The New Marauders
A/N: A reviewer asked me about "shipping" in this story, wondering if I was really going to take it all seven years without Harry getting involved in a relationship. Well, no. There will be
relationships. But like most teenagers, Harry will go through a series of relationships of differing quality and duration. So I could label it H/Hr, H/Tracey, H/Cho, and/or H/OC, but odds are he's
not going to be in a permanent, lasting pairing by the time the story is over. Romance is not the main point of this story, it's just one of the things that will happen to Harry along the way. Other
characters will have similar experiences. If anybody gets into any permanent relationships, it's going to be the adults, and such relationships will be background, not the focus of the story.
I got masochistic and went through the HP Lexicon timelines and the books to try to create a consistent schedule for the classes at Hogwarts, and discovered, unsurprisingly, that it can't be done. So I have created a schedule for Harry's classes based on clues in canon, so that I'll be consistent with where he is and who he's with. What I wound up with is something that makes sense if you assume that (a) all classes are held with paired Houses (like the Gryffindors with Slytherins in Potions and Gryffindors with Hufflepuffs in Herbology) and (b) all students, even the firsties, have extensive amounts of free time during the school day for practice and/or homework. And they have LOTS of homework. If they don't have this time, then either there are more teachers than are mentioned in canon, or all the teachers are using time turners to teach all the class sessions necessary. It's not totally consistent with canon, but it works.
There are some bits and pieces of PS and CoS in here, mainly because I didn't feel like rewriting the Sorting Hat's song and McGonagall, Dumbledore and Snape have been using the same exact speeches for years. Some of the descriptive material has been severely edited. There are also some major differences, just to keep you on your toes. The Hufflepuff "system" was inspired by Lionheart’s post "Happy Harry Hufflepuff" in the A Rose at Hogwarts storyline from the Anime Addventure. Also there's a tip of the hat to Robert Heinlein.
Harry was up bright and early, as usual. The only reason he had actually gone to sleep the night before was that Nanny had slipped him a sleeping potion with his bedtime snack, otherwise he would have been up all night, tossing and turning and thinking about Hogwarts and wondering if he'd packed everything, and then, of course, he would have been totally exhausted during the day.
Breakfast was likewise laced with a mild calming potion, or else Harry would have eaten very little and probably lost what he did eat the minute he jumped in the Floo to the Leaky Cauldron. With the calmative in his system, Nanny and Brandy were able to get Harry to eat a good large breakfast with some hope of keeping it down. Brandy also packed him a huge lunch in containers that would keep everything hot and cold, and fretted about whether those Hogwarts elves would know how to feed her little master properly. Peter informed her that the Hogwarts elves did a terrific job of feeding young wizards; there had been plenty of wonderful food when he was studying there, after all. That just convinced Brandy that master Harry wouldn't want her cooking for him any more when he came back, and she burst into tears. Ferny patted her on the back awkwardly, and asked Mister Pettigrew not to help comfort anyone any more, please.
A last minute check of Harry's trunk revealed that he had been attempting to smuggle into Hogwarts three young snakes from the last batch to hatch in the garden. Uncle Peter pointed out that the school rules said he could bring a pet, which was Hedwig, and that it should be a cat, an owl, or a toad — nothing was mentioned about snakes. Besides, snakes would try to eat the toads, and the cats and owls would try to eat the snakes, and wouldn't that be a mess? Harry mumbled something about the snakes being too small to eat toads and Hedwig knew better than to eat anybody's pets, but he admitted that he didn't want them being eaten by somebody else's ill-mannered owl or cat. So he put them back in the garden and apologized that he wasn't going to be able to take them on a trip as he'd promised. They didn't seem to mind. They were too young to be good conversationalists anyway.
Once that little matter was settled, they ran through the checklist ("Ticket? Wand? Book to read in case you get bored? Pocket money for sweets? Incredibly over-protective house elf bodyguards?") and Harry shouldered the bag Nanny had given him to keep his books in and jumped into the Floo. This time, when he reached the Leaky Cauldron, Sirius and Remus were already there. Neither man was wearing robes this time; both were in casual Muggle clothing, and Sirius had a leather jacket slung over his shoulder. Nanny, clinging to the trunk which was bigger than she was, popped into the pub a moment later. In contrast to the last time Harry had been here, the public room at the Cauldron was a hive of activity. It was full of families with parents trying to keep track of pets, trunks, and children who were as excited as Harry. Harry wasn't wearing a glamour this time, but nobody looked twice at him.
There was an awkward moment as neither Sirius nor Harry were sure whether he was too big to be hugged but too young to do the manly handshake, so they settled for Sirius clapping Harry heartily on the shoulder and ruffling his hair, which provoked a cry of "Hey! It took me long enough to make that lie down this morning!"
"Give it up, your father never managed to make his behave for more than five minutes at a time. The secret is to make it look all exciting and windblown, like you want it to be that way, right, Moony?"
"Oh, absolutely," said the quieter man, rolling his eyes. "Got everything, Harry?"
"I've already been through the checklist twice," said the boy. "And if I forgot anything, I can write home for it and this brilliant girl will get it for me straight away." He reached a finger through the bars on Hedwig's cage and she nibbled affectionately on it.
"She'll be able to find your home?" asked Sirius, curiously.
"Yeah, we fixed the wards so certain owls can get through. Hedwig, the Hogwarts owls, Ministry owls, like that. If you want, when I go home for holidays, they can be fixed so you two can send owls directly. Until then there's the drop box, if you wanted to write to Uncle Peter."
"Do you think he would want us to? He hasn't exactly been forthcoming over the past few years," said Remus.
"He might, now that I'm at school. It will probably be lonely for him there with just the house elves for company."
"He could come visit us for a while. It would be good to see him again."
"I don't think he would," said Harry. "Maybe he'll see you someday. But not now. He does miss you, though."
"We'll write him, then, and see what happens. In the meantime, we have a train to catch."
"How are we going to get to the station from here? Do they have a Floo?"
"No, we're going the Muggle way. Our transportation awaits," said Sirius, gesturing to the door leading to the street.
"If you're going to let Harry ride that contraption, Sirius, at least make him wear a helmet. I'll take the luggage and go ahead. I'll meet you at the station," said Remus. "Nanny had best come with me." Nanny did not look happy about being separated from Harry, but she nodded in agreement. Elves weren't allowed in heavily Muggle areas, and even if it wasn't illegal, the elves got sick there. They had to stay, for the most part, in magical houses and areas, or around magical people, in order to flourish. The village at Godric's Hollow was an exception because it had been built on what was originally Potter land, and some of the original standing stones marking it as a safe place for magical folk were still up on the outskirts of the town. Muggle tourists came and took pictures of them sometimes, with no idea what they really were. There were several other towns that were the same way.
Sirius guided his godson out to the street, which was more crowded and grimier than anything he'd experienced in Godric's Hollow. Harry kept close to Sirius, trying to look in all directions at once.
Parked a short way down the street was a large, shiny black motorcycle with a helmet attached by its strap to the rear seat. "This, my boy," Sirius said proudly, "is a Triumph Bonneville T140 — the closest thing the Muggles have to a broom. I put a few modifications on her that the Ministry probably wouldn't approve of, so it's a good thing they don't know. We can't really open her up in town, of course, but it should be a fun ride regardless." He shrugged on his jacket, put on his black helmet, and passed Harry a glossy red one that mysteriously appeared from nowhere.
Once Harry was properly situated and clinging to Sirius, they went roaring off down the street, with Harry screaming in glee. This was almost as much fun as the Gringott's cart!
The ride didn't last as long as Harry would have liked, but it was exciting enough, as Sirius, with a fine disregard for the rules of the road, wove through the narrow streets full of traffic, dodging cars, buses and lorries. With the blaring of automobile horns as fanfare, they soon arrived at King's Cross Station. Sirius parked the Bonnie and warded it against motorbike thieves and traffic wardens, then led Harry into the bustling station. Harry rapidly picked out the magical families moving among the Muggle travellers, who ignored the trolleys loaded with trunks and owl cages being pushed by oddly-dressed individuals toward Tracks 9 and 10. Remus was waiting for them, casually leaning up against a pillar. Nanny, Harry's trunk, and Hedwig's cage were nowhere in sight.
Sirius stopped in the middle of the passenger concourse and placed his hand on Harry's shoulder, suddenly far less playful. "Harry, you should be aware that from now on … well, things will be different. Up until now, you've been a child, both in Muggle society and among us. When you go onto that platform for the first time, though, and get on the train, you'll be a wizard. Not a fully trained one, that's what Hogwarts is for, but a wizard. Magic is a great and wonderful thing, but it's also terrible in the wrong hands. It's your responsibility to make sure you always know what you are doing and why. We won't mind hearing that you've pranked someone — it's sort of the family business, isn't that right, Remus?"
"You could say that," said Remus.
