Unable to get to the platform, Harry saw a few options. With Hedwig on his shoulder, a hasty note could get sent out, but he wasn't exactly sure if anyone would be able to help him in time to get him onto train and he didn't want his friends to worry. The Leaky Cauldron wasn't too far away and he was sure there would be a floo place in Hogsmeade, otherwise he could go directly to the headmaster's office. Since he had his bulky trunk with him, he was keen to find another solution.
Taking the Weasley's car popped into his head for a moment, but he wasn't an idiot and dismissed it almost instantly.
Looking around, he wondered if there were perhaps other wizards or witches around, either about to get to the platform or there in case something went wrong. If he remembered one of Hermione's lessons correctly, the area directly around the barrier was encased in a muggle notice-me-not charm, so only magical people would be looking towards it. Spotting a policeman giving him a curious glance, he hoped his memory was spot on.
'Is there a problem, Mr Potter?' the policeman asked when Harry was a few steps away.
More sure of the policeman's magical status now, Harry wrote, 'Barrier to 9¾ not working.'
The policeman immediately started striding over, Harry trailing behind. 'So it is,' he muttered when it wouldn't let his hand through. After checking his watch, he added, 'We have a few minutes, follow me.'
Harry found himself jogging to keep up with the fast pace that led them to the neighbouring platform and through a small alleyway that had "Fire exit" written on a sign above it. Seconds later and Harry caught sight of the scarlet steam train and bustling crowd.
'There you go son, quickly now.'
Sparing a moment for a smile and a nod, Harry rushed off, careful not to knock anyone over. When a whistle sounded, he knew it was going to be close. While most doors started closing, one near the back stayed open and he aimed for that, hoping that it was his friends, but ready to burst into a group of strangers.
'Harry!' Hermione shouted from the doorway. She, along with Neville, dragged his trunk on while he put the trolley a bit to the side. Hedwig jumped off just before he climbed on himself.
'See ya Hedwig!' the occupants chanted. As soon as Harry collapsed into his seat, the train groaned.
They all stared expectantly at him until Susan finally asked, 'Well?'
After half an hour, someone knocked on their door. Harry wondered if Malfoy was stopping by for a taunt. When Hermione opened the door, a short girl with big blue eyes and long blonde hair timidly stood there.
'I was wondering if it would be okay for me to join you,' she said.
Hermione felt her heart melt slightly. 'Of course, come in.'
With a bit of a blush, the girl took to the empty seat beside Harry, who helped put her oddly coloured trunk away – purple with blobs of green and silver stars.
Susan gave in to her curiosity and asked, 'Why aren't you sitting with your friends?'
After spending so much time with Hermione, Harry knew why the new girl was here and why Hermione had stopped by his apartment at the beginning of the last year, even if it was under the pretence of frog-finding, so found himself cringing slightly.
'My friend wanted to find some other first years, but the only compartment with room had but one space. She took it after I insisted she did as it was what she wanted to do in the first place while I was happy as it was,' she calmly said with no hint of emotion.
Harry knew everyone else was ready to insult the supposed friend, but didn't want to risk hurting the girl. He was quite glad none of them were the type to speak before they thought.
'Well, I'm Hermione and this is Harry.'
After waiting a bit for the girl to answer, Hermione huffed and asked, 'Could you tell us your name?'
'Oh, I'm Luna. Sorry, but I was waiting for someone to introduce Neville's pet frog.'
Harry, Hannah and Neville broke into laughter, while Susan managed to say, 'He's called Trevor,' before succumbing. Hermione wasn't amused and Luna acted like she hadn't said anything of peculiarity, which only added to the others' laughing.
Luna stayed mostly to herself the rest of the trip, Hermione occasionally trying to bring her into conversations by asking which house she wanted to be in (a small, cosy one on the French coast, otherwise Ravenclaw like her mother was) or what her favourite area of magic was (whichever one she enjoyed the most after trying them all), however they become less frequent when Luna would reply with those simple and witty statements that, at times, made Hermione feel like she was asking what colour the sky was and being told it was green if you squinted.
As soon as Luna pulled out a copy of the Quibbler though, Harry was happily scribbling away, more so once he discovered she was Luna Lovegood, the daughter of the editor of the weekly newspaper. Hermione was a bit disgruntled by some areas of their conversation ("Honestly, why would the minister eat goblins baked into pies?") but the others were polite in their disinterest of the seemingly fictitious ramblings.
By the time Luna parted company as she went to the boats, she was feeling on top of the world. Not only had she managed to find some nice people, one of them was even a fan of the Quibbler! Sure, Hermione seemed a bit close-minded and jealous of their conversation, but Luna was also sure that she would be much nicer after the nargles stopped affecting her personality.
