Author: John Sexton
Genre: Harry Potter Slash
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Chapter Fifteen -- Return to Hogwarts
Hermione waved and smiled at Mr and Mrs Weasley, when she caught sight of them standing in the middle of platform nine and three-quarters.
Two young Ravenclaw boys were arguing in front of Hermione, when she veered towards the Weasleys, and she had to burrow her way through them, virtually.
"Well, it was in The Daily Prophet," wailed the taller wizard, "so it has to be true!"
"I never knew that," said the other, "maybe you're right."
"What hope have we got?" Hermione rasped angrily, to herself more than at the foolish boys.
"That's her now!" the first boy cried to his fellow Ravenclaw, "and I'll bet that's Snape there with her."
Hermione gripped Sals' hand, then made for the clearing in front of the Weasleys.
Suddenly they were the centre of attention, but the look on Hermione's face dared any of the onlookers to mention the Prophet or Rita Skeeter, or that encounter with--
"Hermione, how nice to see you, dear," cried Mrs Weasley, over the hiss of the Hogwarts Express engine, which already had a full head of steam, in its preparation for the long trip north to Scotland.
Ginny caught Hermione's eye; they exchanged a wave. But the youngest Weasley's gaze quickly flew to the adorable hunk in Hermione's wake, he smiled at her, and her face took on a look of absolute delight and approval.
Ron was shuffling sulkily in the background, while Mr Weasley tried to get him to "shake a leg."
Hermione decided to be mature.
"Hello, Ron," she said pleasantly, but with some reserve.
He looked up at her briefly, a scowl on his face and anger in his eyes. Then he grunted and looked away. But he swung his head back in a flash, with the realisation that Sals was close behind her.
Ron scowled at them both, but miraculously held his tongue.
Everyone else rolled their eyes, but nobody commented. Instead, they focused on Hermione, waiting for her to introduce Sals to the rest of the Weasley family.
At the same time, more and more students were pointing and whispering, as they realised that a new senior student was in their midst.
"Mr & Mrs Weasley, Ginny," Hermione smiled enthusiastically, "I'd like you to meet Professor Snape's son, Salazar."
The whispering from the onlookers became suddenly less discrete.
Ginny's parents proceeded to thank Sals for Ron's replacement wand. Then they politely and enthusiastically set about interrogating the new boy, for all they were worth.
The gathering crowd of onlookers listened intently, but none dared to interrupt.
Ginny immediately pulled Hermione into a quick huddle.
"Well, Herm," Ginny sighed, in a breathless aside, "you certainly weren't exaggerating: drop-dead-gorgeous does fit the bill, rather!"
The youngest Weasley squealed with delight, despite obviously being confused by the youth's appearance.
Sals' hair was soft and silky, and parted in the middle. The jet black locks that had sounded so sexy - when Hermione had described them, back at the Leaky Cauldron a month ago were gone. The colour was reddish brown [chestnut] now. His bangs hung just over his eyebrows and were brushed back behind his ears.
"I thought you said his head was shaved?" Ginny queried.
"Oh, he decided to take a more conservative approach for school," Hermione explained, "pretty cute, huh?"
"Not half!" Ginny squealed, "I was looking forward to seeing the wild boy you described. But he's just sooo cute, I don't really care. I reckon he'd look hot in anything. Are you sure he's Snape' son?" Ginny asked cheekily.
Hermione slapped her on the forearm, playfully.
"Was that Malfoy I saw you talking to, just then?" Ginny whispered.
"Yes," Hermione replied in equally hushed tones, "we all arrived together, on the same Portkey."
"So you went, then?" cried Ginny, unable to contain her excitement.
"Shh!", Hermione hushed her, not wanting to start anything with Ronald, in public. "I'll tell you later," she added quietly, as she frowned.
Then, taking on a much more conspiratorial tone, Hermione pulled Ginny closer.
"I'd like you to take care of Sals for me, Gin, show him the ropes, introduce him, protect him from the gossips, you know... till Draco and I get back from the prefects' carriage."
"Draco!" Ginny mouthed, as she ogle at Hermione.
"I'll explain, later," Hermione promised, then returned to the topic at hand, "do you mind?"
"Are you kidding!" Ginny squealed, "I'll take care of him, all right!"
"Whoa!" cried Hermione, in a whisper, "don't eat him alive, Gin."
