to do. He was quite aware of Harry and Ron's wands on him as he stood there. Both boys' faces were contorted in fury.
Harry looked at him in unhidden loathing. "You're too much of a coward to even have a proper duel. Attacking while her back was turned! And you were going to use the Cruciatus Curse on her! You can't fight fair or clean! What next? Avada Kedavera?" Harry nodded toward the door and tossed Malfoy his wand, which he deftly caught. "Get out before I call a teacher, which I swear I'll do. She better not be hurt. That curse you aimed at her better not have done anything more than throwing her through the air, or I won't bother with a teacher—I'll kill you myself. Only I'll have the integrity to do it the proper way. Leave now."
"Dying to," he said, though he himself was a little unsettled. He moved to the doors and pulled them open. Turning back, he saw that Ron was still pointing his wand at him. Harry was now kneeling by Hermione, who was sitting up. "Believe me now, Granger?" he yelled back, and then headed away from them into the darkness.
Harry watched as Hermione sat up. She groaned in pain and put her hand to her forehead. Her eyes held a dazed, pained look. "You okay?" Harry asked.
"Define okay," she said dryly. "My head is throbbing awfully, I'll have black and blue skin by tomorrow morning, and that spell made me so nauseas I want to vomit. If that's your definition, I'm okay."
Harry grinned at her. Ron walked over to join them and helped her to her feet. "That low-down scum. He hadn't the right to say anything he did to you. Why he seems more vindictive towards you now than us is a mystery only time will solve."
"It's obvious, Ron," Hermione said dismissively. "I was provoking him more than you tonight, and he hated me for it. Also, I let him know I wasn't afraid of him, which irked him. Lastly, I'm positive he's a Death Eater now, and all Death Eaters hate Muggle-borns. No surprise he'd be worse to me than usual. Particularly cocky, I'll bet he is, now that his master's back and more powerful." She looked out the door Malfoy had just used to exit. "He meant what he said."
Harry didn't bother denying what he thought. "Yeah, I think he did. But don't worry. You can take him, and no matter how good his contacts are, they can't get inside Hogwarts."
Hermione shook her head, which she stopped quickly, as it caused her a splitting headache. "I don't know anymore, Harry. There was a time when I'd have agreed with you without a second thought, but that time has passed. With You-Know-Who around, and Dumbledore's fight with the Minister of Magic . . . I just can't be certain of anything anymore, including our safety at Hogwarts."
Soon after the encounter with Malfoy, the train pulled to a stop and the cars were filled with the teachers' yells to exit the train in an orderly manner. The three teenagers pulled their luggage off the train, running through the rain to one of the horse-drawn carriages they were to take to the castle. For once, they didn't pause to say hello to Hagrid since they were some of the first off the train, and he wasn't yet out there. Though it was only been a short run from the train to the carriage, they were all soaked by the time they pulled the door shut and the carriages took off toward the castle.
"I can't imagine having to go back to classes," Ron said worriedly. "Learning Transfiguration and Divination and Potions and all that just seems so pointless now. I don't think I can take the whole school giving me pity stares every day. Not everyone's as considerate as you two. I'd rather be teased by Malfoy than have everyone coming up to me telling me how sorry they are when it really doesn't matter to them."
"Classes aren't pointless, Ron," Hermione said sternly. "Now more than ever we need them. We need to know as much as we can to defend ourselves if the time comes when we need to."
"Figures you'd defend classes," he said, smiling a little to show he was only kidding her.
"Don't worry, it'll be all right," Harry said reassuringly. "Classes might actually be a welcome escape. You know, to get your mind off things. I know it'll help Hermione. I think it'll help me. Maybe it'll help you, too."
Ron shrugged dejectedly and turned his face sideways to look out the window. "Yeah, maybe," he said quietly, and both his friends knew that the conversation had ended.
Harry looked to Hermione. "Looking forward to the feast?" It was a lame attempt at conversation, he knew, but he felt he had to do something to keep the awful silence from descending once more.
"Not really," she said in a flat tone. "I figure it will be quite depressing, just like last year's feast after poor Cedric . . ." She stopped, knowing Harry still felt a little guilty about Cedric, though he never showed it. "Never mind. I just don't think anyone will be up to laughing and talking and having fun. It will be depressing, and I'm depressed enough, so I wish I could simply skip it."
She, too, turned her attention to the window, though Harry knew neither she nor Ron could see anything but blackness.
"Come on, Herm," Harry said gently. "You can't honestly allow Malfoy to scare you. He's full of it. Just forget about him."
"Malfoy? Get to me?" She uttered a terribly fake laugh. "No, of course not. I'm just . . . tired, that's all," she finished lamely. She said nothing more, and Harry lapsed into silence, respecting his friends' desire not to speak.
Reaching the castle, they all headed inside and took their seats at the Gryffindor table. Many kids were already seated, but not yet even half of the school. Everyone was quiet, with the exception of the Slytherins, who all looked quite at ease. The decorations were the same as always. There were no black curtains as there had been last year after Cedric's death, but curtains of a different color were not necessary; the mood weighing upon them was more effective than any decoration could ever be.
