Disclaimer: I do not own any part of Harry Potter or Oh My Goddess.
This is a sequel to "Harry Potter and the Ultimate Force" - please read that story first, as this one will not make a lot of sense without the full background.
Sirius Black the Third, current Lord of the Noble and Most Ancient House of Black, stood in front of the fireplace in the Black Manor in Leicestershire, letting the light of the flames show his profile as a silhouette. Clearing his throat, he turned to his assembled guests.
"I'm sure you're all wondering why I've gathered you here tonight," he began, his tone of voice slightly deeper than normal. He did not get any further as his prepared speech was interrupted.
"Cut out the theatrics, Sirius, life's too short for your sense of melodrama."
Sirius sighed. "Oh come on, Remus, if ever there was a time for setting a scene..."
"...it wouldn't be now." Remus Lupin said firmly. "We're here for a reason and we don't need your amateur acting abilities to annoy everybody before we even begin."
Sirius glowered at where his friend lounged in a tall wingback chair. With a small grimace he gestured with his wand, causing the lighting in the room to brighten.
"Thanks," Frank Longbottom said from where he sat next to his wife Alice, "that was just a little too dim for my tastes."
"Now that we've dispensed with the melodramatics," Remus said smugly, "we can get on with the meeting."
"Just what is this all about, anyway?" Professor Aurora Sinistra asked from where she was sitting next to Belldandy Morisato née Odinsdotter.
"Fine." Sirius half snarled at Remus, before he turned to the main group. "I'm sure all of you are aware of what happened at Hogwarts this year."
"Yes, that whole mess with the Philosopher's Stone," Urd commented, "did anybody ever get a satisfactory explanation out of Dumbledore?"
"Not really," Frank Longbottom answered, "he claimed that he was protecting the Stone from You-Know-Who, but clammed up when he was asked why he thought a school full of children was a safe place for it. Or even why he thought he could do a better job of hiding the Stone than the Flamels."
"Has anybody asked them about the Stone?" Alice Longbottom asked.
"They've gone to ground," Remus replied, "nobody can find them. I'm guessing that whatever it was that Dumbledore had, it wasn't the genuine article. The Flamels have been alive too long to be that free with the Stone."
"Whatever. The point is that this has made me question Dumbledore's judgement," Sirius interjected, trying to get the conversation back on course, "I have to wonder if he truly has the best interests of his students in mind."
"It is a valid concern," Professor Charity Burbage said cautiously, "but what do you intend to do about it?"
Sirius cleared his throat before he spoke. "I want to set up a group that will keep an eye on what is going on at Hogwarts. The goal will be to make sure that the students are kept safe. With Dumbledore still the Headmaster, I'm not convinced that we can be so sure that the school is being run with the best interests of the students...at the top of the list of priorities."
"Quite." Belldandy said, not looking up from the small piece of embroidery that she was working on. "Considering how many members of staff decided to assist the Headmaster with his gauntlet of traps, it is a legitimate concern."
"We won't be doing anything overt," Remus assured the group, "mostly just watching and being alert. Between all of us we have enough resources and contacts to be able to intervene if something drastic crops up."
Sinistra coughed gently. "That explains why you wanted Charity and me here. We can be your inside people, so to speak."
"Yes, but only as observers." Sirius clarified. "For the most part you'd just be doing your jobs as usual. The only change would be if something like that Stone comes up - I'd hope that you'd be willing to let the rest of us know before things escalate."
Frank Longbottom caught everybody's attention by raising a book into the air. "I'd like to start here and now with a close look at this year's DADA Professor. I've read this Lockhart's books and there are many things in them that concern me."
"Oh?" Urd queried, "Such as?"
"A lot of it sounds like complete and utter bunkum as far as I'm concerned," Frank explained, "plus some of the stories sound suspiciously familiar. I'm going to ask some of my former workmates about it."
Belldandy looked up and graced Frank with a warm smile. "That sounds like a good idea. Maybe we can all read these books and see for ourselves."
