Sixth Year: The Steps Toward The End

Disclaimer: Harry Potter belongs to J.K. Rowling... If you don't know this and are reading Harry Potter Fan Fiction then there is something seriously weird going on. This goes for every chapter as I can't be bothered copy/pasting for each chapter

Summary: Harry Potter has spent his summer after fifth year dealing with the death of his beloved Godfather, Sirius Black. As the Hogwarts new school year begins, Harry makes the choice to continue the DA to train, not only for lack of a decent DADA teacher, but to teach those whom he can trust how to defend themselves as the war begins to pick up pace. New friendships begin and old ones fade as Harry discovers who he can truly trust with his secrets, his life and even his heart.

Picks up from when Harry arrives at Kings Cross during HBP. Everything that happened up to that point in the book may be assumed to have happened in this story, with the exception that Harry hasn't told Ron and Hermione the Prophecy.

Pairings: Harry/Daphne/Fleur/Hermione/Padma.

This is not a harem story. Let me say that again: this is not a harem story. Harry will have several very different relationships throughout the course of his next two years, but not all at once and with the consent of others. I'm going to try and make the relationships as realistic as I can, and harems don't fall into the 'realistic' category in modern society.

A/N: What else is there to say? I didn't like HBP or DH that much and decided to write out some of my own ideas. I don't believe for a second any of this would be canon, but hey, it's going to be an enjoyable time nonetheless.

This will be long, and generally character centric. That means there will be many chapters' in-between fights in the first half of the story and dominantly dialogue instead. If you want a heap of action, I'm afraid you'll have to click the back button. If you're still interested, let's begin this probably overlong tale.

Note that chapter titles are a mix of song titles and my own invention. Originally they were all song titles but as time went on, I found I lacked the necessary amount of songs to find something suitable. You'd think having somewhere around 2700 songs would be enough…

The song title is from the Australian band "Augie March". They're one of most literate bands out there.

Thanks to chem prof for his beta work.

Chapter 1: This Train Will Be Taking No Passengers

Alistair Gredford had noticed some strange things during his decade of service as a security guard at Kings Cross Station in London. It seemed that September 1st, without fail every year, heralded a strange sight. Children from the age of probably eleven to seventeen would enter the station with trunks, clearly weighing something ridiculous, with either a cat (which was normal all things considered), a toad (a little less normal) or an owl. An owl in daylight is a rarity in itself, but children with caged owls and bringing them on a train was something else entirely.

The peculiar sight was originally unnerving, especially when there were at least thirty groups with owls. However, Alistair grew used to this peculiarity, and as he made one of his rounds on this September 1st, he was unsurprised at the now familiar sight of families with large trunks and assorted animals.

On occasion, Alistair would overhear conversations from the groups. One unfamiliar word he had heard several years ago had been a commonly used one amongst these strange groups. Alistair had searched around, through dictionaries, the local library, and even the internet, to ascertain the words' meaning. He'd been unsuccessful. This, unfortunately, only increased his curiosity.

In short, to say that Alistair was interested in these people would be an understatement. This attitude was about to get him killed.

Alistair had decided this year to approach a group and ask what in blazes a "Muggle" was.


Bellatrix Lestrange was furious. Bellatrix Lestrange was delighted. It was a strange mix of emotions but this was Bellatrix Lestrange after all. She could multi-task.

Three months ago she had failed to complete a mission assigned to her and Lucius Malfoy. The mission had been to trick Harry Potter into retrieving the prophecy in the Ministry of Magic's infamous 'Department of Mysteries'. It was a simple task, really. Feed the boy a vision of his Godfather in peril, and the boy would come. He was there within two hours. Quite a feat considering the boy did not know how to Apparate.

The Potter boy wouldn't allow any harm to come to his friends. That was the crux of the plan. However, he proved to be incredibly stubborn when he resisted, and his five companions shot Reductor Curses at the glass spheres containing the recordings of Prophecies made that had and hadn't been fulfilled yet, and the shelves that they sat on.

Her mission had gone downhill from there, until her Master had eventually come to her rescue from the old goat Dumbledore and his band of merry men. He had been furious with her, his plan had failed and now the world knew he was back. And he didn't even have the Prophecy to show for it. The only solace for Bellatrix was the fact she had killed her disappointment of a cousin, Sirius Black.

Now, on September 1st, Bellatrix had her chance at revenge for her failure at the Department of Mysteries. Her mission was simple.

Find the target.

Destroy his wand.

Get out.

Voldemort had explained the significance of the Potter boys' wand to her and her alone. As she was now the most senior Death Eater thanks to Lucius getting himself captured, she was privy to this information and was now leading the charge on the Hogwarts Express. She would get her revenge on the target and maybe even a treat if she so happened to find a special someone along the way.

Neville Longbottom – one of the Potter boy's little allies – would join his parents, with any luck.

As for Potter himself… well, he wouldn't know what hit him.

Watch out Baby Potter. Aunty Bella is coming to play!


It was now nine-thirty and the first groups of peculiar people were arriving. Alistair noted them quietly but he could have screamed bloody murder and they wouldn't have noticed, for the noise of the station drowned out most conversation.

On his fourth round since the first group, Alistair was passing the main thoroughfare when a tall, dark haired woman collided with him.

"Bloody Muggle! Watch where you're going!" she screeched.

Several people nearby heard the shout and turned to satisfy their curiosities.

Embarrassed, Alistair momentarily missed the fact that this woman just called him a 'Muggle'. "I sincerely apologize, ma'am. It won't happen again."

The woman brushed out the creases in her clothing, which was odd in itself. Who did wear robes nowadays? She then looked straight into his eyes and said, "See that it doesn't." and took off.

Alistair's mind took several seconds to come back online. She'd called him a Muggle, hadn't she? This was the chance he'd been waiting for.

