With a heavy sigh, Harry Potter placed his hand on the kissing gate. The metal creaked and whined as the gate parted. As he stepped through, Susan's hand on his arm, Harry looked up at the old war memorial. To magical eyes, the stone shifted and warped itself, becoming a statue of a witch and wizard holding their son, the soon-to-be triumphant Boy-Who-Lived.
Harry closed his eyes. That statue took on a whole new meaning, now.
Colonel Ramsay had taken Harry to the old cemetery in Godric's Hollow only once, the summer before his fourth year. When Harry had mentioned that he hadn't even known where his parents had been buried, Ramsay had been appalled. Respect for fallen comrades in arms was something that the soldier held dear, and he quickly set to work.
Whoever the Colonel had talked to was efficient. Within a week, Colonel Ramsay had a road map that would get them to the village, and to the cemetery. They drove up the following Saturday, a three hour drive from Surrey.
It was sheer chance that had the Colonel place his hand on Harry's shoulder as they had walked into the cemetery. That contact allowed him to see the magical graves along with the muggle. It also let him see the hijacked war memorial. Even as he said nothing, the statue had bothered him - almost as if it dishonored the muggle soldiers to honor Harry and his parents.
Now, of course, the statue bothered him for entirely different reasons - more so when Ramsay learned that the arrangements had been made by one Albus Dumbledore.
As if she could feel his anger, Amelia Bones placed her own hand on his elbow. Ramsay turned to look at her, and saw the worry in her eyes. He patted her hand, attempting to reassure her.
Amelia had been here before, of course - it was the closest thing Wizarding Britain had to a war memorial. She had even brought a young Susan, once upon a time. That likely wouldn't have happened, if she had known then what she knew now. It was a conversation happening around dinner tables from one end of the country to the other - what do you tell your children when their heroes, the figures from their stories, end up being… well, human?
James and Lily Potter were honored for their bravery. To learn that they had fled, that they abandoned their son? How does one explain that to a child raised on stories about the Boy Who Lived?
Remus Lupin had been here before, at various points during the decade following that dark Halloween. Sirius had not, believing (correctly) that this place was one of the few places in Wizarding Britain that he could be expected to visit. Kingsley Shacklebolt had revealed to him, over a firewhiskey, that the DMLE had indeed placed a ward near the Potter graves, hoping to catch him if he came to defile their remains.
He had joked that he should have tried - it would have been eye opening.
Remus thought back to the funeral, and realized that Sirius might be onto something. After all, the grand speech from the Headmaster had held the crowd's attention, with its soaring phrases about honor and sacrifice and love. Then, the Headmaster had lifted the twin caskets with his magic alone, and placed them gently in the freshly dug earth.
No one could tell how heavy a load was as it was levitated. Empty caskets would react in the same way that filled caskets would.
The small group walked through the cemetery, none of them in a hurry to reach their destination. Harry had been adamant that he wanted to do this - that he needed to do this. No one could talk him out of it, though no one really tried. They understood, each of them, how hard it was to come to grips with what had happened, with what they had learned.
When they arrived at the Potter graves, Ramsay found his eyes drawn to the inscription. It had rubbed him the wrong way two years ago, but he had not been able to explain why. He had thought of the Potters as soldiers, and in a way they had been. Bravery, after all, isn't acting without fear - it's acting in spite of fear, and doing what needed to be done.
James and Lily Potter had done what needed to be done. Somehow, they had protected Harry. That was what mattered. A younger Harry had been satisfied with that answer, if only just.
Lord Potter, here and now, had seen past the illusion, and found the truth wanting.
Harry and Susan spoke in whispers as they stood at the foot of the grave. Remus and Sirius gave them all the space they needed, standing a short distance away. Ramsay, with Amelia on his arm, nodded when he saw that the two wizards had clear lines of sight across much of the cemetery.
No one expected an attack, but it harmed no one to be prepared. Remus and Sirius had done the correct thing, without even thinking about it.
"Shack tells me that James rarely leaves the Headmaster's side," Amelia said, quietly.
"We kind of expected something like that," Ramsay replied. "He did not get his seat back, as he expected, and Dumbledore doesn't have the Chief Warlock's gavel, either." Then he paused, thinking about the date. "I wonder what he will do once school begins."
Amelia shrugged. "No idea. I'm not sure I really care, as long as he stays out of trouble." She frowned, thinking about Lily. "As long as both of them stay out of trouble," she amended.