"But I don't ever want to hear that you hurt someone because you used your magic carelessly. Will you promise me that?"
"I promise," Harry said, nodding his head vigorously.
"Good boy. Now, once we go through the barrier, you'll be meeting all sorts of people. There's something special about this train ride, I think — the people you meet will be the ones that will be with you, for good or bad, for the next seven years, and maybe even longer than that. I met your father on the platform our first day, and Remus and Peter once we got on the train, and we knew by the time we got off at Hogsmeade that we would be together, one way or another, forever. We met your mother that day, and Snape and Malfoy, too. So pay attention, and keep your wits about you. You only get to begin once, and it's important to put your best foot forward."
"Can I start before I get on the platform?" Harry pointed at a group of people a short distance away. Two adults and a young girl stood next to a luggage trolley with an obviously brand-new trunk with a Hogwarts crest on it. The adults, undoubtedly the parents of the little girl, were looking from a train ticket to the platform signs on the wall in great puzzlement, while the girl was practically in tears with anxiety. "I think they're stuck."
"Well there's Platform 9," the father was saying, "and there's Platform 10. There is no Platform 9 ¾."
"It must be like that Alley place," said the mother in a reasonable tone. "We just have to figure out how to make the door open up, or something."
"Looks like she's Muggleborn," said Sirius. "The parents are never going to find the platform by themselves. Let's give them a hand, shall we?" He approached the bewildered parents with a friendly smile on his face. "Excuse me; I couldn't help overhearing. Are you looking for the Hogwarts Express?"
"Er, yes," said the father. "Hermione has her ticket and everything, but we can't seem to locate the correct platform. The ticket says Platform 9 ¾, but…" He waved the ticket at the platform signs.
"Yes, well, the platform is protected so only wizards and witches can get on it. They usually have someone about to accompany the Muggleborn, but they seem to be running late. I was just about to take my godson here onto the platform. We can escort your daughter as well if you'd like."
The mother looked Sirius over, not knowing whether or not to be reassured by the fact that Sirius and Remus were dressed in perfectly unexceptional Muggle clothing. Her daughter was giving Harry a similar look. The casual clothing that Nanny had selected as being comfortable for him to travel in was apparently not what she expected junior wizards to wear. She herself was already wearing her school uniform skirt, shirt, and jumper. She needed only her tie, robe and pointed hat to mark her as a student witch, and Harry was sure she had her wand safely stashed in her shoulder bag. Both mother and daughter apparently came to the conclusion that the wizards were at least moderately trustworthy, and seemed to be the only game in town in any event. "We don't seem to be having any luck on our own, so any help you can give us would definitely be appreciated, Mr. … er?"
"Sorry, I'm Sirius Black, my partner in crime here is Remus Lupin, and this is my godson Harry."
"Robert Granger," said the girl's father, offering his hand to Sirius. "My wife Frances, and our daughter Hermione. I must admit, even after the visit from the Hogwarts Professors to explain things and take us to Diagon Alley, when we couldn't find the platform I was beginning to be afraid we were the victims of an elaborate prank."
"You wouldn't be the first," said Sirius. "It sometimes takes a while for it to sink in. But don't worry, by the end of the year your Hermione will be fitting in perfectly well and all this will seem quite normal." An elderly woman with a stuffed vulture perched on her hat hurried by, and Sirius added, "Well, mostly normal, anyway. Now, I'm sure the children would like to be on the train as soon as possible to get good seats, so shall we?"
Since they wouldn't be able to cross the barrier to Platform 9 ¾, the Grangers said farewell to their daughter on the concourse, and Remus and Sirius led the children over to the wall between Platforms 9 and 10. Harry patted the wall with his hand. It certainly seemed solid enough. "All you have to do," said Remus, "is to walk directly at the wall. Don't stop and don't be afraid you'll crash into it, that's very important. If you're a little bit nervous about it, you can just go at a bit of a run so you don't have time to think about it. Here, I'll go first, and then Harry, why don't you help Hermione push her trolley through after me?"
Harry positioned himself next to, but carefully not actually touching, Hermione, and both of them watched solemnly as Remus walked briskly toward the wall. Harry must have missed it when he blinked, because one moment Remus was there, and the next he wasn't. Hermione was also startled, but she seemed determined to try it herself, and began pushing the trolley forward. Harry pushed from his side, and they rapidly approached the wall. He did flinch, closing his eyes for a moment in expectation of a crash as the trolley hit the wall, but it never came.
Instead, he found himself on a platform crowded with people, some in Muggle garb, some in wizards' robes, some in a combination of the two. A shiny scarlet steam engine headed up a column of black cars with red and gold trim. Parents and children pushed trolleys loaded with trunks and owl cages along the platform, while cats of every colour wound between their legs and clouds of smoke from the locomotive drifted over everything, occasionally spelling out messages. PREFECTS REPORT TO THE FIRST CAR was just fading, and was replaced by PLEASE PUT ALL BAGGAGE UNDER THE SEATS. An older student walked past Harry and Hermione, his trunk floating along behind him without benefit of a trolley at all.
"We did it!" said Harry.
"Of course you did. Wasn't any question about it," said Remus. "And here comes Sirius, and there's Nanny with your luggage, so we're all here. Let's just find a likely-looking car now."
Nanny pushed Harry's trolley over to them, and Hermione gasped at the sight of her. "What is that?" she whispered to Harry.
"That's my Nanny!" said Harry happily. "She's a house elf. She's been taking care of me till now."
"What about your parents? Don't they take care of you, too?"
"No, they … they died when I was a baby."
"Oh, I'm so sorry!" she said. Harry could tell that she was truly sorry for him, and not just saying it the way the boy in the robe shop had.
"It's okay. It happened a long time ago."
The two children and the house elf pushed their trolleys along, following Sirius and Remus as they wound their way through the crowd, picking up snippets of conversation as they passed.
"Do you have your toad, Neville?" queried the woman with the stuffed vulture on her hat.
"Of course I've got it, Gran," said her round-faced grandson, who seemed to be embarrassed both by his grandmother's reminder and his mother's enthusiastic farewell hug. "Ah, Mum, please!"
An Indian couple with identical twin daughters were arguing with a uniformed man as to whether they should be allowed to use a small flying carpet to transport their trunks and owl cages instead of a trolley.
"…Misuse of a Muggle artefact under the Ministry ruling of 1957!"
"But it's never been a Muggle artefact, it was woven in Bombay with the spells already in it, and it's been in my family since 1895!"
"But it's not in Bombay now, is it? And under Ministry law …"
A little further down the platform, they wove past a large group of redheads. A short, roundish woman was haranguing teenage twins, while another boy about Harry's age and a younger girl attempted to pretend they weren't part of the family. An older son had already made a break for it and was heading toward the front of the train.
"Now, you two - this year, you behave yourselves. If I get one more owl telling me you've - you've blown up a toilet or - "
"Blown up a toilet? We've never blown up a toilet."
"Great idea though, thanks, Mum."
"It's not funny! …"
As they pushed the trolley out of earshot of the redheads, Sirius leaned down and whispered to Harry, "Well, looks like that's your competition. Now all you need's a target and you're all set."
Harry already had a pretty good idea who he'd pick for the job of 'target' if he had a choice - that boy from the robe shop still annoyed him — but he resolved to keep an open mind.
"Here, this looks likely," said Remus. The cars closest to the end of the platform where the entrance was were already almost full, but the cars further along had a number of empty compartments. "Pick a place and we'll get your luggage on board."
Harry grabbed his book bag and Hedwig's cage off the top of the pile of luggage and scrambled aboard the train, with Hermione following and Nanny right after her. Remus picked up Harry's trunk with little effort and shoved it onto the train, where Nanny grabbed the handle and dragged it down the corridor after Harry. Then he took Hermione's trunk onto the train himself, while Sirius kicked the trolleys toward an out-of-the-way corner.
"This one's empty. I hereby declare it ours!" said Harry, plopping Hedwig's cage down on a seat. Nanny pushed his trunk in and stuffed it under the seat, and then did the same with Hermione's trunk.
The girl goggled. "How did she put … there's not enough space under there!"
"Magic, of course," said Harry nonchalantly.
"But they couldn't possibly fit!"
"If you're going to worry about little things like space, you're going to give yourself a headache before your first day is over," commented Harry.
"Can you do things like that?"
"Of course not! Messing with time and space isn't until something like sixth year."
"Seventh, actually," said Sirius, looking over Remus's shoulder. "Sixth is conjurations. We'll be off now … technically we shouldn't even be on the train at the moment … See you at Christmas, Harry, and remember to write your godfather occasionally."
"Every week," said Harry solemnly.
"Right. I was eleven myself once, I know you're going to forget as soon as the train leaves the station. Have a good year, Harry. Miss Granger, it was a pleasure meeting you." They bowed themselves out, escaping from the train just before a gaggle of third-year Hufflepuffs boarded to claim the next compartment over from Harry's.
