A/N: Herein begins the sequel to One Wizarding Summer and Once Upon A Cedric. WARNING: contains M/M SLASH—don't like, don't read. Harry Potter, the Boy-Who-Lived and his betrothed, Cedric Diggory are returning to Hogwarts for Harry's fifth year. Expect new allies and relationships, and a more confident Harry. Also contains manipulative!Dumbledore, Hermione/Ron/Ginny bashing, and a different world from canon altogether.
Disclaimer: I do not own Harry Potter, Cedric Diggory or any of the other characters, situations or places presented herein which have been previously published and/or described in any of the works of JK Rowling. I do not profit in any material way from this work. This is a work of fiction, and any and all resemblances to real persons alive or dead are purely coincidental. None of the situations described herein should be construed to reflect the motivations, orientations or behavior of the actors which portray these characters in any cinemagraphic adaptation of published works. This work is intended for entertainment purposes only, and is written with gratitude towards JKR, for creating such a wonderful world in which we writers of fan fiction play. I promise to treat the boys gently (with Umbridge, not so much) and to put them back when I'm finished playing. This disclaimer should be understood to apply to each and every chapter of this work, as well as any other works in this series which I write.
Harry Potter and the Vale of Destiny
Cedric Diggory raced down the corridor inside the Hogwarts Express in hot pursuit of Harry Potter, the Boy Who Lived.
"Potter, when I get my hands on you, you're dead meat!" Cedric yelled, furious. He could feel the tingle of the Rainbow Bum charm on his buttocks, where Potter had cast it just seconds before.
For his part, the Savior of the Wizarding World was laughing gaily as he dodged, bobbed and weaved his way through the few people still in the corridors of the Hogwarts Express. His passage was creating more than a bit of chaos as people stopped and turned back and forth to watch the pursuit, and he appeared to be opening up the distance between himself and the pursuing Hufflepuff.
Then, Cedric saw his chance.
"HOLD THAT GRYFFINDOR!" he shouted at the top of his lungs.
Harry's head whipped around at the sheer volume of Cedric's order, then turned to see just who Diggory was yelling at...only to crash into a group of Hufflepuff uppers.
"Not so fast, Potter," a male voice said, just as several sets of hands latched onto Harry. Despite the struggles of the Boy Who Lived, their grips--and the sheer press of several bodies blocking the compartment way--brought him to a halt.
In a flash, Cedric Diggory was there, his hand clamping down on Harry's shoulder in an implacable grip.
"Stebbins, Summerby, Finch-Fletchley," Cedric nodded to the trio that had captured the fleeing Gryffindor. "Thanks for the assist," he grinned.
Justin Finch-Fletchley smiled broadly. "Glad to be of help, Ced...these Gryffindors are a slippery lot, aren't they?" The other two boys just nodded, their grins just as large.
"Oh, they can be, but they usually calm right down when they're finally caught," Cedric laughed, giving Harry's shoulder a good squeeze.
"Oi, standing here!" Harry whinged. "You Hufflepuffs and your sodding 'stick together-ness', he said, the beginnings of a pout starting. "I'd have gotten clean away if they hadn't caught me."
"Oh, clean away to the front of the train...and then where would you have been?" Summerby laughed, straightening his robes.
"Think you can handle this little lion now, Diggory?" Finch-Fletchley asked, his eyes sweeping over Harry critically. "Although, I would have sworn that there wasn't nearly this much of him last spring," he said.
"Oh, there's much more of the prat now than at the end of the last term," Cedric confirmed. "It's amazing what a few growth potions will do for a scrawny little git."
"That, and landing a Hufflepuff as a betrothed, I'll wager," Stebbins smirked. "Saw the articles about you two in all the rags...good catch, Potter," he said, giving Harry a punch on the arm. "One thing you need to know, though, little Gryffindor...screw with one 'puff, screw with us all. Break his heart, and you'd best just plan on staying in your tower for the rest of your natural life...if you want to have a life, that is."
Harry just grinned back at the boy. "If I told you that Cedric's been given the same speech...only several more times than me...would it make you feel any better?"
"No." Stebbins' face suddenly because serious. "We're 'puffs, Potter...we actually mean it." His eyes bored into Harry's, who looked back just as intently.
"None of you have anything to worry about, on either side," Harry said intently, his eyes flashing emerald green. "He's mine, and I'm his, and there's an end to it."
Stebbins didn't move or break eye contact for a long moment, then nodded fractionally. "Good enough. Just remember...'puffs are the loyal house, and that includes 'puffs by association, too. We're here when you need us." Then, he grinned. "Of course, that doesn't mean that we won't bring popcorn when you two have the inevitable drama moments, either."
"Stebbins!" Cedric burst out, as the other boys (including Harry) burst into laughter. "My house is filled with berks, prats and gits," he said, looking upward as his complaint went to the heavens...or at least, the roof of the compartment way.
