Harry's heart was racing and his hands clammy as he gripped his wand tightly in his robe pocket. He knew his fears were unfounded as his eyes trailed a slow path before him, but he still couldn’t relax.
It had been a day much like today when he had first laid eyes on this platform, on this train, so many years ago. Except today when he looked around, instead of wonder and awe, he felt a deep sense of trepidation and fear.
Hordes of Mothers were hugging their children, siblings hugged siblings, and the choruses of “goodbyes” and “take cares” was deafening. He slowly focused on the scarlet steam engine that stood proudly before him, the steam billowing around him in great white clouds as the shrill whistle blew. The defining roar of voices drifted to a deep hum as thousands of memories swirled though his mind.
It was September first. Hogwarts was finally reopening and he was returning to complete his last year. It had taken so long to finally get to this day, but the newly formed Ministry had promised Hogwarts would be open in a year, and they had followed through with their plans. "The destruction caused by Voldemort’s army will be a distant memory," they had proclaimed, finally completing the magical repairs to the castle in record time. It seemed they were eager to please.
“The last year!” he sighed aloud. It sounded almost like a warning.
“Come on, Harry! Get a move on! All the good compartments will have gone.” It was Ron, dragging two huge trunks up the platform toward him. He towered over most of the second years he was passing, the freckles on his tanned face showing up in stark relief against his red hair, Ron had filled out during the year they had both spent working. He looked good for the extra weight he had gained.
Harry waved lazily, acknowledging Ron, and then he spotted Hermione trailing behind. She was smiling proudly and displaying her Head Girl badge, her hair still as wild as it had always been.
He felt a deep rush of affection for his best friends, a smile coming freely to his lips.
As he looked around at the many familiar faces bustling to get on the train, his thoughts turned to Voldemort. The name still held tension for many and was still unspeakable in polite conversation, even though “He Who Must Not Be Named” was long dead and buried.
The terrifying war he had waged was still fresh in everyone’s minds despite the Ministry’s hopes. The sentiment was especially poignant for Harry today.
The price that had been paid for freedom was clear on everyone’s minds. The missing laughter of all the students who wouldn’t be getting back on the Hogwarts Express echoed in his head; it drove the pain deeper, and sadness gripped his heart. Nevertheless, he knew the danger was still there. It was tangible in the air. There had been many breaches in security before today, in areas more guarded than this.
“You okay, Harry?” Hermione stopped, touching him gently on the arm.
“Yeah, it’s just… you know,” she nodded, a small, sad smile on her lips.
“Yeah, it does feel strange,” Ron murmured, looking around intently. “Who’d have thought this time last year that we’d all be standing here?”
“It’s sad,” Hermione whispered, gazing blankly at a few new first years scurrying by.
“Well come on, then, let’s go,” Harry said, giving Ron a nudge.
Hermione sniffed. Ron put an arm around her shoulders and led her forward, pulling a hanky from his robe pocket as he went, leaving Harry standing with the three trunks.
“Well, at least some things haven’t changed,” he smiled sadly, watching as Ron caressed Hermione’s shoulders.
Going back to school had been a tough decision, but he had made it anyway. He hadn’t had much of a choice, really. The path was clear to those higher than him in the Ministry. Danger was heralding and they wanted him in the thick of it.
Waving his wand, he let the trunks glide gracefully behind him onto the train as he looked for a free compartment. Hermione had Head Girl duties to attend to, and Ron had Prefect duties. He was glad he had neither. He had been named as Quidditch Captain again, and that was enough for him; in fact, that was the only thing he was really looking forward to.
He squeezed past a group of students who immediately stopped talking as he passed, their eyes following him down the train’s corridor. After all these years, he still felt uncomfortable with all the attention he received.
He had spent the last year mainly keeping to himself, avoiding the stares, the well wishers, and people treating him as a hero. He had been just one small part in a large war, or so he kept reminding people. Finding an empty compartment, he loaded the luggage onto the racks and settled down to wait, looking out the window at all the families gathered on the platform.
“Harry!” It was Neville. He grinned, plonking himself down opposite Harry.
“Good to see you, Neville, how have you been?”
“Good, really good, couldn’t wait to come back and see everyone again.”
“So what have you been doing?” Harry asked, looking at Neville closely. He clearly still bore the scars from the last year he had attended at Hogwarts, but somehow he still looked well.
“This and that. My grandmother got me a job with Mortiana Marrows.”
Harry looked at him blankly.
“You know, the Herbologist! I was helping catalogue all her new findings. It was amazing, Paperwork, mostly, but brilliant all the same. How have you been? I heard you got a job at the Ministry,” Neville added.
Harry nodded. “I’m training to be an Auror.”
“Wow! I read in the Daily Prophet that the Auror office has nearly rounded up all the known Death Eaters.”
Harry nodded solemnly.
“So was that you, were you helping? I mean, did you arrest any?”