"OK, I can work with that," Charity Burbage said cautiously, "and I don't think that keeping an eye on the school is too much of an ask. Does this little club have a name at all?"
Sirius shrugged. "I'm not sure we need one, but I guess it could make things simple in the future if we had a name we could use for easy reference. Does anybody have any ideas?"
There was a small pause, which was eventually broken by Alice. "How about the Circle of Light? We're trying to shine a light on Hogwarts, after all."
The rest of the group all glanced at each other. Remus nodded after a moment. "I see no dissenting votes, the Circle of Light it is."
"Excellent," Belldandy said as she stood, "would anyone like some scones?"
Belldandy had planned Harry's summer holiday carefully. With two young children in the family, a long trip away from home would be difficult and stressful. As such the family only went on a few short trips that stayed within the British Isles, the longest requiring just two nights away from Hinckley.
While Harry enjoyed these trips, he was equally happy to be at home in Hinckley with his family. He took the time to catch up with his friends from his old school, making a point to practice their music together again. Keiichi resumed his motorcycle lessons, something that Sirius approved of with enthusiasm. Harry found that while his broom was faster, his motorbike offered a different sensation as it was a lot closer to the ground.
His martial arts lessons with Monkey were a lot more intense now, as Harry could only practice his katas while he was at Hogwarts. To compensate for this, Monkey spent a lot more time on teaching new techniques, informing Harry that he would have to practice the katas in his own time. Harry quickly adapted to the new teaching style, having been promised lessons in weapon use down the track if he could improve enough.
"You've done pretty well at keeping your skills fresh," Monkey said as he observed Harry perform a kata, "just remember to put some variation into the katas or you'll end up doing this entirely by rote. You need flexibility in your movements as well."
"Yes sensei." Harry replied as he finished the set and turned to face the Monkey King. "It hasn't been easy, as the school isn't really set up for any outdoor exercises other than the brooms, but I had enough spare time to practice."
"Good." Monkey said thoughtfully. "Now we're going to spend more time on combining your magic with the art. I'll still expect you to be able to fight without your magic, but ignoring it would be foolish. No wands, and tell me why."
"Wands are fragile and easily taken," Harry answered automatically, "a wizard or witch who depends on their wand can be crippled in a battle simply by removing their tool."
"Exactly. Well remembered." Monkey said approvingly. "I've shown you a lot of weapon taking techniques, as well as how to throw a projectile accurately enough that you can disrupt spell casting long enough to close the distance or find cover. Your challenge will be to practice your wandless magic while performing some modified katas that I'll teach you. The goal is to reach a point where you don't have to think about using your magic before you do so. If you need a shield, you will raise it instantly without thought. If an opportunity to use your fetch spells arises, you'll do that. It should be as instinctive as raising your arm to block, or making a strike of your own."
"Yes sensei," Harry replied as he considered what Monkey had said, "I can see this will require a lot of practice."
Monkey grinned. "Exactly. I can see you've learned that you won't get anywhere without putting some effort into it. Now, the first kata is as follows..."
There were also meetings with his friends from Hogwarts. Hermione Granger and her parents visited Harry in Hinckley just a week after they had returned from Hogwarts. Hermione had explained that they were going to France for most of July, and that she had wanted to visit before they left.
"Have you been to France before?" Harry asked as the small group walked up the path from the Granger family car to the front door of the converted church.
"Once, but it was a few years ago. We're going to some places we didn't visit on our last trip." Hermione explained as she examined the church building with interest.
"The church was unused when we arrived in Britain," Belldandy explained, noticing Hermione's interest, "we were able to purchase it for a relatively low price as the church and attached house are heritage listed and cannot be demolished. All of our renovations had to be approved in advance, something that scared off the local developers."
Hermione started to quiz Belldandy about the church and its renovations as Harry showed Mr and Mrs Granger around the house. Hermione's parents seemed keen to find out just how Harry came to be living with a family that had only moved from Japan to Britain a few weeks before. Harry's hesitant description of his life with the Dursleys shocked them noticeably.