"Well, then, it looks like the Sorting Hat put you in the right place," Harry laughed, which earned him a mock glare from his boyfriend and a round of laughter from the other boys.
"Oh, you'll do, Potter," Summerby said, clapping Harry on the shoulder. "You'll do, indeed!"
* * *
A few minutes later, Harry and Cedric were in a compartment, in each other's arms. Cedric pulled his boyfriend close, and leaned in...then gave Harry's bottom a quick slap with his hand, followed by another.
"Ow!" Harry barked at the unexpected stinging sensation. "Prat! What was that for?" he asked in a wounded voice.
"Prat back! Like I couldn't feel the tingle in my pants when you cast the Rainbow Bum on me?" Cedric snarled down, then gave Harry another pair of quick swats.
"Ouch! Stop it!" Harry commanded, trying to wriggle away.
"So...have you been punished enough, or do I need to turn you over my knee for a proper spanking?" Cedric held him firm.
"Enough...that stings, you git," Harry whinged.
"Oh, I thought you liked spankings, pervy," Cedric tried to lean in for a kiss, but was denied.
"Not like that...and not where your parents, and my godfather, and the Malfoys and every other set of parents in the world can look in the window and see," Harry griped.
"A minor inconvenience," Cedric grinned. "Now, wave to your adoring fans," he said, releasing Harry and settling down in a seat by the window to look out.
"You're just hoping that we'll be on the cover of the next issue of Teen Witch Weekly," Harry snickered.
"Actually, I was hoping for the Crystal Ball," Cedric shot back. "Their readership runs to a better class of pervert."
"As if class has ever mattered to you, about anything," Harry said. Then, reaching out for Cedric's hand. "It's one of the few things I love about you."
"Few things?" Cedric asked, deadpan. He turned to regard Harry, one eyebrow climbing his forehead.
Harry just grinned back, totally unrepentant. "Yeah, a few."
"Chee! Chee!" Harry answered, then began making monkey faces and gestures, scratching his head and belly at the same time. "Chee! Chee!"
Just then the warning whistle sounded, and Harry abandoned his monkey act to tear open the compartment window and lean out, waving madly.
"Sirius! Remus!" he called, and was rewarded by answering shouts from the pair as they stood together some distance away.
Cedric elbowed his boyfriend out of the way so that he too could hang out the window, looking for his parents in the crowd. Ignoring the cries of "Look, it's Harry Potter!" as well as the popping of flashbulbs he was able to find his parents, who were already waving back at Harry's grinning face.
"Mum! Dad! We'll send you an owl in a day or two," he promised, just as the train began to move, and saw both of his parents nod their understanding as they pulled away.
Both he and Harry continued to wave until the train was completely out of the station. When he and Harry were both safely back inside the compartment, Cedric closed and locked the window before casting a one-way privacy charm on the glass. Not that he expected anyone to try and pace the train on a broom or anything like that, but he'd put nothing past the press in their attempts to capture a picture of the Boy Who Lived. Especially since he was planning on some rather extensive snogging of that very same Boy Who Lived on the trip to Scotland….
His hopes were quickly dashed, however, when a knock came on the compartment door just as he was turning away from the window.
Harry's "Come in" was answered by the door sliding open. Neville Longbottom—no, now it would be Lord Longbottom, Cedric reminded himself—was standing there looking uncertain.
"Harry, Cedric…mind if I come in?" he asked carefully.
"Of course not, Neville," Harry answered cheerfully. "Of course, you realize that you're interfering with my boyfriend's plans to snog me all the way to Hogsmeade Station," Harry went on in the same tone of voice.
Neville, Lord Longbottom, Lord and Head of the Most Noble and Ancient House of Longbottom immediately blushed bright red and began stammering. "Well, uh…I didn't mean to…I'll just be going, then…."
Harry laughed out loud at his friend's discomfiture, reaching out to pull the other boy into the compartment. "Oh, relax, Neville…come in and sit down. I'm sure Cedric won't mind too much." Still grinning, Harry turned to his boyfriend.
"Of course not," Cedric said, his smile telling Harry that he was only mildly disappointed at having his snogging delayed. "In fact, you've probably saved us the trouble of coming to look for you, Longbottom. There are some things that we need to talk about before we get to Hogwarts, and this is as good a place to have a private discussion as any."
Neville nodded. "Just as long as you two won't mind me leaving after a bit. I told Hannah Abbott that I'd meet her later on the trip, after the Prefect's meeting."
"Oh, really, Neville?" Harry asked. "And just what are the two of you going to discuss?"
Neville just grinned at Harry's raised eyebrow. "Probably some of the same things you and Diggory here will be 'discussing'" he made quote marks in the air with his fingers, "after I leave."
"Oh? And just when did this start?" Harry just had to know.