Deciding that this was as good a time as any, he followed the dark haired woman past several platforms before she veered off onto platform nine. Dodging dozens of other citizens on the platform, Alistair closed this distance between the woman and himself. Just as caught up, she disappeared into a barrier.

Alistair blinked, perplexed. She'd been there a second ago.

He circled the barrier to and found nothing. Had she walked through the barrier? How was such a feat even possible?

His curiosity spiking now, Alistair reached out to touch the barrier. He expected to touch stone, nothing more, and nothing less. He was so sure of himself that he nearly fell over when he pushed forward with his hand, proving the barrier to not be solid at all. His hand went straight through.

Alistair risked a glance to see if anyone saw that his hand was going straight through stone but it seemed that not one person paid any interest in him or the barrier. Thinking about it, it occurred to him that he never saw anyone near this particular barrier.

Making a decision, Alistair decided to follow the woman into the barrier. He took a breath and stepped forward, albeit hesitantly.

Alistair didn't know what he was expecting. Would it be an "Alice in Wonderland" adventure? Would it be a "Wizard of Oz" one? Alistair was certain, however, that he had not expected a knife to the gut.

The knife pierced his skin the second he'd stumbled through the barrier and cut straight through his organs. He was too surprised to cry out. His insides quickly began to feel cold. Slowly, as his movements rapidly became a struggle, he raised his head and locked eyes with his attacker. It was the woman. Now that he could see her better, her face was hollowed. There were few remnants of fallen beauty left on her face, and if the hollowed cheeks and eyes had not been enough to dissuade of the notion of beauty, the look in her eyes would undoubtedly be enough.

Looking into her eyes, you would be hard pressed to find a look filled with any more genuine happiness.

Alistair began to feel weak in the legs. The woman let go of the knife and he fell to the ground, coughing up blood onto the pavement. He heard the distant noise of a train. His vision slowly faded as he began to pass out.

He had no family. No wife or children. His parents had been strange people. He recalled for no particular reason to him at that moment that he had been told that his parents had disappeared for nine months a year to a boarding school in Scotland. They had died some seventeen year prior, when he was thirteen. He couldn't remember much about them at all but he took solace that he would them again soon enough.

At nine forty eight am on September 1st, 1996, Alistair Gredford died on Platform 9 ¾.


It had taken Bellatrix mere moments to notice she was being followed. It took her even less time to know that this person was neither wizard nor witch. Her follower lacked any grace probable from an Auror, and had not hidden themselves by any magical means. A quick turn of her head and her peripheral vision noted that her tail was the Muggle she had bumped into a minute earlier.

It was instantaneous. She could feel deep within her a desire to kill this man.

As she passed through the barrier to Platform 9 ¾, she had expected some form of resistance. There were no protections against those that carried the mark of her Master, if it were even possible, nor were there any Aurors mixed in the crowd watching for threats. Although her job was easier for it, she was disappointed. Her inner child wanted to massacre. With some effort, Bellatrix focused.

It had been some time since Bellatrix had last visited Platform 9 ¾. She took in the familiar but unfamiliar sight before her senses warned her of someone approaching from behind. She turned; hand ready to whip out her wand, only to find a hand sticking out of the barrier between muggle and magical Kings Cross. No person familiar with the platform would stand on one side with a hand sticking through. Even the Mudbloods had more sense than that.

She drew a Muggle knife she had acquired specifically for this mission, as magic here was monitored closely and she did not want to alert the Ministry of her presence. She waited, prepared to strike at any moment should the Muggle that had been following her pass through the barrier. Would the Ministry notice that a Muggle was passing through the barrier? Shouldn't there be Notice-Me-Not Charms around the barrier, amongst a variety of other protections? Did that mean this person knew of magic?

Regardless of who he was she couldn't risk someone identifying her before she made herself known on the train. Memory Charms could be broken. That left one option: killing him.

Her heart sang.

More of the exposed arm made its way through the barrier, followed by elbow, then more arm and finally the torso. The instant she saw the torso, Bellatrix thrust the knife into the muggle's flesh. Muggles may have been inferior in her eyes but she had to admit this manner of killing was just as fulfilling, if not more so than using Avada Kedavra.

Had she had more time or on a less sensitive mission, she would have spent time reveling in the feeling of power she gained from killing someone through her own strength. She let go of the knife and the man fell to the ground, surprisingly silent. She had expected to have to cast a quick Silencing Charm to keep the noise down but the man had been so shocked that he barely made a sound except to cough up blood.

Bellatrix whipped out her wand and transfigured the body into a bone and banished it to a distant corner of the station. Wherever she put it, it would be found out. Transfiguration would be noticed by the Ministry but not on what. The Banishing Charm would be obscure enough to use up more Ministry time.

After Scourgifying the small puddle of blood, Bellatrix made her way out of sight and covered herself in one of her Masters' spells, one more powerful than the Disillusionment Charm. She could stand next to hundreds of students that feared her and never be known to them as long as she stayed out of contact with them. Her lackeys, Rowle and Travers, would be along ten minutes after her as per their plan, so Bellatrix waited.

She watched as several families arrived. The younger children were excited and afraid, the older ones more confident and eagerly catching up with old friends. The parents were saddened to see their children go for another nine months but put on a front to not appear melodramatic. Bellatrix focused on the young children. Her heart, already ecstatic at her ending one life today, begged her for more. More blood, more death, more pain.

Ten minutes later, Bellatrix saw the shimmery outline of Rowle and Travers pass through the barrier. She reached out and tapped them both on the shoulder to make her presence known. The three then moved to the train and climbed through the open doors.

It was just past ten o'clock, and everything was going according to plan.


Harry Potter had had an eventful summer. He had been picked up early by Professor Dumbledore from the Dursley's, unknowingly persuaded Horace Slughorn into retaking his position at Hogwarts as Potions Professor, visited the Weasley twins' shop in Diagon Alley, and figured out that Malfoy was a Death Eater.

