Much to Molly's chagrin, Sirius accompanied them to the train station on September the 1st in his animagus form, providing appreciated entertainment for Harry, Ginny, Ron, the twins and Hermione (who, despite taking Molly's side in the initial argument, laughed as heartily as the rest of them) as they wove their way through the packed streets of London. He nipped at the heels of stern looking businessmen, and licked the faces of small children he passed. Harry was happy to see his godfather get some much-needed outside air.
In the train station, they passed through the brick barrier with ease (and a sigh of relief from Harry and Ron) to find the scarlet Hogwarts Express waiting with steam issuing from the top. As Arthur and Moody helped the kids load their trunks onto the train, Sirius took hold of Harry's shirt with his teeth and pulled him along to the opposite side of the platform. There, several rooms meant for waiting sat unoccupied. Harry opened one of the doors and allowed Sirius to pass before closing it behind himself.
Sirius the Dog rolled onto his back, quickly transforming back into his human form. From his position on the floor, he extracted his wand and quickly put up several charms Harry supposed were meant to keep anyone outside from looking in. He stood up after finishing and clasp a hand on Harry's shoulder.
"Thought I would give you a proper goodbye."
"Now, Sirius," Harry admonished, putting on his best Molly Weasley voice and placing his hands on his hip. "This seems quite unsafe."
Sirius rolled his dark eyes. "Knock it off, Harry." Harry grinned at his godfather, removing his hands from his hips as asked. "We're going to continue working on your suspension case while you're away. Although, Molly wouldn't approve of me sharing this with you, Arthur said he ran into Fudge and Lucius Malfoy in the midst of a cash exchange yesterday; we're looking into the possibility that other members of the court were bribed into the final decision. It certainly wouldn't be the first time."
"It certainly sounds like Malfoy – a Death Eater if there ever was one." Harry clenched his fists, his lips tugging downward slightly. "Just how corrupt is Fudge's administration?"
"More so than we though," Sirius answered with a sigh. He shook his head, his shaggy black hair swinging into his eyes. "Listen, I've talked with Dumbledore. You'll be able to use a wand at certain times in the castle. I want you to keep practicing your magic. Read up on spells. Try to learn to Apparate if you can; it's not strictly legal, but who gives a bullock. You had the right idea in saying we weren't prepared last time."
"I've already been on it," Harry answered calmly, appreciating the advice and concern nonetheless.
Sirius grinned at him. "You're truly your father's son. I'll be able to send Kreacher to you, but he won't come when you call him; slimy git. You'll have to ask McGonagall to get a hold of me if you need something."
"I'm sure I can get Dobby to do it," Harry answered, confident that the unwavering loyalty the small elf had shown toward him would continue on into the year.
Sirius shrugged. "Not a bad idea, actually. Just be careful, Harry. There are bound to be some changes at Hogwarts this year."
"There are bound to be changes everywhere," Harry answered truthfully.
"Yes, well, some changes in the staff are going to be hard to get used to," Sirius answered, a dark look crossing his face. Harry wanted to ask what he meant, but the whistle on the train blew a moment later. Sirius looked over his shoulder before turning back around and gathering Harry into a one armed hug. "Take care of yourself, Harry, and get a hold of me if you need anything."
"Of course, Snuffles," Harry answered, mocking his godfather's silly code name.
Sirius rolled his eyes, shoving him toward the door. "Go, or you'll miss the train. I'll see you soon."
"I'll see you by the holidays," Harry answered, waiting until Sirius turned back to his shaggy dog to open the door. He ran to the huddle of Order members, giving fast hugs and shaking hands before saying one last goodbye. He jumped on the train just as it was beginning to move.
Ginny, who had been waiting for him, grinned at his appearance. "Way to make a dramatic entrance, Potter. Come on. I've got a compartment waiting for us."
Ron's stomach grumbled unceremoniously, the loud sound filling the train compartment until the train's roaring engines, pulling the train from the station, drowned it out. Hermione rolled her eyes as Ron glared at his own belly. "Can't wait for the feast tonight. Who do you think Dumbledore got to teach Defense Against the Dark Arts?"