"Hmm…sometime between the first and second Dementor attacks in Diagon Alley, I guess?" Neville's brows creased in thought, then he shrugged. "It was after my first trip to Paris, but before my last one…."
"Just a second, Neville," Harry interrupted. Turning to Cedric, he asked, "Ced, could you put up a set of privacy charms?"
Nodding, Cedric was about to do just that when the compartment door banged open.
"Oh, there you are, Harry! I lost you on the platform, and I've been looking for you ever since we boarded." Without so much as a by-your-leave, Ginny Weasley flounced into the compartment and plopped down onto the seat by Harry, across from Neville and Cedric, talking a mile a minute. "Mum was about to go spare when she saw you talking to Lucius and Narcissa Malfoy, and then Ron and Hermione had to go straight to the Prefect's meeting so they couldn't wait in a compartment for you to come find them. So, I told them to go on to their meeting and that I'd find you and then we'd all be in the same compartment after they finished their meeting. Oh, hi, Neville," she said, finally noticing the other Gryffindor in the compartment.
Cedric couldn't help but notice that she never acknowledged his presence at all. He was debating just what cutting remark to start with when another knock came on the compartment door.
Neville reached out and slid open the door, revealing a somewhat familiar girl with straggly, waist-length, dirty blonde hair, very pale eyebrows and protuberant eyes that gave her a permanently surprised look. An aura that was distinctly dotty came from the girl, no doubt helped by the fact that her wand was stuck in her hair and she was wearing a necklace of butterbeer corks. She was carrying a copy of The Quibbler, and smiled somewhat dreamily into the compartment.
"Hullo, Ginny. I thought I saw you chase a wrackspurt in here…did you catch it?" the new arrival asked.
"Harry, this is Luna Lovegood," Ginny said, introducing Harry to the girl but totally neglecting to mention Neville and Cedric. "She's in my year, in Ravenclaw." Ginny shrugged, ignoring the girl's original question.
"Wit without measure is man's greatest treasure," Luna quoted in a sing-song voice. "You're Harry Potter," she said, her eyes meeting Harry's.
"I know I am," Harry said. Before he could say anything else, the strange girl turned to the other two boys.
"You're Cedric Diggory, I read about you in the papers," she said, making eye contact with Cedric before shifting her gaze to Neville. "And you're the new Lord Longbottom…Neville, isn't it?" she asked in the same dreamy voice. Without waiting for a reply, she stepped into the compartment and slid into the seat beside Neville.
"Mind if I join you? I just need a place to sit and read my paper without being disturbed, and most of the other compartments are quite…disturbing." Again without waiting for a reply, she opened her newspaper and disappeared behind it. Cedric couldn't help but notice that it was upside down.
An uncomfortable silence settled over the compartment, only to be broken by Neville's asking "Guess what I got for my birthday?"
"Another Rememberall?" Harry asked, smiling. He and Cedric knew that Neville had received quite a number of strange and interesting (to him) seeds and cuttings from them when they returned from Japan—his letter had conveyed his excitement over his new plants—so this must be something different altogether.
"No, something much better!" Neville reached into his bag and rooted around for a moment before pulling out a small black case. Opening up the front flap on the case carefully, he revealed a small grey cactus-like plant, covered in what looked like boils rather than spines.
"Mimbulus mimbletonia," he said proudly, turning the case so that Cedric, Harry and finally Ginny could see. "It's really, really rare," Neville said proudly, seemingly oblivious to the fact that the thing pulsed slightly, looking rather like a diseased organ. "My Great-Uncle Algie got it for me in Assyria, and I don't think they have one at Hogwarts, even! I can't wait to show it to Professor Sprout—I'm hoping that she'll help me try to breed it."
Cedric was wracking his brain, trying to remember just what the plant was (and more importantly, why Neville should be so excited about it) when Ginny leaned forward and reached out.
"So…it looks like it's pulsing, almost like a beating heart, Neville," she said.
"No, Ginny, wait! It's got a very sensitive defensive system…" Neville tried to pull the case back from Ginny's hand but was too slow. Before he could remove it, she stroked the plant with a sharply-nailed finger.
Immediately, thick, dark green, stinking liquid jetted from all of the boils on the little mimbletonia. Most of the sap splashed against the walls of the case, while the remainder of the liquid splashed all over Ginny, covering the girl from head to knees in a foul-smelling mess.
"NEVILLE!" Ginny screeched, then spat out a mouthful of the disgusting liquid.
"S—Sorry," Neville stammered, aghast. "I didn't realize…but don't worry, stinksap's not poisonous," he finished lamely.
"You'd better go wash that off before it sets, Ginny," Luna looked over the top of her paper at the dripping Gryffindor. "You're lucky the girl's loo is only a few doors down in this car," she said, before disappearing behind her paper again.
Sputtering and dripping stinksap, Ginny glared at everyone in the compartment before opening the door and leaving angrily. As soon as she was gone, Harry pulled the door closed while Cedric cast an air-freshening charm, removing the smell of rancid dung from the compartment.