"Don't worry, Herm," Ginny laughed, "I'll leave some for you."
Hermione suppressed a snorted giggle, then waved her hand, furiously.
"If you think he's hot, today," Hermione almost squealed, "and he is! You should have seen him in Diagon Alley, last month! Phwoah!"
They ogled at Sals from a distance, through the gap that was narrowing rapidly, as the stickybeaks gathered.
Almost simultaneously their eyes gravitated to his arse. He was wearing the thinnest and most luxurious, dragon-hide-suede trousers, that disappeared into black, calf-high leather boots, made from the same quality material. The belt was a pure-silver chain of thick, mailed links that hung low on his slender hips.
His impressive torso was draped in the finest, white-silk blouse, which hid his physique, but paradoxically accentuated it at the same time. It swam over his lithe frame, like spring water cascading over the smooth, hard contours of a series of well-formed boulders.
But the snake that Hermione had described, back at the Cauldron, last month, was nowhere to be seen.
"He'll do just as he is, thank you very much, Hermione," Ginny squealed and laughed.
But Hermione was anxious and downcast, despite her euphoric fašade, because what lay ahead was fraught with danger and intrigue. She was resigned to the expectation that Sals was certain to be sorted into Slytherin, later that night.
Despite his insistence that he did not care what house he was sorted into, Sals had confided to Hermione, only yesterday, that he was certain that he would be in Slytherin.
Her hopes of being with him all year in Gryffindor were in tatters.
Besides that, there was the unresolved issue of his disturbing relationship with Draco.
"Draco!" Hermione screamed in her head incredulously. "Who would have thought!" she added facetiously, as she slowly scanned the crowd, trying to reassure herself that she was, indeed, standing on platform nine and three-quarters, back in the real world.
Hermione was struggling to convince herself that the last week had not been some weird dream!
So, with all that in mind, when Hermione caught Ginny's eye again, the older witch assumed a deadly-serious mien.
"I haven't got time to go into details now, Gin," she confided, "but things have changed dramatically since June. With Harry gone, Sirius dead, Professor Snape's son in our year and Voldemort back in full force... and Draco Malfoy has changed, as well... we need to get it right, Ginny."
Hermione's look was one of steely resolve, and Ginny responded with the same determination that she had last June, at the Ministry of Magic.
"I'll explain it all later..." Hermione smiled warmly, "I promise. But, for the moment, at least, I'm asking you to trust me, Gin. Befriend Sals, and try to get on with everyone, okay?"
"Sure, Herm," Ginny smiled and squeezed her friend's hand reassuringly, "anything you say."
"Thanks, Gin," Hermione hugged her warmly, then turned towards Sals. "I have to go to the prefect carriage. I will see you around lunch time, Sals... bye Gin."
Sals nodded and waved his hand.
"Okay," said Ginny, with a conspiratorial grin, "I'll show Sals the ropes for you... we'll be with Dean."
"Right," Hermione replied. She turned round to see Ron still moping. "Are you coming to the prefect carriage, Ron?" she asked casually.
The redhead shrugged and grunted, "I'll be there."
"Fine," Hermione replied...
"If that's the way it's going to be!" she thought, as she turned, bid Mr and Mrs Weasley farewell, then headed for the Hogwarts Express, alone.
Adrian Pucey looked around the prefect carriage intently; it was an open coach, much like a small dining car, where the prefects could meet and organise themselves.
Pucey eyed the other prefects suspiciously. He was surprised by the reactions of some of them, when they'd realised that he was the new Head Boy.
Some obviously knew already, some were clearly surprised. The two new Gryffindors were as clueless as he had expected they would be.
"Dumbledore's little darlings, but always out of the loop," he sniggered to himself.
Of course, they were totally true to form, when the Knut finally dropped: suspicious and resentful.
That was the beauty of Gryffindorks: they were so predictable. All except Potter and Dumbledore, of course: they were more snake than lion; though most of Pucey's own house, and even more Gryffindors, would be utterly outraged by the mere suggestion.
But Pucey had watched Potter closely, from the brat's first day at Hogwarts, and he'd worked the Golden Boy out long ago.
"Well," he sniggered again... "at least there'll be one less Gryffindork to have to endure this year."
It was a long time since a Slytherin had been made Head Boy, certainly not in the experience of the current crop of students.