Ramsay nodded, looking over at the Potter graves. Harry and Susan were hugging now, the emotion of the moment, of the betrayals, of the lies, all catching up to the young Gryffindor.
"They planned this," Amelia continued, her voice a whisper as she leaned into Ramsay. "James and Lily, they knew exactly what would happen to Harry when they returned. Everything they've done, they knew. They had to have known."
Ramsay nodded again. "I doubt they gave it much thought, honestly. To them, he was an acceptable loss." He sighed, forcing his own anger down. "Whatever their goals, they thought it was worth their son."
"It would seem so," she agreed. "How could anyone trust one word from their mouths, ever again?"
Ramsay scoffed, as a phrase came to mind. He smiled, and closed his eyes. Amelia looked at him, one eyebrow raised, as he began reciting.
"Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow," Ramsay began. "Creeps in this petty pace from day to day, to the last syllable of recorded time; And all our yesterdays have lighted fools the way to dusty death." He opened his eyes, focusing on the grave, and on Harry and Susan walking away from it, as he continued. "Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player, that struts and frets his hour upon the stage, and then is heard no more."
"It is a tale told by an idiot," Harry said, picking up the speech, a small smile on his face as he understood Ramsay's point. "full of sound and fury, signifying nothing."
Susan walked up to Amelia, and gave her Aunt a hug. Remus and Sirius took up places next to Ramsay, each throwing an arm around the muggle's shoulders.
Harry stood there, looking not at the headstone and its lies, but at this odd group of people. The last of the Marauders, two men who would give their lives for him - and who very nearly had, on several occasions. The Colonel, who had been the father figure he had never had growing up. The Regent Bones, who began as an ally of convenience and ended up being his future Mother in Law.
And Susan. His betrothed, someday his wife. That thought had scared him, not so long ago. Now, he wouldn't have it any other way.
His team, of course, were his brothers and sisters. But these five, all here by choice, were his family.
The Potters? The elder ones, at least, were names on stone. Full of sound and fury, he thought. Signifying nothing.
"Yeah," Harry said, acknowledging the Colonel's words. "Fuck'em."
"Language," Susan scolded lightly, failing to suppress a smile.
"Yes, dear," Harry said, with a chuckle.
Ramsay and Amelia said their goodbyes, and hugs were exchanged. Both teens confirmed that yes, they did have their shrunken trunks. Yes, they were ready for the train ride.
After goodbyes of their own, Sirius and Remus took Harry and Susan to King's Cross by side-along apparition. Ramsay and Amelia remained, taking a rare moment to themselves.
They walked back into the cemetery, and soon found themselves in front of the Potter headstone once more.
"I wonder if we could alter the headstone, somewhat," Ramsay said idly. He looked to his left, where an old wizard stood quietly, watching them.
The man leaned on his shovel, eyeing them. Then he grinned. "Way I see it, they's ain't dead, so most o' that's nonsense anyway." He nodded toward Ramsay's jacket, and the Royal Army patch on his shoulder. "You'd have to wear Her Majesty's uniform, to be brave enough to quote the Scottish Play in a graveyard, eh?"
Ramsay nodded, and offered his hand. "Mark Ramsay."
"Colonel Mark Ramsay," Amelia corrected, with a smile.
The old man looked impressed. He offered his own hand. "Thomas Ackroyd, Sir." He nodded to Amelia in turn. "Madam Director," he said.
"Neither of us is on duty, Mister Ackroyd," Amelia replied.
"Oh, aye," he agreed. "But you've earned it, so least I c'n do is respect it."
Amelia took her wand, and walked over to the headstone, leaving the boys to their chat. Ramsay and Ackroyd made small talk as she worked, with Ramsay complimenting the older man on his care of the cemetery.
"That's how me father would've done it," Ackroyd said.
Something in the man's tone caught Ramsay's attention. "Is he here, then?" he asked.
Ackroyd shook his head. "France," he said. Then he pointed at the war memorial near the entrance. "His name's on there, if you can see it before the statue changes."
"I see," Ramsay said, with a frown. The muggles who died for King and Country mattered less than two liars, it seemed.
"Aye," Ackroyd replied, nodding. "Ah think you do, at that."
Amelia stepped back over to the pair, and took Ramsay's arm once again. The men looked at the headstone, and nodded approvingly.
The names remained, as did the birth dates for both James and Lily. Their dates of death had been left as well, though Amelia had struck them through, not wanting to hide the original lie. Below, where "The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death" had been inscribed, she had instead chosen Shakespeare.