Hermione had just opened her mouth to give her input when the loudest, most terrifying bang resounded; not a second later, a shock wave washed over and Harry distinctly felt the compartment rattle, knocking anyone standing to the floor. He looked up, alarmed, at his friends. A moment later, a second bang erupted.
"It's coming from the platform," Ginny breathed, pressing her nose against the glass of the train. She leaned back to wrench it open and stuck her head outside; the wind of the train whipped her strawberry golden hair mercilessly about her face.
Even through the wind rushing past, Harry, Hermione and Ron distinctly heard Ginny's gasp. Several other muffled screams were heard through the corridor.
Harry was on his feet and out of the compartment in a flash. He remembered the bend in the train tracks that appeared shortly after leaving the station; soon, Ginny's window viewpoint would be useless. Only a few feet from his own compartment, Harry found the door in the ceiling he was searching for, something each carriage had. Balancing each foot on the window ledge of the door to the compartments on his left and right, Harry was able to hoist himself several feet off the ground. He opened the hatch at the ceiling and stuck his head outside.
The sight to greet him was chaos. Platform 9 ¾, which had looked so calm less than a minute, previously, was in disarray. One wall had been blasted away entirely (Harry noted thankfully it was not the wall that separated the Platform from the Muggle train station); rubble lay scattered across the floor, blanketed by a thick layer of dust and dirt. Parents were running in every direction, pulling along their screaming children.
Harry could not begin to believe his eyes. Framed in the now destroyed wall were five black-cloaked figures, each with their hood pulled high. Harry watched in horror as the front figure pulled his wand and pointed it at a witch and her daughter running across the Platform. Although Harry could not hear the man, he distinctly recognized the orange coloring of the Cruciatus Curse. It raced across the gap and struck the woman between her shoulder blades; she fell forward, contorting in an ungodly manner as her daughter screamed at the scene.
His toes slipped from the window ledges of the compartment doors, and Harry landed catlike on his feet. He ignored the wide eyes of students who had gathered to see what crazed student was climbing through the top of the Hogwarts Express, and Harry ran the few feet to his compartment.
"Harry! What's happening?" Hermione shrieked upon his reentrance. Harry ignored her, jumping onto his seat and pulling his trunk into his hands. He threw back the lid and reached for his prized broom. Hermione was shrieking again. "Harry! Where are you going?"
"Back," Harry grunted. He leapt to the floor again.
"Harry!" Hermione shrieked for the third time. Her voice lowered to a whisper and she hissed every enunciated word. "You can't perform magic!"
Harry chose not to answer. Instead, he reopened the window to their compartment; Hermione and Ron each jumped to their feet; Ginny was staring with wide eyes, quietly cursing herself for having stored her broom in the luggage compartment. Just as Harry put a foot onto the window ledge, a voice Harry would recognize anywhere reached his ears: Death Eater Bellatrix Lestrange's magically amplified voice shook the train.
She was giggling in a sickening manner. Hermione actually clasped her hands over her ears. "The Dark Lord returns!"
There was another shaking bang and everything returned to a shocked silence. Harry, taking advantage of Hermione's distracted look and launched himself directly out of the train window. In the wind stirred by the train, Harry actually tumbled over backward three full times before his broom compensated for his weight; he heard Hermione and Ginny call out simultaneously in fear.
Harry shot over the roof of the train, staring back at Platform 9 and ¾. The dust had settled, and the cloaked figures were nowhere in sight. It seemed Bellatrix had issued her partings words. Confused children and frightened parents were slowly congregating in the middle of the broken Platform. He slowly scanned for any remaining head of red hair or a black dog, but luckily he saw neither.
Recognizing that the immediate danger had passed, Harry ran a frustrated hand through his wind whipped hair. With little choice, as Harry knew there was nothing he could do to clean the aftermath of the Death Eater attack without drawing attention to his wandless self, Harry maneuvered his broom (much more smoothly this time) to the side of the train; with some effort, he found his open window ledge and rolled to the inside compartment.
Hermione was still on her feet, shaking and muttering, and Ron was staring open mouthed. It was only Ginny who rushed forward at Harry's reappearance. "Are you alright?" She dropped to her knees next to him on the compartment floor. "Harry, what happened?'
