The Misplaced Potter 2
In which our hero returns
Smoke from the locomotive trailed behind the train as the Hogwarts Express churned its way through lush green countryside of northern England carrying its cargo of students to their destination deep in the Scottish Highlands. In the distance, a portion of Hadrian's Wall snaked across the rolling hills. Overhead, two separate flights of Brent geese winged their way southward against the backdrop of an increasingly ominous looking sky but few eyes were on the natural or manmade wonders of Northumberland.
For some onboard, it was their first time riding the cars pulled by the scarlet-colored old-fashioned steam engine. They were excited, nervous, and impatient as they listened wide-eyed at the tales told by older students of a school filled with wonders, danger, traditions, fantastic creatures and teachers who have chained more then one misbehaving kid to the dungeon wall and left them there to rot.
For others, this was a journey to their final year at Hogwarts. They sat together for the most part, banishing anyone from their compartments not staring NEWTs in the face. Their conversations were quieter and more serious. Adulthood, so long a cherished dream, was nearly within their grasp. As the reality replaced the dream, the responsibilities and duties of that station became as apparent as the freedoms. Their nervousness and excitement was palatably different from that of the new kids but it was just as tangible on their faces.
One teenager on the train, however, was not spending the ride getting reacquainted with chums or telling tall tales to eleven year olds. Henry Porter methodically worked his way through the passenger cars eavesdropping on the babble of his fellow students. His magic artificial eyes, as green as the ones he was born with, took careful note of who was sitting with who, what they were discussing, and their composure. Occasionally he would stop for a quick word or two with someone or ask a question of someone else but mostly he listened as he slowly moved from car to car.
Few took any notice of him and none gave a second thought as to why he was walking the corridors. The misadventures of Henry's first term receded from the minds of nearly everyone as two uneventful years had past by. The quidditch stars, the prefects, the fashionable, the jokers, and the lovers readily took Henry's place in the collective consciousness of the Hogwarts student body. A condition both to Henry's liking and advantageous to his situation.
He had the deadliest wizard in Europe as his mortal enemy. Henry's only chance at survival was the mastery of all the normal subjects that Hogwarts offered as well as the secret and quasi-secret extracurricular training he was receiving from several of the professors. Hagrid created an outdoor adventure club that taught woodcraft and survival. The headmaster, an expert in several forms of unarmed combat, turned a large unused room in Hogwarts castle into a proper dojo. Professor Moody laid out several pistes in another room where his dueling society met.
Many of his classmates, most of whom thought them nothing more then something fun to do, joined Henry in the various after class clubs but Henry's training went further then did theirs. He alone undertook clandestine lessons in legilimency and occlumency in addition to learning some of the basic auror skills such as stealth and tracking as well as mastering some of the more exotic attributes of his artificial eyes. In addition, Professor McGonagall promised Henry that his animagus training would commence during the next few weeks.
Henry stopped before the sliding door of the last compartment on the final passenger car. He paused briefly feeling the protective ward that was in place. It had an unfamiliar tingle but it allowed him to pass through into the company of his friends.
Everyone looked up as he came inside. Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger sat opposite of each other by the window. Chris Gallatin, Henry's cousin sat between Hermione and Ginny, Ron's vivacious younger sister who was as close beside Chris as she could get without crawling onto his lap. Henry eased himself onto the empty space alongside Luna Lovegood; the compartment's only other occupant.
"Who erected the ward?" Henry asked.
"I did. Why? Is something wrong with it?" Ron demanded nervously.
Ron, despite being a young wizard of much promise, was insecure, which was an odd trait since the rest of the Weasleys were very confident people especially Ginny and her older twin brothers Fred and George who were so to the point of cockiness.
Henry's friends burst into laughter as his voice broke.
"No, nothing was wrong with it," a slightly embarrassed Henry continued. "It did not feel like one of Hermione's or Chris' so I was curious."
"You can tell who cast a spell?" Ginny asked in surprise.
Henry shrugged. "Not with most spells but some such as wards leave a fingerprint if you will. Professor Moody said that aurors prefer to use ward cubes because they leave a generic impression."
"I've read about ward cubes but I have never seen a set." Hermione said. "Perhaps we should inquire about getting some of them."
