Originally Posted 8/19/16, last revised 10/27/16.
Disclaimer:I don't own Harry Potter, and while I've never met her and am not one of her subjects, I have nothing but respect for the Queen. Information about British law and letters to and from the Queen comes from online research and is accurate to the best of my knowledge.
Chapter 34: Going Off the Rails on a Crazy Train
While Hermione went to the prefects' meeting, Ron and Harry played Exploding Snap and chatted about everything that had happened this summer. Harry had been offered the boy's prefect position for Gryffindor, but had respectfully declined and suggested Neville Longbottom instead. The reason he gave for turning down the honor was that between his ever-changing relationship with the majority of the student body, as well as his involvement with the massive changes that had recently befallen the Magical World, he wasn't sure he could reasonably be expected to enforce discipline without being an escalating influence rather than a calming one. After a brief Floo call with Professor McGonagall, she had accepted both his refusal and his suggestion, offering the position to a surprised and grateful Neville Longbottom.
When Hermione returned to the compartment after the meeting, to say that she was unhappy would have been an understatement. While most of the prefects had been decent people, both Draco Malfoy and Pansy Parkinson had been selected, which they all agreed was going to lead to trouble. Unfortunately there was nothing they could do about it, so after calming her down Harry distracted her by asking who she thought would be teaching Potions this year.
As it turned out, Hermione's disgruntled return to the compartment was a harbinger of things to come.
Draco Malfoy stalked through the corridors of the Hogwarts Express with a single purpose: find Harry Potter and make him pay. He wasn't really sure how he was going to do that, since he didn't really know what he would be able to accomplish all by himself, but his unrelenting rage had blinded him to the realities of the situation, and so here he was stalking through the train as it rumbled towards Hogwarts. It didn't help that he was alone; before he had even boarded the train, both Crabbe and Goyle had told him that he was on his own this year. Their mothers hadn't wanted to take any chances of something happening to them now that their husbands were gone.
He'd started at the very front of the train, where he'd been for the Prefects' meeting, and was rapidly running out of cars. Finally, in the very last compartment of the very last carriage, he found his target, Scarhead, sitting with his friends the Mudblood and the Weasel. He belatedly realized he could have simply followed her back here, since she was also a prefect, but was too angry to think clearly. He should have stopped to think about how his actions might affect his prefect status, but instead he steeled himself for the attack and drew his wand before quickly striding to the door and slamming it open, intent on making an entrance that caught them off guard.
Not wanting to be disturbed too much, Harry had set up Sirius's detection ward in the corridor just this side of the entrance to the next compartment over, ensuring that he'd have a few seconds warning if anyone walked all the way to the back of the train where they were located. Several people had already stopped by, but fortunately for him they had all been either looking for someone else or just wanted to say hi. This time, however, he saw Draco Malfoy out of the corner of his eye when the ward went off, and so he'd readied his wand for the expected confrontation.
True to form, Draco came bursting into the compartment, though, Harry noticed, he didn't have Crabbe and Goyle with him for once. He did have his wand out however, making Harry glad that he was prepared. Before Draco could get a word out, Harry cast "Silencio," stopping whatever Draco was going to say or do in his tracks. The blond boy was clearly furious now, and continued to advance despite his silence, causing Harry to cast a Leg-Locker Curse followed by "Incarcerous" as Draco started to fall over.
Once Draco had fallen on his face, Harry hauled him up and shoved him against the wall next to the door, casually taking his opponent's wand and pocketing it in the process. "What do you want, Malfoy?" he asked in a not-so-friendly tone. Draco opened his mouth but nothing came out. Harry gave him a less than friendly smile and said, "I'll let you talk, but if I don't like what I'm hearing I'll just silence you again, got it?"
Draco nodded, and Harry canceled the spell on him. "What do you think you're doing, Potter?" he asked. "When my father..."
Harry didn't even let him finish the sentence and silenced him again. "Listen up Malfoy, your father is irrelevant. By this time tomorrow you'll be reading about his trial and sentence. Now, I'm going to give you one more opportunity to talk, but before I do consider this." He waved his wand and the back door of the carriage opened, revealing the countryside rolling by. "Choose your words carefully. If you really piss me off, I can just let you off the train right here and now, understand?"
Draco nodded, not wanting to risk the chance that Potter was serious. He'd never shown this kind of ruthlessness before, but then again he'd apparently done some pretty unusual things at the Ministry the day his father had been arrested. Once the silencing spell was canceled, he thought for a moment before speaking. "I don't know who you think you are, or what you've done, but my father is a great man, and I'm sure he'll soon be returning to our family home. Now, I want you to tell me what you did to him and then help me fix it."