Lunch was held outside to take advantage of the summer weather. Hermione and her parents were curious as to how Belldandy and Keiichi managed to balance the magical and non-magical worlds.
Keiichi explained. "We spend most of our time in non-magical society as that's where most of our friends are, not to mention my job. Urd has her shop in Diagon Alley, though, and Skuld is pursuing her Mastery. So we have friends in both societies, it is just a matter of not talking about some things at times. And keeping the magic around the house to a low level."
Urd nodded as Keiichi paused to take a drink. "He's right. For my sisters and me it is just habit, as we grew up with one foot in each world, so to speak."
"What about education? The curriculum at Hogwarts doesn't seem to be very suited for life outside of the magical world." Mr Granger asked.
Hermione groaned. "Not this again, dad, we've talked about this..."
"I'm just concerned that you'll finish at Hogwarts and have very few options available," her father replied, "it is good to able to have a choice."
"It is a legitimate worry, and one we thought about with Harry," Belldandy put in, "the problem is finding enough time to study everything, as learning magic is quite involved."
Harry caught Hermione's attention as the adults started to talk about possible home schooling. "Do you want to come with me to the Motocross Club this afternoon? You could learn to ride a motorbike."
Hermione looked pensive. "I'm not sure..."
"Come on, it'll be fun." Harry said with a grin. "You may just learn something new."
"OK, I'll ask my parents after lunch." Hermione said before reaching for the salt.
Later that afternoon, Hermione found herself on a trainer bike on the beginner's course at the Motocross Club. She had met a number of Harry's local friends at the club, and had eventually been persuaded to try riding for herself. She had been very reluctant at first, but now that she was riding it was not too bad.
"Come on, Hermione, you can go faster than that!" Harry half-shouted as he passed her by in a blur. Hermione gritted her teeth and accelerated harder. She was not going to be shown up!
The Longbottoms had insisted that Harry visit their manor for an overnight stay. Their invitation had been extended to Harry's family, as Frank and Alice wanted to see Urd again. This was a source of frustration for Urd, as while the Longbottoms knew just who had managed to repair the damage caused by the Cruciatus curse, Asgard administrators had made sure that she would never get widespread credit for it.
"Hi there, Harry, it is good to see you." Neville said, grinning at his friend from Hogwarts. Harry grinned back.
"Hi Neville, thanks for inviting me."
"It was my pleasure," Neville replied as the two boys turned to see the adult members of the party engaged in conversation. "Would you like to see the grounds?"
"Sure," Harry responded as the two started to walk in the general direction of the rear of the manor.
The grounds immediately behind the main manor building were laid out formally, shifting to what appeared to be natural woodlands with a lake. Neville noticed Harry's appreciative gaze.
"Looks nice, doesn't it? That was all landscaped over one hundred years ago, before that it was open fields. The greenhouses are over here, they're my favourite part of the garden."
The greenhouses were hidden from view by hedges, which had been arranged to avoid blocking the sun. Harry looked in through the glass and noticed many plants that were familiar from his Herbology classes at Hogwarts, as well as more conventional vegetables. Neville headed directly for one greenhouse in particular, holding the door open for Harry as he entered.
"This is my greenhouse, Harry, it's where I grow my own plants."
Harry noticed that the plants inside Neville's greenhouse were not dangerous in any way, unlike some of those in the Hogwarts greenhouses.
"Keeping it safe, Nev?" Harry asked, gesturing to the plants.
Neville smiled. "Yes, mum and dad don't want me to grow anything dangerous without supervision. I grow anything that might hurt me in mum's greenhouse."
"Good idea," Harry commented, "so what do you have growing in here?"
From a distance, Belldandy watched as Neville showed off his collection of plants. Alice Longbottom noticed where her guest's attention was focused and walked over to join Harry's guardian.
"You look like you're trying to solve a puzzle." Alice said quietly.
Belldandy nodded without taking her attention off Harry and Neville. "Neville is looking very happy to have Harry here, but this is obviously something unusual for him."