"I have a set," Luna said rustling through her large leather purse The cubes she extracted from a soft felt bag looked like four large metallic six-sided die with altering faces of gold and silver.
"Where did you get these," Hermione asked as she examined the cubes avidly.
"They were my mother's," she replied. "She had them in place the day she died which is why I wasn't killed by the explosion even though I was in the kitchen with her."
The blunt matter-of-fact manner in which Luna made her statement chilled Hermione who was certain that if she had seen her mother killed before her eyes, she would be in St. Mungo's psychiatric ward not calmly injecting the event into conversations. The strange blonde girl made a habit of startling Hermione beginning with their first meeting. Luna had been at Hogwarts only three weeks when she strolled over to the library table at which Maggie, Hermione, Chris and Henry were sitting. She slowly traced the lightning bolt-shaped scar on Henry's forehead with her fingernail.
"So faint yet so obvious," Luna said. "Do you know who you are?"
His friends nearly panicked but Henry only smiled. If he were frightened or perturbed, he showed no signs of it
"Yes, I do," he replied. "But do you know who you are?"
With a laugh, Luna familiarly sat down beside him and introduced herself. Before an hour had passed, she was part of the gang as far as the others were concerned but for Hermione warming to Luna was a slow process, a process made difficult by Luna's personality being the antithesis of Hermione's own. Luna was intuition and faith while Hermione was reason and logic.
"I know that you find her odd but it's good to have people around you who don't think like you do. It causes you to reevaluate what you hold to be true," Henry once told Hermione in explanation as to why he so often sought Luna's opinion. "Besides, I just plain like her."
Hermione now liked her as well. As she spent time with her, Hermione came to know that Luna's unconventional façade hid a strong, deeply loyal, highly intelligent and very mature young woman. Furthermore, despite Hermione's initial fears, the Quibbler had yet to print a single word about Henry. Luna could keep a secret.
"So did your reconnaissance uncover anything important or was it just who is cheating on whom?" Chris joked.
"Dish the dirt," added Ginny roguishly.
"Prurient matters aside…," began Henry.
"Prig," Chris interrupted with a laugh.
"Beyond the private lives of our classmates the main topics of conversation was Ireland winning the World Cup," Henry said ignoring his cousin's teasing but not entirely inaccurate description of him. "And that a Triwizard tournament is going to be held at Hogwarts this year."
"A Triwizard tournament? Really?" Ron asked excitedly. "So that's what everyone's been so coy about."
"They haven't held one of those in decades," Ginny said simultaneously. "Almost a century."
"According to Hogwarts, a History," said Chris. "At least one champion died in almost every tournament."
"That's why they stopped having them," Hermione earnestly said. "The best and the brightest were being lost in a meaningless manner before they could achieve their potential. I wonder why it's being revived."
"What I wondered is why do only Hogwarts, Beauxbatons, and Durmstrang send a champion to the tournament. Why not Appelbosje and Celareval also?" Henry said referring to the Dutch and Italian magic academies.
"From what I read, Celareval refused to participate from the beginning because they thought it was foolish to risk the lives of their students," Hermione explained. "And Appelbosje did not even exist when the first tournaments were held. After its establishment it was excluded from the later tournaments because the other three schools did not consider Appelbosje to be on an equal footing to them being so new."
Henry chuckled incredulously. "I suppose that because I grew up in the United States I find it difficult to think of anything four hundred years old as new."
"At least you're starting to sound like a proper Brit now even if vaguely Scottish but what's four hundred years in Britain? We have nineteen hundred year old roman ruins there beyond our window," Chris replied pointing to Hadrian's Wall.
"Not to mention Stonehenge," Luna said.
"It's a different frame of reference to be sure," Hermione quickly answered back fearing Luna might launch into a bizarre explanation about the mysterious ring of stones.
"How do they pick a champion?" Ron asked speculatively.
"Forget it, brother mine," Ginny laughed. "No way are they going to choose a student as young as us. The champion will come from the sixth or seventh form."
"It would be cool though," he mused.
"It would be insane," Hermione insisted emphatically.
"Oh, I don't know. Face to face with a rampaging cockatrice sounds like a spot of fun," quipped Chris.