Harry stared at Draco for a moment, then burst our laughing, much to his nemesis' surprise. "You're taking the mickey out of me, right?" Seeing Draco's serious face, he shook his head. "First of all, I didn't do anything to your father; from what I understand, he picked a fight with someone he knew nothing about and lost. Second, even if I could do something about it, there's no way I would do anything to help your father out no matter what you offered me. He's an evil monster and I'm quite glad that he'll never be able to hurt anyone again."
"My father is a great man!" repeated Draco forcefully, "and if it wasn't for you and that stupid Muggle queen he'd be at the Dark Lord's side putting you and all your Muggle-loving friends in their place!" Seeing the expression on Potter's face darken, he realized too late that he had stepped over the line, but even so was unprepared for the force behind Potter's response.
"Your father is NOTHING!" bellowed Harry, the force of his words almost making Draco's hair blow back. "He's a vile, manipulating murderer who has shown a willingness to do anything to grab power for himself. I was there when he was interrogated, and anyone who would do even half the things he did deserves much worse than he got. You should be relieved that all that will happen to him is death by hanging."
Harry waved his wand and closed the back door to the carriage. He then took Draco's wand and threw it down to the other end of the hallway before turning back to the spluttering blond ponce. "Let me make myself perfectly clear, Draco. I am going to let you walk away this one time; if you try something against me or my friends again I will destroy you. And if I ever hear you insult the Queen again, they'll never find all of the pieces of you. Do I make myself clear?"
Draco couldn't help himself when he replied, "You and what army, Potter?"
Harry's eyes narrowed, and his hair started to crackle with accidental Magic as he struggled to control his temper. "I don't need one. I am Sir Harry James Potter, Knight Commander of the Royal Victorian Order and personal Knight to Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth the Second. I will permit you to push things up to a certain point, but if you ever cross that line, there won't be enough of you left to bury. Now begone, you nithling!" With that, he threw Draco out of the compartment and up against the rear door of the carriage, before casting "Finite" as he slammed the compartment door closed. He then then cast "Colloportus" on it, locking Draco out, before leaning up against the wall and taking a couple of deep breaths.
He took a moment to calm himself down before turning back to his friends who just stared at him in awe. "Something tells me that's not the last we've heard from him today," he said.
His friends just nodded for a moment as they watched Harry try to calm himself down before Hermione finally worked up the nerve to ask, "What do you mean, personal Knight to the Queen?"
Harry sighed, then cast an Imperturbable Charm on the door and windows before answering. "Before I answer, please don't talk about this to anyone, and I mean anyone at all, unless you check with me first. I didn't want anyone knowing about this at all, but Draco rather pissed me off. Hopefully he won't understand what I meant, and will just think I was bragging again, but in this case I'm not." It took a couple of hours to explain everything to his friends, by which time he was rather exhausted and looking forward to both the feast and getting some sleep.
Since they had been in the very last compartment of the train, Harry and his friends were some of the last people to enter the Great Hall before the first years were brought in. As he walked towards the Gryffindor table, he suddenly heard a yell of, "Potter!" and dropped to the ground, recognizing Draco's angry voice. Before he could do anything besides duck, he heard a call of, "Stupefy!" and as he turned his head he saw Draco fall to the ground, stunned.
Harry looked up to the staff table and saw several teachers standing, and Dumbledore's wand pointed at the now unconscious Slytherin. The Headmaster said something briefly to Professor Sinistra, who hurried down to where Malfoy was lying on the floor. She collected his wand, then levitated his body before returning to the staff table with it.
As she did so, the Headmaster spoke up and said, "Please, everyone take your seats so the first years can be brought in." Harry took one last look at the shocked faces at the Slytherin table before walking to the other side of the room and finding a seat with the Gryffindors.
A moment later Professor McGonagall entered leading the first years, unaware of the incident that had just occurred. As she picked up the rolled parchment with the first year students' names on it, she was interrupted by the Headmaster who said, "Excuse me, Professor McGonagall, but before the first years are sorted we must deal with another matter that occurred just before you arrived."
Professor McGonagall looked at the Headmaster questioningly, as the sorting had never been interrupted before that she'd seen, but he just nodded. As she was turning back to the first years, she noticed the confused looks on many of the Slytherin students' faces, as well as a rather serious one on one of the Queen's "observers" that had been stationed at the school to ensure that there weren't any major problems at the start of the year. It was then that she realized that something must have happened, and turned back towards the staff table just in time to see Professor Sinistra levitate Draco Malfoy up in front of the Headmaster before handing him a wand, presumably that of the unconscious boy.