Alice blinked in surprise. "How can you tell that? From here?"
"He's a lot more enthusiastic than I would expect from somebody his age," Belldandy replied, turning to face Alice, "I'm guessing that Neville doesn't see many children his age while he's at home."
Alice grimaced as she acknowledged the truth of the matter. "Sadly, you're correct. My mother in law kept Neville a bit isolated from anybody except for family while Frank and I were...indisposed. He never really had any friends his own age until he went to Hogwarts."
Belldandy looked thoughtful, before she smiled brightly. "Well, we will have to change that. You must bring Neville to visit our home in Hinckley before Hogwarts resumes, that way Neville can broaden his horizons."
Alice considered it, glancing over at where Frank was talking to Urd, before she nodded her head. "That's very kind of you, I accept the invitation."
After the Morisato family had left via the Floo, Frank turned to Alice with a determined look on his face. Alice was slightly startled to see her husband look so serious.
"I've got to go out tomorrow. I have to talk to Amelia." Frank stated.
"Alright," Alice said cautiously, "what's got you so worked up that you look ready to launch an Auror raid?"
Frank sighed heavily and picked up a book that had been sitting on a coffee table. "Have you read any of these books by Gilderoy Lockhart?"
Alice looked at the book. "No, I haven't. Should I?"
"I wouldn't bother," Frank replied, grimacing, "for the most part they are just this Lockhart person boasting about himself in wildly improbable tales. But some of his little anecdotes seemed familiar, so I had a closer look. I think I'm going to have to raise this with Amelia."
Alice nodded. "I take it that there's more than just plagiarism going on."
"If my suspicions are correct, yes. I'm hoping they aren't, but if they are..."
"What, do you think this Lockhart has been committing crimes?" Alice asked with a slight tone of incredulity.
"I'm afraid so." Frank said firmly. "Which means that Hogwarts will lose this year's DADA Professor before he's even started. I know that they've had trouble hanging on to them for years now, but this might just take the cake."
"Fine," Alice replied as the two started to walk towards the drawing room, "let me know how it goes when you've seen Amelia."
"I will." Frank answered with a smile.
Skuld looked at the Weasley family home, which was called "the Burrow" for reasons she did not understand. To her, it looked like a disaster waiting to happen, with extra floors and structures seemingly attached without rhyme or reason. It was obvious that the only thing that prevented the building from collapsing into a muddle of broken bricks and timber was magic.
Frankly the whole structure offended her on a deep level. While she had finally mastered her magic after years of neglecting her studies, she still felt that using magic like this was cheating on a fundamental level.
Still, the Weasleys were nice people. Molly Weasley had invited the Morisato family inside in a way that made them all feel like one of the family. Skuld found herself talking to the family patriarch, Arthur, who had an irrepressible fascination with all things muggle. Upon discovering that Skuld had spent a large part of her youth buried in the latest technology, he bombarded the youngest Norn with all sorts of questions about "elketricity" and "the tee-bee."
Skuld answered patiently, thinking of how Belldandy would behave in such a situation. Skuld's sister had disappeared into the kitchen with her children and Molly almost immediately. Keiichi was talking to Percy, the two having somehow found some topic of mutual interest. The twins, Fred and George, seemed to be amazed that anybody could talk to Percy without falling asleep, but were mostly paying attention to Harry.
The Norn of the Future was also keeping an eye on her adopted nephew, trying to observe how he was getting on with other children. Ron seemed happy to have his friend visiting. Ginny, the only daughter of Arthur and Molly, seemed to be incapable of speech whenever she looked at Harry. She was alternating between embarrassed blushes and hiding her face behind her hair.
Lunch was an elaborate production, even if the table had to be magically enlarged to fit everybody around it. Belldandy and Molly were completely absorbed in a conversation about recipes, the two apparently having bonded over cooking the midday repast. Skuld concentrated on her table manners as she continued to field questions from Arthur. She was not entirely sure that Arthur fully understood her answers as his look of innocent wonder never went away.