Nanny gave Harry a big hug, standing on the seat in order to do it properly. "Nanny will miss her young Master," she sniffled indistinctly.
"I'll be home for Christmas, don't worry. I'll write, and you can read my letters to Ferny and the elflings, all right?" Nanny nodded tearfully. "Go along home, then," said Harry, giving Nanny a farewell squeeze. With a snap of her fingers, she disappeared.
Harry settled into his seat, looking out the window to see Sirius in conversation with a blonde woman on the platform. It did not seem to be a happy talk, and Sirius cut it short, waved once in the general direction of Harry's window, and he and Remus left the platform. Harry sighed. While he was not exactly on intimate terms yet with his godfather, at least he and Remus had become friendly faces. Now he was heading off alone, or almost alone, into a new situation. But then, wasn't every first year student? So he needn't feel totally alone.
Hermione sat opposite him, still with questions about the house elves. "Do all wizarding families employ house elves? Do they do magic like wizards, and do they go to school like us? How do they do that with space? How did she pull your trunk when it’s bigger than she is? How …"
"Whoa, slow down!" Harry laughed. "At least stop to breathe in between questions. House elves take care of things for the older families, I think, and my family is one of the oldest. Not bragging or anything, but it just is. I was lucky Nanny and the others were there to take care of me when I was little." He ticked off her questions on his fingers so as not to forget any. "They have their own magic, and they don't go to school to learn it — some is instinctive, and some they learn from their parents. I don’t know if the space thing was Nanny doing it or just a spell under the seats. House elves are very strong even when they're not using magic. I think I've caught up now. Next question!"
She blushed slightly. "I'm sorry to be asking so much. This whole world is all so new to me, I just want to know everything about it! Nobody in my family is magic at all, you see, and my parents were ever so surprised when I got my letter. I've been studying to find out all I can, of course, and I've read all our course books already. I just hope it will be enough. I'm sure all the students who grew up with magic will be so far ahead. I tried some spells, and most of them worked, but not all of them."
"A lot of it is new to me, too. I haven't been around a lot of wizards either; until now, all of my friends have been Muggles. But don't worry about catching up; there's loads of people from Muggle families and they all do well enough. You can't always get the right wand movements from descriptions in books. Sometimes someone has to show you. And if your magic just isn't up to a certain level yet, spells just won't work anyway."
"What do you mean?"
"Well, just say I had all my parents' old school books — which I do - and tried a seventh-year spell — which I might have done … even if I got the incantation and the wand movement right, I couldn't do it because my magic isn't up to that level yet, see? Everybody's magic develops gradually, and you won't be able to do a spell before you're ready for it. I could make a wand make sparks when I was six, but it was a couple of years before I could do much more than that. Most people aren't ready for more until they're our age anyway — that's why school doesn't start when we're younger."
While Hermione considered that, there was a bumping noise from out in the corridor, and a round-faced boy stuck his head in through the door. "Excuse me, are these seats taken? Everything's filling up fast."
Harry glanced at Hermione for agreement, and then both of them nodded. "Come on in. There's plenty of room."
The boy manoeuvred his trunk in and shoved it under the seat, solving the question of whether it was a spell on the seats, and placed a pet carrier on the seat opposite Hedwig's cage. While he was doing that, a pretty girl with brown hair in a long plait down her back also joined them, and both boys jumped up to help her put her trunk under the seat. The redheaded boy from the platform also looked in, but since all the seats were occupied now, he moved on.
"Thank you so much," the girl said politely. "I'm Tracey Davis."
"Neville Longbottom," said the other boy.
"Harry Potter," said Harry, "and this is Hermione Granger. What?" he said, as all three of them gaped at him.
"You're Harry Potter?" Hermione squeaked. "You're in all the books! I got some history books for supplemental reading, and you're in Modern Magical History and The Rise and Fall of the Dark Arts and Great Wizarding Events of the Twentieth Century."
"Am I?" Harry asked, somewhat amused. "I'll have to borrow them from you and see if they got anything right."
"But it's in the books!" said Hermione.
"Doesn't mean it's right. Nobody's ever talked to me, or my Uncle Peter, about anything, so really they must not know very much," said Harry. Hermione looked stunned at the idea that what was in the books might not be right.
"There was that thing in the Daily Prophet a few weeks ago," put in Neville. "Did you really, you know, burn the house down around You-Know-Who? And then go live in Australia with the aborigines?"
"No, no! Did they say that? No, I don't know what I did, or even if it was me at all. And I certainly haven't been living in Australia."
"Didn't think so," said Neville with an air of satisfaction. "My Dad says you can't trust what the Prophet says half the time, and I guess he's right."
"Uncle Peter told me my Mum used to work for the Prophet before I was born," said Harry, "and she was the best reporter they had. But I guess it's gone downhill since then."
"My Dad's an Auror," said Neville, "so I guess he knows the real story on some of it."
"What's an Auror?" asked Hermione. "If you don't mind my asking."
"Dark wizard catcher," said Neville. "Though it's not as much a big deal these days as it used to be. Sometimes Dad complains they're not making bad guys like they used to. Of course that attempted robbery at Gringott's has them all hopping now, so maybe he'll be happy for a while. My Mum used to be an Auror too, but now she stays home with me and my little brother. What do your parents do?"
"Both my parents are dentists," Hermione said. At his blank look, she explained, "They're like doctors that take care of people's teeth."
"Just their teeth? That's strange," said Neville. "Interesting, but strange. How about you, Tracey?"
The other girl hadn't said anything up to now, although she had been paying attention. She had pulled a leather-covered book out of her bag and was writing in it with a short black quill. "Hm? Oh, my Dad's in business. Buying things, selling things. You know, stuff. My Mum helps out." The train finally jerked into motion, and her quill ran across the page. "Oh, drat!"
"What are you writing?" Harry asked curiously.
"Just my journal," Tracey said. "My Mum said, since I was going to be taking notes in school about classes and things, I should also take notes about the people I meet and what happens — the important things — so that I'll be able to remember everything when I grow up."
"Are you writing about us?" asked Hermione, trying to peer over the top of the book.
"Just a little. Your names, and what you look like. Things like that."
"Can we see?"
"Um, no, I'm afraid the page is enchanted so only I can see it," said Tracey, tilting the book so Hermione could see that the page was entirely blank, even where the pen had slipped. "But I got all your names, which is the important thing. I'll just put it away now. Is that your owl? What's her name?" she asked to change the subject.
"This is Hedwig," said Harry. "My godfather got her for me as a birthday present. What's that in your carrier, Neville?"
"Oddly enough, my birthday present. My great-uncle got me this toad … oh, no!" said Neville, realizing the door to the carrier was open. "He's escaped again. He doesn't seem to like his carrier. I'll have to go find him before he gets squashed. Excuse me." He got up and left the compartment, calling, "Here, Trevor! Where are you?"
Harry and the girls continued chatting, talking about what sort of things they liked to do. Neville returned after a while, glumly reporting that he had been unable to find Trevor. The conversation turned to what houses they wanted to be sorted into.
"I heard that Gryffindor was the best," said Hermione. "It's the house Dumbledore was in, you know. But Ravenclaw sounded good, too."
"I don't know about it being best," said Harry with a frown. "How could it be best for everybody? My Uncle Peter says people get put in the house that's best for them. He said some people try to get in a particular house because of family or friends, but if it's not right for them it never works out well. I know my parents were both in Gryffindor, but that doesn't mean it's right for me."
"My dad was a Gryffindor too, but Mum was a Hufflepuff. I know Dad wants me to be in Gryffindor, though. How about you, Tracey?"
"Most of my family have been Slytherin," she said hesitantly. "But my Mum and an uncle were Ravenclaw. I've got an older brother in Slytherin now, and I expect that's where I'll end up, too. I hope you don't mind."
"Why should we mind?" asked Hermione.
"Well, some people don't like Slytherins very much because, well, some of them are kind of stuck up, and some of them have gone Dark. And their symbol is a snake and lots of people don't like snakes."
"That's a silly reason," Harry scoffed. "Snakes are cool! I found some in the garden and tried to bring them to school with me as pets, but Uncle Peter wouldn't let me. But there are Dark wizards from all the houses, aren't there? So it isn't just Slytherin."
Tracey relaxed a little. "I'm glad. Because I'd hate to make friends with someone and have them decide they didn't like me just because I was in Slytherin."
"Tell you what," said Harry. "Let's make a pact. The four of us, no matter what houses we get into, we'll stick together, okay?" He stuck his hand out towards the others.
"Sounds good to me," said Neville, putting his hand on top of Harry's.
"All for one, one for all?" said Hermione, adding her hand to the pile.
"Us four, no more," said Tracey, grinning. She put her hand on Hermione's, and then Harry put his other hand on top of hers, completing the stack.