Pucey was suspicious of Dumbledore's true agenda in appointing him, and equally suspicious of the old man's expectations of him. There would, no doubt, be some form of quid pro quo required; but so far the old man had not played his cards.
Dumbledore might act the fool, but Pucey had long been aware that the ancient warlock was as cunning as any Slytherin, despite his Gryffindork tendencies.
Draco Malfoy's shock of platinum-blond hair caught Pucey's eye, as he continued to peruse the carriage.
The new Head Boy could read most of those present like a book, except Malfoy. In fact, today, the haughty blond was even more unreadable than ever. He seemed distant, remote, almost as if he was under the Confundus spell or the Imperius curse, an Unforgivable, no less!
Pucey shook his head and smirked dismissively, "not bloody likely!" he huffed through gritted teeth, in a breathy whisper. But something about Malfoy was different... oh, to be sure, he'd always been an arrogant and cold fish.
"Fuck me," the Slytherin Head Boy huffed, "with a father like Lucius Malfoy, and that frigid bitch of a mother, a Black, no less... what else could you expect?"
Pucey hissed... something about Malfoy had changed significantly over the holidays, but he still could not put his finger on it.
"Then again," Pucey argued with himself, "if I'd been through what he's had to endure these past months..." He let the thought wane. "In any case," he took up anew, "whatever the reason, Malfoy is clearly not himself. He will bear watching."
Ginny was so intent on talking to Sals, she had not noticed Ron disappear without saying a word. She looked up, only to discover him talking to Dean, half-way down the platform.
They were two of the tallest boys in the school, so locating them in the throng was not all that difficult, despite the small crowd milling around her... or, more precisely, around Sals.
When Ginny waved at Dean, he responded with a scowl, and continued his conversation with Ron, in a secretive mode that was laced with hubris and disaffection.
This did not bode well, and Ginny noticed that Seamus and several of the younger Gryffindor boys had joined the huddle.
Just then Ginny was tapped on the shoulder by Neville, who was with Luna.
The youngest Weasley was so relieved to see a pair of friendly faces.
After the new arrivals had greeted the Weasleys, Ginny introduced Sals to them. She was not surprised by Neville's apprehension at meeting the son of his least favourite teacher.
Sals seemed to sense Neville's unease... well... he could hardly have missed it! Even Luna seemed to have picked up on Neville's nervous posture.
"I'm glad to meet you, Neville," Sals smiled, as he held out his hand in greeting. Neville took it tentatively, and followed with a brave little smile.
"I feel as if I already know you," the tall, dark, attractive youth continued.
His voice was sexy, and his demeanour... disarming.
Ginny was almost drooling, and was already cognisant of exactly why Hermione was so enamoured with Professor Snape's son. But it was that very parentage that was at the heart of Neville's disquiet.
"Hermione has told me so much about you, Neville," the new boy added, "about your bravery at the Ministry, and your passion for Herbology..." Sals paused, then smiled warmly at Neville and whispered, "and your relationship with my father."
Neville was never one to shy away from his demons, and he was the most determined boy in Gryffindor, in Ginny's opinion, once he'd made up his mind. He seemed to do that rather quickly on this occasion, and took the very mature approach of putting his fears aside and giving Sals a fair go.
"So... how do you know Hermione, Sals?" the shy lion enquired, with a sincere smile.
Everyone seemed to be present, except Weasley and the Mudblood; Pucey was quite surprised when the latter arrived alone.
Malfoy ignored the nauseating know-it-all, as she exchanged greetings with the other prefects.
Pucey watched them all closely, disgusted by the fawning antics of the other Gryffindorks, as they offered their condolences for the loss of the Golden Boy.
He was equally cynical about the mindless aping of that soppy sentiment by just over half of the Ravenclaws and Hufflepuffs. No doubt Dumbledore would approve.
Of course the Slytherins all but ignored the Mudblood's arrival, as Pucey expected they should. But the Slytherin Head Boy was not quite sure of what to expect between Malfoy and the Mudblood, particularly after all that gossip in the Prophet, during the hols, about a very public stoush involving both of them, the missing redhead and, believe it or not, Snape's son!
"Draco," Granger greeted Malfoy, with a pleasant, and apparently genuine, smile.
Pucey was stunned.
The rest of the carriage went suddenly quiet, illustrating the significance of this performance.
Granger and Malfoy exchanged wry grins, a move that spiked Pucey's suspicion, and more than astounded everyone else present.