"An inspired choice, my lady," Ramsay said, giving Amelia a kiss on the cheek.
"Thank you, Mark," she said, smiling back at him.
"Aye," Ackroyd said after a moment. "'Tis fitting." The old man's eyes went to the new inscription, and he nodded again. "Aye," he said quietly.
Below the names, on the Potter headstone, the inscription now read only "Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow."
Jamie Potter heard his bedroom door open, but did not turn to look.
Instead, he kept his focus on his school trunk, and its contents. He suspected that firsties were having the same problem he was having, in figuring out what he needed and what he did not. But he was a sixth year, this should be easier, right?
From the doorway, his mother's soft chuckle told him that she had seen his dilemma.
With a sigh, he sat back on his floor, and looked at her.
"It never really gets easier, you know," she said with a smile.
"Yeah," Jamie said. "Still, I'm a sixth year, I should be able to do this."
"Maybe. But you've never left home before, either," Lily replied. "That's not going to be easy, either."
"I've met some of the others in my year, mum," Jamie said. "I think I'll be alright."
"I know you will be," she said, softly. "You've spent a long time preparing for today. Whatever happens, your father and I are proud of you."
Jamie nodded. "Thanks, mum."
"Besides," Lily continued. "Your father and I won't be as far away as you think."
Jamie raised an eyebrow. "What does that mean, exactly?"
Lily shook her head, still smiling. "You'll see."
Jamie said nothing, knowing that he wouldn't get an answer. Instead, he closed his trunk and stood up.
Lily walked over without prompting, and tapped her wand on the handle, causing the trunk to shrink. Jamie placed it in his pocket, and turned to face his mother.
"Remember to have fun, Jamie," Lily said, as she pulled her son into a hug.
"As much as I can," Jamie replied. "What, with a war on and everything."
Lily's smile faded at that. Before she could say anything, Jamie spoke again.
"Mum," he began. "Are we sure the Headmaster's plan is the best choice for us?" Off Lily's frown, Jamie continued. "I mean, so much has happened, right? Do we know if he's taken all of that into account?"
Harry's concerns were at the back of Jamie's mind as he asked, but the reality was that he wanted to see his mother's reaction. He had noticed her worry over the course of the summer, and wondered if it mirrored his own anxiety about their situation. Add to that the overheard conversation about her meeting with her sister (an Aunt he had never really known about), and it got Jamie thinking about… well, everything, really.
Lily's emotions were plain. Jamie saw a look of worry cross her features, followed by the briefest hint of anger. Then it was gone, and his mum was smiling down at him once again.
"I think we need to stay the course," Lily said, quietly. She saw the hesitation on her son's face, and raised a hand to stop his response. "I know things are not as we imagined them, but I just have a gut feeling that we need to stick with the plan."
That comment sounded familiar, to Jamie's ears. Most of his training had been about following his instincts, listening to his gut, and so on. Aurors relied on their instincts to survive, according to his father and Uncle Frank.
Jamie stepped forward, and hugged his mother once again. As he did so, he had one overwhelming thought.
What if my instincts don't agree with everyone else's?
By long tradition, the staff of Hogwarts had their last meeting before term just as the Hogwarts Express was leaving King's Cross. It allowed any of the professors to leave via the Headmaster's floo, if there were some last minute issues to be sorted. The meeting also allowed the staff plenty of time in the afternoon to get their classrooms and living spaces arranged to their taste - time that was doubly important for new professors, of whom there would be several this term.
As the meeting ended, and professors old and new filtered out of the Headmaster's office, Albus Dumbledore found himself alone with the only former colleague among the group.
"I wish you would reconsider, Severus," Dumbledore said. He kept his voice as close to its usual kindly tone as he could, but both men knew what was really being said.
Professor Snape - now, former Professor Snape - shook his head.
"I cannot remain in the castle without forcing Mister Potter to act, Headmaster," Snape said. "If he does not attack me at first sight, it means that he knows that I am a spy, or that I took an oath to stay out of the war."
"I rather doubt anyone would care, outside this room," the Headmaster replied.
Snape shook his head. "If the Dark Lord even got a hint that I had tried to appease Potter, my usefulness would be at an end, and he would kill me without hesitation. You know this."
Dumbledore sighed. "I had suspected it, yes."
"Like it or not," Snape continued. "The blood feud is a real thing, properly declared, and it must be planned for. If I remain, I either undermine myself or Mister Potter."
"It's so unlike the boy," Dumbledore mused.
