Disclaimer: Harry Potter permits us to voyage through time, to tap the wisdom of JK Rowling.
Parts of this chapter have been quoted from Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.
"How did you find the young Lord Potter, Mr. Barnett?"
"As per my contract, Your Majesty, I cannot reveal what I learnt from the boy's mind. However, I can safely say that Harry Potter is the most extraordinary young man I have ever met."
The Granger Family arrived at King's Cross with plenty of time to spare, and Hermione and Harry were all set for another year at Hogwarts—hopefully a quieter one this time.
As if that were ever going to happen.
"Okay, Harry, Hermione, you first," Emma said as they approached the barrier into Platform Nine and Three Quarters.
"Yes, Mum," Hermione said as Harry pushed his trolley toward the barrier, and she close behind him, building up speed until—CRASH!
Harry hit a solid barrier, and Hermione, having nowhere near enough room to stop, crashed into his back. They both went sprawling on the floor. Hedwig's cage fell off Harry's trolley and rolled away, leaving the owl shrieking.
"Oh my God, are you alright?" Emma said. She and Dan rushed over to help their children up.
"Oww…" Hermione groaned. Her hair was sticking out at odd angles as she brushed herself off.
"I'm okay…" Harry mumbled, even though he was all but pinned between the two trolleys and the wall. He turned and started pounding on the wall, saying, "What happened."
"That's what we were wondering," Dan said.
"The barrier sealed itself," Hermione said, trying to press on the wall herself.
"It shouldn't do that on its own," Harry countered.
"Do you think someone sabotaged it?" she asked.
"I don't know…I saw other people going through it, though."
"Could someone be trying to keep you out?" asked Emma.
"Maybe, but you'd think someone would notice…" Suddenly, Harry got an idea. "Come here," he whispered, motioning his family closer. "Cover me."
"Harry!" Hermione protested, but she wasn't fast enough.
Harry crouched low so that he was completely hidden by the trolleys and his family. Very quickly, he shrank down to cat form and sniffed around at the base of the barrier. Immediately, his nostrils were bombarded with a magical scent he had smelled once before. He very nearly went out pursuing that scent on four legs before he remembered who the owner of that scent probably worked for.
Harry stood back up at once in human form and yelled out, "Dobby!"
A yelp of surprise sounded from behind a nearby pillar. Harry leapt over the trolley and ran at the sound with a speed honed by years of karate, with Hermione close behind. He whipped around the pillar and grabbed a small, skinny arm in his hand before the elf could react. In another moment, Hermione had grabbed his other arm, and they carried Dobby the house elf out into the open and set him down in front of their parents, struggling but unable to pull away. The Grangers could already see a number of other witches and wizards behind them, staring as they waited to get on the platform.
"Harry Potter!" the elf squeaked. "Harry Potter must not be angry with Dobby—"
"Dobby, did you seal the barrier?" Harry asked.
Dobby cringed, seemingly trying to hide from the enquiring eyes, and lowered his voice: "Dobby warned Harry Potter that he must not go back to Hogwarts."
The Grangers all sighed with annoyance, but Emma crouched down in front of the elf and said, "Dobby, we know you think something bad is going to happen at Hogwarts, but we talked it over, and we warned Professor Dumbledore and some other important people, and we think we can handle anything that happens. So would you please let us through the barrier?"
"You can't keep us from going back," Hermione said. "We can always go by Floo or the Knight Bus. And you're holding up everybody else who has to get through."
Dobby flinched as he again realised how much attention he was attracting. Harry and Hermione let go of his arms. Hanging his head, Dobby snapped his fingers, and a white glow briefly surrounded the barrier. Then, he snapped his fingers a second time and vanished.
Emma shook her head, saying, "Tsk-tsk. I don't what's going on with him. I wish we could something…well, you two have to go. Harry, do you want to try it again?"
Harry straightened up his trolley, keeping a firm hand on Hedwig's cage this time, and gave it a shove. It glided through the barrier without any trouble.
The Grangers quickly said their goodbyes and loaded Hermione's and Harry's luggage on the train. They didn't see the Weasleys yet, but they met up with Neville and said hello to some of the other students.