"Thanks, Neville," Harry said, grinning.
"Yeah, thanks, Longbottom," Cedric echoed.
Neville looked up from where he was using Scourgify to clean up the stinksap that was still in his carrying case. "Not a problem. Although, I didn't think she'd be dense enough to touch an unknown magical plant like that."
"Ginny's very impulsive, like most of the rest of her family," Luna's voice drifted out from behind her paper. "As I'm sure you and Harry know quite well, Neville. She also sometimes completely forgets that she can use magic, which is why she took my suggestion about going to the loo to wash up rather than just using a cleaning spell on herself."
None of the boys seemed to know how to respond to that. After a moment, Luna lowered her paper and folded it neatly before standing up. "I'd best be going to see after her," she said. "Don't worry, I'll keep her away from you for rest of the ride…I'm certain that you all have serious business to discuss."
The boys all tried with various success to control their shocked expressions at Luna's words. Harry was the first to recover.
"Thanks, Luna…but, how did you know?"
Luna smiled gently. "Silly, my daddy publishes The Quibbler. Don't you think that I haven't been following the news about all of you this summer? Besides, Daddy's sources have been hinting that Harry Potter and his betrothed are two of the prime forces moving to finally connect Dumbledore to the Rotfang Conspiracy." She winked at Harry conspiratorially. "Just remember me when you're about to go public with the evidence, would you? I'd love to scoop the Prophet on that exclusive."
"S…Sure," Harry responded lamely, as Luna gave them a small wave and left the compartment. Shaking his head, he turned to the other two boys. "So, is she always like that?"
"I have no idea," Neville replied, while Cedric just shrugged. "I've seen her around the school, but that's all."
"That's all I know about her, too," Cedric added. "Of course, everyone knows the Quibbler is full of rubbish, but they actually did a bit better reporting what actually happened in the Alley this summer than the Prophet…if you could ignore the nonsense, that is."
"That's really not saying much, to compare them favorably to the Prophet," Harry groused. "Still, it is an established newspaper, and it might not be a bad idea to have her as a contact. You never know when something like that might come in useful."
Both Cedric and Neville agreed. Then, at Harry's unspoken request, Cedric began putting up a series of privacy and locking charms, effectively sealing the three of them off from the rest of the train. When he finished, he lowered his wand and sighed.
"There, that's done. We should be able to speak freely now."
Harry nodded, and smiled at Neville. "So, Lord Longbottom, is it? Congrats one more time, Neville."
"Thanks, Harry. Like I told you on the platform, Gran was already planning on having me declared the Head of House after my birthday, so your letter was just icing on the cake. What really surprised her was your suggestion that we visit your friend in Paris to have a new wand made for me." Even with Cedric's privacy spells, Neville was practicing caution, just as Harry had urged him to do in his original letter. Seeing Harry and Cedric nod in understanding, Neville grinned. "Have a look at it, if you want," he said, holding out his wand proudly.
Harry and Cedric both made appreciative noises over the beautiful wand, but neither of them made any attempt to touch it. Even if Ginny's recent accident hadn't been fresh on their minds, they both had enough experience with LeGrande wands not to tempt fate, especially with such a new wand.
"It's grand, Neville," Harry was the first to comment. "The wood?" he asked, curiously.
"Marblewood—a very strong 'earth' wood, very grounded—with an occamy feather as the core," Neville said. "Harry, you can't begin to imagine how much better it feels to be using a wand that actually suits my magic."
"Oh, I suspect we can," Harry grinned at his friend. "Cedric and I both have LeGrande wands, too."
"It's a bit like flying a Firebolt after being stuck with a school broom," Cedric explained, Harry nodding his agreement. "Once you change, you'll never go back."
"Certainly not," Neville agreed. "Of course, there was…the other thing, as well," he said, looking at the door suspiciously.
Harry and Cedric shared a look, then Harry pursed his lips and asked the question that had to be asked. "Neville, did you see Dr. Latour, as we suggested."
"Don't worry about us being overheard," Cedric assured the younger man. "I put up three different silencing spells, with an alarm spell tagged to the outermost one. I'll know the instant someone tries to take them down."
Neville nodded, then took a deep breath. "It's a good thing we were in Paris when Healer Latour told Gran and me his findings. Had we been at Hogwarts, I think that Gran would have hexed both Madam Pomphrey and the Headmaster right then. As it was, she had plenty of time to cool down before we came back home." The young Lord shook his head. "It helped that Dr. Latour took the time to explain to her that he had found something similar with you."
"I assume that you'd already told him what was in our letter, then," Harry said grimly.
"Of course. He told us that, had we not told him that, he wouldn't be able to tell us anything, but since we already knew he could confirm what you had said." Neville shrugged. "He didn't add anything, naturally, just said that your magic had also been blocked and that he was working on releasing on it. He told me to ask you about anything else, so you could decide what to tell me."
