Author: nos tres reges PM
VINCET 1: Some people, when crushed underfoot, simply buckle and lie dead still. Some find inner strength and fight back. Yet some others pawn their Aunt's wedding ring and hex their relatives. Shades of grey, argues Harry. No SlashRated: Fiction T - English - Adventure - Harry P. & Hermione G. - Chapters: 8 - Words: 78,821 - Reviews: 486 - Favs: 1,422 - Follows: 723 - Updated: 07-28-09 - Published: 03-17-09 - Status: Complete - id: 4930996
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
CAPUT PRIMUS: ITERUM, PUER QUI VIVEBAT
A train brushed by at high speed, momentarily drowning out the angry ramblings of the obese man.
The reprieve was not long enough for Harry Potter, though. A second later, his uncle's vituperous words reached his ears again.
"—And don't you go thinking that this is permanent. It's only by your aunt's good will that I'm even letting you go to this school of nonsense. You'll be doing enough chores to make up for it when you get home this summer."
Harry mumbled an acknowledgment under his breath.
Vernon yanked him hard enough to cause Harry to gasp—he still had the boy's arm grasped in his chubby paws. "What's that, boy? I've told you before not to talk back to me. Have something to say, do you?"
"No," said Harry, though there were a few things that he would have liked to say. He simply didn't dare.
This seemed to anger Vernon even more. "Don't get smart with me. I know you're rotten to the core. Just enjoy your freakishness while you can; you'll be doing the landscaping in the front yard to repay us for driving you here. Now, where's your ticket say to go?"
"Platform Nine and Three Quarters," said Harry, his stomach sinking as he said it.
Vernon's other hand grabbed him firmly by the scruff of his neck. "I've told you to stop this nonsense—"
"It's not nonsense. It's what the ticket says."
Vernon's hand cuffed him across the back of the head. As he reeled from the blow, he could feel his body change uncontrollably. The long locks trailing past his eyes suddenly shifted green, and then pink, and then orange, and brown—not stopping longer than a half of a second at a time.
Vernon's mouth was suddenly right by his ear. "Stop it! Stop it right now, or I'll take you back home and you can spend the year in your closet—"
Harry wrenched his arm from Vernon and spun away. "That's fine," he said, nearly spitting in anger. "You can go now. You've done your proper duty. Leave me here."
Vernon laughed. "I will. Enjoy finding your fantasy friends, boy." He, unlike Harry, really did spit on the ground; he also turned and promptly left Harry standing there by himself.
Once he was sure that there was no chance that Vernon was coming back, Harry let out a deep sigh and looked around the rail station. King's Cross was admittedly huge, but it was relatively quiet. What little capital he had possessed back on Privet Drive was burned in dragging Vernon out the door hours earlier than necessary. That was why Vernon was so particularly angry at Harry (more so than usual, at least): he had no desire to leave his newspaper and cup of coffee to drive his nephew to the station. Harry's display of freakishness hadn't helped either. The result, though, was a quiet station, and that was worth it to Harry. It gave him the chance to insinuate his way in, rather than run into a brick wall of culture.
It was looking less likely by the minute, though, that he would even find the culture at all. Platform Nine and Three Quarters was nowhere to be found. There were eight pillars between Platforms Nine and Ten. Logically, it fell that the proper platform was near the sixth, but it was a solid brick wall when he touched it, and there was no indication of anywhere else that he was supposed to go. Nothing to do but wait, then—wait and watch.
Before he sat down, he stopped for a second beside a rubbish bin, long enough to toss the empty owl cage into it. He had no need for it, since he no longer had an owl. Dudley had taken care of that the minute Harry had left the owl alone for a minute. It was disgusting to think that his very own cousin could be so heartless as to kill a caged animal. For him, it was the breaking point. He would never go back. They were not his family.
He paused for a moment longer. He undid the latch on his trunk and tossed the shredded robe that had met the same end as his first pet; in went the too-large trainers, the grayed shirt for Stonewall High, and his Aunt Petunia's wedding ring, a gaudy three carat piece-of-work.