At that moment, the door to the compartment slid open, and a boy stepped in. Two more large boys, unable to fit in the compartment, loomed in the doorway.
"Ugh," said Tracey. "Speaking of 'no more'…"
Harry recognized the intruding boy; it was the pale boy from the robe shop.
"I heard on the platform Harry Potter was on this car," the boy said. "And this is the only place I haven't checked." His eyes flicked over the girls dismissively and he considered Neville for a moment, then turned to Harry. "So is it true? It's you?"
"Last I looked, yeah," said Harry. He looked speculatively at the large boys in the doorway, wondering if they would get stuck if they both tried to come in at once.
The pale boy saw where he was looking. "My associates here are Crabbe and Goyle," he said carelessly. "And I'm Malfoy. Draco Malfoy." He said it like it was supposed to have some great importance to Harry. Tracey laughed quietly.
"Think that's funny, Davis? Get up and give me your seat. I want to talk to Potter here and I don’t want to hear your snickering."
"That's no way to talk to a lady," said Harry.
Malfoy raised his eyebrows mockingly. "A lady? You'll soon find out some wizarding families are much better than others, Potter. You don't want to go making friends with the wrong sort." He glanced meaningfully at Tracey. "I can help you there."
He held out his hand to shake Harry's, but Harry didn't take it.
"I think I can tell who the wrong sort are for myself, thanks," he said coolly.
Malfoy didn't go red, but a pink tinge appeared in his pale cheeks.
"I'd be careful if I were you, Potter," he said slowly. "Unless you're a bit politer you'll go the same way as your parents. They didn't know what was good for them, either. You hang around with merchants and common folk like Davis here, and it'll rub off on you."
Both Harry and Neville stood up.
"Just because your father is a bigwig in the Ministry, it doesn't mean you can throw your weight around here, Malfoy," said Neville.
"Oh, you're going to fight us, are you?" Malfoy sneered.
"Unless you get out now," said Harry. "In case it slipped your notice, your friends can't fit in here, so it's just you against the two of us." He drew his wand and pointed it at Malfoy. Neville hesitated only a second before following suit.
"The four of us," said Hermione, standing and pointing her wand at Malfoy, although there was a quiver in her voice. Tracey did as well.
Faced with four wands at short range, Malfoy backed off. "Fine. I'll go. But this isn't the end of this." He glared at Tracey, who held her wand pointed firmly at him. "And don't think I'm going to forget this, Davis," he warned, and left, slamming the compartment door behind him.
"Whew," said Harry, sheathing his wand and sitting down again. "I'm glad he's gone."
"I appreciate it, but you really shouldn't have done that," said Tracey.
"He had no right to insult you like that," said Harry.
"No, he didn't," agreed Neville. "I've heard stories about his family," he continued darkly. "They were some of the first to come back to the Light side after You-Know-Who disappeared. Said they'd been bewitched. My Dad doesn't believe it. He says Malfoy's father didn't need an excuse to go over to the Dark Side, and only came back to save his own skin. There were lots like that back then. By the way, Harry, what spell would you have cast if he'd pushed it?"
Harry looked blankly at him. "You know, I have no idea."
Both girls started to giggle, and then Harry and Neville joined in, and for a while all four of them were laughing helplessly. After they calmed down, Harry grinned to himself. He had found his target.
Soon the snack trolley came around, and Neville and Tracey told Harry and Hermione all about the different kinds of wizarding sweets. Hermione said she didn't think her parents would like her eating many sweets (she had a bag of carrots and healthy snacks for the trip) but allowed herself to be talked into trying some Bertie Bott's Every Flavour Beans. Neville was surprised to find Trevor hiding in among the Chocolate Frogs, and supposed he had just been looking for some company. With the toad rescued and safely stowed back in his carrier, they introduced Hermione and Harry to the joys of collecting Chocolate Frog cards. Eventually Tracey nodded off, since her mother had not been so foresighted as to dose her with Calming Potion the night before, and the other three settled down to read while the train rattled north through the golden afternoon.
The sun was setting as the train approached the station at Hogsmeade. Harry and Neville stood "guard" in the corridor while the girls put their robes on, and then they changed places so the boys could change.
An announcement told them to leave their luggage and pets on the train, so Neville double-checked the latch on Trevor's carrier to make sure he wouldn't escape again, and then the four joined the crowds pushing their way off the train. They emerged onto a small dark platform, where the crowd milled around for a bit.
A booming voice called out, "Firs' years, firs' years over here!" A light appeared above the students' heads, illuminating Hagrid's hairy face. "C'mon this way, any more firs' years? This way, watch your step!" He caught sight of Harry and drew him aside slightly as the other first years passed. "I need to thank yeh fer what yeh told the Prophet, especially after I blew yer secret an' all. Yeh didn' have ter have 'em give me the reward an' all. I wasn' even thinking 'bout claiming it, ter tell the truth."
"That's why we thought we should do it for you," said Harry. "There was no point in letting someone else get it. Just do something fun with it, all right?"
"I am, I am. I'm addin' on ter my house to have a space where I can take care of some of the animals that get injured in the forest. Dangerous place, the Ferbidden Forest is. Come by and see me once yeh've settled in, I'll show yeh and yer friends around!"
"I will, thanks."
The steep, narrow path led out to the shores of a lake, its black waters as smooth as glass. A fleet of tiny boats was drawn up on the shingle beach. On the other side of the lake rose the towers and turrets of a vast castle, perched on top of a cliff face. There were oohs and aahs from the assembled first years.
"No more'n four to a boat," said Hagrid. "In yeh go. Watch yer step so yeh don't get wet!" With a little splashing and nervous laughter, the students piled into boats, with Harry and his friends all managing to get into the same one. Hagrid had one all to himself. "All right then? FORWARD!"
The boats moved off under their own power, forming a line that steered straight across the lake toward the cliff face. Harry thought for a moment that the boats were going to bump into the stone, when Hagrid pulled aside a curtain of ivy and they floated into a long tunnel. Finally they came to an underground harbor, where the boats pulled up and beached themselves and the students scrambled out. Then they clambered up a passageway in the rock after Hagrid's lamp, coming out at last onto smooth, damp grass right in the shadow of the castle.
They walked up a flight of stone steps and crowded around the huge, oak front door. "Everyone here? Good." Hagrid raised a gigantic fist and knocked three times on the castle door.
The door swung open at once. A tall, black-haired witch in emerald-green robes stood there. She had a very stern face and Harry's first thought was that this was not someone to cross.
"The firs' years, Professor McGonagall," said Hagrid.
"Thank you, Hagrid. I will take them from here."
She pulled the door wide and the students trooped into the wide entrance hall. They followed Professor McGonagall across the flagged stone floor. Harry could hear the drone of hundreds of voices from somewhere nearby, but Professor McGonagall showed the first years into a small, empty chamber off the hall. They crowded in, standing rather closer together than they would usually have done, peering about nervously.
"Welcome to Hogwarts," said Professor McGonagall. "The start-of-term banquet will begin shortly, but before you take your seats in the Great Hall, you will be sorted into your houses. The Sorting is a very important ceremony because, while you are here, your house will be something like your family within Hogwarts. You will have classes with the rest of your house, sleep in your house dormitory, and spend free time in your house common room.
"The four houses are called Gryffindor, Hufflepuff, Ravenclaw, and Slytherin. Each house has its own noble history and each has produced outstanding witches and wizards. While you are at Hogwarts, your triumphs will earn your house points, while any rulebreaking will lose house points. At the end of the year, the house with the most points is awarded the house cup, a great honor. I hope each of you will be a credit to whichever house becomes yours.
"The Sorting Ceremony will take place in a few minutes in front of the rest of the school. I suggest you all smarten yourselves up as much as you can while you are waiting." She glanced at Malfoy's compatriots, both of whom had chocolate smeared on their faces. "I shall return when we are ready for you. Please wait quietly."
"How do they do the sorting?" asked Hermione.
"Some sort of test, I think," said Tracey. "My brother said it was very hard, and I don't know if he was joking."
"A test? Our first day? But we don't know anything yet," moaned Neville.
Harry looked around and saw that everyone else looked terrified, too. The redheaded boy from the train was muttering to someone about wrestling a troll, and he was so pale the freckles on his face stood out starkly.
There was a gasp from the students at the back of the room as a group of ghosts streamed through the back wall. Hermione looked like she was going to faint. The ghosts were talking among themselves about somebody named Peeves, who most of them didn't seem to like very much. A jolly fat ghost in a friar's robe waved at the students and welcomed them all, hoping to see them in his house, which had apparently been Hufflepuff.
As the ghosts passed on through the front wall, Professor McGonagall reappeared and instructed the students to form a line. She led their somewhat wobbling formation through a pair of double doors into the Great Hall.