Snape scoffed. "It's a Gryffindor move, Albus, and you know it. He took the pureblood traditions enshrined in the law, and used them to beat the Dark Lord over the head." Again, Snape shook his head. "It's remarkable that no one saw it coming."
"Perhaps…" said Dumbledore, as noncommittal as ever.
Snape continued to speak as he stood. "Septima can serve as Head of House for Slytherin. They all know her, after all, and she will have no trouble from the remaining snakes."
Dumbledore gave Snape a sharp look. "Remaining snakes?"
Snape's eyes widened. Surely, the man had not missed that detail?
"Headmaster," Snape began. "You really should review the enrollment list. The upper years in Slytherin will be much smaller than expected, this term."
Dumbledore reached for a parchment, and scanned it. His eyes widened as they reached the bottom, where over a dozen names had been crossed out in black ink.
"So many lost…" Dumbledore sighed.
"A tragedy, no doubt," Snape drawled. "Now you see, Headmaster, why I resigned my post." He gestured at the parchment. "I have no wish to join them."
"You swore an oath," Dumbledore began, but Snape raised a hand to stop him.
"I did," he agreed. "And if, by my death, I can help end the Dark Lord, then so be it." He folded his hands behind his back, standing tall in front of his one-time mentor. "But I will not throw away my life to teach potions. Not when you have other options."
The Headmaster let out another sigh. "Had, Severus. We had other options."
Snape's eyebrow raised again. "Surely Professor Slughorn would not decline a chance to collect the Boy Who Lived? Either of them?"
"Oh, I offered him the post," Dumbledore replied, sourly. "I even offered him an increased salary. No, he said he did not feel that he could trust his potential colleagues."
Snape's eyes widened. "You told him I was resigning, I assume?"
"I did," said Dumbledore. "But Horace was referring to Lily Potter, who was gracious enough to accompany me when I went to his home to recruit him."
"Ah," Snape said. "He reads the Prophet."
"Yes, he does."
"That was, perhaps, somewhat unwise, Albus."
"Her son is the Boy Who Lived, Severus," replied Dumbledore.
"True," he agreed, not specifying which son he meant. "Which tells me that Professor Slughorn puts more value on his own safety than he does on collecting another prize." He looked at the Headmaster evenly. "That should tell you something."
As the Hogwarts Express made its way north, the teenagers in one compartment were debating the most important issues of the day.
"I mean," Ron said, after a moment. "Why Lord Potter, exactly?"
Harry chuckled at his friend's puzzled expression. "Well, when a Lord loves a Lady very much…"
"Oi, that's not what I bloody meant!" Ron sputtered. "I mean, the muggles have Earls and Dukes and Barons and all that, and we've just got Lord this and Lady that. I'm asking, why?"
Harry looked at Susan, who shook her head. Then he turned and looked at Neville, who shrugged. Then he turned back to Ron.
"No idea, mate," he replied. "Better ask Luna or Hermione, they'll know."
"Yeah, that's a good bet," agreed Neville.
"Fair enough," Ron said. Then he noticed the catalog in Harry's lap. Nodding to it, he changed the subject. "So, did you figure out your broom dilemma?"
Harry grinned. "You're gonna love this," he said, handing the catalog over. Ron glanced at the cover - American Cavalry Broom Suppliers - before turning to the marked page. He saw the broom that Harry had marked, and read the description.
Then he read it again, his eyes widening as he took in the broom's specifications. Then he looked up.
"Harry, this is a referee's broom," Ron said.
"Yes it is," Harry agreed. "As long as it flies, and can legally be purchased or owned in Britain, it turns out that there are no rules against it for a student."
"Maybe," Ron said. "But the League wouldn't allow it for a chaser, would they?"
Harry shrugged. "Not worried about the League, Ron, this is school quidditch."
"I told you they'd be talking quidditch," Luna's voice said, from the now open doorway.
"Fine, you win," grumbled Hermione, though she was grinning at Luna's lucky guess.
"Oi, Weasley, get moving, we've got a prefect meeting!" Ginny's voice carried into the compartment, even though she was still standing in the corridor.
Ron handed the catalog to Neville, and snapped to his feet. "Yes, Ma'am!" he shouted.
Susan rose as well. "Sounds like I need to leave, as well," she said, mock pouting.
"Alas, so it seems," Harry said, with a dramatic air. "We shall endeavor to survive in your absence, my lady."
"Prat," Susan chuckled, as she leaned in for a quick kiss. She looked at Neville, and inclined her head toward her betrothed. "Keep an eye on this one, yeah?"