Unfortunately, neither Ron nor Hermione had believed him about Malfoy. Him being "too young" and it being "unlikely" were the arguments that his two best friends came up with and it annoyed and frustrated him to no end.

Why did Malfoy freak when Madam Malkin touched his arm? Why did Borgin freak when Malfoy showed him something on his arm? Malfoy has been a Death Eater in training since before Hogwarts, and now that his father is in prison, Voldemort would recruit Lucius's son in an instant to replenish his ranks after the Department of Mysteries fight.

The Department of Mysteries… Harry had spent much of the summer thinking about that disastrous evening. He had foolishly fallen into Voldemort's trap and Sirius had paid the price. He had coped with the loss of Sirius…eventually. There had been many nights when he was on the verge of weeping at his loss and his foolishness. He no longer blamed himself; instead put the blame where it belonged, on Bellatrix Lestrange.

Sirius had been Harry's hope of a normal life. Two years ago Harry had rescued him – his newly found Godfather – from the Dementor's Kiss with the aid of Hermione and her time-turner. That night he had, for a brief few minutes, believed he could live a normal life with a caring relative, but as luck… no, his luck would have it, that night was a full moon and Professor Lupin was a werewolf.

Sirius had been a man unhappy since the death of his best friend and Harry's father. Perhaps it had been a relief when he had fallen through the veil… perhaps not. Harry would never know. Now, Professor Lupin was now Harry's last link to his parents, and with any luck, he could spend a bit more time with him before it was his turn.

The Department of Mysteries also brought up another problem: the Prophecy. For Harry's entire life, and even some time before then, he had been controlled by this Prophecy. It had taken until the end of his fifth year before Dumbledore saw fit to give Harry the reason why he was hunted constantly by the strongest evil wizard alive, perhaps ever. Harry had been told he could tell those he trusted and who did he trust more than Ron and Hermione?

When Harry had arrived at the Burrow for the remainder of the summer, he had planned to tell them both the Prophecy. The morning after he arrived, the two of them had ambushed him in his bedroom to talk about Sirius, as Owl Post had not been permitted due to security reasons – to which Harry scoffed at but was too preoccupied to be as angry about as he was the previous year – and they had yet to discuss that night. He was a second from telling them but something in the back of his mind told him not yet. He'd hesitated and in that second, Hermione had found herself with a black eye from one of Fred and George's prototypes. The moment passed and Harry decided not to broach the subject for a time, at least until he had a better grasp of what he wanted to do.

Life at the Burrow had been significantly better than at the Dursley's. The news of Bill and Fleur getting married had sparked some tensions between Mrs. Weasley and Fleur, Ginny and Fleur, Hermione and Fleur... Truthfully, Harry wasn't bothered by Fleur at all. He was unaffected by her Veela charm, managing to maintain his dignity around her – unlike Ron, who proved an endless source of amusement at mealtimes – and during several conversations with her when he found her to be somewhat uppity but a generally caring individual. Without actually having heartfelt discussions, Fleur and Harry had a mutual distant friendship stemming from their Tri-Wizard Tournament days. One conversation he had with Fleur when they found themselves alone over the summer, Fleur had shocked him by saying 'eef you were a few years older 'Arry, I might 'ave pursued you instead.'

That proclamation had confused him. He didn't believe he was anything special, let alone someone with Veela blood would want. He did, however, feel his thoroughly beaten self-respect rise from her compliments.

He kept up the appearance of disliking her to make things simpler around Hermione and Ginny, as whenever someone defended her they glared at him – as it was always a male – and started bickering about her for the next twenty minutes. After the third time this happened, Harry had wisely learned his lesson and let Ron dig his own graves.

Harry had spent a fair bit of his summer contemplating the Prophecy. The only one that could defeat Voldemort was him if it were true. Somewhere inside of him he had realized this after their third meeting in Harry's second year. Why else would a dark wizard concentrate on trying to kill just one person if he wasn't a threat?

This year it was time to change things. He could no longer sit idly by and let Voldemort come for him. This year, he needed to learn more magic, he needed to learn to duel better, so when the time came for his next encounter with Death Eaters and Voldemort, he would be prepared.


The morning of September 1st was yet another busy one for the Weasley family. After having seven children, each one attending Hogwarts and therefore doing this for some years, you'd think that the family would have learned to pack the night before but, alas, it was all down to the last minute. Thankfully, the Ministry had provided cars as 'The Chosen One' was amongst the Weasley family. Harry felt that had he not been at the Burrow, there wouldn't have been any Ministry cars waiting to carry the Weasleys luggage.

"Au revoir, 'Arry' said Fleur throatily, kissing him goodbye. Ron hurried forwards, looking hopeful, but Ginny stuck out her foot and Ron fell, sprawling in the dust at Fleur's feet. Furious, red faced and dirt-spattered, he hurried into the car without saying goodbye.

The trip from there on was a quiet one, each of the passengers in their own thoughts, or in Ron's case, embarrassment.

King's Cross Station heralded two grim-faced, bearded Aurors in Muggle suits who flanked Harry, more than the Weasleys, from the moment he got out of the car till he passed through the barrier between platforms nine and ten.

The Hogwarts Express stood on the tracks amidst large amounts of steam. The platform was full of students and parents bidding their children farewell and good luck. Now that Voldemort's existence was revealed, albeit a year after he returned, some students were said to not be returning. It was strange, since the whole safety in numbers thing, and the fact that Hogwarts was one of the safest places in Magical Britain. Voldemort still feared a confrontation with Albus Dumbledore; people would be safer at Hogwarts than on their own. Nevertheless…

Hermione and Ron passed through the barrier seconds after Harry, and just by eye-contact Hermione followed Harry onto the train to find an empty compartment. After storing their trunks safely in the compartment, Hermione reminded Harry that she and Ron had to go to the prefect carriage for their briefing for the year. Nodding, Harry made his way back outside to bid the Weasley parents farewell. He thought about telling Mr. Weasley, as a Ministry employee, about Malfoy being a Death Eater but already imagined him giving the same response as Ron.