Although later he would become very familiar with the Hall and its floating candles, its tables laden with golden plates and crystal goblets, all Harry was aware of now was the wash of light, the mass of black-clad students, and the hundreds of eyes staring at him and the other first-years. His most important concern was not tripping over his own feet as they walked up to stand before the high table where the teachers sat.
Professor McGonagall silently placed a four-legged stool in front of the first years. On top of the stool she put a pointed wizard's hat. This hat was patched and frayed and extremely dirty. Brandy wouldn't have let it in the house.
For a few seconds, there was complete silence. Then the hat twitched. A rip near the brim opened wide like a mouth -- and the hat began to sing:
"Oh, you may not think I'm pretty,
But don't judge on what you see,
I'll eat myself if you can find
A smarter hat than me.
You can keep your bowlers black,
Your top hats sleek and tall,
For I'm the Hogwarts Sorting Hat
And I can cap them all.
There's nothing hidden in your head
The Sorting Hat can't see,
So try me on and I will tell you
Where you ought to be.
You might belong in Gryffindor,
Where dwell the brave at heart,
Their daring, nerve, and chivalry
Set Gryffindors apart;
You might belong in Hufflepuff,
Where they are just and loyal,
Those patient Hufflepuff's are true
And unafraid of toil;
Or yet in wise old Ravenclaw,
if you've a ready mind,
Where those of wit and learning,
Will always find their kind;
Or perhaps in Slytherin
You'll make your real friends,
Those cunning folk use any means
To achieve their ends.
So put me on! Don't be afraid!
And don't get in a flap!
You're in safe hands (though I have none)
For I'm a Thinking Cap!"
The whole hall burst into applause as the hat finished its song. It bowed to each of the four tables and then became quite still again.
"So all we have to do is try that on?" whispered Neville.
"I don’t think I want that touching my hair," said a girl next to Hermione. Harry had to agree, and wondered why nobody had ever cast a cleaning spell on the thing.
Professor McGonagall unrolled a long parchment scroll. "When I call your name, you will put on the hat and sit on the stool to be sorted," she said. "Abbott, Hannah!"
A blonde girl stumbled out of line, put on the hat, which fell right down over her eyes, and sat down. A moment’s pause —
"HUFFLEPUFF!" shouted the hat.
The table on the right cheered and clapped as Hannah went to sit down at the Hufflepuff table. Harry saw the ghost of the Fat Friar waving merrily at her.
"HUFFLEPUFF!" shouted the hat again, and Susan scuttled off to sit next to Hannah.
And so it went, with the line at the front of the room gradually becoming shorter while the tables grew more crowded.
Tracey was, of course, the first of them to be called. "Wish me luck!" she whispered to Harry. The Hat didn't take long with her at all, sorting her into Slytherin almost as soon as it touched her hair.
When Hermione's turn came, she was so eager she practically ran to the stool and jammed the Hat on her head.
"RAVENCLAW!" shouted the Hat, and she almost skipped to the table.
The Hat took a long time with Neville, but eventually sorted him into Gryffindor. As he walked to the table, Harry didn't know whether the expression on his face was one of relief or not.
It was no surprise when Malfoy's turn came and he was sorted into Slytherin. His two goons had already been placed there, and Harry was beginning to be seriously worried about how Tracey would manage, being in the same house as those three. Harry was even beginning to wonder if he could manage to get sorted into Slytherin himself so she wouldn't be alone there.
Then, at last -- "Potter, Harry!"
As Harry stepped forward, whispers suddenly broke out like little hissing fires all over the hall.
"Potter, did she say?"
"The Harry Potter?"
"The one that disappeared?"
The last thing Harry saw before the hat dropped over his eyes was the hall full of people craning to get a good look at him, and he just hoped his tie was straight. Next second he was looking at the black inside of the hat. He waited.
A small voice sounded in his ear. "Hmm. Now here's an interesting puzzle. Difficult, very difficult. There are so many options. There's courage here, but mostly untested. Not a bad mind, talented and not afraid of hard work, either. Quite a bit of native cunning, and you've had some tutoring in that regard, I see."
"Maybe Slytherin?" thought Harry.
"Cunning wouldn't be enough, you'd have to have the drive or they'd eat you alive in there," said the voice. "Why would you want to be in Slytherin?"
"To take care of my friend."
"Well, with motivation like that, better be — HUFFLEPUFF!" shouted the Hat.
Harry took off the Hat and glared at it, feeling betrayed. He looked over at the Slytherin table and saw that Tracey was grinning madly at him, although Malfoy's lip was twisted in a sneer. What was that the blond boy had said a month ago? Imagine being in Hufflepuff, I think I'd leave, wouldn't you? Well, now he was in Hufflepuff, and he wasn't about to leave.
As he placed the Hat back on the stool, he became aware that the whispers had ceased and the room was utterly silent as everyone stared at him. He could even feel the eyes of the teachers all focused on one spot at the middle of his back, which suddenly started to itch. Holding onto his dignity for dear life, he lifted his head and walked deliberately toward the Hufflepuff table, which suddenly exploded into cheers and clapping as his new housemates rose to greet him.
Once he was seated at the Hufflepuff table, he could look up and see the teacher's table properly. Professor McGonagall looked a little shaken as she called up the next student after him, and he wondered why. Albus Dumbledore, at the centre of the table, seemed to be looking at him with a touch of confusion. Hagrid sat at one end of the table and gave him a happy wave. At the other end sat Professor Snape, who seemed to be glowering at him for some reason. Next to him was a young man in a purple turban, who Harry swore he remembered from somewhere — that turban was unforgettable — and next to him a short, plump witch who was clapping for him. The whole thing was very curious.
Harry looked down at his empty gold plate. He had only just realized how hungry he was. The snacks on the train seemed ages ago. Fortunately the rest of the sorting didn’t take too long, and after "Zabini, Blaise" became a Slytherin, Albus Dumbledore rose to his feet. He beamed at the students, his arms opened wide, as if nothing could have pleased him more than to see them all there. "Welcome," he said. "Welcome to a new year at Hogwarts! Before we begin our banquet, I would like to say a few words. And here they are: Nitwit! Blubber! Oddment! Tweak! Thank you!"
The serving dishes on the table suddenly became filled with all sorts of food, and Harry felt a little buzz that he had sometimes felt when Brandy used the same trick at home to serve dinner. Feeling happily at home, he started loading up his plate, with the Fat Friar, who was sitting across from him, encouraging him to take just a little more of this and that.
Dinner was interrupted briefly by some shrieking from the new students and laughter from the older ones over at the Gryffindor table. When everyone had eaten as much as they wanted, the food vanished and the dishes were clean and sparkling again. Then the puddings arrived, and as everybody took servings of whatever they wanted - Harry opting for some strawberries with powdered sugar on them because if he ate anything heavier he'd burst — a sudden hot burst of pain flared from the scar on Harry's forehead. "Ouch!" he said, clapping his hand to his head.
"What is it?" asked Justin Finch-Fletchley, who was sitting beside him.
"Nothing, just … a headache all of a sudden."
"Maybe you're allergic to the strawberries," said Justin. "Don't worry, I'll protect you from them." Jokingly, he tugged the bowl away from Harry, who just as jokingly pulled it back.
"Touch my strawberries and die," Harry growled, and Justin pretended to be afraid and took a slice of chocolate cake instead.
Harry looked up at the teacher's table again. Professor Snape was now looking down, poking at his own food, but the young man in the turban was looking steadily in his direction. Their gazes met for a moment, and then the young man turned to ask Snape a question.
The student sitting on Harry's other side was Cedric Diggory, a fourth-year, and Harry nudged him to get his attention. "Excuse me, but who's that sitting next to Professor Snape?"
"Know Snape already, do you? That's Professor Quirrell. Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher. This will be his second year, and I'm glad he's back, there hasn't been the same teacher two years in a row in ages. The turban's new, though. Not a good look for him, would you say?"
"Not a good look for anybody," Harry replied. His headache was fading as fast as it had come on, and he was able to face his food again without feeling sick.
At last, the puddings too disappeared, and Professor Dumbledore got to his feet again. The hall fell silent.
"Ahem -- just a few more words now that we are all fed and watered. I have a few start-of-term notices to give you. First years should note that the forest on the grounds is forbidden to all pupils. And a few of our older students would do well to remember that as well. I have also been asked by Mr. Filch, the caretaker, to remind you all that no magic should be used between classes in the corridors. Quidditch trials will be held in the second week of the term. Anyone interested in playing for their house teams should contact Madam Hooch.
"Finally, I must tell you that this year, the entire East Tower, from the third floor on up, out of bounds to everyone who does not wish to die a very painful death."
Harry laughed, but he was one of the few who did. "He's not serious, is he?"
"Must be," said Cedric. "He usually is, when he says things like that. Sometimes he'll explain, more often he doesn't."
"Class schedules will be passed out tomorrow morning," said Dumbledore, as if he hadn't just threatened the entire student body. "For now, it's bedtime. First year students, the prefects will show you where to go. Off you trot!"