"Death Eaters," Harry said quietly. He was quite certain that Ron and Hermione would not have heard him through Hermione, whose voice was rising in her rage. "Five of them. They blasted through a wall on the Platform." Ginny gasped, and Harry reached forward to intertwine their fingers, wanting to feel someone solid. "No one was Disapparating during the attack; I think the Death Eaters might have put up an anti-Apparation ward. I didn't see your folks, Ginny. I think they Disapparated home before everything started."
"Thank, Heavens," Ginny breathed, sinking forward and resting her head on Harry's shoulder. Taking only a moment to thank the lords for her parent's safety, Ginny picked her head back up. "Was everyone else…"
Harry shook his head slightly. "They cast curses on some of those left. It didn't look as though they killed anyone."
Ginny look infinitely relieved, but didn't have any words to spare. Harry helped her back onto the compartment seat and settled himself beside her.
Hermione, somehow, had yet to come to the end of her rant. Harry finally glared up at her menacingly. "Shove it, Hermione."
Hermione's jaw dropped to the floor as Harry's words hit her. "Harry! You could have killed yourself! What were you doing? You can't even use magic! You couldn't help those people."
Harry and Hermione were glaring so forcefully at one another that Ginny was relatively certain one of them might burst into flames. She took lead for Harry. "Hermione, he wanted to do something to help. You can't blame him."
"He can't even use magic, Ginny," Hermione spat.
"And he is sitting right here," Harry growled. "I appreciate your concern, Hermione, but I will do everything in my power to ensure that no one is unnecessarily hurt by Voldemort worshiping lunatics." Harry turned calmly to Ginny. "Come with me to find the trolley?"
Ginny nodded, standing from her seat and pulling Harry alongside her. "I would be happy to, Harry."
Students were still gathered in the hall, talking with heads bent about what was happening. The eerie silence when Harry stepped through their small groups was trying on his nerves. He rolled his eyes pointedly at anyone who snuck a glance at him as he walked.
"I can't tell if they're more scared of my status as a loon or sad I didn't tumble off my broom," Harry muttered to Ginny, who snorted appreciatively.
"Ignore them. They aren't worth it anyways."
Eventually, the two teens found the food trolley. They conversationally asked the kind witch if she knew what was happening at the Platform, but she politely denied them any kind of information; not that her response was a total surprise. Snacking on Pumpkin Pasties, Harry and Ginny almost fell over when a fellow classmate came skidding out of the compartment in front of them. Dean Thomas looked relieved to see them, instantly reaching forward to shake Harry's hand.
"Harry, mate," he started, glancing over Harry's shoulder with shifty eyes. "How's it going?"
"Alright, Dean. Not sure what just happened," Harry answered carefully. "How was your summer?"
Dean didn't respond. Satisfied that no one was watching them in the halls, he pulled Harry, who subsequently pulled Ginny, into his compartment. Only Seamus was present, and he nodded at the pair in greeting.
Harry looked at his dorm mate with confusion. "What's up, Dean?"
"Listen, Harry, I wanted to thank you for that letter you sent me." Dean fixed him with a serious stare. "Saved my life."
"What?" Harry asked incredulously. "What happened?"
Dean wrung his hands together carefully. "Mum and Dad were planning a trip to the city for the night after I got your letter. I was planning to stay home and watch the siblings, but I thought about your letter and decided I didn't want to stay on my own. I believe you that he's back. I went to a friend's home for the night and took my younger brother and sister with me. When I got home the next morning, our entire house had been leveled."
"No," Ginny gasped at his side, her hand rising to cover her mouth.
"Lucky my mum and dad were in the city," Dean answered with a shaky nod. Harry could only assume his jumpy manner was from the freshness of the attack against his family and the most recent attack moments ago. Being Muggle born, he could see why Dean might be the most vulnerable target.
"Everyone's okay, though?" Harry asked. Dean nodded. "They let you come back, though? Where are they? They didn't stay in the same town, did they?"
Dean shook his head. "We got in touch with Dumbledore immediately. I thought of trying to get a hold of you, but Mum and Dad were more inclined to go with the Headmaster, you know. He pulled them out of their town. They're in hiding right now at a place Dumbledore set up. Said I'd be safest coming back to school, though."