"I doubt that You-Know-Who would allow a sixteen-year-old to join the Death Eaters."

What would follow would be a pointless argument of whether Mr. Weasley knew what Voldemort would or wouldn't do. So, deciding against it, Harry left the Weasleys on a high note and made his way back to his compartment. Avoiding the unabashed stares that half the people he passed gave him, Harry made his way down the train till he saw Ginny talking with a fellow fifth year.

Nearly stumbling into her as the train finally lurched out of the platform, he gave her a tap on the shoulder and asked, "Need to find a compartment?"

"That's alright, Harry, I'm meeting Dean," she replied happily, and finished her conversation before making her way to the front of the train.

After several collisions and apologies, and another fifty people staring at him, Harry entered his compartment. To his surprise, and a good one for once, Harry found Neville and Luna already seated.

"Hi, Harry!" Neville said brightly. "We saw your trunk in here and thought you'd prefer us to your numerous fans," he continued with an amused expression.

The summer had treated Neville well. He was tanned, with a bit more muscle, and a maturing face with only a few traces of the former chubbiness left. Neville had also grown a bit, to equal Harry in height but with a bit more weight behind him.

There was also something to be said about his confidence. Harry had never known Neville to joke so confidently.

"Neville!" Harry responded happily. "Too right I'd prefer your company." He shook his head. "They don't even try to hide their stares anymore."

After giving Neville a firm handshake, Harry turned to Luna and sat beside her. "How're you Luna? Enjoy your summer?"

Luna looked up from The Quibbler that she was reading upside down again and with her usual dreamy voice greeted Harry. "Very well, thank you. My father and I went on a holiday. We didn't expect one this year but that article you gave us last year sold so much that we were able to go to Romania to research their mythical creatures. An entire edition will be dedicated to them later in the year."

Harry, used to Luna's peculiarity, suspected that she and her father went off in search of a creature like the 'Crumbled Horned Snorkack' that lived in Romania. Whether or not one believed in the creatures that Luna spoke of, The Quibbler magazine was circulating better than ever, also as a side effect to his article the previous school year. Unfortunately, he couldn't say whether it was for the amusement value or not.

"That's great to hear," Harry said sincerely. "You're both all right after the Department of Mysteries?" he asked as he shifted his eyes between them both. Luna just smiled and nodded while Neville spoke his affirmative. Harry had meant to contact them both during the summer but there was always something on his mind preventing him when he actually had alone time at the Burrow.

The three drifted into a semi-comfortable silence for the next minute before Harry and Neville heard giggling outside their compartment door. There was a flurry of words spoken by the several girls outside the door that Harry couldn't grasp before the compartment door suddenly opened. Harry, hand ready on his wand, spoke first.


A girl with large dark eyes and long black hair took a step in front of the rest of the giggling girls. "Hi, Harry, I'm Romilda Vane," she opened with. "Why don't you join us in our compartment rather than sit with them?" She added the last part with poorly concealed distaste in her voice.

Harry turned back to look at Neville who was reaching in his trunk for something, and Luna who was putting on a pair of unusual glasses that came with her magazine. Certainly they were an odd pair, but they were his friends. They fought side by side with him unflinchingly at the Department of Mysteries. Few would.

Harry turned back to Romilda, who had an expectant look on her face. "Neville and Luna… In your eyes they are hardly 'cool', am I right?" he queried. Romilda smiled as she nodded. Harry had to marvel at her audacity. "Full knowing they were going to fight Death Eaters, these two came with me to the Department of Mysteries without hesitation." Harry paused to see Romilda's reaction. Her initial expectant look had been turned into one of confusion and even hesitation at the mention of Death Eaters.

Inwardly smiling, having already seen by her actions how shallow this person was, Harry continued. "Despite the danger, they came with me and fought two-to-one odds against wizards twice our age and managed to draw level with them for a good twenty minutes. Would you have done the same? Come with me, without hesitation into battle without knowing the odds or chances of survival?"

Romilda and her giggling friends were shocked into silence. That silence sealed their fate.

"I thought so. I think this answers your question quite thoroughly. It's nice to meet you Romilda. Have a fun year." Harry got up and Romilda took a step backwards involuntarily. "It's not me you should be scared of you know."

Grinning, Harry closed the compartment door and turned back to his two friends. Neville was beaming at him, and Luna had a small smile on her face as she started humming a strange tune. Feeling happy with himself, Harry retook his seat next to Luna and struck a leisurely conversation about their summers.

Harry was on his way home, with two of the people he trusted the most. It was one of the rare moments in his life, and getting rarer still, that he was happy.

Glancing at his watch amidst the conversation, Harry saw that the time was eleven thirty.


Bellatrix was uncomfortable. For the last two hours now, she had stuck herself to the ceiling of one of the compartments that Draco Malfoy had been instructed to occupy. He'd kicked out half a dozen second years in the process. However, since people could still come in at any time, she had to remain out of sight. Unused to such conditions, her head was throbbing.

Her lackeys Rowle and Travers had it considerably better in her opinion. The racks that carried the trunks of the students were magically expanded to accommodate both the Disillusioned Death Eaters and the Slytherins' trunks.

The Dark Lord's knowledge of the protections at King's Cross proved to be invaluable. The attack, naturally, couldn't happen at the station. There were just too many people and too many Aurors around. Not to say she couldn't take them, she was Bellatrix Lestrange after all, but the aim of this mission required the element of surprise. The attack had to happen a way along the train line, where it take longer for the Ministry to reach.

The Aurors had entered the train, casting Homenum Revelio to detect any invisible stowaways, such as herself. Fortunately, the Aurors didn't look up and cause some unnecessary problems. She could've taken them and modified their memories if she had no other option. Luckily, it didn't come to that. Her skills with Memory Charms were lacking the finesse required for effective modification. And Memory Charms could be broken.