“Hey, look, that’s Seamus, isn’t it?” Harry pointed out the window, changing the subject.
“Yeah, is that his Mum there?” Neville asked, pressing his face against the window.
“Yes, looks like it.” Harry rushed into speech again. He asked how Neville’s Gran was, not wanting to talk about Death Eaters or anything morbid like that. Truth be told, it had been a hard year and he really wasn’t allowed to discuss it, anyway. He had seen more than enough fighting, heard as many Death Eaters’ trials as he could stomach, and witnessed many more deaths of those who just wouldn’t come quietly. That’s what had really pushed him into taking his last year at Hogwarts—he needed closure and time to reflect on everything that had happened.
Neville was telling him about his Gran’s new suitor who she had met while on the run from the Death Eaters. Harry was laughing at the story when Luna serenely walked into the compartment, as if she had always been there. Dean was close behind her.
“Hello, Harry. Hello, Neville.”
“Hey Luna, Dean,” Harry nodded.
They settled next to Neville, and Harry noticed Luna wrap her slender fingers in Dean’s large hand. Neville raised his eyebrows at Harry, and Harry had the overwhelming urge to laugh aloud in surprise but bit his tongue instead.
“How are you two?” he finally managed.
“Fine," Luna supplied, oblivious to their interested looks. "I was just telling Dean how to spot Dinglestones. I mean, now that Hogwarts is all fixed up, I’m sure a few have crept in, you know.” Dean was laughing but squeezed her hand lovingly all the same.
“We’re not bad, thanks," Dean said with a lopsided grin. “Saw you in the Prophet the other week, Neville. Your Gran’s gotten engaged, hasn’t she?”
They spent the next ten minutes catching up in this fashion. Harry told them about Hermione’s accomplishment.
“Not surprised at all,” Neville said. “I knew she would be getting Head Girl. Who’s Head Boy, Ron?”
Harry shook his head. “No, Ron’s still Prefect. Not sure who’s Head Boy.”
“So where’s Ginny, Harry?” Dean suddenly asked, looking around as if she might leap out from behind the luggage at any moment.
“She’s in a compartment with her friends, I think.” There were a few raised eyebrows at this but nothing was said. This pleased Harry; that was something he definitely wasn’t ready to go into yet.
“Oh, we're moving, look.” Luna jumped up to look out the window. Neville shuffled across to sit next to Harry, giving Luna and Dean more room.
The next few hours flew by. People wandered up and down the train, catching up with old friends. Harry lost count of the number of people who stuck their heads in to say hello; it got so bad that they gave up trying to close the door.
“I don’t know why, but those girls were giving me odd looks,” Neville whispered to Harry as another group of girls scuttled past the compartment.
“Well they saw you kill that snake!” Luna spoke from behind her copy of the Quibbler, which was apparently back in print. “I think a lot of girls like that sort of thing.”
“What, killing snakes?” came a voice from the doorway. It was Ron. He sat himself down between Neville and Harry.
“I think she meant helping to defeat Voldemort,” Harry laughed. Neville blushed as Ron said hello to everyone.
“Quibblers back up and running then, Luna? How is your dad” Ron asked, raising his eyebrows at Harry.
“Oh he’s well. Thanks, Ron. We went Crumple-Horned Snorlack hunting for a while. Dean came, too. I think that was all Daddy needed to get back to his usual self.”
Ron was goggling at Dean as if unable to believe his eyes.
“Hermione still busy, then?” Harry asked.
Ron rolled his eyes. “She takes her work too seriously, mate. Last I saw her, she was counselling some tiny first years about some rule or other.” They all laughed.
“Anyway I’m starving. Has the trolley been round yet?” He jangled his pockets as he said this. After the tragedy of losing Fred he had—with the help of the family—gotten George back on his feet, and now he helped run the joke shop. Still, the Weasley family had a long way to go after their loss.
Soon they were pulling into Hogsmeade Station, getting into their new school robes and travelling the short distance to the waiting carriages.
Gently patting the thestrals neck as it nuzzled him, Harry scanned the crowds for Hermione. He felt his trepidation return as he climbed into the carriage. Hermione joined them, and before he knew it, he stood before the castle itself.
He breathed a sigh of relief; it looked the same as it always had. Walking through the huge oak front doors, he stood for a second, taking it all in. Releasing a breath he hadn't realized he was holding, memories from the last time he had seen the castle flashed before his eyes. The blood, the devastation, the horror of it all—it seemed permanently etched in his memory, even though before him the floor looked pristine, the huge stairwells had returned to their former glory, and the new portraits on the wall looked back at him smiling.
He noticed the four huge hourglasses had been restored, glittering red, yellow, blue and green from the light coming from the Great Hall, which he now entered. The hall was ablaze with colour and laughter as people reunited with old friends, shaking hands and hugging. The house tables had been set up as before, and he was glad because it felt like he was skipping back in time. Waving to Hagrid who was beaming down at them all, he made his way to his usual spot at the Gryffindor table.