Most of the first years were tired and sleepy from too much food, and Harry was no exception. The prefects got them on their feet and led them out of the Great Hall and down a staircase into a broad stone corridor, brightly lit with many torches. One wall was hung with pictures which were mostly still lifes of food. There were portraits on the other side, and the prefect stopped in front of a large image whose frame ran from the floor practically to the ceiling. It showed a man sitting at a desk on a patio in a formal Italian garden. The man was dressed in clothing typical of the Renaissance and was writing with a quill on a parchment scroll. A litter of scribbled-on parchments lay at his feet.
"You are now standing at the entrance to the Hufflepuff Sett, which is where our common rooms and dormitory rooms are located. Our door guardian, as you can see, is the Scribe. He has no name other than that; this painting was rescued from a Muggle museum and he has long forgotten who he was when originally painted. We asked him to serve as our guardian after the Fat Lady complained about the dÃ©cor in this hall and asked to be relocated to somewhere she would be less tempted. Scribe, these are the new first years."
"Good, a new batch!" said the Scribe, putting down his pen and waving at the students. "I look forward to getting to know all of you. Give me the password and you can go on inside."
"Alligator pear", said one of the prefects, and the portrait swung aside to reveal a passage through the wall into a large room. It was full of squashy, comfortable looking chairs, dividing up the large room into smaller seating areas, and there were tables and desks along the walls as well. A large fireplace warmed the room, and there were doors to either side of it. "Boys' dorms on the right, girls' on the left. We'll take you down to your beds in a moment, but there's something we have to do first. I would like to present to your our Head of House, Professor Pomona Sprout."
The small round witch who Harry had seen clapping at his sorting came out of a side room carrying a very thick book. "Greetings, children," she said, putting book on a table. "This is the Book of Hufflepuff. It is a record of everyone who has ever been sorted into Hufflepuff. Each of you will have a page, which will have your name and date of sorting. You can put other information on it yourself if you want, from your favourite colour to the names of your children when you grow up and start a family. These," she said as one of the prefects put a stack of small black leather-covered books on the table next to the Book, "are abridged versions of the Book. In the front there is a list of all the living Hufflepuffs, and all the pages are in alphabetical order. If you want something to appear in the main book, you can write it in your personal book and it will update the main Book, and then the information in the big Book is available in everyone else's personal books. So don't put anything in the Book that you don't want hundreds of other people to know." The prefects passed out the small books to the new students, and Harry flipped to his own page under "P". Sure enough, it said "Harry James Potter, September 1, 1991." The rest of it was blank, although there were spaces where information could be filled in with helpful headings such as "Favourite Colour", "Best Friend", "Wedding Date", "Pet's Name" and "Shoe Size."
"We are now going to perform the Recognition Spell," said Professor Sprout. "I will speak the incantation, and then, starting, oh starting over there by the fireplace, each one of you will speak your name, and when everyone has introduced themselves, I will end the spell. Then you will know who everyone in all seven years are. Believe me, having everybody's names and faces connected in your mind is very important. It will make it easier for you to approach them, to talk to them, and make friends with them. By the time you graduate, you will know everyone in the classes above you and below you. And they know all the people above and below them, and so on. Is everybody here? Yes? Very good. Agnitio!" she incanted, waving her wand in a circular motion. Harry realized that all the students had filed in quietly while Professor Sprout was talking, and now the Common Room was quite full. A girl near the fireplace stated her name, and then the boy next to her, and so on. Emily Oldroyd, Charles Ryder, Maryella Jones. He could feel the power of the spell filling the room, touching everyone as the list of names grew. Frank Spicer, Margaret Pipchick, Nathaniel Duckwater. By the time the naming got round to the first years, the magic was like a clear pond filling the room, and the names dropped in like pebbles to make rippling rings that intersected with everyone else's. Hannah Abbott. Susan Bones. Justin Finch-Fletchley. Wayne Hopkins. Megan Jones (no relation to Maryella). Heather MacLeod. Ernie MacMillan. Eloise Midgen. Barnabas Moon. Harry Potter. Geraldine Rivers. Erica Roper. Zacharias Smith. Gilbert Spinks. And on it went, until Professor Sprout spoke her own name and ended the spell, and Harry suddenly came back to reality, feeling slightly dizzy. The prefect next to him — Eliot Warren, Harry suddenly knew — put an arm around him for support until he got his balance back.
"When you were sorted into Hufflepuff," said the Professor, "you joined a family. A very large, extended family. As a family, we are all pledged to support one another, even if we don't particularly like one another. This doesn't mean we back one another blindly. If we see that one of our members is likely to do something wrong or stupid, our duty is to help them avoid that, rather than help them do it. We support the person, not their actions. And that is one reason why there has never been a Dark Lord or Lady from Hufflepuff, even though there have been those who practice Dark Magic from time to time. Hufflepuffs are not afraid of hard work. We do the best we can, and where we excel, we help others who are not as talented. In school, that means we rarely have the highest grade in a class, but we never have a failure unless someone is absolutely incapable of doing something. We are not afraid of doing what's right. When we play Quidditch, we play hard, but we abide by the rules. No cheating. We are just and loyal, but we are not pushovers. We are friendly but will not let ourselves be taken advantage of. At the end of the day, we are proud to be Hufflepuff!"
Murmurs of agreement came from all around the room. "And now, my little ones, it is time for you first years to go to bed. Eliot, if you would escort the boys to their room, and Barbara, the girls. Everyone else, you may stay up another hour if you want, but remember that classes start tomorrow first thing, and we should all be rested."
Eliot led Harry and his yearmates down a long, winding corridor to a door that read "First Years". Inside was a large room that had seven four-poster beds hung with black velvet curtains with yellow trim. Their trunks had already been set by their beds, and the boys all changed into their pyjamas and tumbled into bed. Harry drew the curtains around him and fell asleep almost instantly, and if he dreamed, he did not remember it in the morning.
After the four heads of houses had done their various duties in getting their students settled, they met for a late cup of tea in the staff room. By the time Pomona Sprout got there, the other teachers, who had no house duties, had already got a head start on discussing an interesting subject: Harry Potter, and how he had wound up in Hufflepuff, of all places.
"You could have knocked me over with a feather," Minerva McGonagall was saying as Pomona entered. "I was sure the boy was going to be sorted into Gryffindor. He looks so much like his father."
"As long as he doesn't act like his father, I'll be happy," said Severus Snape. "I know, I know, no speaking ill of the dead, and I'm not forgetting what he did after he grew up a little, but you have to admit he was an arrogant bastard while he was at school, and I would prefer not to have that in my class. It's going to be bad enough with the Malfoy boy."
"It could be worse," said Filius Flitwick. "You could have them both in one class, the way I do." Severus shuddered but did not reply. "I must say, though, I'm looking forward to finding out if the boy has any of his mother's talent. She could have become a Charms Mistress if she had wanted to, I'm sure."
"Whereas I'm looking forward to seeing how he does with Transfiguration," said Minerva. "If he has half the talent his father did …"
"I'll settle for him not blowing up my lab," muttered Severus. He was only paying half his attention to the discussion because he was wondering about something else. He had been watching the sorting closely to keep an eye out for Lupin's nephew, the promising boy he'd met at the Apothecary, but he hadn't seen him. Had he simply missed him? Or did the boy not come to school for some reason? His first-year classes, unfortunately, weren't until Friday, so he'd have to wait until then to find out if he was here, and if he wasn't, he'd have to ask Albus what had happened.
"I don't care what house he ended up in," said Rolanda Hooch. "I get him no matter where he is. I'm just looking forward to seeing how he flies. It could lead to some interesting Quidditch in the next few years. Hufflepuff could be the team to watch."
"We already have Diggory," said Pomona with some satisfaction. "With him at Seeker and Potter as a Chaser, perhaps, like his father … oh, yes, we could be a team to watch indeed. We have a record number of new students this year, too. There's bound to be some talent in there."
"Yes, about those numbers … how did you wind up with twice the number of students I got?" said Minerva.
"Maybe the Hat thought the students you have would be enough trouble that it didn't feel like giving you more? Merlin knows, the Weasley twins are enough to make any witch's hair turn grey, and now you have another one."
"But fourteen new students in one year? And Ravenclaw got twelve!"
Pomona shrugged. "Ask the Hat."
All the teachers were surprised when Dumbledore, who had been listening to the discussion but not participating, abruptly got up and left without a word.
Harry's house-elf habits got him up before any of the other first years, and he opened his bed curtains to find light spilling into the room from a wide window. He was a bit puzzled by this, since he was pretty sure they were underground, but the window showed an excellent view of the hillside sloping down to the lake. He didn't waste time wondering about it, but grabbed his towels and headed off to get the first shower. By the time the other boys had dragged themselves out of bed, he was already clean, dressed, and finishing arranging his clothing in the wardrobe next to his bed. He had been happy to discover that the black and white first-year's ties that he had bought in Diagon Alley had changed to the black and yellow Hufflepuff colours, and there were Hufflepuff badges on all his robes and his cloak.