"As you wish, Heiress Bones," Neville said, formally, even as he fought back a laugh of his own.
"Idiots, both of you," Susan sighed, grinning as she closed the door behind her.
Neville looked at the broom catalog, and whistled.
"Yeah, it's a bit much," Harry acknowledged.
"A bit," Neville agreed. "Still not sure why you're buying Jamie a broom."
Harry frowned, considering that. "It just kind of felt like the right choice," Harry said. "And this way, I get to pick the broom."
"Well, you sure picked a broom, all right," said Neville. Holding up the catalog, he began reading. "The Praetor 17 features a shaft 120% larger in diameter and length than Japan's Gyōji 26, with enough room to support two injured players at once - as well as the power to carry them to the pitch. Our industry-leading runic array gives you protection from stray shots and errant blasts, and can even defend against moderate spellfire if the hooligans get out of hand. The Praetor gives you the speed to track the seekers, the maneuverability to keep pace with the chasers, the versatility to follow the quod, and the stability to keep watch on goal or pot alike." He looked up at Harry, his expression unreadable. "If I didn't know better, I'd say you wanted to start a quodpot league at Hogwarts."
"Not in the slightest," Harry replied, with a grin. "But in quodpot, the quaffles explode, so the refs have shields on their brooms to protect from explosions."
"Aha," Neville said. "Kind of glad I don't play, then."
"Me too," Harry agreed. "Quidditch is crazy enough."
Neville handed the catalog back across the compartment, but still looked thoughtful. "You know," he continued. "A broom with shields could be useful."
Harry's smile faded. "Remind me to show you a map of the grounds, sometime," he said. "The quidditch pitch is far enough from the core of the school's wards that it worries me."
Neville's expression hardened. "You think we'll need to fight over the pitch?"
"I don't know," Harry replied. He held up the catalog. "The best broom I can get before October is a referee's broom, one that would be useful if something goes down. So I'm getting one for Jamie, just in case."
"Well," Neville said with a nod. "I hope your brother appreciates it."
"He'd better," Harry said, with a grin. "It's all catalogs, until they rebuild Quality Quidditch in the Alley." He held up the catalog again. "This is what we can get before the season, so it's either this or a school broom." He chuckled at Neville's look of horror. "I see I don't need to remind you how that would go."
"Enough of that," Neville said, trying hard not to laugh. "Or it won't be my wrist that gets broken this time, Lord Potter, sir."
The expression on his friend's face set Harry off, and before long both of them were laughing hysterically.
Jamie and Trevor had a compartment to themselves, and enjoyed the quiet. Both were more nervous than they wanted to admit, and some time out of the public eye was just what they needed.
When he first learned of the plan to send him to Hogwarts, Jamie had worried that his fellow students would never give him a moment of peace. He was the Boy Who Lived, after all - of course they would want to see the chosen one in person. It was not a role he looked forward to, but one he understood. Part of his duty was to be a role model, a symbol of the Light, and he would do his duty.
The reality was far different. The steady stream of well-wishers he had expected consisted of two first year girls who had gotten turned around, and needed help finding their compartment. That had been it.
Jamie was only mildly surprised to find that it did not bother him in the slightest.
An hour into the train ride, Dani Diggle joined the pair, having visited with some of her friends in other compartments. It turned out that she had not been as isolated from the magical world as they had first thought. Her homeschooling had been a result of her mother suffering from several long-term illnesses. Dani had not wanted to leave home, preferring to stay and help take care of her mum - but, she did not want to compromise her education, either.
Her grandfather had come through with healers for his daughter, and tutors for Dani. Both had turned out to be necessary. She had also met the children of her grandfather's political allies, most (but not all) from families of the Light. So she had had friends growing up, several of whom already attended Hogwarts.
As she told her story, Jamie and Trevor got the sense that she was someone worth knowing. Her circumstances struck Jamie in particular as being similar to his own - an unusual background, a Light family, and so on. There was a familiarity there, something that put him at ease.
The discussion turned to lighter topics, as the train continued its journey. Before long, Dani brought out a well-loved Wizard's Chess set (a gift from her Grandpa, she said), and offered the boys a game. Trevor took her up on it, and the two began to play. Jamie watched them, smiling to himself.
By the time the snack trolley came around, most of Jamie's worries had fallen away. Perhaps this year will be better than I hoped, he thought.
Harry and Neville returned to the compartment, having gone to change into their school robes. The train had less than an hour before its arrival at Hogsmeade, and the trip had so far been without incident. Even the prefect patrols, already completed for their group, had gone well.