"I wonder if Luna Lovegood is here yet," Harry suggested. "We should thank her for helping us deal with Snape."
Hermione shrugged her shoulders: "Let's look around."
As they started down the hallway, Neville muttered, "I wish we could just get rid of Snape."
"I know," said Hermione, "but at least we got him to move a little. And we can still keep up the pressure this year."
"Yeah. And Binns could use a kick in his ethereal pants, too," Harry added.
"I think we've got our work cut out for us," Hermione sighed.
They found Luna Lovegood sitting alone in a compartment near the front of the train, swinging her feet on the seat with her nose buried in an upside-down copy of The Quibbler.
"Hello, Luna," Harry said warmly.
Luna looked up in surprise: "Hello, Harry Potter. Hello, Hermione Granger…And you're Neville Longbottom, aren't you?"
"Erm, yeah?" Neville said, blushing slightly. They'd only briefly met before at Sirius's New Year's party. Luna stuck her nose back in her magazine.
"How was your summer, Luna?" Hermione asked.
Luna looked up again: "It was quite pleasant, even though Daddy and I failed to find any crumple-horned snorkacks."
Harry sniggered as Hermione struggled to keep her obvious response to herself. Neville just looked very confused.
"Yes," Luna said. "They're very skittish, you know, and good at hiding. Daddy's been looking for them since before I was born."
"Well…how do you know they're there, then?" Neville asked.
"Oh, there have been sightings, of course, especially in Northern Europe. We get letters from other people who are searching for them."
"Crank letters," Hermione muttered under her breath.
They had been expecting to see the Weasleys shortly, but none of them showed up in the cabin until after the train started moving, when, finally, Ron stumbled in the door with Ginny tagging along behind him.
"You made it," Harry said.
"Barely," Ron replied. "Fred and George forgot some of their stuff, and then we had to go back for Ginny's diary."
Ginny said nothing to rebut this, but that was probably because being around Harry tended to rob her of her voice.
"Hello, Ginny," Luna emerged from behind her magazine again.
"Er, hi, Luna," Ginny squeaked softly.
"I see the wrackspurts are still giving you trouble," Luna said. "Would you like me to write Daddy for some siphons?"
"Uh…uh…no thanks, Luna," Ginny said as the others tried not to laugh.
"Okay, what's she doing here?" Ron complained.
"We looked for her," Harry said. "Her father helped us try to deal with Snape last year, and we wanted to see her."
"Well, good luck," Ron said. "She's dotty as anything."
"That's not very nice, Ron," Hermione said. It was probably true, she thought, but he didn't need to say it in front of her.
They talked for a while—mostly just the second years. Ginny was still too tense to speak in Harry's presence, and Luna mostly read The Quibbler, except when she put her head up for a moment to make an odd and seemingly random and sometimes uncomfortable comment.
As the day wore on, Luna was starting to try Hermione's patience as she talked about various non-existent magical creatures and ridiculous conspiracy theories—at least that was Hermione's assessment. Harry doubted most of the things the blond girl believed in were true, too, but he thought it was oddly endearing. Maybe he was just so used to being an oddball himself, but he seemed to be the only one who wasn't put off by her strange comments.
The trolley rolled by, and Harry treated the whole compartment to their favourite snacks (he and Hermione were more trusted with pocket money than any of the others). But shortly afterwards, Draco Malfoy strutted into the compartment, flanked by Crabbe and Goyle.
"Bet you think you're pretty hot stuff, don't you, Potter?" Malfoy said. The rest of the cabin glared at him, except for Luna, who ignored him.
"I'm sorry, Mr. Malfoy, you'll have to be a bit more specific," Harry said calmly.
"You know what I'm talking about. You get one new law passed, and you think you can get your picture in the paper any time you want."
"Um, not really," Harry said. "I'm glad to have made a difference in our society, but otherwise, I was trying to lie low this summer. Perhaps you have me confused with Professor Lockhart."
"Whatever, Potter. It doesn't matter, anyway. You may have won this round, but don't expect it to last."
"Haven't we already had this conversation, Malfoy?" Harry said. The others giggled.