When it was finally time to leave, Skuld found that she was exhausted. While she had only really spent the day talking, keeping watch over Harry had been foremost in her mind the entire time.
"I don't know how you do it, sister," Skuld told Belldandy later that evening, "just trying to keep track of Harry and his friends was tiring. How you manage with the twins as well..."
Belldandy smiled. "It will come to you in time, Skuld. And is it really all that different with how you have to monitor Banpei and Sigel?"
"That's different," Skuld objected, "I can always turn them off. Or change their code."
Belldandy just laughed, before she headed off to her bedroom.
Professor Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore, Order of Merlin (First Class), Grand Sorceror, Chief Warlock of the Wizengamot, Supreme Mugwump of the International Confederation of Wizards and Headmaster of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry leaned back in his chair and gently massaged his brow. The last year had not been easy, and the last few months had been particularly trying.
If he was brutally honest with himself he had not been having an easy time of things ever since Harry "The-Boy-Who-Lived" Potter had left the Dursley household to live with his cousins in Hinckley. That had added new variables to Albus' carefully laid out plans, variables that had proven impossible to predict or bypass.
The true extent of how badly his plans had been upset had only truly been evident when Harry finally joined Hogwarts as a first year student. Dumbledore had brought a fake Philosopher's Stone into the school, his intent being to create an atmosphere of intrigue and mystery that would draw any young boy with a taste for adventure like a bee to honey. By making it appear as though it were the real Stone that was being safeguarded at Hogwarts, coupled with a false trail of evidence suggesting that somebody was attempting to steal the magical item, Albus had hoped to awaken in Harry a sense of duty and adventure. The boy would need both in the years to come with the Prophecy that was hanging over him.
The plan would also give the Headmaster an idea of just what kind of a wizard Harry was shaping to be. That would help Albus guide Harry's education and training in the years to follow.
Unfortunately, the bait had proven too effective and Voldemort was a lot stronger than Albus had thought possible. The net result was that the Dark Lord infiltrated the school and had abducted Harry in an attempt to steal the Stone. While Harry and his friends had come out of the experience relatively unscathed, the resultant furore had brought an uncomfortable level of attention to how Albus Dumbledore was behaving at Hogwarts.
Not that he had anything to hide. Apart from his plans regarding the inevitable return of Voldemort, naturally, not to mention the Prophecy itself. Amelia Bones and the rest of the Ministry could prod and poke at how he did his job all they liked, all they would ever find were the same practices that had kept Hogwarts as the world's leading institute of magical education. The very fact that no other magical school in the world had yet to topple Hogwarts from that position was enough to persuade the Hogwarts Board of Governors to give Albus a great deal of leniency when they finished investigating the mess regarding the fake Stone.
It was not easy keeping Hogwarts on top like that, not when there were several other nations vying to have their own schools steal Britain's thunder.
There was a knock at his door, and Dumbledore gestured with his wand. The door opened itself to admit Frank Longbottom, who strode in carrying a large book bag. Albus permitted himself a smile as he rose to greet his guest. Frank was an old ally dating back to the first rise of Voldemort, and a loyal friend.
"Hello, Frank, it is good to see you again." Albus said as the two men seated themselves.
"Hello, Headmaster, nice to see you looking so fit." Frank replied as he leaned back in his chair.
Dumbledore observed his guest closely, noting a slight air of tension. "I gather that this isn't a purely social visit."
Frank shook his head. "As much as I wish it were, not today. I'm afraid we have some serious business to attend to."
Albus sighed. "Well, please don't keep me in suspense. What disaster has befallen us this time?"
"Gilderoy Lockhart," Frank stated simply, producing a book from his bag, "have you read any of his books?"
"No I haven't," Dumbledore said, eyeing the book, "for all that many people decided to send me copies as gifts. With one thing and another I have not had the time."
Frank placed the book on the Headmaster's desk. "I took the time to read everything the man has written after it was announced that he would be the new DADA Professor this year. None of it sat right with me, so I did a little investigating."