Hermione had revealed - without being asked - that the train seemed a bit light on upper year Slytherins. In their year, the Slytherin prefects were Blaise Zabini and Daphne Greengrass.
That caught Susan's attention. "No Malfoy?" she asked.
"No Malfoy," Hermione confirmed. "Cho Chang said that he begged off, to focus on his studies." She looked over at Harry, and answered his unasked question. "And no, he did not accept the captain's badge, either."
Harry frowned, but said nothing.
Susan, as if she read his mind, squeezed his hand. "That could be a problem," she said.
Luna shrugged. "I didn't even see him when I patrolled, and I don't think anyone else did either. Maybe he's not on the train?"
"Maybe," Harry muttered. "He didn't even come by for his usual threats and recriminations, this year."
"Crabbe withdrew, according to Gran," Neville said. "No idea about Goyle, though."
"He's someone else we didn't see," Hermione observed.
"What about Parkinson?" asked Ginny. "She was their prefect last year."
"I asked Daphne about that," Hermione replied. "Pansy wasn't even offered the badge this year. Maybe because she helped Umbridge?"
"No," said Harry. "Zabini did as well, and he was selected." He looked at Neville. "Pansy told us that she was doing what she could to lay low and not attract attention, these past few years."
Neville nodded. "She's a hell of an actress, I'll give her that."
"What about the seventh years?" Harry asked, looking at Hermione.
"None," she replied. "They will be assigned at the castle."
"Oh," Ginny said with a wince. "That's not good."
"Depends on how you define good," Harry said. "We knew a few of our esteemed classmates would not be returning, but I'm surprised they didn't give out the badge before now."
"It might be due to the change in Head of House," Luna suggested. "Assuming, of course, that Professor Snape followed through on his plans."
"He and Sirius worked it all out," Harry said. "As the newly hired Potioneer for the Black family, he gets to keep an ear on the Order, which will keep his other master happy." He looked at Luna. "I do wonder who will get the DADA position, though. Dumbledore offered it to Professor Snape, as a last ditch effort to keep him in the castle."
"We'll find out," said Neville. "At least they probably won't try to kill you, this year."
A chorus of groans filled the compartment. Neville's smirk told them that he had expected precisely that reaction.
"Well," Harry said. "Now that that's out in the universe… anyone got a copy of the Quibbler?"
Susan took the rolled up copy handed to her by Luna, and deftly whacked Harry upside his head. Harry's laugh at the assault set off the rest of the group, exactly as Susan had planned.
It was some time before they got themselves calmed down again.
At the other end of the train, Draco Malfoy was frantically washing his hands.
It wasn't that he was in a small boy's toilet on a train, nor was it the size of the sink that caused him trouble. The soap was fine. The small room was well lit, and (thanks to magic) much larger than it should have been, given its location.
No, he couldn't get his hands clean because they would not stop shaking.
A steady stream of red flowed down the white porcelain, as the blood came off of his hands. Two of his knuckles had broken open, making it impossible to tell whether the blood was his own or that of his victim.
Opening his eyes, he glanced over at the wall, where the boy he had beaten was propped up in a corner. The boy's face was a purpled wreck, and one arm was clearly broken. His Hufflepuff robes were bloodied and useless, but it didn't matter.
Draco had brought his own.
"They detect magic on the train," Draco said to himself, as he continued to scrub his hands raw. "I had to use my hands, Professor," he muttered. "I have to do this, Professor, or they will kill her. And you know it," he continued.
Professor Snape would be angry, of that he had no doubt. But of all the people in the castle, his godfather was the only one who could help him. He would be able to get a message to his mother, to tell her that he was going to get her free. He would do his duty.
And once he had accomplished his task, the Dark Lord would free her, and they would be safe. He had promised. For Draco, this was the only way out.
He looked back at the boy, and took a calming breath.
No, he thought. This really is my only option. Walking over, he pulled a few hairs from the boy's head, and dropped them into the potion.
And if I get to kill a few mudbloods along the way? Even better.
Jamie Potter followed the great mass of students as they made their way to the carriages, waiting for their ride up to the castle. As he neared the front of the crowd, he saw his brother kiss Susan Bones, before she went with some of the other prefects to do a final walkthrough of the train.
Neville had already climbed into the next carriage when Jamie moved to follow. Harry's hand on his shoulder stopped him cold.
"Not so fast, Mister Potter," Harry said.