"Just a friendly warning," Malfoy replied. "You can't expect to make it very far with the riffraff you hang out with. Not all victories will come so easily."
Ron and Neville jumped to their feet to confront Malfoy, but Harry waved them back and stood up in front of them. "Well, thank you for the warning, but I already know that," he said coldly, and he brushed his fingers through his hair so as to deliberately expose his scar. "Now, if you think it'll help you so much, why don't you go on and play with your properly-pedigreed purebred pet pugs?" he motioned to Crabbe and Goyle.
Malfoy's goons cracked their knuckles menacingly, while the rest of the compartment sniggered at them, but then, they were all distracted by a shriek of laughter from Luna, who dropped her Quibbler and nearly fell off her seat.
"That's funny, Harry," she said, gasping for breath.
Malfoy glared at them, but he just said, "Keep your mongrels and loons away from me, Potter," and he stalked away.
"Purebred pet pugs…" Luna said, still giggling.
"Pets gorillas, more like," Ron added, to more laughter.
Ron was a little nicer to Luna after that, and things went smoothly until they got to the castle. Disembarking from the train, the second-years waved to Hagrid while Ginny and Luna joined the other wide-eyed first years as the huge man escorted them to the boats. The rest of the students proceeded to the carriage station, where some of the older students were also filtering in from Hogsmeade. A fifth of the population of magical Britain lived in Hogsmeade, and while it was traditional for all of the first-years to take the train so that they could start making friends and meet at the boats together, Hogsmeade residents almost never did again unless they were prefects, who were required to be there.
When they arrived, however, Neville froze in fear in front of the carriages and stared at something that apparently only he could see.
Hermione needed only a moment to realise what was happening. She leaned close to him and whispered, "It's okay, Neville. It's just the thestrals. They won't hurt you."
"Oh, um, right," Neville muttered, and he followed onto the carriage.
The Great Hall was even emptier this year after the relatively large graduating class had left. Even after eating every meal there for nine months, the many empty seats were a sobering reminder of the cost of the war that ended eleven years ago. Ginny's and Luna's class, being born almost entirely in the awful year before Voldemort's defeat, was the absolute smallest class in centuries. (The following year would have been, but it got a boost from the rash of children conceived in November of 1981 and born in August of 1982.) The Gryffindor foursome took their seats just before the first years filed in, looking very small in both numbers and size.
The first Gryffindor of the new class was a very small, mousy-haired boy named Colin Creevey who sat near Harry and looked more wide-eyed at the grandeur of the castle than any of the other first years (except Luna, who looked wide-eyed about everything). The Sorting went quickly; Luna took the longest before eventually going to Ravenclaw. Harry noticed Malfoy watching her appraisingly across the Hall the longer she took and seemingly relaxing a bit when she was finally sorted. Ginny was the last and quickest: an instant Gryffindor.
With the Sorting completed, Dumbledore was back to his usual ebullient self as he opened the feast: "Welcome! Welcome to a new year at Hogwarts. Before we begin our banquet, I would like to say a few words. And here they are: Surcoat! Plectrum! Nim! Gelding! Thank you."
Most of the Great Hall applauded, but Colin Creevey was confused: "Wow, is he a bit mad?"
"Yes," Harry and Hermione said in unison.
They quickly lapsed into their usual routine for the feast: Harry dishing up the meat and Hermione dishing up the vegetables. They only got a few strange glances for that this year. However, Colin was staring for a different reason. After hearing Harry's name spoken a few times, he spoke: "You're Harry Potter, aren't you?"
"Er, yeah, I am," Harry said.
"Cool! I've read all about you."
Harry sighed: "If you mean the Harry Potter Adventures series, they're complete rubbish." Ginny choked a little nearby.
"There's an Adventures Books series?" Colin said excitedly. "I didn't know that. I just read about you in Modern Magical History—all about how You-Know-Who tried to kill you, but you survived, and he disappeared, and you were adopted by muggles, and you still have a lightning scar on your forehead." Ginny nodded eagerly at his description. "This place is amazing! I didn't even know the weird stuff I could do was magic until I got my letter, but—"
"Okay, Colin, calm down," Harry interrupted. "Listen, Modern Magical History isn't all that accurate, either. The real story is that my birth mother died to protect me, and that's what saved me from Voldemort."