"Good Evening, students, and welcome to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry!" intoned the Headmaster, getting everyone's attention. "I know that you're all eagerly awaiting the sorting of the first years followed by dinner, but before we get to that we must deal with the disciplinary issue that occurred just before the new students arrived. I know this is highly unusual, but there are several new rules this year that you will be informed of tonight and tomorrow, as well as a number of old rules that have not been enforced in recent years that are no longer going to be ignored.
"As many of you saw, Mister Malfoy here attempted to curse another student, Mister Potter, who had just entered the Great Hall for the opening feast. While normally I would have simply requested that he stop what he was doing, given recent events involving Mister Potter, as well as prior incidents involving Mister Malfoy, I felt that more drastic action was needed to prevent any further hostilities. I want you all to listen very carefully to Mister Malfoy's punishment and know that you will be subject to the same should you disobey the rules as he has."
Dumbledore then looked down at Malfoy and quickly cast three spells in a row: "Rennervate, Incarcerous, Silencio." He then levitated Draco so that he was standing up, looking out at the whole of the Great Hall before coming around the table to stand next to him. "Mister Malfoy," he said, watching as Draco turned his head towards him. "You attempted to curse Mister Potter here in the Great Hall this evening with no provocation nor justification. Do you have anything to say in your defense?"
Draco opened his mouth to respond, not realizing that he had been silenced, before he noticed the stern look on the Headmaster's face. He stopped for a moment, then closed his mouth; between the loss of his father's influence and the protection of his former Head of House, he finally realized that there was nothing he could say that would likely get him out of this. So he shook his head and waited for the detentions he expected he would be assigned.
"Very well, Mister Malfoy. You have admitted attempting to attack another student in the Great Hall, with no valid justification. Since you have a previous history of aggressive behavior, especially regarding Mister Potter and his friends, your wand will be confiscated for the first three days of classes. Additionally, for the remainder of the first week of classes, it will only be returned to you during class periods that require wand work, and will be confiscated for the remainder of that time. Assuming you do not earn any additional punishments, your wand will be returned to you at the beginning of your first class period that requires wand work during the second week of classes. As a final punishment, your prefect status is suspended until you receive your wand back permanently, and your long term status as prefect will be on probation for the remainder of the term. Should you have your wand confiscated again, your prefect status will be revoked and given to a more worthy member of your house."
When the Headmaster announced that Draco's wand would be confiscated for most of the first week of school, there was a collective gasp from the student body, and Draco's face slowly drained of color as he realized what this meant. He tried to protest but no sound came out; after a moment he realized he'd also been silenced, and looked at Dumbledore with a mix of worry and annoyance.
Finally, the Headmaster looked at Draco and asked, "You wish to say something, Mister Malfoy?"
At Draco's nod, the Headmaster waved his wand, and Draco asked incredulously, "But how will I do my schoolwork without my wand?"
"That is a problem of your own making, Mister Malfoy," replied Dumbledore, who then turned to the students who were mostly staring in shock. "Students of Hogwarts, as I have been recently reminded, wands, while very useful, can also be used as dangerous weapons. Thus, anyone who is found to be using their wand inappropriately will quickly find themselves without one. For first time offenders, you may be given the opportunity to have it during class time where necessary, but second and subsequent offenses, as well as major first-time violations, will result in total loss of your wand for a period that is deemed appropriate to the offense. Should these punishments fail to curb the problem, additional measures, up to and including expulsion, will be considered. This goes for all students, in all years and houses. Exceptions may be made for spells cast in self-defense, but only if they are reasonable and not retaliatory.
"When you reach your dorms this evening, each and every one of you will find an updated handbook of school rules on your beds. While I do not expect you to read it cover to cover tonight, please make sure you read at least the first three pages, which will explain the most important rule changes, as well as listing several older rules that may not have been enforced consistently or fairly in the past. I have a few more announcements to make, but rather than make you listen on an empty stomach, I will delay them until after we have all eaten. Professor McGonagall, if you would please start sorting the first years?"