Hermione snorted. "If I'm going to risk my life, it will be for something far, far more important then a contest between schools."
"What else is on the minds of our fellow passengers?" Chris asked moving away from the topic.
"The riot at the quidditch world cup, of course," Henry responded. "Several of our classmates were there. It wasn't pretty from what I gathered."
"It wasn't," Ron grunted coldly shuttering at the memories of that frenzied night. "I got separated from Ginny in the chaos. I was so scared for her. I about cried when I finally found her."
"He nearly broke my ribs hugging me," Ginny remembered warmly. "But it was alright because I knew that I was safe since my terrier was there beside me."
"Your terrier!" Chris gleefully howled
Ron groaned raising a hand to his forehead. "Ginny, you swore that you would never use that nickname at Hogwarts."
"Sorry, it slipped out," his sister replied without contrition.
"Why terrier?" asked Hermione curiously.
"Many summers ago we were in the village when some older boys started making rude comments about my red hair," Ginny began with a wide smile on her lips. "Ron went after them even though there were three of them and they must have been seven or eight years old while Ron was only six. They were thumping him as you can imagine but Ron wouldn't quit. One of the men who broke up the fight called Ron a terrier. Ever since then, he's been my overly protective terrier."
"That's sweet," Luna said patting Ron's thigh.
"It would have been sweeter if I had kicked their asses for getting me stuck with that name," he grumbled.
"So that's why you're so enthusiastic about Dumbledore's martial arts classes," Chris said.
Ron shook his head. "Not really. Unlike the rest of you, I'm not that smart. After spending all day getting headaches trying to stay afloat, I like going to the dojo, throwing the brain into idle and just sweating."
"You are not stupid, Ronald," Luna solemnly insisted. "You should not persist in thinking otherwise. Pour yourself into your dreams and create a new reality."
The lanky redhead shrugged turning his eyes to the passing countryside. Luna made him nervous. He was certain that her silver-grey eyes saw directly into his mind and soul while they never revealed what she was feeling. Furthermore, her comments would frequently cause him to pause and reflect, usually on very deep subjects. His life, Ron felt, was complicated enough without striving for self-awareness.
"Were there many who thought that the reappearance of Death Eaters was a good thing?" Hermione asked.
"A minority from what I overheard," Henry confirmed. "But a larger minority then I would have suspected. A fair number of hushed conversations were in progress as I walked along. There were a lot of rather smug looking people and not just the ones that you would expect to be sympathetic to Voldemort."
"It cannot be that unanticipated considering that the Daily Prophet has been printing subtle anti-muggle and anti-muggleborn articles for nearly a year now," Hermione replied despondently. "Such a campaign is bound to have an effect."
"They are doing just what Fudge is telling them to do," Ron angrily stated. "All of that dung is coming directly from his office. He's becoming obsessed with the 'purity' of magical British community."
"He isn't a Death Eater, is he?" asked Chris.
"No," Ron replied. "He's merely a bigot which is bad enough in my opinion."
"He may not be a Death Eater but his policies are furthering many of their objectives nonetheless," Hermione pointed out. "He's dividing the community at a time that it needs to be united."
"History is full with examples of foolish leaders doing just that, which is usually followed by disaster," Chris replied forlornly. "Live and let live seems to be a lesson that must be learned again and again."
"I hope that it isn't necessary for us to tell you three that we think that prejudice against muggles and muggleborns is wrong," Ginny said. "Ron and I can trace our family back for generations without finding a muggle in the direct line but what does that mean, really? We get nothing handed to us for it. We have to learn what everyone else has to if we are going to take our place in the community."
"Yesterday's magic will not do today's spell," Luna said quoting an old witch's adage about the uselessness of excessive pride in one's ancestors.
"We know that you three aren't bigots," Hermione reassured her friends. "We don't hold you responsible for what other pure bloods may think or say."
A loud thunderclap immediately stifled their conversation. Midday became dark as evening when a strident wind buffeted their car announcing the arrival of the storm that had been threatening for hours. Large raindrops fell in sheets from a black sky franticly pelting the window and sending a chill through the pane. As a gloom enveloped the compartment, Ron stood and lit the compartment's lantern.