"Oh," Harry answered, a little shocked. He was happy Dumbledore had taken the appropriate steps. As infuriating as he could be, Harry was suddenly grateful for his influence. "Glad to see you're okay, mate." He turned to Seamus. "How was you're summer?"
Seamus exhaled a deep breath. "Shaky, to be honest. Mum doesn't believe you or Dumbledore. Almost didn't let me come back."
Harry glared at the boy, raising an eyebrow in challenge. "What do you believe?"
Seamus turned to look out the window for a moment before finally finding his voice. "I thought she might be right until I talked to Dean."
Harry still didn't feel totally satisfied. "You should tell your mum."
"I know," Seamus answered quietly, his Irish brogue apparent in his words.
"He's having trouble accepting he's back," Dean whispered quietly to Harry and Ginny. "I think he's worried about his family."
Harry softened a little, understanding that as a legitimate claim. He wasn't pleased that his friend had initially denied his words (and Dumbledore's), but he understood the ignorance everyone else chose to live in was to help downplay the worries of war. He pulled up some sort of encouraging words to dole out. "Dumbledore's not just going to leave everyone out to dry, Sea. Just look at what he did for Dean's family. I'm not going to just lie back either. You're welcome to help if you think it will take your mind off things."
Seamus straightened his shoulders, turning to look at Harry. "You'd do that?"
Harry nodded. "We're going to need all the help we can get."
Seamus brightened slightly, followed by his cheeks reddening. "Sorry about not believing you earlier, Harry."
"It's alright," Harry accepted. He couldn't afford to make any more enemies this year, and Seamus was someone he generally liked.
"You mean that?" Dean asked, finally seating himself. "You think we can do something?"
Harry made a face, weighing his words carefully. Next to him, Ginny squeezed gently on his forearm to give him the courage he needed; he needed to start recruiting students to his side even if it required giving away some of his opinions on the current status of the war. "I appreciate everything Dumbledore's done for us so far, but I think the tactic he's taking right now is too much defense, not enough offense. He thinks I'm too young to fight. I agree that I'm not ready, none of us are, but I don't think it has anything to do with age. I think it's because he refuses to see our childhood spent fighting a war, and he doesn't want to train us for it."
"He wants to shield us away from the outside world," Ginny summarized.
Dean and Seamus weighed his words for a moment before Dean cleared his throat. "I don't mean to be rude, but hasn't You-Know-Who already tried to kill you? Last year at the tournament?"
Harry sighed heavily. "And first and second year, although Dumbledore covered those up pretty well."
"Geez," Seamus whistled lowly.
"With how many times he's tried to make you snuff it, don't you think he's going to come after you when he comes into the open?" Dean asked slowly. He stepped lightly, making certain he wasn't stepping anywhere out of bounds as he spoke.
Harry nodded. "I think that's pretty close. I think he's going to go for power first, then for me. Dumbledore thinks he can protect me from that, though."
"Till seventh year?" Dean blurted out. He quickly amended his words. "I just don't think You-Know-Who will wait that long. Even your average seventh year doesn't have the training for that. Only aurors do, really. That would take years."
"And you see my problem," Harry mused, happy his friends picked up on his predicament quickly enough. "Dumbledore isn't ready to admit that I'll be an integral part of this war. I don't think he realizes that most of our generation will be as well. He won't train us, though, so here we are. I can't go handing out Team Potter recruitment forms, either, so how I'm supposed to find the people on my side at Hogwarts is truly beyond me."
"Eyes and ears, mate," Dean answered vaguely, shooting him a grin. He was silent for a moment before turning to look up at him with wide eyes. "Would you do it? If there were others, would you train us? You're always top in Defense, you know."
Ginny grinned and elbowed Harry lightly in the stomach. "That's what I keep telling him, but he won't listen to me."
"I don't know when I could," Harry answered truthfully. "Even if it was just us four, Ron and Hermione that were interested, you still need a large space for six people to move around quickly enough. With the war escalating, I wouldn't be surprised if Dumbledore cracked down on rules this year, too."
Dean grinned at him. "Come on, mate. When have you ever been one to follow the rules? At least think on it?"
Harry rolled his eyes, but he grinned as well. "I'll let you know."