As Professor McGonagall turned to call the first years, the Headmaster leaned over and spoke quietly into Draco's ear. "I will release you to return to your table in a moment Mister Malfoy. When that happens, I would suggest you go sit down and think hard about what kind of year you wish to have. I know you were previously protected by Professor Snape, and while I may have turned a blind eye to your behavior before for my own reasons, that will no longer happen. You have the power to make your year a relatively good one, or a miserable one; as this is your O.W.L. year as well, I should think that you don't want to have to spend too many of your lessons without your wand. Now, run along back to your table." Dumbledore waved his wand and the ropes disappeared, allowing Draco to move again. He quickly turned away from the Headmaster and made his way back to the table, studiously ignoring the looks from the other students.
By the time dinner was over, and the Headmaster had explained some of the other important changes to Hogwarts, Draco was convinced that his life was going to be miserable no matter what he did. The temporary and possibly permanent loss of his prefect status just highlighted exactly how vulnerable he was now that the rules had changed so much. Still, unless something unexpected happened, he was stuck here at Hogwarts until he took, and passed, his O.W.L.s. Then he could at least leave school, if not transfer to another, assuming any would take him.
Seeing Draco get punished so harshly, and in full view of the entire student body no less, was a new and pleasant experience for Harry and his friends. Several Gryffindors congratulated him on getting Malfoy in so much trouble, but Harry politely redirected them and pointed out that he hadn't done anything except duck. After the sorting was finished and dinner had been eaten, the Headmaster had gotten up again to make a few more announcements before sending everyone off to bed.
"Now that we have all eaten that lovely meal, I would like to inform you of a few changes to the staff as well as reiterating several very important rules. First, as many of you know, Professor Snape is no longer available to teach. As a result, his predecessor, Professor Slughorn, has graciously agreed to return to Hogwarts as our Potions Master." The new Potions Master stood up and waved, revealing a portly balding older man with a walrus-looking mustache who Hermione thought looked a bit like a fat, old Hercule Poirot. "Additionally, Professor Sinistra has taken over as Head of Slytherin House," at which the aforementioned witch stood and acknowledged the Headmaster and students before sitting back down.
"Also, for at least the first half of the year, defense will be taught by Professor Kang, on loan to us from the Hong Kong Auror department." A short, stocky Asian fellow who could have been anywhere between thirty and fifty stood and gave a moderately deep bow to the Headmaster, followed by a much shallower one to the students. "Professor Kang has also offered to teach a martial arts class on the weekends, and will tell you more about it during your first class of the year.
"Finally, as you may have already noticed, we have a number of other people with us in the Great Hall this evening. At the request of Her Majesty the Queen, we have a number of observers who will be taking notes about all aspects of how Hogwarts is being run. Their goal is to learn more about how we do things here and help us to move forward as Magical Britain goes through the changes it is currently experiencing. While they may not be teaching classes, they have the same authority as the other Professors, and you are to respect them the same way. Also, should you have any suggestions you wish to make to them, please write them down and place them in the red box at the back of the great hall labeled, 'Suggestions.'" This last bit was clearly said with a slight hesitation, but only those who knew the Headmaster well could hear it.
As Dumbledore pointed out the suggestion box at the back of the Great Hall, Harry realized that this was one of the things that the Queen had warned him about. At their last meeting she'd mentioned that she would have people inside Hogwarts, at least for the beginning of the term, and that they would probably be at least somewhat at odds with the Headmaster. Still, the Headmaster appeared to be moving in the right direction, if his treatment of Draco was any indicator, so Harry decided to just go with things and hope for the best. Besides, maybe, for once, he could have a simple year without anything untoward happening to him.
But he wouldn't be holding his breath for that.
After Dumbledore announced the rules that people should remember from previous years (no casting spells in the halls, the Forbidden Forest is forbidden, Mister Filch's list of banned items, etc.), he had expanded slightly on the rules that Draco had found himself running afoul of before dismissing the students to their Common Rooms and bed. Harry had gone ahead when Ron decided to tag along with Hermione and Neville who were leading the first years, and found a quiet corner to look over the new handbook he had retrieved from his bed.
There, on the very first page, was proof that changes were happening here in Hogwarts. In bold letters at the top of the page was the following:
Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry is for everyone, regardless of blood, financial or any other status. Discrimination of any sort will not be tolerated, and anyone who violates this rule will face harsh punishment. If you feel you have been treated unfairly for any reason, please speak to your Head of House or any other Professor.
On the first three pages, it clearly stated a number of behaviors that would not be tolerated, as well as possible punishments for them including the possibility of not only being expelled, but also having any attacks on others investigated by the Aurors. By the time the first years had arrived, the Common Room was filled with older students reading the new rules, and excitedly talking amongst themselves about the implications. Ron, Hermione and Neville came over after showing the first years their dorms, and asked him about the new rules.