Potter would likely be off guard for most of the trip. The majority of the students were unaware of the protections on the train, just that there had never been an attack in the history of Hogwarts on the Hogwarts Express. Why would they expect one now?

Bellatrix was going to make history.


"Hey, Harry," Neville spoke up. "Do you plan on continuing the DA this year?"

Harry crossed his arms as he contemplated his answer. He had thought about this for some time during his stay at the Burrow. Certainly, the members of the DA managed to get either E's or O's in their OWLs or NEWTs but would they need it this year with Umbridge gone?

Harry turned to stare out the window. The faint mist that was now commonplace in many areas of London was now behind them as the train chugged through the English countryside. Harry was about to voice his thoughts when Ron and Hermione finally came by.

"…wonder what he's up to?" Harry heard Ron speak as they made their way to his, Neville and Luna's compartment.

"Does it matter? As long as he's not being a pest to first years." Harry heard Hermione answer impatiently.

The door was pulled to the side as Ron and Hermione came in. Ron was looking confused, and Hermione exasperated at Ron.

Nothing new here, Harry mused.

"What's up?" Harry and Neville asked at the same time.

Hermione turned and gave a warm greeting to the pair, and a less warm one to Luna who was now wearing the peculiar glasses and humming a little loudly for her tastes. "Malfoy –" she started before Ron cut across.

"–He's not out and about showing off his prefect powers. He's just sittin' with other Slytherins."

Giving Ron a glare, Hermione continued from there. "Maybe Malfoy is bored with the usual prefect role after the Inquisitorial Squad?"

"Unlikely," said Harry. "He never passes up an opportunity to put someone down unless he's planning something." Turning to Hermione he continued, "You should know this after five years of dealing with him."

Hermione looked taken aback at Harry's sharp remark. "We have no proof that he's doing anything but glorying in the presence of his followers," she replied defensively.

Harry, knowing that she still didn't believe Malfoy to be anything more than a schoolyard bully, appeased her and ended the conversation there. Just as well, as the instant he decided to stop, the compartment door opened and a young third year appeared carrying two letters.

In a shy, quiet voice as she laid her eyes on Harry, she said, "I'm supposed to give these to you H-Harry." Confused, Harry took the two letters. The girl squeaked as his hand touched hers and then turned and ran out the door.

Harry muttered about crazy girls as he passed the second letter, addressed to Neville, along. He then apologized about saying that to Hermione and Luna when he caught Hermione glaring at him.


I would be delighted if you would care to join me for a bite of lunch in compartment C at 1pm.

Sincerely, Professor H.E.F. Slughorn.

"Who's Professor Slughorn?" Neville asked.

"The new Potions Profressor," Harry answered re-reading the letter. "Which means that Snape either has left or has gotten the Defense Against the Dark Arts role at last."

Ron looked positively livid at that revelation. "You're not serious are you? Snape teaching Defense… we may as well get the Fake Moody back here and get him to teach us Dark Arts."

"He won't dare teach Dark Arts or treat us badly in class, Ronald."

"Just like he won't take house points from Gryffindor for no reason at all."

"Don't start," Harry interrupted the start Hermione and Ron's next argument. "I'm not in the mood to listen to this today." Ron gave him a thankful look, presumably for ending the argument before it started, while Hermione gave him an apologetic look before glaring at Ron a few times from across the compartment.

The five of them would've settled into a silence if it weren't for Luna's humming.

Hermione and Ron were still glaring at each other every so often and Harry sighed.

It's obvious that they have feelings for each other. Why won't they just admit it already? Not that bickering every other day shows great promise for a relationship. Even I know that and I know next to nothing about how to be in a relationship. Cho is a perfect example of that.

A few minutes passed and the trolley lady finally arrived, interrupting that line of thinking. Since both Harry and Neville had invites, they politely declined her offer as it was only twenty more minutes to one. Ron pulled out some sandwiches that Mrs. Weasley had made that morning while Hermione went and bought some of everything. Luna just kept on humming.

For the next fifteen minutes, everyone, minus the humming Luna, kept up small talk till Harry and Neville felt it time to leave. Harry opened the compartment door, and found the hallways pretty empty as everyone was inside their own compartment eating lunch. Neville took a step out into the corridor while Harry turned and said his goodbyes.

Just as Harry was about to close the door, there was a girlish scream from somewhere up the train. A cold trickle of dread went down Harry's spine. He met Hermione's and then Neville's eyes, seeing the same thought pattern on their minds, and the three of them were off in the direction the scream came from in an instant. Ron called out but Harry didn't even bother trying to make out what he said.

Dodging past a pair of second year Ravenclaws staring in the direction of the screams and drawing his wand, Harry passed through into the next carriage. Harry stopped, with Neville and Hermione a step behind him. There was nothing ahead of him but he could feel something wrong.

"Prepare yourselves," Harry whispered to Neville and saw them tense out of the corner of their eyes as she scanned the carriage for signs of movement. There was none.

A tense half a minute passed, and still there was nothing. Was it nothing after all? He reluctantly started to relax when he finally heard shuffling feet from ahead of him.

"Down!" Harry yelled to his companions. The three hit the ground as two Stunners came out of nowhere. Harry raised his wand and cast a Protego shield just before another two hit.

"Colloportus," Harry heard, one from each end of the carriage. That didn't sound good; he'd walked straight into a trap. Again.

His mind raced, back in survival mode. There was at least one attacker at one end of the carriage and two at the other end. Neville and Hermione both cast shields while trying to find their opponents. Unfortunately, there was nobody in sight.

Coming to the only conclusion that he could, Harry assumed that their opponents were underneath the Disillusionment Charm. At least three Disillusioned enemies against three people in plain sight, stuck in-between their enemies…things weren't looking good.

It was definitely going to be one those years.