There was such thing as payback, after all.
With his trunk once again latched, he pulled it over to the wall, sat down on top of it, and watched. The empty station was still empty, but a peculiar-looking old man hobbled slowly down the platform, clad only in a faded purple coat. His entire face quivered uncontrollably as he walked toward Harry, and he had the hand that was not on his cane inside his jacket pocket the entire time. He kept walking right past Harry, though, and stopped at the sixth pillar. He stood there for a minute, checked a long, gold pocket watch, and then put it away again. He removed the hand from his jacket; in it was a long stick—the same thing Harry had in his own inner pocket. He tapped the wall once, and it rippled, as if it were a bowl of water standing vertically.
This accomplished, he disappeared into the wall.
Harry grinned, and once he was sure that he wasn't seeing things, he stood and drove his trolley to the pillar. He pulled his own wand out, and went to tap the wall—only for his entire hand to pass straight through. His grin widened, and he pushed himself all the way through.
There before him sat the reddest train he could have imagined. It reminded him of a train set Dudley had once received for Christmas, a great big steam engine attached to a line of overly ornate passenger carriages. Harry marveled at the thoughts running through his head. That they could hide an entire train...! He could hide forever in the magical world, and Vernon would never find him. He paused for a second, taken aback by his own conclusion—it was more likely that the Dursleys wouldn't even bother to look for him.
After scrutinizing the train for what he felt was an appropriate amount of time, Harry took his eyes off of it and looked over the rest of the station. He had never been to a train station before, but he could tell that there was a real difference between the non-magical side and this side. The elderly man in the purple coat was walking past a long line of enormous fire grates, waving his wand over each and moving on as great green flames appeared with a soft whoosh. Curious, Harry moved forward, unsure exactly of what they were.
"Stay back, lad!" came the graveled voice of the caretaker, calling to Harry over his shoulder. "They'll be coming through any minute now—baggage as well. They won't think to stop for a little'un like you. Get behind the line."
Immediately, Harry took a step back. "Who will be—?" he asked the caretaker, but he was interrupted when a loud thump! came from two fires to the left, followed by a jumble of voices and a muttered curse as something obviously heavy crashed down.
"I did tell you, dearest, to featherweight your trunk before we left, didn't I?" came an irritated female voice from the grate.
"Yes, mum," came a much more sullen response, as a woman and two children stepped out the fire. They were so intent on their own discussion—the mother didn't appear to breathe as she gave them both a thorough tongue-lashing—that they ignored Harry completely, missing his gob-smacked expression.
And so it went; over the span of the next half-hour, more and more people arrived—some by the magic fires, some by the invisible door in the pillar, and some just appeared out of nowhere, blinking into existence with luggage in their hands and children gripping their forearms. Everyone, it seemed, was far too busy saying farewell to family, panicking over last minute details, and greeting old friends to pay any attention to the scrawny kid behind horn-rimmed glasses. It had the desired effect, though: Harry felt a lot more comfortable amongst the witches and wizards.
Shrugging indifferently, Harry headed over to the train, where a few students had began to board. With a grunt, he began pulling his own trunk up the steps. Huffing at the exertion, Harry scowled, taking cold comfort in the fact that his trunk was at least a touch lighter than it had been before, and that he wasn't burdened with an owl cage as well.
"Allow me," came a pompous voice from below. Raising his head, Harry saw an older boy with red hair, wand brandished. "Normally, one could cast a Featherweight Charm on the trunk—not oneself, of course, as you're underage—but more typically would have an adult at home or a prefect at the station do it for you." The boy frowned. "Did you not see the signs? Bartlett was responsible for putting them up, you know; he certainly should have been more diligent."
"Oh, no, it's fine," Harry blurted, eager to get away from the boy. He felt trapped by the chatty boy, who was clearly not picking up on his dislike of idle conversation. "I got here very early, and was too far-gone looking at the train and the station to notice any signs."