Jamie turned, and saw that Harry was smirking at him. What the hell?
"I beg your pardon?" Jamie said, annoyed.
Harry hooked a thumb toward the first years. "This is your first time, yeah? Then you need to be on a boat." He turned, and nodded to Trevor. "You too, Longbottom."
Trevor caught Jamie's eye, and shrugged. Jamie turned back to his brother, and sighed.
"Fine, Harry," he said. "We'll do it your way."
Harry grinned at them. "Excellent! Right this way, gentlemen, your ride awaits." He gestured toward the docks, and watched them go.
When Jamie and Trevor reached the top of the stairs down to the boats, they found a very annoyed Dani Diggle.
"You're late," she said. "I thought you'd left me."
"We're transfers," Jamie began, but the girl's glare shut him up.
"You only get one chance to see the castle from the lake for the first time, Jamie," she said. "Or so Grandpa said."
"So did this one's brother," Trevor replied, inclining his head at Jamie.
"Yeah, so he did," Jamie muttered. Dani just rolled her eyes, and led the way down to the boats.
The three were the last to arrive, and ended up sharing a boat at the end of the line. As a result, they were treated to the oohs and aahs of the first years as the boats rounded the bend.
When it was their turn, all three were struck speechless. The castle really was magnificent.
"Dani," whispered Jamie. "Your grandfather was right."
"He usually is," she whispered back. "Wow."
Filius Flitwick welcomed the returning students as they disembarked from the carriages and walked into the castle. It was a job he enjoyed, and something he looked forward to every year.
This year, however, would be different.
The door to the next carriage burst open almost before the carriage came to a stop, with Harry Potter and Neville Longbottom almost running to the castle.
"Professor," Harry said. "We need to talk."
Flitwick eyed the Gryffindor, and saw the serious look in his eye. Nodding, he waved Septima Vector over, to take his place. Then he stepped to the side, with Harry following close behind.
He was only mildly surprised when Harry put up a privacy charm.
"Sir," Harry began, "Susan sent me a message from the train. She was doing the prefect walkthrough, and found a Hufflepuff second year in one of the toilets. The boy was beaten pretty badly, sir, and if it hadn't been Susan who found him I doubt we'd know who it was at all."
"Merlin," Flitwick said in reply. An attack on the train this severe was unheard of. "Who was the student?"
Harry shook his head. "I'd rather not say just yet, Professor. Neville is getting Madam Pomfrey as we speak, but Susan says that he'll be fine. What concerns me, sir, is the patch of missing hair on the boy's head."
Flitwick's eyes widened, as he made the connection. "That's a serious accusation, Mister Potter."
Harry nodded. "Yes sir, but if I'm wrong, all we know is that whoever attacked this particular Hufflepuff grabbed him by the hair." He looked at the Charms Master, and willed him to understand. "But if I'm right, there's someone in that Great Hall hidden under polyjuice."
"I see," Flitwick said, knowingly. "And if we know which Hufflepuff it is, we may give him enough warning to flee." He frowned. "We should probably tell the Headmaster," Flitwick began, but Harry cut him off.
"The Professors rushing away from the head table would be a sure sign that whoever did this was caught. They'd run, and we'd have nothing. As you said, Professor, we cannot risk warning him in any way." Harry turned, and saw that one of the last few carriages was pulling up to the castle. "Sir, right now, all we need to do is look at the list of students, and see who is here who shouldn't be."
"Aha, I see. Five points to Gryffindor, Mister Potter," Flitwick said, approvingly. "We have the enrollment list, showing everyone who should be here. And we have the list of everyone who entered the castle, except for the prefects and you."
Harry nodded. "If our victim is sitting there, waiting for the sorting, we have our attacker."
Flitwick turned toward the castle. "I will summon the list, Mister Potter. Please remain here."
"Of course, Professor. Thank you."
Harry watched quietly as the last carriage emptied, sending a group of third year Ravenclaws into the castle. Professor Vector remained at the entrance, waiting for the remaining prefects. He looked out into the darkening evening, hoping to see the carriage bringing Ginny and Susan back to the castle, reasoning that Ginny would have signaled him using the mirror if they were using the floo to go directly to the Hospital Wing.
Lost in his thoughts, Harry did not hear the footsteps coming from the castle. He did hear the Professor who brought the list, however.
"Filius said you would need this," a woman said.
"Yes, thank you, Professor," Septima said, her tone rather cold.
Harry turned, just in time to see the Professor notice him. Her green eyes widened as she saw who needed the list.