Bellatrix was sick of waiting. The students were busy consuming their lunches; it was as good a time as any.

With a quick flick of her wand, she was released from the ceiling, landed semi-gracefully, as her head swam and she stumbled onto the foot of Nott's son. His hiss of pain and anger went untended to as Bellatrix collected herself.

"It's time to go Rowle, Travers," she commanded.

Knowing that if she was seen leaving this compartment, the Slytherins would be under even more scrutiny in the investigation following the raid, she ordered Nott to make sure the way was clear. Someone noticing a door opening and closing by itself might set off warning bells. Thankfully though, most of the students were now inside their own compartments eating. Perfect.

Bellatrix, closely followed by her lackeys, moved into the next carriage. Giving the signal to the other two, she opened the first compartment and quickly silenced all the students before they could cause much of a ruckus. Rowle and Travers made their way past the other compartments, casting the Locking Charm and the Silencing Charm on each. Bellatrix removed the Silencing Charm from a young girl and forcefully held her against a wall.

"Scream," was all she said and the young girl complied. After giving her a few seconds, she then stunned her, shoved her aside and went back into the corridor. This was the part of the plan that was impossible to plan accurately. Bellatrix didn't know where Potter would be sitting or how many people would arrive before he did, and it was impractical to make her way down the whole train searching for the compartment with Potter. There were just too many variables. It wouldn't take too long for some of the students to try and use the Unlocking Charm to escape one of the locked compartments. Wizarding children were unprepared to defend themselves though, and the panic of an attack would cause most of them to lose their cool and forget such a simple spell to unlock the doors.

Almost naturally, Potter was the first to arrive. Bellatrix saw he was with two others but they wouldn't be a problem this time, she would make sure of it. Giving the other two a look, she saw that Potter's allies were the Mudblood and the Longbottom boy. Her heart skipped a beat as she saw the Longbottom boy. She had hoped for this, another chance to send him into the room beside his parents.

The feeling of empowerment she achieved from killing that Muggle returned. Bellatrix was almost as close as she could come to bliss, something that would be achieved during her torture of the Longbottom boy. She could feel it.

That moment quickly passed and she regained control of herself in order to lock the doors. She heard Rowle do the other end, and Potter was now surrounded.

Play time.


Harry had been a participant in more fights than he wanted to count in his short tenure in the wizarding world. More so than any other person his age, he was sure. Through his life, his already quick reflexes had been honed from his days at Muggle School, where he had to be quick to avoid being beaten, and then from Quidditch into what they were today. His mind had also become adjusted to working from his survival instincts. He was no true strategist like Ron was, if his chess playing was any indication, but he was confident he could formulate a semi-successful plan given a few seconds. And that's all he had.

"Keep your shields up, be ready," Harry ordered Hermione and Neville.

His opponents were invisible, probably under the Disillusionment Charm. Harry wracked his brain in an attempt to think of a counter, but came up empty. Scrapping that idea, Harry dropped his shield and turned back toward where he came in and fired a weak Reductor Curse at the doorway. He heard a grunt and saw a shimmer near the doorway as the curse hit it. The Locking Charm's magic protected the doorway from exploding from such a weak spell, as a normal one would've destroyed the doorway. Harry couldn't afford to have those behind the doorway get involved in the fight. If these people, whom he was certain were Death Eaters, began to lose, they would most likely cast the Killing Curse with reckless abandon, and any innocents in the doorway could get hit by a poorly aimed spell. Nevertheless, the spell had achieved its purpose. He knew where at least one of his opponents was.

Behind him, Harry heard the unmistakable incantation for a Disarming Spell. Hermione heard it too and shifted her shield in that direction, protecting Harry from the spell. He noticed in an instant that her shield was battered. The spell had been drastically overpowered. Before he could continue down that line of thinking, another two Disarming Spells came from behind. This time Neville managed to quickly strengthen his shield against the overpowered spells, leaving it severely dented but intact. This gave Harry a moment to think.

Why are they putting so much power into the Disarming Spell when it really doesn't require much? Why aren't they attacking properly… unless… they're not out to hurt me. But then what?

Harry shielded himself against another set of spells. His shield stood up easily to the challenge.

His wand…

The night Voldemort returned flooded back. Priori Incantatem.

They're not here to harm anyone, they're after my wand!

If they wanted his wand, that gave Harry room to maneuver. He cast another Reductor Curse, this time towards the doorway at other end of the carriage. He saw the curse bounce off a shield and he fired another one, a bit stronger this time in the same spot. Hermione and Neville held up their shields, trying to think of what else they could do but defend.

Without my wand, I won't have the Reverse Spell Effect when I duel with Voldemort. He must be thinking that without this brother wand that I'll be helpless against him.

Harry got to his feet, crouching low, ready to move if need be.

Unfortunately, for now that is true, he thought ruefully. If I can get out of this, I'll need to practice and learn more than ever. We're not playing games anymore.

Harry was interrupted in his thoughts by a cackling laugh that he was all too familiar with.

"Come now baby Potter! Are you just going to hide under those shields casting your pathetic spells against me? Come out and fight me properly."

That voice was unmistakably from none other than Bellatrix Lestrange. Her insanity was audible and her enjoyment just as so. He sensed Neville tense up as he recognized the voice too.

"Don't rise, Neville," he whispered. "We can win; don't let her taunt you into doing something stupid." He got no response, but Neville remained still, shield prepared.

"I could say the same for you, Bella," Harry called out, stalling for time to think. What got rid of the Disillusoment Charm from a distance? What got rid of one full stop? "I'm not the one hiding under a Disillusionment Charm now am I?"

Bella cackled again. "Has ickle baby Potter learnt how to taunt? You're awfully confident for someone who lost their Godfather three months ago."

Harry bristled.

"Harry." Hermione hissed warningly.

"You were even kind enough to bring Longbottom to me." Bella continued, oblivious. "I owe you one Potter! Crucio!"