"An ill omen," Luna intoned eyeing the murkiness outside.
"Naught but a rainstorm," Hermione countered briskly.
Luna smiled politely but chose not to reply. Instead, she began reading her arithmancy course book in the warm pleasant glow of the lamp. Hermione swore silently. It bothered her that she challenged nearly everything that Luna said but something about the young woman compelled her to offer rational explanations to Luna's airy pronouncements. It bordered on rudeness especially toward one that she considered a friend but Hermione could not stop herself.
Henry stood and stretched.
"Leaving us so soon?" Chris asked.
"The WC," Henry casually replied. "The rain has triggered a primal need."
Laughing, Chris also stood. "It does have that effect, doesn't it? Lead on, cuz."
He followed his cousin down the corridor toward the lavatory. The aisle was shadowed, lit only where lantern light poured from the compartment doors but it was not depressing to Chris' mind. The rumble of the thunder and howl of the wind were strong but not enough to drown out the clacking of the train wheels, which provided a pleasant counterpoint to the gentle rhythmic rocking of the car.
"If it's raining like this at Hogwarts then I pity the first years," Chris said waving at the downpour. "I wouldn't care to attempt crossing the lake in this weather."
"Think about Hagrid," Henry replied over his shoulder. "Magic boats or not, that's a lot of man for a small craft on a choppy lake."
Draco Malfoy exited the lavatory as they approached. A quick, disdainful glance was all that he spared the cousins before turning away from them striding toward his own compartment.
"I love you, too, Malfoy," Chris sarcastically said under his breath.
"Forgiveness, cousin," Henry kindly admonished. "As you said a few moments ago, live and let live. Hatred cannot be answered with hatred if the world is going to get any better."
"That's a beautiful sentiment, Henry, and a true one," Chris replied as they stopped before the lavatory door. "But try telling that to Lord V."
"I wish I could," he plaintively said his soft voice carrying no further then his cousin's ears. "I'd give every last galleon I have in Gringott's if he would listen."
"I know that you would, cuz," Chris agreed compassionately. "But it is just not going to happen."
"Yeah, I know," Henry sighed as he slid open the door.
Theo Nott was washing his hands when they entered the room. Unlike his just departed fellow Slytherin, Theo tossed a friendly nod at the pair.
"Hiya," he said. "Soon as it started to rain, I had to rush in here."
Chris and Henry laughed breaking the somberness of the moment.
"Same here," Chris replied.
"Hi, Theo," Henry said. "Did you have a good holiday?"
Henry liked Theodore Nott and thought Theo felt similarly toward him but Theo's persona did not allow Henry to consider him a friend. Theo was a lone wolf. The weedy Slytherin had no other choice. Despite the fact that his father escaped punishment in the aftermath of Voldemort's downfall, it was no secret that the elder Nott was one of the Dark Lord's most fervent followers. Theo wanted nothing to do with the Death Eaters but outright defiance could get him killed so he walked a very tight line. A public friendship with a muggleborn was not an option open to him.
Theo surreptitiously glanced at the two cousins at the urinals. Not for the first time he speculated as to who Henry Porter was exactly. He knew that Henry was muggleborn raised mostly in America. The events of the first year showed that he had courage. He was among the top students in their form and active in several extracurricular clubs like Theo himself. Over the course of three years, soft-spoken boy had proven himself a gentleman in the truest sense. He treated everyone with respect and courtesy.
Other then that, all that Theo knew about him was that Henry was highly skilled in the art of extracting information from people without seeming to do so. It dawned on Theo late in the spring that he was effectively Henry's mole in Slytherin House and had been for the entire year. Henry was not a gossip or for that matter did not even talk all that much so why the thirst to know what was going on in the other houses?
"It was a fairly good break but I'm glad to be going back to Hogwarts," Theo said in answer to Henry's question. "Yours?"
"It was good," Henry responded as he finished up. "We bought a colt that I believe will prove to be a very solid stallion."
"A Guineas/Derby winner?" Theo asked. He was pleased to see the look of surprise on Henry's face. It was rare to catch him off-guard. He stepped back allowing Henry to use the basin.