Cedric shifted across the compartment to sit closer to his boyfriend, and nudged his knee into Harry's in a show of support. He felt Harry nudge him back, but the Boy Who Lived was already speaking to his friend.
"Did he tell you that there were actually two blocks on my magic, not just one?" Harry asked. Taking Neville's wide-eyed expression as a negative, Harry pressed on. "Well, there were two separate spells, not just the one. I'm guessing he only found one on you?"
"Yeah…and it looked like it had been placed when I was a baby, and never removed like it should have been. In fact, Gran swore to me that she had Madam Pomphrey remove my infant block when I was eight, and since I've never seen anyone else but Poppy…." He trailed off, his face neutral.
"So, did anyone ever think to ask why Madam Pomphrey—who has a full-time job as the Healer at Hogwarts—was also your own personal healer, Neville?" Cedric asked.
"Gran and I talked about that, and she said that Dumbledore always had Poppy take care of me because 'it was the least he could do', considering what happened to my parents while they were working in his Order."
"Naturally," Harry said sarcastically. "And if it just happened to assure that you'd never see a healer outside of his control; well, who would question the great Albus Dumbledore?"
"Exactly. Still, Healer Latour told me that my core would be completely unbound within a few weeks, and he sent me back to Little Jacque and Albert to see if they could make me something that would help with the process."
"And?" Cedric asked, beating Harry to the question.
Neville didn't say anything, just pushed the sleeves of his robe back, then unfastened and rolled up one of his shirt cuffs. There on his wrist was an oval of erumpet ivory held in place by what appeared to be graphorn leather. It was surprisingly similar to the necklace that Harry now wore under his own shirt, except that a delicate Celtic symbol was carved into the ivory disc. It was truly a beautiful work of art.
"Little Jacque told me that he'd learned from what he made for you, and that this—and the one I wear on my other wrist—will not only help damp down any accidental magic flares I might have while my core is being unblocked but also mimic the presence of the block while I'm wearing it." Neville's smile was a bit grim. "Not that anyone would ever check, you understand, but Little Jacque insisted. He also said that the dampening charm would gradually fade over the next several weeks, and the mimicking spell would last about a year. After that, it's only a piece of jewelry."
"It's very nice, Neville," Harry said, Cedric nodding as he did. "Did Little Jacque or Albert mention…anything else to you?"
Neville grinned. "Like your bracelets, you mean? Yes, he did, but Gran was a bit leery of them. And, quite frankly, I've had all that I could do, getting used to my new wand."
"I can see that," Cedric said. "I can't speak for Harry, but I feel the same way. Having two wands now is just about more than I can manage."
"I'm not really managing more than two, now," Harry said. "Since my old wand really isn't usable, and my 'other' wand isn't really a wand at all," he grinned.
At Neville's confused look, Harry—with occasional help from Cedric—began explaining just what they had found out about his old wand. That led to a discussion about what they suspected about Dumbledore and his plans. Given what Healer Latour had discovered about Neville, it seemed that Neville was to be the backup to Harry, in case Voldemort succeeded in killing him before the Headmaster could spring his 'magical bomb' trap on the Dark Lord.
Before they knew it, Harry and Cedric had brought Neville almost completely into their confidence, only withholding the information about Cedric's journey into the 'other future', and all that he had returned with. Like Sirius, Remus and Mad-Eye, Neville was allowed to conclude that anything out of the ordinary that the boys might produce was actually the product of their extended vacation. This was reinforced by Harry showing Neville his chopstick-wand, which despite having an active magical core was only slightly more useful as a wand than a regular chopstick would be. Then, after he had been suitably primed, it was time for more gifts to come out.
"Harry, I couldn't, really," Neville tried to protest as Harry and Cedric both rummaged in their backpacks for shrunken items.
"Shut it, Longbottom," Harry grinned hugely. "You don't have a choice in the matter. Besides, as the Backup to the Boy Who Lived, it's in my own best interest to make sure you're armed to the teeth! Magically speaking, that is," he finished.
"But…but…this is all too much!" Neville sputtered, only to be waved down by Cedric.
"Neville, are you or are you not the Head of House Longbottom?" the Hufflepuff demanded.
"Well, of course, now I am," he answered.
"Good. Correct me if I'm wrong, but haven't the Longbottoms and the Potters been allies for as long as the two families have been in existence?" Cedric didn't look over at Harry, although he could see Harry's head whip up in confusion and surprise at hearing this.
Neville, though, merely nodded solemnly. "So I've been told, yes."
"Well, then…the last of the Potters needs your help. Are you a Longbottom, or not?" Cedric pressed, not breaking eye contact with the other young man.
Neville's lips pressed into a thin line, and a determined glint lit up in his eyes. He took and released a deep breath, then straightened in his seat.