Nearly Headless Nick was greeting them all with his head wobbling uncontrollably on his neck. He spotted Harry and passed through three people to get to greet him. Then he was gone, ready to greet more students. There was a scraping of benches, and everyone sat and fell silent as McGonagall stood and smiled down at them all in welcome.
Harry had a clear view now, and he scanned the hall for familiar faces. All the Slytherins were there who he remembered, Malfoy included; he passed Harry a quick look before dropping his gaze and whispering to Blaise Zabini next to him.
Harry narrowed his eyes, not surprised to see him but disappointed he had been allowed back at all. He had only just escaped being locked away. Harry himself had sat at his trial and spoken up for him, and because he had never been involved with any of the killings, he had been excused on grounds that he was too young to truly understand what he had been getting into. His father, on the other hand, had not been so lucky. He was currently in a cell in Azkaban.
Looking back at the stage, he saw Filch pull out the sorting stool and the Sorting Hat. McGonagall was starting to speak. He thought briefly of Dumbledore. After the short welcoming speech from the Hat, it was time for the sorting.
Looking sideways as the first years names were called, he saw Hermione sitting alert and ready. He was sure that she was trying to memorize every tiny student’s name as they sat on the small stool and had the Sorting Hat placed on their heads. Harry was glad to see the old hat looked no worse for its run-in with Voldemort; still, its speech had been short and to the point about the four schoolhouses. No words of wisdom or warning came. He relaxed a little.
Ron was massaging his stomach next to him, muttering about sausages. A little further down, he caught Ginny’s eye; she smiled a small thin smile and turned away.
A cry of "Gryffindor" came from the old worn patched hat that had been placed upon a little girl’s head, and she scurried towards their table. People were clapping and cheering. Hermione immediately shoved Harry and Ron further down the bench and motioned for the girl to sit with her, Ron complaining loudly as he had nearly toppled backwards off the bench.
“Hi, I’m the Head Girl, welcome to Gryffindor House,” Hermione introduced herself loudly, grinning widely as the new girl, still blushing, sat down.
More and more little first years were sorted in this fashion. Hermione was nearly beside herself, introducing the little ones to everyone and smiling and clapping as if Christmas had come early for her.
McGonagall started speaking again, drawing everyone’s attention. The sorting was over.
“Welcome, students new and old, to another school year,” she smiled, scanning the room. “It is with both sadness and joy that I stand here today—sadness for the fact so many of our friends and family are not here with us to celebrate Hogwarts’ re-opening, and with much joy to see the school year begin again, when not so long ago it seemed such a distant dream. Just as the walls of stone around us have been rebuilt, we must all help rebuild the life within the school this year."
Everybody clapped and cheered.
"Many of you may be wondering why we have so many older students joining us today." She glanced at Harry as she spoke. "Since your last year at Hogwarts was so..." she paused, seemingly looking for the right words. "…atrocious…" A few students groaned their agreement as McGonagall continued. "…and your education terribly disrupted, we have invited all students back to Hogwarts to continue their education, and they have the choice to re-take their last year. Every one of us has a duty this year to help each other, and I'm glad to say that there will be extra classes held and help wherever you may need it. So I would like everybody to express their warmest welcome and prepare to help all students new and old, heal wounds, and adapt to life at Hogwarts. I welcome you all, and wish you all a happy and prosperous school year!”
The hall erupted with noise, clapping and cheering. Many students were openly crying, and even a few teachers looked to have damp cheeks. Harry didn't like to linger on the teachers’ table for too long; there were just too many empty seats for him to dwell on.
Hermione started running through a list of things for the new first years as soon as the noise had died down. She was just explaining the point system when he raised his eyes to see Ginny glaring at him from across the table. However, the tables were suddenly filled with food at that moment and he didn't have to acknowledge her.
“Did you hear who the new DADA teacher would be?” he asked Ron, who was heartily tucking into sausage and mash, his cheeks bulging. Ron shook his head. Harry was glad he hadn’t attempted speech with a mouth that full.
“I think his name is Professor Denton,” Neville supplied. “There he is, next to Hagrid.” Harry took a look, but he couldn’t see the man clearly. He was wearing robes of deep blue and was deep in conversation with Hagrid, so he was turned away from Harry.
“Lots of changes this year,” Ron said, his mouth now free from food. He twitched his head towards the new students, whose full attention was being taken by Hermione still explaining things about castle life.
“Yep, lots of changes this year,” Harry replied, grinning and filling his own plate full of pie, mash and gravy.
I wrote this fan fiction as a continuation from where DH left us, but I have ignored the epilogue. I hope you have enjoyed my first chapter as I haven't written in a very long time.
please let me know what you think xx
Edit: a huge thank you goes to my wonderful beta academica xx