Several of the upper-year students were up early, too, and they headed up to breakfast as a group as soon as the Great Hall opened. This was a good thing, because he had a chance to eat a full meal before a prefect arrived with a message from the Headmaster. He wanted to see Harry in his office, as soon as possible. Harry groaned. How had he managed to get in trouble the first day?
The prefect escorted him to a niche where a statue of a gargoyle stood. "Jelly babies" she said. This was evidently a password, because the gargoyle sprang suddenly to life and hopped aside as the wall behind it split in two. Behind the wall was a spiral staircase that was moving smoothly upward, and she told him to step on it. It carried him smoothly upward, and in a few dizzying moments he was standing on a landing before a door with a brass knocker in the shape of a griffin. Before he could even raise his hand to the knocker, the door swung open. "Come in, my boy! Come in!" Dumbledore called, and Harry hesitantly stepped in. "Have a seat. Care for a lemon drop?"
"No thank you, sir. I just finished breakfast," said Harry, perching himself tentatively on the edge of the chair in front of Dumbledore's wide desk.
"All ready for your first day of classes?"
"I think so, sir. I'm looking forward to them."
"Did you receive your schedule already?"
"Yes, the prefects passed them out first thing. Why, is there a problem with mine?"
"Well, as to that … there were some … irregularities … with the sorting last night."
"Yes, you apparently spent quite some time under the Hat."
"I did?" Harry really hadn't been aware of how much time he'd spent in talking with the enchanted haberdashery; if Dumbledore said it was a long time, then it was a long time. But he thought it had taken longer with some of the other students.
"Yes, and I took the liberty of having a word with it last night. It seems that the Hat wasn't really sure where to put you, that you showed aspects of several houses."
"It did say I had options."
"And did you want any of those options in particular?"
"Well, I did ask it, but it put me somewhere else."
"I see. Under the circumstances, then, we could reassign you to Gryffindor quite easily, and …"
"I didn't ask it for Gryffindor, sir."
"No, I asked it for Slytherin."
The Headmaster’s eyes widened in shock. "May I ask why?"
"Because a friend of mine went into Slytherin, and I was worried that some of the others there might treat her badly."
"Ah. Well. I assure you that Professor Snape keeps a very close eye on his students and wouldn't allow them to push each other around. But if you'd like, I could ask him to keep an eye on … what is your friend's name?"
"Davis, sir, Tracey Davis."
"Keep an eye on Miss Davis. Of course. As to the other matter, however, we are still prepared to allow you to resort, if you wanted to."
"It was your parents' house, and the Hat believed you would do well there. It's a somewhat smaller group, as well, and Professor McGonagall could spare you more attention than Professor Sprout could."
"Sir, are any of the other students being given the option of resorting?"
"Er, perhaps one or …"
"I don't want any special treatment, sir. It wouldn't be fair to anyone else, and I'm going to be having people talking about me enough as it is. If the Hat felt I'd be best suited for Hufflepuff, that's where I'll stay. Besides, I know everybody there already, sir."
"Well, if you're sure …"
"I am, sir."
"Very well. Run along, you'll have plenty of time to get to your History of Magic class."
"Thank you, sir."
Harry heaved a sigh of relief as he escaped from the office. What was that all about? he wondered.
In Dumbledore's office, a side door opened and McGonagall and Sprout emerged. The little Herbology professor wore an expression she didn't use very often: anger. "Well, Albus, do you want to tell me why you're trying to steal the Potter boy away from me? You know the student's welfare is my responsibility. Why are you trying to interfere with my house?"
"We're concerned about the boy, Pomona, that's all. We didn't get all of the Death Eaters, after all, and if some of them have children in places they could reach him …"
"Then he shouldn't be at school at all, Albus. He should stay wherever he's been, wherever it is that's so secure that even you can't find him."
"We just wanted him where he could be protected. Many of the Gryffindor students are the children of people who fought against Voldemort, and they could keep an eye on him —"
"And at least one Gryffindor is the nephew of a possible Death Eater. The very one who may have killed Potter's parents. You call that safe? You know very well that not a single Hufflepuff was ever even suspected of being a Death Eater, and I have plenty of children of Aurors and others who fought against You-Know-Who in my house. He'll be safer with my badgers than anywhere else."
"I have to say, I agree with Pomona," said McGonagall, much to Sprout's surprise. She had thought the Transfiguration professor would be in agreement with the Headmaster. "We've had this discussion before. If the boy truly has the temperament to be in Hufflepuff-"
"And he does, I've never seen anyone make the adjustment so easily," put in Sprout.
"Then your worries about what he might have been taught by now are moot. If he'd wound up in Slytherin I'd have given you a point, but-"
"He did ask to be put in Slytherin."
"For the most Hufflepuff of reasons," said Sprout. "To protect a friend."
"It's a very Gryffindor reason as well," said McGonagall. "I don't believe he would have gone there because of any natural affinity for it. And even if he had, I would trust Severus to keep him out of trouble. The boy is no danger to anyone, Albus. And he wants to stay in Hufflepuff. Who knows what might happen if you forced him to become something he isn't happy with?"
"Very well. I concede your points. Pomona, I apologize for questioning your ability to handle the boy. I had only his best interests in mind."
"That's the only reason I'm willing to let this ride, Headmaster," said Sprout. "If it had gone any further, I would have had to make a formal complaint to the Board of Governors. Now if you'll excuse me, I have a class to teach."
The two professors left. Dumbledore took a lemon drop and sucked on it pensively, pondering his next steps.
By the end of the first week, Harry thought he would drop from exhaustion. That week, prefects were assigned to escort the first years as a group to and from classes, but they would be expected to navigate by themselves after that. They had to learn about the moving stairs, the invisible stairs, the doors that were walls and the walls that were doors. After the first day of classes was over, before they went to bed, they were given a tour of all the important rooms so they would know where the library and the practice rooms and the infirmary were. All classes had two houses together, so he saw each of his friends frequently; they got in the habit of getting to class early and staying late so they could talk. To his surprise, Harry found that each house had treated its children differently that first night: the Ravenclaws were assigned to study groups, the Slytherins got a lecture from Professor Snape on proper behaviour, and the Gryffindors had just gone to bed. None of the other houses did the class escorts either, but the Ravenclaws had been given detailed maps of the main library and a lecture on how to use the cataloging system.
Students of all classes and all years, for some reason, seemed to want to look at him, and there were lots of extra people in the halls on the way to his classes. He heard some of them whispering behind his back. "There, look … see him? The one there? Yes, the one with the scar." Harry wished they would just go away, because they made it much more difficult for the Hufflepuffs to get to class on time. Eventually the other firsties started making up a formation with Harry in the middle when they were walking to classes, which made it harder for people to see him, and after a while they began to lose interest.
He only had to go to a few classes a day, but there was a lot of homework, and he needed practice time to work on spell casting, too. The free periods they had rapidly filled up with essays, research, practice, practice, and more practice.
Easily the most boring class was History of Magic with Professor Binns, who was a ghost and lectured a massed class of all four houses three times a week. It was sometimes hard to follow the lecture because the Slytherins were making jokes about other students (often him), the Gryffindors mostly fell asleep, and the Ravenclaws sat at the back of the room talking about something else. Taking notes wasn't really needed, though, because it turned out Binns always gave exactly the same lectures from year to year and several years ago someone had used dictation quills to get them all down word for word, so if something wasn't clear from class they could always check the transcript. According to Hermione, the Ravenclaws had made up their own study syllabus and were pretty much ignoring the lectures entirely, doing independent study so they'd be ready for the tests.
Astronomy class only met one night a week, but since that was at ten o'clock at the top of the tallest tower in the school, Harry was glad about that. His major problem with it was that it was with the Slytherins. It was nice to see Tracey, but he was always on his guard lest Malfoy or one of his cronies send his work sailing over the edge of the tower into the night.
Charms was also with the Slytherins, but at least there he could sit on the other side of the classroom from the obnoxious Malfoy. For this class, he used his mother's wand.
Herbology and Transfiguration were shared with the Gryffindors. He was already familiar with gardening, from all the work he did at home, and was happy to discover that Neville also had a love of working with plants, so the two of them paired up and rapidly became Professor Sprout's favourite first-years, though she tried not to show it in class.
Transfiguration with Professor McGonnagal wasn't so easy; although he knew the theory behind finding the similarities and differences between, say, a matchstick and a needle, actually changing those differences until the matchstick became a needle was a lot harder than it looked. But the professor showed off her animagus form the first day, and that was very cool. Harry wondered if he would ever be skilled enough to become an animagus, and set that as a goal for himself. He even wrote it down on his Hufflepuff page, and two days later a sixth-year student with the same interest offered to share notes. His father's wand worked better for him in this class.