"Probably not that good but it's possible," Henry allowed opening the tap. "I did not know that you followed thoroughbred racing. I hadn't met a wizard yet that was interested in the sport. "
"Mum's mad about it," he replied. "Flat racing especially and since the divorce, she can indulge her passion without listening to the old man going on about it being beneath us. Let me tell you that when it comes to betting, she knows horses better then most bookmakers. She loses as often as a hot day in January."
Henry dried his hands. "If circumstances permit perhaps the two of you can drop by the farm next summer."
"Perhaps," Theo said noncommittally before changing the subject to something he thought that Henry would want to know. "Did you ever hear of Dolores Umbridge?"
"Ministry bureaucrat," Henry replied moving away from the basin to let Chris at it. "I've seen her name mentioned in the Daily Prophet a few times. Undersecretary for something or other. I've forgotten what."
"Well, now she's the newly created Undersecretary for Magic Education," Theo said. "From Draco Malfoy's gloating, I gather that she thinks that Hogwarts should be remodeled to something nearer to Durmstrang."
"Durmstrang doesn't admit muggleborn students for one thing," Chris replied.
"Hell, the half-and-half's would probably be excluded, at least on a selective basis," Theo retorted. "And they don't teach Defense against the Dark Arts at Durmstrang, they teach the dark arts themselves."
"Isn't Hogwarts independent of the Ministry?" Henry asked.
"In theory," Theo confirmed. "But if Fudge wants to make life miserable for the individual members of the Hogwarts Board of Governors, he can. They'll get the message quick enough."
Henry frowned. "I don't know why they would exclude the muggleborn kids. They do as well at Hogwarts as the wizardborn kids and from what I can see the continuous infusion of muggleborns and mixed marriages help to keep the magical community vibrant."
Theo laughed harshly. "Henry, you're old enough to realize that some people don't clutter their minds with facts. Scratch the surface of any pure blood fanatic and you'll find an unreformed druid who yearns for the ancient days when they ruled Britain by fear and the open use of magic. The point that the practice of pure bloods marrying only pure bloods left the druids too few in number to keep the Romans out of Britain never occurs to them."
"It's always something," Henry groaned.
"To use one of your American sayings," Chris said. "Ain't that the truth, brother."
"Yeah, it is but don't let the buggers get you down," Theo encouragingly replied. "I'll see ya."
The three teens exited the lavatory, parting ways in the aisle. Henry remained silent mulling over all that he had gleamed that day. One of Professor Moody's mantras was 'anticipate your enemy and get there before he does.' A pithy axiom but Henry did not have full confidence in his ability to foresee what one action meant in terms of an overall strategy especially when those who were making the moves were far older and far, far more experienced then was he.
Hermione noticed Henry's sober expression as soon as he reentered their compartment. She silently damned Voldemort. The Dark Lord, who had robbed Henry of his birth parents, was now robbing him of what remained of his childhood. A fourteen-year-old boy should spend his time thinking about girls and school not learning how to kill. Henry was strong but he should not have to shoulder such a burden. No one should.
Henry caught the look of worry on Hermione's face. He gave her a small smile as he sat down beside her.
"I'm fine," he said to the girl that had become a surrogate big sister for him. "Honestly."
Hermione briefly drew his hand into hers. "Of course you are."
"There's a new Undersecretary for Magic Education," Henry announced. "Dolores Umbridge."
"It's not just a new undersecretary but a new department entirely," Ron informed him.
"Dad thinks that the Ministry is going to try to take control of Hogwarts," Ginny added as she played footsy with Chris.
"Do you think that the three things are related?" Henry asked. "I mean Umbridge's appointment, the tournament, and the public reemergence of the Death Eaters."
"It would depend on whose idea it was to hold the tournament," Chris said after a few moments thought. "But, offhand, I would say no. I think that at this time the Death Eaters, the Ministry, and Dumbledore's organization are all making opening gambits independently and not reacting to each other."
"Dumbledore's organization?" Henry asked.
"I'm sure that he has one," Chris asserted. "He is, in many ways, bound to Hogwarts so he would need people to investigate stuff and undertake certain missions."
"It's called the Order of the Phoenix," Ginny said. "Mum and Dad are part of it."
"We're not supposed to talk about it," Ron admonished her.