"Ah, a Muggle-born." The older boy's face shifted, as if he was preparing to give a great speech. "On behalf of Magical Britain, I, Percy Weasley, welcome you. As a prefect at Hogwarts, know that if you have any questions about this exciting new world you are entering, please don't hesitate to ask. My colleagues and I are at your disposal, as is our privilege." With a flick of the wand in Percy's hand, Harry's arms shot up, the trunk suddenly much lighter.
"Er, thank you, Percy," Harry mumbled. The older boy nodded without truly looking at him. "If you'll excuse me..."
As the older boy turned away, Harry picked up the trunk and began moving through the train. As he moved toward the back of the train, he passed a few compartments that were slowly filling up. Finally, he found an empty compartment well away from the growing crowd and ducked inside. Grateful for the silence and his own space, he placed his trunk underneath the seat—it was still not light for his small frame—but paused to remove a book for the journey. His eyes flickered across the titles of his school textbooks. They all looked so interesting, though... He shrugged, closed his eyes, and let his hand drift over the books randomly. A second later, his hand stopped, and he seized the book under it. It wasn't his first choice, perhaps, but it would do. He set Magical Drafts and Potions on the seat, snapped his trunk closed, and settled in for the journey with the book.
The budding potions student should not expect to simply find out a cauldron and begin mixing ingredients with hopes of any degree of success. Indeed, the foundations of potions, and to an even degree Alchemy, are much more theoretical than practical. The most obvious example is Von Der Gardd's Theory of Magical Correlation. Exclusive study of his thesis would take several years at the least, and while this is beyond the s scope of this text and the needs of the reader, a thorough understanding of its main ideas will yield a much greater understanding of the science far beyond the same amount of time experimenting over the open flame, so-to-speak. In this text, we shall only concern ourselves with a cursory look at his three main principles, as well as a study of the most common stock ingredients, and their characteristics...
Turning the page, Harry read on, unaware that the door to his compartment had opened—that was, until he heard a forced cough coming from the opening.
"Can I help you?" Harry asked, his eyes narrowing at the boy standing there.
"Err.. mind if I sit down? It's already filled up everywhere else." This one, like Percy, had very bright red hair.
Harry forced a smile. "Be my guest."
The other boy nodded gratefully, and tucked away his trunk before sitting down across from Harry. His eyes flickered uneasily from Harry to his book, as he seemed to hesitate between taking something out his own trunk and attempting conversation.
"Ron—Ron Weasley... I'm Ron," The boy blurted. Harry paused, looking up. It couldn't hurt to make some friends in this new place, and that last name was familiar.
"I think I met your brother, or perhaps your cousin? Percy."
Ron didn't seem to know how to respond to that. "Yeah, my brother. Don't worry about him—he's a bit of a prat when it comes to rules. Sorry if he bollocked at you or anything."
Harry shrugged. "Seemed alright to me. Helped me with my trunk, is all." Ron nodded, visibly relaxing. "Anyway, I'm Harry Potter. Pleasure to meet you."
"Merlin's pants! You're Harry Potter?" Ron blurted out, slightly breathless. Suddenly, he frowned. "Didn't realize you had green hair, though—you'd think someone would have mentioned it..."
Immediately, Harry's hand shot up and grasped one of the locks on his forehead. He had completely forgotten; perhaps that was why so many people had given him dirty looks on the platform. Sure enough, the whole of it was a vibrant lime green. "Happened this morning. I didn't realize it was still like that—" Harry paused, unsure what more to say.
"Oh, just accidental magic then. That explains that then. So, do you have the scar?"
"Yes, accidental magic!" Harry replied, accepting the explanation with open arms. "And—um—yes, I do." He pulled up the fringe of his hair and displayed the scar proudly to Ron. He didn't like showing off, normally—attention had never won him anything before—but he was perhaps overly proud of his scar. It made him different from the Dursleys. It was something that was his, something that couldn't be taken away—a reminder of his parents, too. When he'd heard from Hagrid how he'd received it in the first place, he swelled with joy at the same time that he'd bristled with anger. Attempted murder, yes, but a magical scar! That was something that he would treasure forever.