"And?" Albus prompted as Frank paused. "I'm assuming that you found something worrisome."
"That's an understatement," Frank replied as he fidgeted, "it turns out that Lockhart has been going around gathering stories from retired Aurors, Hitwizards and explorers. He would get them drunk, memorise their tales and then Obliviate them of both the stories themselves and of meeting Lockhart."
Albus paled. "Obliviating people while they were intoxicated? Was he ever trained as an Obliviator?"
"Yes to the first part, no to the second," Frank answered shortly, "we're pretty sure that many of the people he Obliviated will suffer permanent damage from it."
Dumbledore closed his eyes as he lowered his head. He spoke without looking up. "That you're here telling me this means that he's already under arrest. I hope the DMLE will throw the book at him, I almost look forward to the trial. So I will be in need of a new DADA Professor. And I have just under a month to find one."
"True, but I think I can help you on that score." Frank commented.
This caused Albus to look up. "Oh? You have a candidate in mind?"
Frank smiled. "Yes, he's a retired Auror who has too much spare time on his hands right now. While he isn't looking for a permanent job, he's willing to help you out for this coming academic year."
"Sounds like the right man for the job," Albus said with a smile, reflecting on how...inadequate some of the recent DADA Professors had been, "who is this person?"
"Me." Frank replied, grinning broadly.
Narcissa Malfoy observed her son out of the corner of her eye. Her husband Lucius had been rather distracted over the summer as the Ministry had conducted a number of raids on the properties of various Pureblood Lords. The Malfoy Manor had been the subject of a particularly thorough search party led by Arthur Weasley, a fact that had aggravated Lucius more than somewhat.
As far as Narcissa was concerned, it all meant that she had more uninterrupted time with her son. She had put a lot of effort into coaching Draco on how to behave like a proper Slytherin prior to his commencement at Hogwarts, and from what she had heard from Severus Snape the training seemed to have paid off. Draco was at least on speaking terms with Harry Potter, which would go a long way towards keeping Sirius Black happy.
Narcissa did not want to see her son thrown out of the Black Family. That would be the kiss of death for any political career Draco might want to pursue.
Right now Draco was carefully writing one of a number of arguments that he had crafted that supported the Pureblood political position. Well, he had crafted them with some coaching from his mother, who had taken care to guide the Malfoy Heir through the process of researching the topic, identifying the relevant facts and then presenting them in a way that would get the audience engaged.
It was still a work in progress as far as Narcissa was concerned. Draco was nowhere near being ready to engage in formal debates outside of his own age group. Lady Malfoy was content with the progress that Draco had made so far, however, as it was a long way from where he had been before Sirius Black had given his ultimatum.
She had been able to teach her son to be diplomatic. If she could do that, everything else should be easy. For the first time in two years, Narcissa felt some of the weight on her shoulders ease. Now if only she knew just what her husband was plotting...
King's Cross Station was a familiar sight to Harry now, the entrance to Platform 9 ¾ a place that he could navigate to without thinking. He was waiting across from the magical barrier that separated the Hogwarts Express from the rest of the station, standing around sipping some hot chocolate that Aunty Bell had brought in a thermos. As it was a Tuesday he was only accompanied by Aunty Bell, Aunty Skuld and the twins. Harry kept an eye out for his friends while Skuld was watching various magical families pass through the barrier into Platform 9 ¾.
"I swear, if it weren't for the notice-me-not wards, the whole Statute would have been blown away by this place decades ago." Skuld muttered to Belldandy and Harry.
"True, but the wards are maintained regularly," Belldandy replied as she played with her children, "it isn't much of a risk."
"I don't understand why they insist on the train anyway," Harry commented, thinking of something Hermione had said on their return trip to Hogwarts after the Christmas break earlier that year, "wouldn't it be easier for students living in Scotland to go directly?"
"It's tradition," Sirius Black said as he walked up to the group, accompanied by Remus Lupin, "don't try to understand or make any sense of it. A lot of stuff in the wizarding world only happens because it is traditional."