"Harry James Potter, Lord and Head of the Most Noble and Ancient House of Potter, attend me. I, Neville Francis Longbottom of the House Longbottom, do offer you my oath both freely and without reservation. From this day forward, your enemies shall be mine enemies; your allies shall be mine allies, and your heirs, children, vassals and assigns I shall defend as mine own. Your secrets shall be mine, and I shall guard them with my life. As our families have stood together in the past; so shall we stand together today, and in the days to come."
As he spoke, Neville had raised his LeGrande-made wand, which began emitting a soft glow as he offered his oath. All three young men in the compartment felt the press of magic rise and swirl around them as Harry pulled out his own LeGrande wand (from the concealed holster inside his right boot) and answered his housemate's words with his own.
"Neville Francis Longbottom, Lord and Head of the Most Noble and Ancient House of Longbottom, attend me! I, Harry James Potter of the House Potter, do offer you my oath both freely and without reservation. From this day forward, your enemies shall be mine enemies; your allies shall be mine allies, and your heirs, children, vassals and assigns I shall defend as mine own. Your secrets shall be mine, and I shall guard them with my life. As our families have stood together in the past; so shall we stand together today, and in the days to come."
"So mote it be," Neville intoned.
"So mote it be," Harry finished the ancient ritual.
With an audible 'crack', the magical oath sealed itself between the two young men, making each of them give a jerk before sitting back. Cedric, watching something that he had read about as a child but never expected to see, felt himself pushed back with the press of magic that swept out from the two. It reminded him of nothing so much as a wave crashing over him, drenching him before passing onward and outward.
* * *
Deep within the bowels of the Ministry, an ancient tome sat upon an equally ancient stone pedestal. For the first time in many years it stirred, before opening itself with a dusty 'plop'. The pages glowed brightly for several seconds before fading, which attracted the attention of the robed Unspeakable who was on duty in the room.
Curious, the Unspeakable rose from his desk and strode to the Book of The Great Families. Quickly, he read the newest entry concerning two of Wizarding Britain's oldest families, then snickered quietly.
"Didn't waste any time, did you, boys?" he asked himself. "Algie's going to be fit to tied when he hears this." Shaking his head, he walked back to his desk and began looking for parchment and quill to send his fellow Unspeakable a memo.
The Boys have reaffirmed the Oaths binding the two Families together.
Who had 'on the Hogwarts Express' in the pool?
I told you they wouldn't wait until the Christmas holidays, didn't I? Still, I put my money on 'second week at Hogwarts', so I'm as out of luck as you are.
That'll teach us!
Still chuckling to himself, he charmed the letter into a paper airplane and sent it on its way. That done, he began filing out the 'official' reports that would have to be filed with the appropriate persons, updating them on the information recorded in the Book.
This was going to be a good day!
* * *
It was several seconds before Harry, Neville or Cedric moved or said anything. All three of them were a bit overwhelmed at the strength of the magic that had just accompanied their Oaths.
"What just happened?" Harry asked, looking to the two purebloods for answers. "I mean, I know Neville and I just gave each other magical oaths, but…"
Neville sighed, giving Cedric the eye to let him explain the situation to Harry. "Harry, I assume that somebody—Sirius, maybe?—has been tutoring you in the traditions of the old Families, correct?"
"Actually, I've been learning most of it by reading some of the books on pureblood culture in Sirius' library," Harry confessed.
At Neville's shocked look, Cedric jumped in. "He's telling the truth, Longbottom. That's where the little prat found the betrothal ritual he popped on my father. There's no telling just what he's managed to pick up along the way."
Neville shook his head, partly in amusement and partly in astonishment. "Then it's a miracle that he didn't kill us both just now," he quipped before continuing. "Harry, your family and mine have been allies for centuries, probably even before Hogwarts was founded. What we just did was to renew that bond, using the old ritual, albeit in modern English. Gran taught it to me this summer, after I became Head of my House. Presumably, had You-Know-Who not intervened, we would have done it in a formal ceremony with all of both families in attendance—hopefully when we were both much older."
"So…did we screw something up, by doing it this way?" Harry asked. "All I did was repeat what you said exactly, since you looked so certain about what you were doing."
Neville shook his head firmly. "No, not at all. And, you did the right and proper thing. Had you just been parroting the words, nothing would have happened. Since we all felt the magic of the oaths, I know that you were just as serious as I." The last of the Longbottoms grinned. "Good thing, too. Since it looks like Dumbledore has been meddling with both of us for years now, we'll probably need each other's support before too long…."
Cedric cut Neville off abruptly. "Somebody's pounding on the door, while someone else is working on the privacy wards," he snapped.
"Probably the Prefects, come to see what just happened," Neville ventured, while Harry blanched at the thought.
"Not to worry," Cedric said, already taking down his wards. "It's none of their business, so neither of you has to say anything that you don't want to."