Neville, in his crouching position, jumped to the side to dodge the spell but crashed straight into the opposite wall with a hiss of pain. There was so little room to maneuver on the train. That worked for and against them.

"Now, now, little Longbottom." Bella tsked. "Take it like a good son."

Neville was growing red in the face in his anger.

"Hermione, is there a way to reveal invisible people?" Harry asked quickly.

"I know, Harry. I'm thinking, I'm thinking…" she replied quickly, her features creased in concentration. "It's something 'Revelio'."

"Not sure that's going to cut it, Hermione."

"Quiet, it's coming, it's coming… 'Hom'… 'Homenum'… that's it! 'Homenum Revelio'."

Hermione's triumphant tone was dwarfed when Harry yelled the incantation, wand pointed at Bellatrix.

It took mere seconds for the spell to work its wonder.

Bella materialized in a brief flash of light, and from the two gasps from Hermione and Neville, Harry gathered that the other two were now visible as well. He promised himself to give Hermione a huge hug and a thank you if they got out of this all well and good.

What happened next was pandemonium.

"Expelliarmus!" was cast by each of the fighters and the wands went everywhere.

Bella's spell caught Hermione and her wand went flying straight up, hit the ceiling, then the floor and bounced out of reach. Harry's spell caught Bella and her wand went flying across of the room towards Harry who was about to catch it when Rowle's spell got him in the back, knocking him forward and his wand went flying towards the Death Eater until it collided with Neville's, Rowle's and Travers's wands in mid air.

With everyone disarmed, there was a mad scramble for a wand. Harry charged after his own wand and collided with a tall, thin man who he would later learn to be Travers. Both fell back with two wands between them. Harry and Travers met each others gaze, daring the other to move first. Both ended up moving at the same time.

Harry picked up a wand unfamiliar to him and cast a disarming spell at his opponent, which connected and the other's the wand went flying down to the other end of the carriage. Travers tackled Harry to the ground, knocking the wand out of his hand and the breath out of him.

Unused to Muggle fighting, Travers did nothing to pin Harry down and instead got straight off him and went for a wand. Harry, on the other hand, had gotten used to Muggle fighting due his time at Muggle School and knew how to fight back. Harry grabbed Travers's foot, causing the Death Eater to hit the ground on his next movement. Harry's arms nearly yanked out of their joints. Knowing the man was much bigger and stronger than he was, Harry quickly got up, rolled him over and used his knees to pin him down.

The closest wand was still a few meters away. Harry wouldn't be able to reach it without letting go, so he punched Travers across the jaw a few times, wincing in the process from the pain, before getting off of the man and lunging for the wand on the ground. He managed to pick it up, and felt it was his own. Harry rolled over and cast another Disarming Spell, unknowingly dodging an Impediment Jinx.

Harry stood and found himself back up against the door he came in. He briefly saw spectators in his peripheral vision as he got up and paid them no mind as he had little time. Harry saw Neville struggling in a tug-o-war match against an enormous blonde man whom he would later learn to be Rowle. Unfortunately, Neville had the wrong end of the wand and had to keep the end of the wand away from him to prevent being cursed by a variety of spells the blonde man was yelling incantations to. Harry pointed his wand at them both and cast the Disarming Spell again. The wand flew straight up but this time Harry was ready and quickly cast a Summoning Charm before Rowle could regain the wand. The wand flew straight into Harry's left hand and he found it to be Hermione's wand.

Hermione, Harry saw, was dueling properly with Bellatrix at the far end of the compartment. Both of them had wands that weren't their own and their performance suffered accordingly. Hermione was managing to shield all of Bella's less effective curses and getting a few of her own out but neither was effectively 'winning'.

Harry's attention was quickly brought back to events a little closer to him when Travers started to get up and reach out for the remaining wand on the ground.

"Stupefy!" Harry yelled.

A jet of red light burst from Harry's wand and landed smack bang in the face of Travers. He fell unconscious.

One down.

Raising his wand a little higher, Harry aimed at Rowle who was now on top of Neville, and had just started to punch him in the face.

"Stupefy!" Harry called again.

A second jet of red light burst from Harry's wand and hit Rowle in the chest as he looked up to see who had called the spell. The man fell unconscious on top of Neville, who struggled to push the man off of him. He rolled slowly onto his stomach and sent Harry a thankful look. But Harry was no longer paying attention.

"Hermione! Get down!"

Hermione fired one last spell to distract Bella long enough to drop to the ground safely. As soon as Hermione began to fall, Harry cast a Reductor Curse.

His spell was pushed to the side and impacted on the train. What protections there were absorbed the spell without a trace.

Oh, that was something he wanted to learn.

With Neville out of commission, Hermione without her wand, Travers and Rowle stunned, it was Harry and Bella still standing.

"See this?" Harry waved his wand. "This is what you want, isn't it?"

Bella did not visibly react, outside squinting to try and recognize if it were indeed Harry's wand.

"Looks like you'll fail a second time. Stupefy!"

His spell was knocked aside again. God, he needed to learn some more effective spells. His current knowledge was too limited for a one-on-one duel with one of the most powerful witches around.

Harry dodged to the side of a curse that he did not recognize the name of, barely getting out of its way in the narrow corridor. His left hand, containing the second wand, was crushed against the magnificent, polished wood.

The second wand…

That gave Harry an idea.

Harry raised both hands and started casting spells he knew intimately well through both wands. Not used to using two wands, Harry quickly began to feel drained, but he continued his assault as he closed the distance between himself and Bella. He passed Neville, who Harry noticed from a quick glance to have a few bruises on their way but was otherwise uninjured. Neville watched in surprise and wonder as Harry was dueling with two wands simultaneously.

Each spell Harry cast was shielded or knocked aside, but Bella was starting to wear down. The combined effort of twice the amount of spells and closing distance caused there to be more and more close calls.