"It is good to see you two!" Belldandy greeted the newly arrived pair warmly. "We expected to see you earlier, were you delayed?"
Remus grimaced slightly. "Yes, we had some business at the Ministry this morning. It should have taken us a quarter of an hour at most, but the red tape tied us up until just a few minutes ago. We apparated as soon as we were clear of the Ministry wards."
"There's Hermione and her parents!" Harry said with enthusiasm, pointing. His movement attracted the attention of the Granger family, who changed direction towards Harry's group.
Soon the two families were catching up on what they had been doing since they had last met. It was not long before they were joined by Neville Longbottom and his mother, Alice.
"Where's Frank?" Sirius asked once the group had exchanged greetings, "I would have thought he'd be here to see Neville off."
"He's busy," Alice replied with a small smile, "he has a new job."
Any further conversation was cut off as the Weasley family arrived, Ron waving excitedly at his friends as they approached. Ginny Weasley still seemed to be incapable of speech around Harry and seemed determined to hide behind Molly.
The group was now large enough that it was attracting attention, particularly as the trunks and some of the clothing looked to be rather antiquated. Remus caught Sirius' eye and tapped his wrist meaningfully. Sirius nodded and stepped into the centre of the group, clearing his throat to attract their attention.
"Ladies, gentlemen, students and the Weasley twins..." Sirius began, getting some chuckles from the assembled group, "it is time we headed for the train. Ladies first?"
Everybody nodded and picked up various trunks and pets, Skuld taking up Hedwig in her cage as Harry grabbed his trunk. The group started to file through the barrier into Platform 9 ¾, Harry hanging at the back with his Aunts. When it was finally his turn, he walked to the barrier with a hand held up in front as if he were parting curtains. This was a trick that Urd had shown him when walking through magical barriers, the intent being to test that the magic was working. It was fortuitous that Harry had heeded Urd's advice, as he found the barrier to be a solid wall.
"What the-?" Harry asked, bewildered. Sirius, Remus, Belldandy and Skuld all looked at the barrier with confusion.
"Let me try that," Sirius muttered, walking to the barrier and putting his hand on it. He frowned as he found it to be a solid wall.
"May I?" Belldandy asked as she approached the barrier with her wand drawn. Sirius nodded and stepped to the side, giving Belldandy free access. She waved her wand over the barrier and frowned, before tapping it sharply.
"Try now," Belldandy suggested. Sirius put his hand back out and found that the barrier was apparently back to normal.
"Right, well let's get through now while it works," Sirius said firmly as he took Harry's trunk from him, "I'll report this to the Ministry later."
Once through the barrier, Harry saw his friends waiting by a carriage that they had picked out. Sirius, dragging Harry's trunk, set off to join the rest of the group at a brisk pace. Harry followed behind, taking Hedwig's cage from Skuld as he did so.
At the carriage itself the students turned to their respective families to exchange farewells. Harry was hugged by Belldandy and Skuld while Sirius and Remus were more content to just clap him on the shoulder. In short order Harry and his friends were on the train and found an empty compartment.
"Where's Ginny sitting?" Hermione asked as she stowed her trunk in the overhead rack.
"I saw her get into a compartment with some other girls her age," Ron said as he helped Neville settle Trevor's cage on the bench seat next to the window, "I think I recognised one or two of them. We can check on her later."
"Sounds like a plan," Harry said after he'd finished settling Hedwig across from Trevor, "we should probably wait until the train is moving."
Draco Malfoy had made a note of where Harry Potter and his hangers-on had seated themselves. He would pay them a visit later on, probably after the snack cart had been past. In the mean time he settled into his carriage, taking his usual window seat. Gregory Goyle and Vincent Crabbe were sitting between him and the door, leaving the bench across from him empty.
Draco opened the book that his mother had given him at the station platform, but was interrupted before he could start reading by the arrival of Marcus Flint, the captain of the Slytherin House Quidditch Team.