Neville noticed Harry's growing look of anxiety and moved quickly to reassure his friend. "Diggory's right, Harry…if we're pressed, just say that it was a matter of Family business. That makes it private, and nothing short of a majority vote by a quorum of the Wizengamot can be used to make us discuss it with non-family, if we don't want too."
Harry relaxed a bit, and sighed. "Nev, a day doesn't go by that I wind up learning something new about this whole 'Head of House', 'Old Family' business. Could you make sure I don't screw anything up too badly?"
Neville snorted, amused. "Of course. In fact, Gran's already talked with me about the possibility of her giving you some 'catch up lessons', if you're interested."
Harry nodded vigorously. "Really? That'd be great, Nev, if we can work it out."
Before Neville could reply, Cedric interrupted their conversation. "Talk about that later, you two. Last ward coming down…now," he said, leaning back and looking casual.
Neville and Harry both tried to look as innocent as they possibly could as the compartment door slammed open. Standing there, wands out and (in Ron's case, fist raised to bang on the door once more) were Hermione, Ron…and Draco Malfoy. Behind them, Cedric could hear assorted shuffling and other sounds to let him know that they had a large audience, but for the time being he concentrated on the trio in the doorway.
"Harry!" Hermione shrieked. "We were in our meeting when we felt a surge of magic from this compartment! What happened?" she demanded.
"Um…nothing?" Harry said with a shrug, trying for innocent and failing horribly.
"Nothing worth mentioning," Neville clarified, leaning back in his seat casually.
"Nothing worth…?!? Neville, we all felt something very powerful, and I'm certain that it came from in here," Hermione insisted, her strident voice causing everyone in the vicinity to wince.
"Harry, mate, you were sealed in here, and we didn't know but what You-Know-Who might have…" Ron trailed off, clearly confused.
"Well, he didn't, and we're obviously all right, so why don't you lot just piss off," Cedric said with just a touch of heat in his voice. He noticed Draco's eyes narrowing as the Slytherin surveyed the scene without speaking, looking for some clue as to what had happened.
"You should know that we can't do that, Diggory," Ron barked. "We're Prefects, for Merlin's sake! Now, you'll be telling us what happened, or…."
"Family business." Neville's voice was coldly authoritative as he interrupted his fellow Gryffindor, bringing Ron to an abrupt halt.
"Family business? What kind of 'family business' sends a powerful magical wave through the Hogwarts Express? You probably scared half of the lowers to death, not to mention sending every familiar and pet on the train into fits!" Hermione exploded.
Harry was taking a deep breath to try to reason with the bushy-haired girl when he felt Cedric's hand on his knee, steadying him. That gave Neville the second he needed to continue managing the conversation.
"It was a matter of Family business between the Potters and Longbottoms, Granger," he said in the same authoritative voice. "As such, the details don't concern you," he said, clearly dismissing Hermione. Unfortunately, she didn't take the hint, and shook off Ron's hand on her arm as he tried to gently distract her ire.
"I'll remind you that I'm a Prefect, Neville, and as such anything that affects the safety of the students on this train is my business. Now, what were you three up to?" Hermione huffed, crossing her arms and sweeping the room with a glare. It was exactly the wrong approach to take.
Neville Longbottom rose from the bench, standing upright so that he could look down at the shorter girl. "Excuse me, Miss Granger?" he said politely, his face immobile.
"I said that, as a Prefect, I'm responsible for the safety of everyone on this train, and I'm still waiting for an explanation," Hermione snapped, meeting Neville's eyes.
"As I've said, it was a matter of Family business. Furthermore, I give you my word that whatever may have happened here, it poses no risk to anyone on this train."
"And I'm just supposed to accept that, Neville?" Hermione made no move to uncross her arms or soften her voice.
"Actually, in this case I'm speaking as Lord Longbottom; so, yes, you are," Neville snapped back, his own irritation beginning to show.
Hermione's eyes went wide as she gaped at the boy she thought she knew. "Neville!" she hissed. "Just what are you playing at?"
"You heard the Lord Longbottom, Granger. There's no risk to anyone on the train, and I suspect that whatever happened won't be happening again." Draco deftly distracted Hermione before she had a chance to explode, turning her anger towards him. "He said it was Family business, Granger, or didn't you hear? That means that we're not meant to know unless he or Lord Potter want to tell us…and they obviously don't. So, since we have Longbottom's word that nothing's amiss, the best thing for us to do is to go on about our business." He glanced quickly between Cedric, Harry and Neville before turning back to the bristling girl. "There's obviously nothing to see here. I suggest that we move along and leave them be."
Hermione's eyes were as wide as saucers as Neville was supported from a completely unsuspected source. "Malfoy! You can't mean…?"
"He's right, 'mione!" Ron said firmly. "It's Old Family business, which means that it's not for us to know…."