Ginny snorted. "They can guess most of it anyway and besides we don't have any major secrets among us."
Four minds immediately flashed on the big secret that the Weasley siblings did not know; that Henry was the boy who lived.
"So how is the tournament an opening gambit, do you think?" Hermione asked quickly.
"If those who are generally suspected of being Death Eaters or Voldemort sympathizers truly are such then they number among the wealthiest of wizarding families which puts a lot of money at Lord V's disposal and money buys influence. The Ministry being the legitimate source of authority in magical Britain has power, all of which leaves Dumbledore out in the cold. I doubt if the Order of the Phoenix is all that large so he's going to need allies," Chris replied. "The tournament would be a good way for him to establish contact with wizards and witches outside of Britain without the appearance of doing so."
"But if you can figure that out, I'm sure that Voldemort and the Ministry can also," Hermione pointed out.
"No doubt," Chrisreplied. "But they can't publicly call Dumbledore on it as long as it looks like nothing more then a revival of the Triwizards tournament. Otherwise their motives are called into question by the community at large."
"So you think that magical Britain is divided into three camps each opposed to one another," Ginny said.
Chris shook his head. "Not really. The three groups are very small. The vast majority of witches and wizards will simply wait until one or another gains the upper hand and then will go along with what ever direction that group takes Britain."
"That's cynical," Ginny replied. "You make it sound as if most people don't care."
"I'm not cynical but one thing that history does teach us is that most people actually don't care about the big picture until it impacts them directly and then only are stirred to action when it is an adverse effect," Chris replied. "I'm willing to bet that half the people on this train could not tell you who the current Minister for Magic is but can recite the entire lineup of the Appleby Arrows or give you a concise biography of every member of the Weird Sisters."
"You're most likely right but I'll tell you what else history teaches us, Chris," Ron spoke up. "It teaches us that in the end it doesn't matter. The world is nothing but strife. Dumbledore killed Grindelwald only to have Voldemort rise up. Soon, one or the other will die and someone will take the fallen one's place and it will go on."
"So, you're going to stick your head in the sand with the rest of them?" asked Chris almost curtly.
"No," Ron replied. "When the day comes, I'll take my place in the Order of the Phoenix, fight and likely wind up dead some dark night. In the meantime, I'll take what fun I canI am going to listen to the Weird Sisters, cheer on the Chudley Cannons and hopefully get a chance or two to explore the differences between men and women."
"If you feel all is in vain anyway then why would you bother to fight in the first place?" Hermione asked.
"Opinion is divided on that subject," a grinning Ron answered. "In question is whether I'm a fool, a damned fool or a complete idiot."
The others chuckled save for Luna.
"Ronald, I truly wish you would stop saying that sort of thing about yourself," she said sincerely. "Besides, we must havefaith that what we do does matter and that good will ultimately triumph over evil."
"We can but hope," Ginny said softly.
"I think that we are doing more then just hoping," Chris began confidently. "We may be a small group but each of us is pushing ourselves beyond most of our classmates. We will be a match for the Death Eaters when the day comes."
"The alternative is unacceptable," Hermione added over the chorus of assent.
Henry eased back on the bench. He battled daily against melancholy, against the belief that as Ron said it was nothing but endless strife and nothing mattered. Dumbledore told him that fate had cast him as an avatar of light; a physical embodiment of good yet Henry could not avoid seeing himself as an awkward, inexperienced adolescent. He trained hard and learned all he could but who was he when compared to the Dark Lord? Who was he to think that a kid could best the Ministry?
The esprit de corps of his friends, however, cheered him.
"I must stop thinking that I am alone in this," Henry thought. "My friends are with me. Perhaps since our motivation is not lust for power or intolerance we may be somehow more then our numbers, a whole that is greater then the sum of its parts. Maybe we can win."
Abruptly, Henry pushed away thoughts of conflict.
"Tomorrow will bring what tomorrow will bring," he mused in the quiet of his mind. "Sufficient onto the day is the evil thereof."
Feeling safe in the company of his closest friends, Henry closed his eyes and contentedly settled even deeper on the cushioned bench. He blocked out the world centering his thoughts on a tiny raven-haired girl who waited like a fairy tale princess in a magic castle.