"Malfoy. Your father gave the team a bunch of Nimbus 2001s." Flint said simply.
Draco sighed and closed his book. "Yes, he did. I think you can read between the lines just as well as I can."
"You want to be the Seeker this year?" Flint asked neutrally, a glint in his eye.
Draco raised an eyebrow. "Want, yes. Expect, no. You are free to hold try-outs as usual, Flint, father can't stop that."
Flint frowned. "There's a 'but' coming somewhere."
"Of course. Father won't be very happy if I don't make it onto the team, and might reconsider the broom donation." Draco said simply as he examined his fingernails.
"So you're buying your way into the team." The Slytherin Chaser stated.
"Actually, no," Draco corrected the more senior student, "father is buying me into the team. I wanted to try out this year and maybe get the team some new brooms, everything else was father's idea. Do you want to argue with him?"
Flint hesitated noticeably, before he nodded. "Fine. Be ready for hard practice, Malfoy, you'll need it if you want to beat Potter."
"Don't worry, I have every intention of beating Potter to the Snitch," Draco replied, staring Flint straight in the eye, "it is good to have ambitions, no?"
Harry Potter sat at the Gryffindor table in the Great Hall of Hogwarts and watched the Sorting Ceremony. The trip on the Hogwarts Express had been uneventful, Harry and his friends spending most of the time playing cards and talking. Ron had eventually left to check on his sister and Harry decided to go as well, mostly to keep Ron company. Ginny had immediately turned into a mass of embarrassment again, much to the amusement of her fellow passengers. One of them, a blonde girl who introduced herself as Luna Lovegood, had been fascinated by the scar on Harry's forehead.
The only other event of note had been the arrival of Draco Malfoy, who had wanted to confirm that he and Harry would be resuming their debates this year. Harry had quickly assured him that he was game if Draco was, and the Slytherin second year had left satisfied.
Watching the Sorting was quite different than when he was involved in it, Harry decided. He had applauded gently when Luna had been sorted into Ravenclaw, but now it was Ginny's turn. The young girl almost ran up to the stool and sat down quickly, Professor McGonagall lowering the Sorting Hat onto the red-head gently.
There was a pause, maybe ten seconds, before the Hat cried "Gryffindor!" The Gryffindor table clapped wildly, Harry noticing that Ginny's brothers all looked slightly relieved.
Dumbledore stood up to give his usual speech before the food was served. It all sounded like the previous year's speech, though this time there was no comment on the third floor corridor. One part managed to catch Harry's attention.
"Joining us this year as the new Professor of Defence Against the Dark Arts is retired Auror Frank Longbottom. Please join me in welcoming him to the school staff." Dumbledore said grandly as he gestured to where Neville's father was seated at the staff table. Harry clapped along with everyone else, glancing at Neville. Neville looked gobsmacked, this development clearly taking him by surprise.
In short order the food arrived, and Harry decided to quiz Neville about his father's new role later. He was quickly engaged in conversation with Dean Thomas and Seamus Finnegan as they talked about their respective summer holidays.
Belldandy glanced at both Sirius and Remus as they settled into arm chairs in her home in Hinckley. "This is about the barrier today, correct?"
"Yes, I need to report it to the Ministry," Sirius commented, "but I don't know what went wrong. You fixed it pretty quickly, what did you find?"
Belldandy pursed her lips. "It was house elf magic. Once I identified it there was no trouble in dispelling it, but it was distinctly house elf magic."
Remus frowned. "Who on earth would tell their house elf to block the barrier at King's Cross?"
Urd looked up from her book. "Or, who would have a house elf rebellious enough to do it on their own?"
"Now that's a worrying thought," Sirius muttered, glancing at the clock. "We have to get going. I'll let you know what the Ministry says, if anything."
"Thank you. We'll see you again soon?" Belldandy said as she rose to escort her guests out.
At last, the first chapter of the new story. See how I throw entire character arcs into the trash! Goodbye, Gilderoy, I doubt that anyone will miss you very much.