Ginny yelped in fear, and a lot of other people around them flinched.
"Who?" Colin looked around confused.
"Voldemort. That's You-Know-Who's name. Some of us aren't afraid to say it."
"Wow, that's really brave," Colin said in awe.
"No, it's common sense," Harry told him. "I was raised in the muggle world, too. Out there, I'm just a normal kid, like you." He motioned vaguely out behind him. "You know that no one's scared of names out there, the same as I do, and you shouldn't be scared in here, either."
"Huh, I guess not. I figured it was some kind of magic name or something."
"No, it's just people being scared."
"Alright, Harry—say, do think I could get a picture with you when I get my camera tomorrow? You know, so I can show my parents I met you? They'd really like to see."
Harry sighed in spite of himself.
"Did I say something wrong?" Colin said.
"Harry doesn't really like a lot of attention," Hermione said. "But you know what? We like to keep in touch with muggle-borns' families. Why don't you give us your parents' address, and then our parents can contact them in person."
"Really? Wow, that'd be great. Thanks a lot!"
"No problem, Colin," Harry said.
The next day, after re-potting mandrakes in Herbology and turning beetles into buttons in Transfiguration, Harry and Hermione made it to their first Defence Against the Dark Arts class with Gilderoy Lockhart. Hermione still thought it would be a good class, but Harry had grown even more sceptical of the man after reading the books, especially when he compared the alleged time lines:
"I'm telling you, Hermione. There's no way even a wizard could have been fighting chameleon ghouls in North Africa when he was on his way from banishing a banshee from Bandon, Thailand, to ferreting out a colony of trolls in Russia at the time."
"Well, maybe it's a typo," Hermione replied.
"I'm telling, you, there's something fishy about these books."
"You're overreacting, Harry."
"I don't think so. And have you seen how they're written. Half of this stuff's just about how great he is. If he teaches like he writes, I don't know if I can take it."
So Harry wasn't holding out much hope for quality instruction. He was mainly hoping the Defence Professor didn't try to kill him again.
When the whole class was seated, Lockhart cleared his throat loudly, and silence fell. He reached forward, picked up Neville's copy of Travels with Trolls, and held it up to show his own, winking portrait on the front.
"Me," he said, pointing at it and winking as well. "Gilderoy Lockhart, Order of Merlin, Third Class, Honorary Member of the Dark Force Defence League, and five-time winner of Witch Weekly's Most Charming Smile Award."
Harry had a sudden urge to reintroduce himself as "Lord Harry James Potter, Order of Merlin, Third Class, likely future member of the Dark Force Defence League, and likely future winner of Witch Weekly's Most Eligible Bachelor Award", but that wouldn't help his image as a fame-seeker.
"I see you've all bought a complete set of my books—well done. I thought we'd start today with a little quiz. Nothing to worry about—just to check how well you've read them, how much you've taken in—"
When he had handed out the test papers, he returned to the front of the class and said, "You have thirty minutes—start—now!"
Harry looked down at the first question:
1. What is Gilderoy Lockhart's favourite colour?
Lilac, he thought, followed immediately by, Oh, God, how do I know that?
Hermione must be rubbing off on him after all these years because he knew the answers to a surprising number of Lockhart's fifty-four questions about himself from reading his books. For the ones he didn't know, he just wrote down whatever nonsense he could think of:
42. Which product does Gilderoy Lockhart use to clean his teeth with to achieve his famous dazzling white smile?
Faith and trust…and a little bit of pixie dust, Harry wrote.
Predictably, Hermione got full marks on the quiz. With that out of the way, Lockhart got on with what Harry hoped would be the practical part of the lesson and lifted a large, covered cage from behind his desk.
"Now—be warned! It is my job to arm you against the foulest creatures known to wizardkind! You may find yourselves facing your worst fears in this room. Know only that no harm can befall you whilst I am here. All I ask is that you remain calm. I must ask you not to scream," said Lockhart in a low voice. "It might provoke them."