"Oh, for fuck's sake," Harry muttered as his eyes met his mother's.
"Quite," replied Professor Vector, who clearly had no love for Lily Potter, either. She handed him the master list. "What are you looking for, exactly?" she asked.
Harry stepped closer to the entranceway, where the light was better, and unrolled the parchment. He was careful not to actually set foot in the castle. "A student in Hufflepuff was attacked on the train. We suspect, but cannot yet prove, that his attacker took his place at the feast, using polyjuice." He began scanning names, looking for students registered as attending but who had not yet entered the castle.
"Are you certain?" Lily asked. Her focus would be on the potion, Harry thought, but he deliberately took it the other way, and gave her a brief glare.
"The unconscious, bloodied student stuffed in a loo was a pretty big clue, Professor," Harry snapped, before resuming his search. The list was sorted by house, and then by year. He idly noted that yes, Slytherin was short a number of students, compared to the previous year. Draco Malfoy was not listed as a student, interestingly.
When he reached the end of the list, he sighed. This was the result he had worried about.
"Mister Potter?" Professor Vector asked. She had seen his reaction, and knew it couldn't be good.
Lily Potter said nothing.
"There are four students missing from the list," Harry said, as he rolled the parchment back up. "Ginny Weasley of Gryffindor and Susan Bones of Hufflepuff are both prefects. They were the ones who found the victim, Alan Ferguson of Hufflepuff, who is also listed as missing."
"So," Lily said, focusing on Harry. "The fourth student would be our attacker?"
"No, Madam, the fourth student would be me." Harry said, resignedly. "Harry Potter of Gryffindor. We've met."
"I know your name," Lily said, angrily.
"So it would seem," said Septima, hoping to defuse the brewing confrontation. "So, Mister Potter, what does this mean, exactly?"
Harry ignored the question, having caught a glimpse of something at the edge of the grass. The light from the castle had glinted off of… something, he wasn't sure what. He drew his wand, and wordlessly cast a lumos to light his way. The bright light from his wand led him directly to his target.
Lily and Septima walked up as Harry was examining his find. They saw two phials, each with potion residue. Harry did not touch either phial, but he would know that potion anywhere.
"Polyjuice," he snarled. "We were right."
"But why two doses?" Lily asked.
Harry stood up, and looked back at the castle. "He polyjuiced into Alan, to get to a carriage. Then, as he rode up the hill, he took a second dose, and polyjuiced into someone else." He nodded toward the open doors of the castle. "The wards track our wands. That's how a death eater walked in as Mad-Eye Moody, by carrying his wand. That's how Voldemort himself walked in by possessing a professor. It was the wand that registered on the wards, not the spirit."
"Not many realize that about the wards, Mister Potter," Septima noted.
Harry shrugged, his eyes still on the castle. "I've had cause to study the castle's defenses, Professor." He extinguished the light from his wand, but kept it in his hand. "Alan Ferguson still had a wand when he was found. He's listed as absent on the list." He shook his head, angrily.
"Professor, what this means is that the attacker is sitting in the Great Hall as we speak, waiting for the sorting." He closed his eyes, feeling suddenly exhausted. "And we have no earthly clue who it is."
A/N: NaNoWriMo continues. Welcome to Year Six - where we did actually get to Hogwarts, as promised, even though Harry never actually set foot in the castle. New Professors, new students, and a well hidden danger await. We have three sortings to look forward to, though some may be more obvious than others. Events proceed apace.
Frequently, Draco Malfoy finds his way to extremes - either a misunderstood boy hoping to make his family proud, and becoming easily misled as a result, or a true believer, eager to take his place at the top of the pyramid through murder and torture. Why not both? Can he be led to believe he is doing what he has to to protect his mother, whom he is told is in captivity? And, at the same time, can he enjoy getting some of his own back as he works against the mudbloods who put him in that position in the first place? We'll find out.
Mister Ackroyd, the cemetery caretaker, is named after Victoria Cross recipient Captain Harold Ackroyd, VC, MC, of the Royal Army Medical Corps, (1877-1917). If he were a wizard in 1996, having a (muggle) father who died in WWI is plausible.
Colonel Ramsay's speech, and the chapter title, come from Shakespeare's Macbeth. Though the speech in the play deals with hopelessness, the text sums up Harry's feelings about his parents nicely. He's turned the corner on that issue, as we will see in chapters to come. (There may be other parallels, as well.)
Stay safe out there. Feedback, as always, is welcome.