For Defence Against the Dark Arts and Potions, the Hufflepuffs were paired with the Ravenclaws. Defence was Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays right after lunch, and proved to be a bit of a disappointment. Professor Quirrell stuttered so badly that his lectures were barely understandable, and his entire classroom reeked of garlic. His first few classes mostly dealt with finding the best way to run away from things, and there was little wand work.
The schedule meant that he got to spend all of his Friday classes with Hermione, since double Potions was in the morning. He was very excited about Potions class; since their double Potions session was the second in the morning, he and Hermione spent the first session in the library, where he showed her how to work with Snape's Correspondences.
They were waiting at the door when the first class, the Slytherin and Gryffindor first years, left. Neville and the red-haired boy, Weasley, were missing from the class, and Malfoy seemed to be seriously put out about something. Harry raised his eyebrows inquiringly at Tracey as she left the class. "Tell you later," she said with a smile.
"Meet you before lunch?"
Between Hufflepuff and Ravenclaw, they filled the Potions classroom, even the seats in the back which were rarely used. They paired off at the worktables, and Harry and Hermione were sure to claim one right up front so they wouldn't miss any of Professor Snape's demonstrations. That it also got them away from the creepy bottles with pickled animal parts floating in them, which lined the shelves along the walls, was an added bonus.
Snape swept into the classroom right on the dot, wearing a black work robe instead of one of the deep coloured robes he usually wore for dinner. He took the roll, pausing after each name to look at the student in question as if memorizing their faces. When he got to Harry's name, he murmured softly, "Ah, yes. Our new … celebrity."
Harry could feel himself blushing. Most of the students had stopped gaping at him by now, but he still didn't like having attention called to him.
"You are here to learn the subtle science and exact art of potionmaking," Snape began. He spoke in barely more than a whisper, but they caught every word -- like Professor McGonagall, he had the gift of keeping a class silent without effort. "As there is little foolish wand-waving here, many of you will hardly believe this is magic. I don't expect you will really understand the beauty of the softly simmering cauldron with its shimmering fumes, the delicate power of liquids that creep through human veins, bewitching the mind, ensnaring the senses...I can teach you how to bottle fame, brew glory, even stopper death -- if you aren't as big a bunch of dunderheads as I usually have to teach."
More silence followed this little speech. Hermione was on the edge of her seat and looked desperate to start proving that she wasn't a dunderhead.
"Potter!" said Snape suddenly. "What would I get if I added powdered root of asphodel to an infusion of wormwood?"
Asphodel … they had just looked this up in the Correspondences! "A really powerful sleeping potion, sir?"
"Close. But close isn't enough when you're dealing with things that can kill you if you're less than precise. Let's try again. Potter, where would you look if I told you to find me a bezoar?"
"In my potions kit, sir?" he stammered.
"Very funny. Thought you wouldn't open a book before coming, eh, Potter?"
Now Harry was getting angry. He had opened the books. He had been over and over the books. But he couldn't remember every single thing, not with Snape staring at him that way.
"What is the difference, Potter, between monkshood and wolfsbane?"
Oh, finally, one he knew! "There is no difference, sir. They're the same plant."
Snape continued to stare at him for a moment, and Harry glared right back. "I call that one and a half out of three, Potter. You'll have to do better than that if you want to pass this class. For your information, asphodel and wormwood make a sleeping potion so powerful it is known as the Draught of Living Death. A bezoar is a stone taken from the stomach of a goat and it will save you from most poisons. As for monkshood and wolfsbane, they are indeed the same plant, which also goes by the name of aconite. Well? Why aren't you all copying that down?"
There was a general rummaging for quills and parchment. Over the noise, Snape said, "And a point will be taken from Hufflepuff for your … inappropriate sense of humour."
Snape then set them to brewing a simple potion for removing boils, while he strode about checking people's work. About half way through the brewing period, he stopped next to Harry's workstation, looking down into Harry's bookbag, which lay open on the floor against the table leg. He reached down and plucked out a book. It was the copy of his Correspondences.
"Mr. Potter, why do you have this book in your bag? It's a much more advanced reference than you could possibly-" He bit off his sentence abruptly. The book had opened to the title page, and he knew whose it was. Suddenly all came clear to him. Those damned Marauders had pranked him again! And the boy had been in it up to his neck, and done it beautifully, too. Just like his bloody father.
"Because it's the best reference, sir," the boy had the gall to answer.
"See me after class, Potter. And one point from Hufflepuff for leaving your bag in the middle of the floor. It's a hazard." He dropped the book back into the bag and kicked it under Harry's workstation.
Harry returned his attention to his work. He and Hermione created a flawless potion, putting a portion of it in a vial for grading. Snape grudgingly gave them permission to bottle up the rest of it for use by the infirmary if necessary. All the potions had been handed in several minutes before the end of the class period, and Snape used the extra time to rearrange their seating arrangements. He broke up Harry and Hermione, leaving her at the worktable at the front, with Hannah Abbott for a partner, and moving Harry to the rear, pairing him with Ernie MacMillan.
"Pay attention! Until further notice, these are your assigned stations and partners. You may notice that I have put most of the Muggleborns up front. I am not doing this because I am discriminating against anybody, but because you all need the most work on basic technique, and I will need to watch you and correct you more often. I'll also want all of you in the front row to come here for special tutoring sessions on Tuesday evenings after dinner. These will continue until I think you are proficient enough to brew potions with less supervision. Again, this is not a punishment or a detention. I am merely giving you a chance to catch up with your classmates who have more experience. If you skip the tutoring, your grades will be your punishment. Is that clear?" All the students up front nodded vigorously. "Class dismissed."
Most of the students threw their parchments and quills into their bags and raced for the door. Harry put things away more slowly and went to stand before Snape's desk. Hermione waited for him by the door.
"I did not ask you to stay, Miss Granger. If you must wait for your friend, do it outside my classroom. And close the door when you leave." Hermione obeyed, leaving Harry alone with the hook-nosed professor.
"I suppose you thought that was funny, did you, Potter?"
"Thought what was funny, sir?" Harry honestly had no idea what the man was talking about.
"Pretending to be someone else when we met in the Apothecary. Lupin's nephew, ha! Pretending to be interested in Potions. Asking for my bloody autograph! Did Black and Lupin set it up? Did they tell you they'd be leaving you to my so-called 'mercy' when I found out?"
"I wasn't pretending anything, sir. I really do like Potions. I think they're fascinating, the way everything goes together, and it's wonderful when I get one just right. I asked for your autograph because I respect your work. And I was wearing a glamour because the stupid Daily Prophet still had that reward out for me and I didn't want to be mobbed by people trying to claim it. I told somebody at another store that I was Mr. Lupin's nephew when they started asking questions, and I guess he decided that was a good cover story. I'm sort of an adopted nephew, I think."
Snape looked coolly at him for a few moments, as if trying to judge his sincerity, and Harry met his gaze directly, trying to will the professor to understand.
Finally the professor broke the standoff by clearing his throat and glancing away. "Do you really have a bezoar in your potions kit?"
Harry fished it out and showed it to him. "Yes, sir. It was in my mother's emergency kit and I thought it would be a good idea to keep it with my things. Just in case. I just … for a minute, I completely forgot where they came from."
"Do you think I should give your points back?"
"Well, that last one was fair. I was creating a hazard, and I do know better than to leave something out where someone could trip over it. The other one is up to you, sir. I can see that you might have thought I was making a joke."
"Fine. One point to Hufflepuff for preparedness. You may go, Mr. Potter." Harry tucked the bezoar back in his bag and turned toward the door. He had his hand on the knob when Snape called to him again. "Mr. Potter. Now that I know what you can do, don't expect to slack off. You have a modicum of skill and talent. If you want to develop them further, you'll have to work at it. Is that clear?"
"Yes, sir. Thank you, sir."
"You may not thank me next week. Now go."
Harry practically bounced out of the classroom. He found Tracey telling Hermione all about how Malfoy had flubbed all three of Snape's trick questions. "So he started off saying, 'My father is-' and Snape interrupted him and finished the sentence with, 'not taking this class. And unless you want me to write to him and explain exactly why you have detention for the rest of the year, you won't mention him in this classroom again!' Malfoy turned the most amazing shade of green. It was beautiful!" She became serious again. "But then he sabotaged Weasley's potion and Neville had to take him to the infirmary. And Snape didn't see him do it, so he got away with it."
"Want to do something about it?"
"Sure, but what?"
"Let's go find Neville, and then I'll tell you all about four guys called the Marauders …"
Note: A "Sett" is a badger's den, consisting of a number of chambers connected by tunnels. Despite the fact that the Hufflepuff common room is in the basement, I did not think it appropriate for them to call it a Dungeon.