The Head Boy was about to say something, to try to cut to the core of his disquiet, but the moment was shattered by the arrival of Weasley.
The moronic carrot-top looked around the car suspiciously; and a scowl distorted his entire face.
Nobody moved, until Malfoy spoke...
"Hermione," the blond responded in kind to the Mudblood's pleasantry, "see everyone off alright?"
Several audible gasps and hushed exchanges peppered the carriage. Pucey and the other prefects were clearly stunned by this; but the Mudblood's affirmative reaction, a cordial nod, drew even greater surprise and some consternation.
"What about you?" she replied gaily, then smiled again.
Pucey was sure that the trace of amusement on her lips was a reaction to the other prefects' stunned expressions.
A renewed flurry of hushed chatter peppered the near-silent carriage.
"Only Crabbe and Goyle," Malfoy quipped, then seasoned his reply with a wicked grin, "they fret if they don't know where I am."
Pucey was speechless; and though none of the others commented openly, their reactions were patently similar. He was now reassessing his original conclusion that Malfoy was not under some sort of spell... but, if not, then...
The Slytherin Head Boy's attention was quickly back on Weasley, as the cretinous blood-nut scanned the carriage angrily.
Then, clearly sensing the genuine shock of the others, the redhead erupted.
"What game are you two playing?" Weasley spat.
"Yes, I'd like to know the same thing!" groused Pucey, who now glared at them both.
"Goodness," said Granger, to nobody in particular, "all this fuss over a few pleasantries."
"Malfoy!" snapped Pucey, directing his attention where he thought he might have some leverage.
But the blonde simply smiled broadly, before he responded
This angered Pucey but he did not let it show; he maintained his practised snarl.
"Have you ever considered the possibility, Pucey..."
Malfoy spat his name, and the blonde's condescending tone irked Pucey even more. But the older boy merely reinforced his unfaltering stare, as Malfoy continued...
"that... unlike some others in this room..." Malfoy then directed his glare at Weasley, rather pointedly, as he concluded, "Granger and I have simply grown up?"
"What's that supposed to mean?" snarled the redhead menacingly.
"Exactly what Draco said, Ronald," Granger chimed in, firmly but calmly.
"What's all this Draco bullshit?" Weasley almost roared, above the gasps and heightened whispers that dotted the carriage.
His florid complexion suddenly matched his hair.
"A lot has happened since June, Pucey," Malfoy addressed the older Slytherin a little impatiently, while he and Granger completely ignored the furious carrot-top.
"You should realise that, more than anyone else in this carriage."
He looked pointedly at Pucey's Head Boy badge.
"You're right, Malfoy," Pucey conceded, "things have changed. I just didn't expect your attitude towards... Granger, to be one of them."
The word "Mudblood" had been teetering on the tip of Pucey's tongue, and the venomous contempt with which he'd laced Granger's name had confirmed as much. He could detect Malfoy's tacit reaction easily - they were both Slytherin, after all.
"Like I said, Pucey," Malfoy replied coolly, "a lot has happened."
The new Head Boy was more than a little slighted by the blonde's reaction, but before Pucey could respond, the redhead interrupted once again.
"Well you don't fool me, Malfoy," Weasley cried from the end of the car, "I'm keeping--"
"That reminds me, Hermione," Malfoy turned his back on Weasley; his voice was clear; his rebuff of the redhead was even clearer, "did you bring that book with you?"
"Don't turn your back on me, Malfoy!" roared Weasley, "I'm talking to you!"
Granger surprised everyone by also completely ignoring Weasley.
"Yes," she replied conversationally, "it's in my bag."
"Malfoy!" spat Weasley, in a voice that was clearly threatening.
"Expelliarmus!" cried Pucey, and Weasley's wand went flying out of his hand, across the carriage and onto the floor.
It was a replacement wand, if the reports in the Prophet had been accurate for a change. Then Pucey sniggered: being a Weasley, it was probably a hand-me-down.
"Accio virga!" Pucey commanded, as he pointed his wand at Weasley's.
The red-head's weapon flew from the floor, straight into Pucey's other hand. The Slytherin sneered, when he found that he had been wrong, it looked brand-new.
"Your presence is not required here, Weasley," said Pucey implacably. "I will be reporting to Professor Dumbledore this evening. I doubt that you will be a prefect for much longer. You can join the rest of your house in your carriage compartment, now."
