Harry had found a compartment on the Hogwarts Express and warded it to the hilt so that no one would notice it. He waited and when Hermione made her way by, snatched her in before locking the door behind them. She whirled indignantly, preparing to yell for being manhandled, but it melted away when she saw Harry.
“Not the welcome I was expecting, but hello to you too.” She laughed, giving him a tight hug.
He hugged her back before slumping down onto the chair.
“Sorry about that, Ginny and Ron have been stalking the train, I’m pretty sure they are looking for me and I just don’t want to deal with the confrontation. Though I imagine the longer I leave it, the worse it’ll be…” He trailed off.
If either of the two Weasley’s caught him in the Great Hall, it would be explosive, but perhaps he could use that to his advantage… Head off some of the rumours before they started.
“Why would they be looking for you?” Hermione queried. “I won’t be able to stay for long, I have Prefect duties.”
Harry jerked his head up, seeing the slightly pinched expression on Hermione’s face. “Only Prefect?” He asked softly and she jerked her head. Wisely, Harry decided to leave that one alone for now. Casting around for a change of topic, Hermione stepped in.
“You said you had news?” She queried.
“Yes!” He blurted loudly, unconsciously waving his hand to try and encapsulate everything that had happened. Her hand darted out, snatching it from the air and looking pointedly at the band on his finger.
“Um… so I got bonded? On my birthday?”
She arched a brow, silently demanding an explanation and settled back into the bench.
“So Dumbledore asked to meet with me on my birthday, but a couple of days before I went to see the twins, they told me that Ginny had been saying she and I had been in a secret relationship and that her mother was planning our wedding for during summer break.” He paused at Hermione’s horrified look.
“It’s not true of course, I’d never touch her. Anyway, Dumbledore met with me for lunch on my birthday and told me that Ginny was pregnant with my baby and that I needed to make an honest woman out of her. I tried to tell him that there was nothing between me and her, but he insisted, demanding we go to Gringotts where he tried to convince me again. He tried to bully me into signing a contract that had already been drawn up. It was criminal Hermione, but if I had signed it, it would have been binding, ignoring the fact it would have basically made me Ginny’s slave.”
He paused, exhaling heavily. “When I refused again, Dumbledore tried to force me to hand over the proxy for my Wizengamot votes and allow him to run the Potter account which has been locked since my parents died, thank Merlin. Hogrod, my account manager interceded, said that it would be illegal for Dumbledore to take my proxies and I declined his offer for assistance. We had to tell him I was married already so he would stop pushing for me to bond with Ginny.”
Raking his hands through his hair, Harry slumped back. “I had had a feeling he would try and pull something like that, so first thing in the morning of my birthday, I went to Gringotts to claim my inheritance. Hogrod had found the contract with Ginny and locked away the fucking thing as evidence against the daft bastard. Then he began looking through all of the contracts that could apply to me to see if there was something we could use to protect me from any further attempts. Eventually, he found an unfulfilled contract between the Black and Prince houses. It was the only one we could use as the rest were invalid; the other parties were married or too young, that sort of thing. Anyway, Hogrod requested the presence of the Prince Lord as soon as possible.”
Hunching back over again, he began to fidget with his ring. “It was Severus, Hermione, Severus was the Prince Lord. I know over the past year I have hinted that there was more to his and my relationship than met the eye. Well, when I started Occlumency, he saw that I was abused.”
He exhaled heavily, staring fixedly at his ring. “When he found out and realised that I was going to have to face Riddle on my own, he started training me. Then, after that, we just spent time together last year, you know. You’ve seen how much he has changed with my defeat of Riddle. Anyway, we had… feelings for each other, but agreed nothing would happen until after I graduated. But Dumbledore forced my hand.
“Anyway, I’m rambling, Severus and I married and you can’t tell anyone.” Harry finally blurted and looked up. She was blinking rapidly, gnawing on her lip before eventually shaking herself.
“You’re still taking Potions right?” She asked finally and he breathed a sigh of relief.