Hermione, on the other hand, was suggesting the theory that Luna would sooner end up sorted into the Buckle-Toothed Morlack house than Ravenclaw. Harry was the only one to reprimand her, and inform her that they were Cumple-Horned Snorkacks, but she felt ashamed from the looks the others were giving her. All in all, she thought she could've handled the eccentric girl better, but the way she kept talking so bluntly and took all asked questions in a different way than intended left Hermione at a loss of what to do other than get annoyed.
Harry hadn't realised how dull the sorting had been last year due to being so nervous at being sorted himself. This time he got to appreciate the silence with intermittent cries of "Gryffindor!" or another house from the tatty old hat. There were only two people he was interested in seeing sorted and if the one wasn't at the end, he was pretty sure he'd have fallen asleep like a couple of others appeared to have.
When Luna was sorted into Ravenclaw, he was pleased for her while slightly disappointed he wouldn't get to see much of her. He couldn't help but feel a loss for all the bizarre conversations they might have had, but he guessed Hedwig wouldn't mind sending his thoughts over every now and then.
After Ginny was sorted into Gryffindor, amongst rapturous applause primarily from the twins and Ron, the feast was started after some nonsensical words from the headmaster. While he had been quite hungry before, Harry found himself feeling a little nauseous (along with most of his neighbours) when Ron decided to save time by foregoing his own plate and eating directly from the platters.
The first (half) week of school, for Harry, was dull. Potions was still bearable and his first lesson was much better than the one of last year. Transfiguration was boring as he hadn't realised that, after reading his dad's book so much, he had most of the theory memorised. Charms was revision to make sure everyone hadn't forgotten important theory over the summer, which was very hard for him to do after spending most of it with Hermione. Even Astronomy was double-checking everyone could still find the key planets and stars. Defence was laughable as Lockhart introduced himself and spent the rest of the lesson talking about himself before dismissing the class half an hour early.
By the time Saturday rolled around, he was looking for any kind of excitement.
Amongst the many owls swooping down at breakfast, a good number were from various newspaper companies. Harry gladly accepted his copy of the Quibbler, eager to check out the runes puzzle. Unfortunately he never got that far when Hermione let out a squeak and thrust a copy of the Prophet in front of him, where he was met by the headline, 'Boy-Who-Killed?'
What followed from that was an overly long description of how Harry turned up in the infirmary, Quirrel had died in an unknown way and a certain Miss Skeeter's pondering on whether or not the two were related.
Once he put the paper down, he was quite sure that he would never dare even think about having a more exciting life. The whispering and looks were putting him on edge and it was probably only Hermione and Neville either side keeping him close to calm.
If he was honest, it wasn't so much the whispering, but the truth of the article and the idea that at any moment an auror could walk in to arrest him. He hadn't given it much thought, but assumed Dumbledore had sorted it out since no one had talked to him about it.
Not long after, he left the hall accompanied by Neville and Hermione. It had taken him a while to get used to the stares of adoration from complete strangers the last year, but it was nothing compared to the looks of fear from those in the know. Those who weren't were quickly filled in. By the time they got back to the tower, Harry wanted nothing more than to crawl into bed and wish it away, but Hermione was having none of it and sat them all down to do homework instead, even if it wasn't due in for days.
It hadn't gotten any better by Monday, but Harry at least had some support from the majority of Gryffindor and some of the younger Hufflepuffs thanks to Susan and Hannah's rallying.
Being with Hufflepuff for Defence was a great relief to Harry when they were all there first thing in the morning. Hermione had pulled Lavender and Parvati over while Susan had brought Ernie and Wayne along in support, keeping a light-hearted discussion going about the importance of proper wand care.
When Lockhart arrived "fashionably late" (a little over ten minutes) and took a further few minutes to open the door, Harry was ready to go get another hour or so of sleep. Hermione though, much to his amusement, seemed to be quite blind to the bumbling nature and kept her eyes on him the entire time they were filing in, only breaking contact to get things out of her bag.
'Good morning class! As you are no doubt aware after our introductory class, I am Professor Lockhart. Who am I class?'
Harry sighed while the majority of the female students eagerly chorused, 'Professor Lockhart!'
'Very good class,' he condescendingly commented. 'Now, today, I am setting a bit of a test to see how well you all know the most important person in the forever ongoing battle against darkness and evil since Merlin – me!'
Those who weren't enthralled all wondered how Lockhart managed to get through the door with such a big ego. Once they glanced over the questions, they altered that to wondering how he managed to grace mere mortals with his presence.
While not the kindest thing to do, Harry was looking forward to venting a bit of frustration with his answers. A slight smirk in place, Harry started reading.