The teachers were all seated at the High Table, with the exception of Snape, McGonagall, and Hagrid, all of whom were out fulfilling their usual duties. The teachers that were there—including, oddly enough, Professor Trelawny, who normally wouldn't dream of eating in such a big gathering because it was 'bad for her karma'—were all quiet and subdued, staring at their empty plates, or at the students filing in.
It was hushed at the student tables too, with the exception of dull, muffled greetings. Harry, Hermione, and Ron watched as their table slowly filled with their old friends. Harry couldn't help but miss the Weasley twins, though if they'd been there, even they wouldn't have done anything to disrupt the silence. Still, it felt odd to go back to a Hogwarts without them and their pranks. Ginny came in later and sat down next to Ron, Neville joinimg them as well.
Finally, everyone was at their tables, and McGonagall led the first years into the Great Hall. They were all talking quietly and nervously, unaffected by the mood around them because of nerves and ignorance. Most years, Hermione enjoyed the sorting, but she found herself tuning out most of it. The last name she heard before entirely losing interest and focus was, "Jenna Ackroyd" whom the Sorting Hat had placed in Ravenclaw before it even came close to touching her head.
Finally, when the last name was called, and a particularly loud bout of applause filled the Hall, Hermione snapped back to attention. All the new students were seated at their respective tables, watching and listening, finally feeling the effect of the mood of all the rest of the students. Professor McGonagall put the hat away, and took her place at the High Table.
Dumbledore stood, clearing his throat as he always did to get their attention. Tonight, there was no need for that, though, for everyone was paying close attention. Harry noticed that the happy glint that normally danced in his eyes was absent, leaving them a dull, empty sort of gray-blue. "Welcome, once more, to another year at Hogwarts," he said loudly, his voice echoing through the silence of the Hall. "I apologize to our first years. It is unfair to have to start your schooling in this normally happy place at such a sad time and in such a melancholy atmosphere. I am, in particular, apologetic to those who have only recently found out about their magical abilities and must come to a land torn by war. As most of you know by now, Voldemort has returned."
There was a moment of hushed whispering amongst some small first years who had heard of Voldemort, as well as those who hadn't and were asking for an explanation. Some of the older students winced at the Dark Lord's name, but said nothing.
"I do not wish to recount these tragic events for those here who have already dwelled upon it quite enough, but it is something I must do for those few of us that do not know.
"Voldemort returned to power in June, at the end of the last school year. He killed one of our own students, Cedric Diggory, and quite nearly killed another, Harry Potter. We have all been waiting with bated breath ever since, waiting for the inevitable day when his attack would come. That day came last week. A conference was held by the Ministry of Magic, and it was attacked. Thirty-two people died. Some children here have ties to those who were killed. Timothy Smith, of Hufflepuff, lost his second cousin. Rene Abbott, of Ravenclaw, lost her uncle. Ron and Ginny Weasley, of Gryffindor, lost their older brother, who just two years ago graduated from Hogwarts himself."
At the mention of her brother, Ginny's eyes filled with tears and a muffled sob escaped her lips. Ron hugged her to him and tried to help her calm down. She'd been taking it harder than he had—or at least, letting it show more. While Ron avoided the subject of Percy, Ginny started crying every time he was mentioned. Other Gryffindors averted their eyes, doing their best to give the grieving siblings their privacy. Harry and Hermione looked at each other, then back at Dumbledore, not wanting to make Ginny feel worse by helping console her. Hagrid shot them both a look of sympathy from his seat at the High Table
Dumbledore, who was obviously aware of Ginny's reaction, kept on task in an effort not to draw unwanted attention to her. "As you all know, this is a hard and frightening time. I must assure you all that you are safe here. Even during Voldemort's first reign, he never attacked us at Hogwarts."
"But isn't he more powerful now?" someone from Hufflepuff called. "What if he tries?" A lot of kids echoed their agreement quietly.
"He very well might," Dumbledore assured, causing many kids to start talking out of worry. "Silence," Dumbledore said, holding up a hand, which was enough to quiet them. "I will tell you the truth when asked a question—it is a firm belief of mine. Sometimes the truth is frightening, yes, but I feel it's better to be scared and prepared than carefree and ignorant. However, while the possibility remains, I do not believe he would try such a bold move, and if he does, it will surely not be for a while. He needs to regroup his allies. Also, the teachers and I have a plan. It is nothing concrete, but if it works, it will help to protect all of us. That is all I can say for now. Now, back to the general notices . . ."
Harry and Hermione tuned out as Dumbledore went over the usual list of rules. Ron was still trying to console Ginny.
"I wonder what Dumbledore's plan is?" Harry asked curiously, glancing the Headmaster out of the corner of his eye.
"I don't know," Hermione replied. "Whatever it is, I just hope it works."