"I know what 'Old Family business' means! More of the pureblood nonsense that Malfoy's father spouts! Or had you forgotten, Ron?" Hermione turned on her friend, furious.
"It's not just the purebloods, 'mione, but all of the Old Wizarding Families, even mine," Ron tried to explain, blushing.
"And I suppose that you know what it means better than I do?" Hermione wasn't about to be soothed.
"Actually, Granger, Weasley almost certainly knows what it means better than you, if for no other reason than he was raised in this culture and you were not. That's one of the reasons that Potter was talking to my father about a class in Wizarding Culture being added to the Hogwarts curriculum on the platform just before we boarded. Scarhead here," Draco said, with a nod to Harry, "made the point that we shouldn't expect people like you—the muggle-born and raised—to have the same understanding and appreciation for our traditions as those of us who literally took them in with our mother's milk."
If Hermione noticed that Draco wasn't being deliberately insulting, she gave no sign of it. "I'll have you know that I've read…" she began, only to be cut off by her boyfriend.
"Hermione! As much as I hate to admit it, Malfoy's got a point," Ron said. "We all know that you've probably read everything in the Hogwarts library about wizarding culture; it's just that, well," he paused, then shrugged. "Reading it just isn't the same," he finished lamely.
Seeing that Hermione wasn't convinced, Harry spoke up. "Hermione, Ron and Malfoy are both right. Reading about wizarding culture isn't the same as having been brought up in it. Trust me on this one, I've been reading it all summer long and there's still loads that I don't even begin to understand."
"I see that you understand enough to suck up to the purebloods at every opportunity," Hermione snapped at Harry.
"Is it sucking up to show respect to our culture, then, Granger?" Draco asked silkily. "How remarkably…provincial of you," he sneered. Turning to address the boys in the compartment, he nodded. "Lord Longbottom, Lord Potter, Mr. Diggory…I apologize for disturbing you, but you can see how we would be somewhat concerned."
Neville nodded regally. "Of course, Malfoy, of course," he said, smiling at his one-time nemesis. "As I said, it was a bit of Family business, now done. And, I rather doubt that we'll be troubling you any further today. I'd appreciate if you'd spread the word that we apologize for any inconvenience we might have caused, and that no one was in any danger at any time."
Draco nodded, then moved to block Hermione—now resisting Ron's attempts to maneuver her away from the door—so that he could get a hand on the compartment door. "I'll do that, Longbottom," he said, starting to close the door.
"Thanks, Malfoy," Harry called, smiling at Draco's nod as the Slytherin mouthed 'later', before shutting the door. Out in the corridor, the boys could hear Hermione going off on Ron with a vengeance, her voice carrying up and down the corridor like a banshee.
"Well, I think that went well," Neville quipped sarcastically, collapsing back onto his seat.
Harry and Cedric just gave him matching sour looks, and settled back into their seats.
* * *
A/N: Well, there you have it—the long-awaited first chapter of the sequel to One Wizarding Summer. I apologize for making you wait so terribly long for it to come out. Alas, my fan fiction writing time has shrunk almost to nothing, because I'm actually doing Real Life work with my writing now. While this is wonderful (for me), it also means that working on this story has to be pushed 'way down the priority list. What this means is that updates will be very slow in coming, sadly. However, this fic is NOT abandoned—it's just having to wait a bit while I work on my new career. Ditto with my Cliché of Death, and other fics…I'll get to them when I get to it, which sadly won't be for another several weeks, at least.
Thanks to all of you who wrote asking about updates...hopefully, this little taste of what's to come was worth the wait. Sorry I can't name you all, because then I'd almost certainly miss one or two, and I'd never intentionally slight any of you if I could help it. Your messages are too important to me for me to do that.
Special thanks to Toki Mirage (whose Bloody Skies is highly recommended), to Digitallace (Mistress of Rabid Plot Bunnies), and to Kamerreon (his Articulated Scissors drabble series is absolutely mind-blowing in brevity and determination). Their fics are the ones that I read while the morning coffee is seeping into the veins, getting me ready to face another day.
The idea for "Wizarding Life and Culture" classes is from Ten Toe's Harry's Twist, which is a truly excellent read (and I really wish would get another chapter or forty--heh, like I can talk!). However, don't expect my Harry to be quite so blatant with 'outing' the duplicity of certain parties as in that particular story…at least at first. There are several more ideas which you may or may not have seen before scattered through this fic, just like the previous ones. Sadly, when you've read as much fan fiction as I have, it gets impossible to remember just where you ran across something, or if it was just an absinthe dream….
And about the title…the Veil in the Ministry will play a largish role (I think) in this fic, but it's not THE Vale. At least, not according to my current outline. All will be made clear, in the fullness of time.
And, while I can't promise anything, tons of reviews may actually help me squeeze a little more time out to work on fan fic…but we'll never know unless you review, now will we?
Next Chapter: still more revelations, plotting and planning on the Hogwart's Express....