He whipped the cover off the cage, revealing it to be crammed full of tiny, blue, winged, jabbering, elf-like creatures.
No one screamed. Several people laughed. Seamus Finnigan gave a loud snort and said, "Cornish Pixies? Are you serious?"
"Well, they are class three-X creatures," Hermione said. "They're on the curriculum."
"Right you are, Miss Granger," said Lockhart, "and devilishly tricky little blighters they can be, too—so let's see what you make of them!"
He opened the cage, and the pixies zoomed out and swarmed all around the room. They were like Peeves at his worst—smashing windows, spilling ink everywhere, shredding books, and lifting Neville up onto the chandelier. Hermione tried to beat the pixies away with her arms like everyone else for a minute before thinking to draw her wand and freeze them in midair a couple at a time.
But while most of the class were hiding under their desks, Harry was loving it. Not even bothering to use magic, wanded or not, he jumped up on his chair, hopping from one desk to the next and laughing as he snatched pixies out of the air with his bare hands. To even an untrained eye, he looked a lot like a cat jumping around, batting at a swarm of bugs. "I changed my mind, Mione, this is fun!" he said.
Hermione glared at him while she fought off two pixies that were pulling her hair. Once he had a handful of the creatures, he hopped down and stuffed them back in their cage.
"You're doing great, there, Harry," Lockhart beamed. "But try this on for size." He brandished his wand and bellowed, "Peskipiksi Pesternomi!"
The pixies grabbed his wand and threw it out the window.
"Oh, dear…well, I'll just let you nip the rest of them back in their cage, then," he said, and he fled from the room. Most of the class did, too, except from Harry, Hermione, Ron, and Neville, who was still hanging from the chandelier.
"Can you believe him?" Ron said.
"Well, I suppose he should have taught us the Freezing Charm before he let them out," Hermione admitted.
Between the two of them, Hermione and Harry corralled the rest of the pixies pretty quickly, until Neville was the only thing left in the air.
"Why is it always me?" he said.
"Sorry, mate, we'll get you down," Harry said. "Mione, give me a hand." They both waved their hands and wandlessly levitated Neville down safely.
"Thanks," he said, although he was still giving Harry a bit of a funny look for his antics.
That evening, Oliver Wood made the announcement in the Common Room: "Alright, listen up, Gryffindors. We're gonna be holding Quidditch tryouts this Saturday at nine AM sharp. We'll be trying out all the positions and picking some reserves because you never know when a hot new talent will come along, so everyone who wants to play, make sure you show up on time. That goes double for last year's team—even you, Potter."
And so, it was a pretty good-size group that made its way out to the Quidditch Pitch on Saturday morning. Hermione was there, since Harry insisted she at least try it, and Ron was hoping for a long-shot chance that he would make Reserve Keeper.
"Alright, first I want everyone to divide up by position," Wood said, pointing in a line: "Chasers, Beaters, Keepers, Seekers."
The group divided up as instructed, except for one large and smug-looking third year.
"McLaggen, what are you you doing?" Wood demanded.
"Trying out for Beater and Keeper."
"Fine." He looked over at Harry, who was also standing alone. "Anyone else for Seeker?" he called. No one responded. "Alright, I guess you're off the hook, Potter."
Wood started out the tryouts by dividing the applicants into groups of seven and telling them to take a lap around the pitch. He weeded out a solid majority of the applicants this way, since even many of the students who were decent at flying weren't so good at doing it in a tight formation, and there were several messy pileups.
After that, he sent out the Chaser applicants in groups of three and had them run some simple drills. Of course, the returning team members, Angelina, Alicia, and Katie, dominated the competition, but Harry cheered when Hermione performed fairly well, especially for a second year. After eliminating a few applicants, Wood sent them up for another round, this time sending Fred and George Weasley up with them to hit a Bludger around the pitch. After so many years of karate, Hermione's reflexes were quite fast—almost as fast as Harry's. Even Wood was impressed by that bit.
None of the hopeful Beaters were anywhere near as good as Fred and George. ("Like a pair of human Bludgers themselves", Wood had described them last year.) Only McLaggen came close.