"I don't take orders from Slytherins, Pucey," Weasley snapped, "even if you are Head Boy."
"Well you can take orders from me, Weasley," said the Head Girl, Anna Slougham, who was a Ravenclaw. "We don't need that sort of behaviour here, we've enough to deal with as it is. Leave, now, before you regret it!"
Weasley swaggered down the carriage, towards Pucey, then held out his hand, in an arrogant demand for the return of his wand.
"I don't think so, Weasley," snarled Pucey, "we'd all be more comfortable if you were unarmed. I'm sure Professor Dumbledore will want to see you this evening; you can ask him for the return of this, then."
Weasley flushed violently, and everyone watched in silence as he stormed out of the prefect carriage.
There was a collective sigh of relief, as the connecting door to the first student coach slammed closed. Then frenzied chatter ensued, as the rest of the prefects dissected this dramatic start to the school year.
The Hogwarts Express gave a sudden jerk; the train began to creep away from the platform, slowly building up speed, as the journey to Scotland began.
"I think we all need a little break, after that," said the head girl.
"Too right," said Pucey with a relieved smile, "what say we start our meeting in fifteen minutes?"
Anna Slougham nodded in agreement.
"Good," said Pucey with a less genuine smile, "I'll do a check of the carriages, before we begin," he announced authoritatively, "Malfoy can give me a hand."
Everyone knew that this was simply a ruse to give the two Slytherins some privacy.
Malfoy's father may well have been in Azkaban, but Pucey was a Slytherin and a Pureblood. He knew that the blond heir-apparent still wielded considerable power in his own right. Adrian Pucey might be Hogwarts's new Head Boy, but Draco Malfoy was still Prince of Slytherin.
But that was at the core of the very issue that plagued Pucey's mind: was the blond, standing before him, really Malfoy?
Ginny and Sals, with Luna and Neville in tow, found a compartment on the Hogwarts Express.
The youngest Weasley was still surprised and hurt by Dean's rebuff of her, back on the platform.
When she had signalled to the tall, dark Gryffindor, to meet her at the carriage, he'd merely looked over and sneered. She'd immediately blamed Ron, and had been shocked and utterly devastated by Dean's rebuff.
Then she'd smiled with relief, for one brief moment, when she'd realised that Dean hadn't been sneering at her; but she had still been angry with him, because he had been sneering at Salazar Snape.
Sadly, her relief had been fleeting, because she had been crushed even more severely, when Dean eventually transferred his sneer to her, and it had intensified!
Ginny was still furious with Dean for being so bigoted. He knew nothing about Sals, other than what her pig-headed brother had told him; well, that and the crap that had dominated the gossip columns for days after the ice-cream parlour fiasco.
She was also angry with all the snobs who had tried to get Sals to share their compartments, as the quartet had made their way to their own carriage.
Ginny was especially livid with the ones who had implied that Sals was too good for the likes of her, Luna and Neville; unfortunately, that was most of them.
Ginny was totally distracted by her morose reflections on these matters, when she handed her book-bag to Sals.
Just as the fit heart-throb was putting her bag up on the rack, next to his, the carriage jerked forward; their trip was underway.
Neville bumped into Ginny, pushing her face-first into the athletic spunk's outstretched torso. She wrapped her arms around Sals' waist, instinctively, in an attempt to maintain her balance, then flushed, when he braced her shoulders and laughed.
"The joys of train travel!" the new boy joked nervously, as their eyes met.
Ginny's embarrassment intensified, and she was reminded briefly of her acute awkwardness with Harry, on his first visit to The Burrow.
She became suddenly morose, with the memory. She would never get over the loss of Harry, she knew that. But she also knew, in her heart and in her Magic, that he was dead, just as she knew that he would want her to let him go.
Ginny secretly acknowledged that Harry would be angry with her, if she allowed his death to crush her spirit. He was gone and there was nothing she could do about it.
When Ginny looked up at Sals, and gazed into those twin obsidian orbs, they smiled at her, with an intensity that she had never experienced before. She returned the smile, and put all thoughts of Dean and Harry behind her.
Neville sat directly opposite Sals; Luna sat across from Ginny, near the window.
By the time the clickety-clack of the tracks had set up a familiar, soothing rhythm, the four of them had relaxed into casual conversation.
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This is a two-chapter Potterverse short story [complete].
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