“Yeah, Madame Pomfrey is going to grade my work so there is no question of favouritism. She was the one who bonded us and Severus trusts her.” He relaxed a little more when Hermione nodded. “We told Sirius about what happened and now he is going to help with laying the groundwork with the neutral party so that once Dumbledore has driven the dark from Britain, we can make a move.”
After that, Harry asked about Hermione’s summer and they chatted for a little longer before Hermione glanced at her watch. “I have to go to a Prefect meeting; I’ll be back before we arrive ok?”
As promised, Hermione came back a few hours later with a curious expression on her face and Neville in tow.
“Padma Patil is Head Girl and Justin Finch-Fletchly is Head Boy. Ron is still a Prefect, which is criminal, but there were no Slytherin’s in the meeting.” She explained.
“OH! I’m so sorry, I forgot to tell you about that.” Harry flushed a little under Hermione’s intense gaze. “Slytherin has been disbanded. Severus is no longer the Head of Slytherin, the Slytherins are going to be redistributed amongst the other houses and all new students will be sorted by meeting with the remaining Heads before school starts for the year.”
Her expression was utterly horrified. “They can’t do this! What the hell is going on?!”
He shrugged. “They are trying to squash out the dark, Slytherin is seen as the home of Dark wizards and witches. Severus’ quarters were shrunk because he is no longer a Head. Regardless, whatever happens, we have to try and help whoever ends up in Gryffindor because I guarantee we will get some and it won't be pretty.”
“I bet we get Malfoy.” Hermione laughed. “Think about it, he’s not clever enough for Ravenclaw, he’s only in the top 15 in our year. He’s not kind enough for Hufflepuff but he is certainly brash enough for Gryffindor.”
Harry gaped, he had to concede she had a point. They all shared a look and burst into laughter. It was funny and shouldn’t be. Malfoy was going to hate Gryffindor and Gryffindor was going to hate him.
Neville took the opportunity to ask what the rest of Harry's summer had been like and so they spent the rest of the trip chatting and catching up.
All too soon, the train was pulling in at Hogsmeade and everyone was disembarking. Hermione helped chivvy everyone along and Harry quietly waited with her so that neither was left alone with people they didn’t trust. Neville moved off to join Luna and the pair headed off to the castle together. Harry and Hermione spotted a bunch of students without house allocations and realised that their houses would be announced at the feast tonight.
They jumped on one of the last carriages, awkwardly squashed together to try and escape Ron and Ginny. The pair barged on anyway. Ginny had been made Prefect along with Colin Creevy who was chattering incessantly. Ginny and Ron kept trying to start a conversation with Harry or Hermione, but Colin wouldn't stop talking. They frantically suppressed their amusement, encouraging Colin in his enthusiasm until they reached the castle.
Extracting themselves from the carriage, Harry and Hermione swiftly made their way into the Great Hall. He couldn't help but notice the cluster of unhoused students by the staff table, and the fact there were now only three long tables. They were moving towards their seats when Ginny's strident voice cut through the chatter.
"Harry James Potter! I don't know what is wrong with you, but your behaviour is entirely unacceptable. You are my betrothed and should behave as such! You vanish all summer and completely ignore me after…" She paused and flushed as if suddenly realising where she is.
"Ginny, I don't know how many times I have to say this." Harry sighed, turning to face the girl. "There is nothing between us, there has never been anything between us and there never will be. I saw that pathetic excuse of a contract you and your mother drew up. I will never sign that abomination. It's too late for you anyway," He smirked and lifted his left hand, flashing his ring, "I've married already and nothing can break the bond."
Her face flushed an ugly red that clashed horribly with her hair. "How dare you! You belong to me! And after everything we did! After everything I gave you! I saved myself for you! I-"
Harry couldn't help it, he burst into laughter, bending in half with the force of it. He had to support himself on Hermione to stop from falling to the floor. Hermione gave him a droll look as he struggled to control his mirth.
"I'm sorry Ginny, the idea of you saving anything for me is a bit ridiculous. We both know you've fucked most of the boys in my year and yours too I bet. Dumbledore told me you got yourself knocked up though. Good luck to you and whoever the father is."
There were gasps through the hall at his coarse language and she went a darker red in fury, screeching loudly before storming from the hall.