'Question 1: What is Gilderoy Lockhart's favourite colour?'
'Aqua with a hint of lavender and a dab of marigold.'
'Question 2: What is Gilderoy Lockhart's secret ambition?'
'To win the "Best piece of fiction" award from Witch Weekly.'
'Question 3: What, in your opinion, is Gilderoy Lockhart's greatest achievement to date?'
'Slaying a basilisk, even though he did need both a sword and a shield.'
'Question 4: When is Gilderoy Lockhart's birthday and what would his ideal gift be?'
'It is whenever he wants it to be and his ideal gift is a set of all his books, obviously first editions, signed by his accountant.'
'Question 5: How many times has Gilderoy Lockhart won Witch Weekly's most-charming-Smile award?'
'Every time since he was born except for the few weeks after he lost his front teeth and once when there was a scandal about him using teeth whiteners.'
'Question 6: If Gilderoy Lockhart could take a break from defeating the Dark Arts, what would his ideal job be and why?'
'Primary school teacher so he could make sure children grew up knowing all the important things, like who he was and how to say his name correctly.'
The list of questions went on and on, continuing to ask the most mundane questions possible.
Finally, Harry got to, 'Question 54: If you could ask Gilderoy Lockhart one thing, what would it be?'
'Were you the only DADA teacher applicant this year?'
With that, he put down his pen and looked around the class. Hermione was the only other one finished and she was looking quite happy, though Harry didn't think it was for the same reason as he was, since she was dreamily staring at Lockhart. It was again the case that most of the female members of the class had a serene look about them while the handful remaining, in addition to the male members, were glaring daggers at the pages.
When everyone was done, Lockhart glided about the room to collect them all in, sparing a moment to read the first couple of questions and give the students in question either an appraising or disappointed look. Harry took great pride in that Lockhart didn't seem to know which look to go for after checking his and so promptly moved on.
Back at the front of the class, Lockhart said, 'Be back in a moment!' before scuttling off into his adjoining office and returning with a cage full of buzzing pink blurs. 'Now, Cornish pixies are notorious troublemakers and difficult to control if you're not as familiar with them as I. As a treat, I shall be displaying how one herds pixies, isn't that positively grand?'
'Erm, sir,' Hermione began, 'Are you sure that's a good idea?'
'Of course it is, my dear. After tackling werewolves, a little fuzz ball is of no concern!'
Before anyone could say anything else, he opened the hatch and a torrent spewed forth, splitting into groups as they flew across the room. They upturned chairs and desks, tossed around books, shredded pages of notes and did anything else destructive they could.
'Now class, the secret is to not show fear and to use the miscreant herding spell. Let me get my wand out and I will show you.' No one was listening, instead focusing on keeping their stuff from being destroyed, so everyone missed Lockhart getting out his wand only to have it picked up by a group of pixies and thrown on top of a bookcase. However, that didn't deter him as he continued to cast, ignorant of his wand-less hand. 'Peskipiksi Pesternomi!' he screamed, getting everyone's attention while he boldly stood with eyes closed.
After nothing seemed to happen, he opened one eye and quickly the other, sweat starting on his brow as he panicked, thinking he had just accidentally vanished his wand.
'Class dismissed! You three, I trust you to return the pixies to the cage. Good day!'
He was gone in a moment and the class quickly followed, except for the three at the back he had pointed to. Harry, begrudgingly, got out the previous year's defence book while Susan and Hermione sat there staring at where their wonderful teacher was. Flicking through a few pages, Harry found that a freezing charm would slow them down or completely stop them if done with enough power.
Keeping one hand on the book, he got out his wand and focused on the incantation and precisely did the listed wand movements, succeeding in noticeably slowing the pixies trying to steal his book-bag from beneath his foot. He quickly put the book in front of Hermione, which broke her daze and she joined him shortly, Susan catching on when Hermione started.
A few minutes later, the pixies, minus a few who escaped when the three started rounding them up, were back in their cage. Rather exhausted, Harry got his stuff together and went early to charms so he could have a bit of a nap before the next lesson while Susan kept darkly muttering about the loss of her favourite quill.
Harry's next defence lesson was the next day and it was remarkably different. The first notable point was that Lockhart was very keen to avoid any and all interaction with Harry, which he thought was due to Lockhart reading about the fate of the previous teacher – finally something positive to come from that article. The second notable point was that Lockhart didn't perform any magic and, if anyone were to ask, his wand was currently being cleaned due to a careless student spilling ink all over it. The third and final notable point was that Susan joined the Lockhard-is-a-fake group, though Hermione was still enamoured, much to Harry's chagrin.