His idea was tipping the balance is his favor, but Harry realized it wouldn't be enough. He wasn't getting any hits, and he was tiring quickly. He had to do something more. So he resorted to tactics unfit in the wizarding world.

Moving faster than ever, Harry passed the stunned bodies of Bella's lackeys, past Hermione, until he was close enough to drop his wand and punch Bella's shocked, Azkaban ruined face.

The force of the blow and her considerable surprise knocked her back a few steps into the door between carriages. She'd never been hit by an opponent before quite like that, and her anger almost blinded her judgment. The Longbottom boy was struggling to his feet behind Potter, a wand in his wand, and the Mudblood was still there too. Three to one, backed into a corner, it began to dawn on her that she was going to lose if she stuck around.

Bella pointed her wand at the carriage exit that students got on and off at the stations and fired a fully charged Blasting Hex, completely blowing the door off its hinges. The door flew outwards before crashing into a tree and breaking further. Harry raised Hermione's wand in his left hand, about to stop her when all the lights went out.

To be more accurate, the Hogwarts Express entered a tunnel.

Completely blind in the sudden darkness, Harry reached out, trying to prevent Bella from escaping. He felt some robes and he grabbed on. Neither moved until a soft voice behind Harry said "Lumos" and light filled up a small portion of the carriage hallway.

Caught unawares, Harry was suddenly flung by Bella's movements and stumbled towards the now uncovered exit. The sound of the train and the wind filled Harry's ears and he barely managed to stop himself falling out by grabbing onto a handle above what was left of the doorway.

Harry turned back just in time as the Hogwarts Express exited the tunnel, to miss the blinding light that was the sun. Bella however wasn't so lucky. Harry clenched his fist again and punched her in the jaw. It was now the sixth time in the last few minutes he had punched someone and Harry's hand was aching with the brutal treatment it was being given. Bella stumbled backwards before hitting the opposite wall. Both raised their wands and again managed to disarm each other.

Letting out a scream of frustration, Bella lunged at Harry, who managed to step to the side enough to make her lose her balance. Harry turned and kicked Bella in the backside towards the open doorway. Unable to Apparate in the Hogwarts Express, Bella grabbed onto the same handle Harry had used to keep herself from falling outside. Although that was her aim, the Hogwarts Express was now out in the open, about to cross a river on a bridge some fifty feet off the ground and she did not fancy Apparating in mid-air or falling fifty feet into a river without knowing how deep it was.

She turned back to Harry, who now was looking at her with a dark smile. His earlier plan was out the window. She was too dangerous to capture, at least for now.

"Sorry, Bella, this train will be taking no more passengers."

With that, Harry kicked Bella in the stomach with as much force behind it as he could muster, knocking her out into the open.

The train continued to speed through the countryside without a care in the world as Bella fell through the air towards the river. Just before hitting the water, Harry was certain he heard the 'crack' that signaled Apparition but couldn't confirm it either way as the train rounded a corner and trees obstructed his view of the river.

With a sigh, Harry felt his body start to run low on adrenaline. He turned back and found Hermione standing above where she had fallen with a shocked and then ecstatic expression on her face once she realized he was safe.

"You can get up now," he said as he bent down and offered his hand. Smiling in relief, Hermione accepted his hand and got to her feet before enveloping her best friend in a hug, as if to reaffirm he was still there.

Neville appeared in his eye-sight mid-hug, and aside from the start of the few bruises Harry had noticed earlier, he was all right.

"Thanks, Harry," was all he could say.

"I don't think she's dead yet, Neville." Harry replied, shaking his head. "Next time, feel free to try your luck."

Neville gave him a genuine smile at his wry tone and a thump on the back and went around collecting the remaining wands and re-stunning the captured Death Eaters.

"I'm okay, Hermione," he whispered to her. "I'm not going anywhere." And he meant it.

Voldemort or him, that's what it was coming down to. One day, a duel between the two of them would decide the fate of the wizarding world. Harry knew Voldemort was a far stronger wizard at the moment, with a lifetime's worth of experience more than Harry, but that did not mean that Harry would lose.

"You'd better not," Hermione scolded him, but with a smile on his face. "Who am I going to have to keep me from going insane from overwork if you're not here?"

Giving her a genuine smile, something he'd not done much in recent times, he returned her wand. The two stood there, enjoying the victory, until Neville brought them back to reality.

"Uh, Harry, Hermione, shouldn't we help the people in the compartments?"

It took several minutes, but Hermione figured out how to unlock the compartments when a simple 'Alohomora' failed to accomplish the task. It took another several minutes to figure out the Silencing Charm enough to undo the spell. Harry felt the train slow while he was working on this, figuring the Ministry was finally here.

The occupants, dominantly second and third year students, were looking at Harry with even more awe than usual. After all, they'd just be privy to front seats in a duel between one Voldemort's strongest Death Eaters and the young man heralded as 'The Chosen One'. Harry noticed but was too drained to let it get to him.

By the time they were done, the carriage was filled with celebrating people. Harry smiled through the attention, knowing full well it may turn. However, for once attention was being given to Hermione and Neville as well, and Harry found himself caught up in it.

"I knew you'd be fine!" Luna said in a matter-of-fact manner when Harry finally waded his way through the crowd – the two captured Death Eaters in tow – and back to his compartment, where they were set down and guarded by some of the more enthusiastic students. "I'd have come to watch but I'm too short to see over other people. You can show me in a pensieve later anyway."

"Uh… thank you, Luna."

Luna just smiled and resumed her humming.

Harry sat down next to her and Hermione took the spot beside him. Neville and Ron sat beside each other on the other side. Ron just stared at Harry unabashedly while Neville winced a bit when he moved his facial muscles in a certain manner.

The train slowed to a stand-still.

"Hey, Neville," Harry started, and to which Neville perked up, wincing in the process.

"Yeah, Harry?"

Harry smiled at him.

"Consider the DA back on."