"They're brilliant!" proclaimed Harry, despite his concerns about how well they'd actually be enforced. "Assuming they hold everyone to them, Malfoy might not only lose his prefect badge, but he could end up expelled or even arrested for attacking someone!"
"Blimey!" gasped Ron, and Harry handed Hermione the book before she could rip it from his hands.
Quickly reviewing the three pages, her eyes were wide as she handed it back to him. "I'm not sure, but I think they could even get in trouble for calling me a, a..." She trailed off, suddenly not wanting to use the word they all knew she was hinting at.
"Something tells me they're heading in that direction, but not putting it in writing just yet," replied Harry. "If the Queen wants to get rid of the word 'Muggle' in official documents, I doubt she'd permit a school to allow the use of that word either."
Ron furrowed his brow and asked, "But what will we use if we can't say 'Muggle'?" Seeing the concern on Hermione's face, he added, "I'm not objecting, I just don't know what else to call them."
Hermione nodded in understanding, then looked to Harry for an answer. "The Queen's been using non-Magical, and Sirius and I have been trying to use it as well. It's actually harder to replace 'Muggleborn' since 'non-Magicborn' just doesn't roll off the tongue as well, but I'm sure someone will come up with a better word at some point. In any case, we'll just have to see how things play out, right?"
"I guess," said Ron, shrugging. "Still, I'm just glad Malfoy had his prefect status suspended. Why they even made him one boggles me."
"Snape probably appointed him before things happened, and they never changed it," said Neville. "Speaking of which, thanks Harry. Professor McGonagall told me you recommended me for the position after turning it down."
"You turned down being a prefect?" asked Hermione and Ron together.
"You're welcome, mate," Harry said to Neville, giving him a smile. "I think you'll be good at it, and it'll be good for you too. And yeah, I did turn it down. After everything that's happened, being a prefect would just be asking for trouble. Since it seems to find me whether I go looking for it or not, I'd rather avoid the stuff I can predict."
Ron once again demonstrated his new-found maturity by not saying anything right away, but instead considering things alongside Harry's other friends. "I can see that," he said after a moment. "Still, it must've been nice to be asked to be one."
"Yeah, it was," answered Harry, "and if things had been different I might have taken it." He shrugged, then looked thoughtful.
"What is it, Harry?" asked Hermione after a few seconds.
Harry's face expanded into a big smile. "I just realized something. With the new emphasis on enforcing the rules, the Slytherins don't stand a chance at Quidditch this year. The Cup is ours for certain!"
Ron's eyes lit up and he pumped his fist in the air shouting, "Yes!"
Both Hermione and Neville rolled their eyes, but they were also smiling as they did so. "It's nice to know some things never change," she said, and the four of them shared a laugh before talking a bit about their summers before bedtime.
Harry sat on his bed in the fifth year boys' dorm and spent a few moments just looking around at his roommates. Ron was snoring away as usual, though thankfully muffled courtesy of an Imperturbable Charm on the closed curtains facing Harry's bed. The sound was still coming from around them, but it was quiet enough he could hear himself think. Neville and Dean were fast asleep, not making any noise, while Seamus muttered in his sleep, but not loud enough to bother anyone.
Harry had just finished talking to Sirius on a charmed mirror that had previously belonged to his father, James. Sirius had given it to him just before they left for the Express, so that they could keep in touch more directly than just sending letters via Hedwig or Kreacher. There hadn't been much to talk about since they'd last seen each other that morning, but Sirius was pleased with the apparent changes at Hogwarts, and told Harry to let him know if anything happened. Sirius also reminded him about the Dumbledore needing permission in writing to talk about anything not school-related, and Harry promised not to forget. But it was their goodbyes that kept floating around his head, making him smile even as he tucked himself in to go to sleep.
"Goodnight, Sirius," said Harry. "I'll call you in a few days once I've had all my classes."
"Sounds good, Harry," replied Sirius. "Goodnight, son."
As Harry was falling asleep he realized that as uncertain as things still were, he finally felt like he had what he wanted in life for now. A family who loved him, friends he could count on, and a whole world of Magic ahead of him to learn in without the threat of a madman hanging over his head. His last thought before consciousness left him for the night was, "Life is good."
A/N: If you're thinking to yourself, "That's it?" and you haven't read the author's note at the top, I suggest you go back and do so. It will answer that question and more...