Finally, they had the Keeper tryouts. Wood delegated these to Angelina Johnson and dutifully took his place in the lineup. They didn't take too long, though, as the returning Chasers only had to throw a few goals to see how good each candidate was. Only Ron, McLaggen, and a mediocre fifth year tried out against Wood, whom Harry could tell was playing at a near-professional level. Ron wasn't bad—he had the basics down—but Harry could tell he needed some work. In the end, the choices were fairly obvious.
"Alright, everybody, I've made my decision," Wood said when the group reassembled. "The starting lineup will be the same as last year." There were a few groans. "Myself as Keeper, Bell, Johnson, and Spinnet as Chasers, Fred and George Weasley as Beaters, and Potter as Seeker. Now…Crittenden and Whitney, you're Reserve Chasers." The two upper year students smiled. "McLaggen…" Wood sighed. "You're Reserve Beater and Reserve Keeper." Harry sighed softly, too. He had barely met McLaggen, but he had already shown himself to have an abrasive personality, and the double assignment would only make him smugger.
After this, most of the group dispersed, but Wood turned to a disappointed-looking Hermione and Ron and said, "Granger, Weasley, you've both got a lot of potential; you just need to build up your skills. Put in a year in the Flying Club, and come back next year." Both of them looked happier with that encouragement. Finally Wood turned to Harry: "Potter, we still don't have a Reserve Seeker, and that means you need to make sure you show up at the games. You scared me last year when you landed in the Hospital Wing a week before the final."
"Right, I'll make sure to fight Voldemort at a more convenient time this year," Harry deadpanned, causing Wood to flinch.
"Alright, that's it. Practice starts Monday at four, same as last year."
"Sorry you guys didn't make the reserves," Harry told Ron and Hermione as they walked back to the castle.
"It's alright," Hermione said. "I wasn't really expecting to make it. And I'm sure I'll enjoy the Flying Club."
"Yeah," said Ron, "and I guess I only have to beat McLaggen next year. He doesn't look that tough."
Harry smiled, looking forward to a good Quidditch season.
Dear Tom, Fred and George made the Quidditch Team again today. Ron didn't, but Wood told him to try again next year. And Harry Potter did, too, but no one tried out against him.
Good for them, Tom wrote back after the words vanished into the page. You seem to have a very talented Quidditch family.
Yes. I wish I could try out this year. I know I can fly better than Ron.
I'm sure you can, Ginny. You told me you've been flying longer than him.
I have. I really wish I could, Tom. Maybe if I could get on the Quidditch Team, then Harry would notice me.
Doesn't he notice you already? You told me he kissed your hand.
No, he was just being polite. Harry doesn't really notice me. I can't talk to him, and he doesn't even know I'm there half the time.
Well, if you can't talk to him, perhaps writing would be a better solution.
I can't write to him. We sit three seats apart at breakfast. That would just be weird.
Just a suggestion. If you want Harry Potter to like you, you'll have to do something to get his attention.
I know, Tom. But it's even worse because Harry's already done so much, and I haven't even had a chance. Ron even says Harry can do wandless magic already.
The ink swirled on the page in what Ginny by now recognised as an expression of surprise: He can?
Yes. Ron said Harry and Hermione have been practising it since they were little. I haven't seen it, though. I guess Harry doesn't want to attract attention.
That's silly. There's nothing wrong with attracting attention if it's from the right sort of people.
I know! You understand, Tom. And why should Harry mind? He's already done so much else. He caught a Death Eater and freed his godfather, and he won the Quidditch Cup last year, and Ron said he knows all the secret passages in the castle and stuff.
There was a splatter of ink drops that signified laughter, and then Tom wrote, Well, I'm sure he's good, but Harry's not the only one with secrets. I bet I could show you some secrets about the castle that even he doesn't know.
Yes. Let me show you…
About an hour later, Harry heard something strange whilst sitting up in the quiet Common Room—a soft murmuring—or maybe hissing—like someone talking into a pillow.
"Did you hear something just now?" he asked.
Hermione pricked up her ears and listened. "I don't hear anything."
"Huh, must have been the wind."