"If we are all done with the dramatics?" McGonagall's voice could be heard easily over the whispers filling the hall.
Ron had opened his mouth, assumedly to shout at Harry, but closed it at her words. Glaring furiously, he stormed after his sister. Harry shared a look with Hermione before sitting down at the Gryffindor table. Once the last student sat, food immediately appeared, and everyone dug in.
McGonagall stood at her seat and gazed around the hall, expression stern. It hardened when it landed on the group on unhoused students.
“Welcome back for another year of schooling at Hogwarts!” She proclaimed. “Please continue to enjoy the feast, once more we have much to get through. As occurred last year, we have again completed an extensive review of Hogwarts structure and curriculum and have made further changes.”
She paused, once again looking to the huddle of unhoused students. “It has been the decision of myself, and backed by the Ministry, that Slytherin House should henceforth be disbanded.”
Immediately, talking sprung up around the hall and Harry risked a glance at Severus to see he was focusing entirely on his plate, expression blank. The only indicator anything was wrong was his white-knuckled grip on his cutlery.
“As such,” McGonagall continued and the chattering died down. “The Sorting Hat has been retired. Instead, we have met with those existing students and those students who are starting Hogwarts for the first time this year to discuss their strengths and weaknesses individually. A panel has carefully placed each student in their most appropriate house.”
She extracted a large scroll of parchment and adjusted the glasses on the end of her nose. “I will call your name, followed by your house. As you can see, the house banner is hanging from the front end of the table, please go join your allocated table quickly and sit down to enjoy the feast.”
McGonagall peered at the students one last time before unrolling the scroll. “Beginning with our newest First Years, they are sorted as such…”
And so, the sorting went on, the mass by the staff table slowly decreasing, the new students being welcomed with open arms until she started in on the existing students. Ravenclaw met them with silence, Hufflepuff met them with looks of distrust and the Gryffindors hissed as they were allocated at least one Slytherin boy and one girl for each year. The seventh years grew progressively more rigid in their stance, trying not to look like they were huddling together for safety.
Finally, they reached the seventh years. The hall held its breath.
“Tracey Davis – Hufflepuff”
“Daphne Greengrass – Ravenclaw”
“Draco Malfoy – Gryffindor”
There was an immediate uproar and Harry could swear he saw a malicious gleam in McGonagall’s eyes. Malfoy paled further before moving towards the table filled with red and gold, but no one moved to let him in. With a huff, Harry budged Hermione who created space between them.
“Malfoy!” Harry’s voice cut through the hubbub easily and the blonde looked at him with slightly wild eyes. “There’s space here.”
He couldn’t blame the blonde for hesitating, thankfully he didn’t reject the offer like Harry had once done so callously and slid into the gap. He didn’t plate any food, instead, he watched nervously as the remainder of his house were sorted.
“Theodore Nott – Hufflepuff”
“Pansy Parkinson-” Draco inhaled sharply. “Gryffindor.”
The blonde breathed out, expression pained, Harry exchanged a look with Hermione who rolled her eyes and shuffled further away, making space between her and Malfoy.
“Parkinson! Over here!” She called.
The girl slid into the offered gap and Harry could see from the corner of his eye, the pair grip the hands of each other under the table.
“You should eat,” he murmured quietly, “The food won’t stay much longer.”
Malfoy jerked, before reaching for the food in front of him and began adding some to his and Parkinson’s plates as Blaise Zabini was sorted into Ravenclaw.
“Now that that is out of the way, I would like to take the time for our usual beginning of year announcements. We have a new History Professor; Professor Black, who has revitalised the History curriculum. I would like to remind all students that the Forbidden Forest is named aptly and those caught trespassing without appropriate supervision will be punished harshly. No Zonko’s or Weasley Wizarding Wheezes products are permitted within school grounds and spell casting is prohibited in the corridors.
"We are also instituting the Apprenticeship programme once more. As such, you may see Apprentices with their Masters as the year continues. For those of you in seventh year who are interested in pursuing your Mastery, speak with the appropriate Professor. Just remember, only the best can be accepted, Masteries require a lot of time and effort to accomplish.”