Of points that weren't notable, Harry didn't think that re-enacting parts of Lockhart's books would count as teaching, given that using "a secret spell developed by Tibetan monks" wasn't possible for anyone other than Lockhart in curing a werewolf of its lycanthropy. When he asked Hermione about it, she was quite insistent that any knowledge is better than no knowledge.
The positive part of the rumours that Harry noticed were extended so that people he wasn't particularly keen on would avoid him. Even Malfoy would sneer at him from a distance and had yet to make any kind of comment at all to him, which was a great relief.
At dinner that evening, a school owl dropped a letter off.
'Potter, I'll keep this short. Lucius got the Quirrel case sealed under ministry law since it involved a minor. So, even though it was self-defence, no one official can say anything without risking their job. Lucius told Skeeter and got her to print the article right after arriving at school. Draco can't stop boasting about it and telling everyone we have to start rumours that you're dark. If you want my advice, deny murdering Quirrel. It's not a lie and if Draco says otherwise then he'll probably end up telling everyone in earshot about his father's great plan.'
Harry couldn't help but laugh at the irony of only the Slytherins knowing he wasn't a cold-blooded killer like Skeeter implied. When Hermione and Neville gave him concerned looks, he clued them in and, while Neville saw the humour, Hermione was too busy thinking.
After doing their homework that afternoon, Hermione finally came to a decision and agreed with the anonymous person's suggestion. She then wanted to know who the person was and why they were helping and Harry told her. Susan and Hannah got a look over the letter at this point and also agreed it was a good idea and that they would do their best to get the rest of Hufflepuff on his side.
It was the second Saturday at Hogwarts and Harry was sitting by the lake. Despite the slightly chilly wind, he only had on jeans and a shirt.
The glares had died down and there wasn't anyone bothering him too much. Malfoy had been trying, but failing, to get people to think that he had gotten away with murdering Quirrel because he bribed the head of the DMLE. The problem with that plan was that anyone who even remotely knew Amelia Bones knew she wouldn't accept any bribe, especially not one to cover-up murder.
That everything was going as well as it could be expected to was a greatly refreshing for Harry, but today he was sitting down by the lake to look over his album. The last weekend, when he had tried to look at the pictures in peace, Ron insisted on joining him since the Weasleys and Potters were apparently close friends, even though there wasn't a single picture of them together in his album. Needless to say Harry wanted a bit more privacy today.
Harry enjoyed going over the pictures as he would always find something or someone interesting that he had missed before. This time, in a picture of his parents at graduation, he found that, if he waited long enough, his dad would give his mum a quick kiss, leaving her blushing for a few moments. He thought it was quite a sweet sight and made him think back to the mirror of Erised. It had been a while since he thought of his heart's desire and wondered if it had changed. A part of him desperately wanted to go see, but the practical part reminded him he had no idea where it would be as it probably would have been moved.
The rest of the day moved on automatically for him as he was lost in the past. A bit of badgering from Hermione brought him back enough to write a few pages on a potion and draw an accurate representation of Gilderoy Lockhart in his battle against a vampire (Harry was confidant Lockhart would be hiding behind whatever he could find, in this case a large oak tree) before he went back to thinking. What he really wanted to do was ask Lupin a few questions, but he was stuck with the problem of getting their letters through without Dumbledore intercepting them.
While he had shared with Hermione that he was writing to an old friend of his parents, he hadn't told her that Dumbledore didn't want him to. She had grown quite a bit, but he wasn't in the mood to put up with her trying to convince him that Dumbledore would listen to reason. He knew she wouldn't blindly trust Dumbledore, but he was sure that she still assumed adults listened to you if you laid out your reasoning in a clear, logical and concise manner, which he most certainly did not assume.
It left him wondering if he could follow up on some of the notes his dad left. There were a few mentions of charming paper and a couple of invisible inks that could do the job. He would just have to hope Lupin picked up on it when he tried it.
A bit of a short chapter, but I've got some coursework coming in on Monday, so been a little preoccupied. I'll probably edit and expand this, re-releasing it next weekend along with the next chapter, but thought it better to get it out now rather than when I next had some spare time.
Unstorily, it's not my intention to give up on this story, but after writing 100k words, it is getting to the point where a few weeks of not having to think about it is sounding rather great. On that front, another odd idea of Harry being raised for his last few years before school by a muggle escaped convict sprang to mind and it's looking appealing to me as a crude parody.
Until next time, don't use potions ingredients for smoothies.
Edit: Completed the self-beta. I have tried to write the next chapter, honestly I have, but the metaphorical brick wall isn't crumbling, so I've turned to a couple of other ideas until it does. I'm hoping it will only be a couple of weeks, but may be more like a month. Many apologies. If you've started here and already read the chapter, I haven't changed anything important, but merely added and altered the odd sentences.