Ron was gaping at it for an abnormally long time, though. He began to feel somewhat uncomfortable at the unblinking stare. "So..." he trailed off, as he tried to find another topic for conversation. "Looking forward to term?"
Ron's eyes flickered to the book in Harry's hand, before they looked back up. "Yeah, you bet. It's my first year too, obviously, but I've got five brothers who have been before me—I've wanted to go for ages. It'll be really cool, playing all sorts of pranks and eating all you want." He paused for a second with his mouth open, as though he were trying to force words out. "I like learning too..." This with much less vigor.
"That's nice," Harry replied. Talking to the boy was a decidedly odd experience, and not altogether pleasant. It was, in reflection, about the longest Harry had ever held a civil conversation with someone his own age. "Well—um—" He scratched the side of his head. "—If you don't mind, I'd like to keep reading. I don't know any magic, and I don't want to make a bad impression early on."
Ron nodded. "Yeah, me neither. We're not allowed to do magic at home–underage restrictions and all."
"Wait—you're not allowed to do magic at home?"
"Of course not," said Ron. "No one's allowed to do magic at home until they're of age—seventeen," he clarified, noticing Harry's blank look. "The Ministry tracks all magical activity so they can make sure that you're not hurting yourself or doing something bad!"
Harry's jaw was still somewhere near his feet. Would that mean that he would be forced to go home to the Dursleys? He couldn't defend himself, this time, without magic, and he would be beat within an inch of his life, he was sure. He could take the physical beating—hell, his body already had suffered worse and bounced back just fine the next day—but for the fact that he had promised himself that he was not going to take it any more. He couldn't take the mental beating, the knowledge that he always seemed to possess, that his uncle would come down the stairs at nine o'clock on the nose and thrash him, and that he, Harry, would be locked in a cupboard, awaiting the same fate the next day.
"Are you okay, mate?" asked Ron.
"Fine," barked Harry. He was not, but he would be damned if he was going to tell the boy in front of him about how ashamed he was to be beaten. "Just going to read my book."
Ron grumbled. "I suppose it'll be good to get ahead of the game. I'll—um—get one of my books out, too." Harry couldn't help but smirk as he watched Ron's eyes hover much longer over a miniature chess set, a small box of chocolate, and a book titled Quidditch Through the Ages, before he unceremoniously picked up a tattered copy of 1000 Magical Herbs and Fungi. He fidgeted in his seat as he started to read the book; his eyes began to glaze over immediately.
After he forced himself to calm down (he would figure out a solution once he was at school, and had the full resources of the professors there), Harry continued reading. The first law, known as The Law of Common Source, states that...
Several hours later, Harry put down his potions text, and stood to leave the compartment.
"Where are you going?" asked Ron, head tilted querulously to the side.
"Stretching my legs, first," he said. "Then to the loo."
"'Kay," said Ron, who promptly returned to his reading. The glazed-eye-look had given way to genuine interest, it seemed. Harry could see the reflection of the book in the window; Ron was reading about something called Venomous Tentacula Seed.
If Harry had to guess, he would say that this was the first time any such expression of scholarly interest was made by the boy, and that pleased him doubly so to note it. Perhaps Ron was not so terrible after all... With a smirk, Harry slid open the glass doors and stepped into the empty hallway, looking around for a lavatory. Seeing no clear choice, Harry shrugged, then turned to his left. There had to be one around somewhere. He was only worried that he'd have to squint sideways at the wall and turn in a full circle before the door would appear.
If that was the cost of living in the magical world, Harry supposed he could get used to it.
He'd come to the end of the car without finding the loo, and was about to open the door to the next car when it burst open. He jumped back a half-step, and only just avoided it grazing his nose. "Watch it!" he said, hotly. "You almost took my face off."
When he finished checking to see if the tip of his nose was bruised, he found himself face-to-face with a girl. She looked to be his own age; she had shoulder-length bushy brown hair and pretty brown eyes, but her most prominent—and most unfortunate—features were the two buck front teeth. The girl was bound and destined for the nickname 'Beaver'. He felt sorry for her already.
"Oh, I'm sorry about that! They really should put windows on these doors; I'd be surprised if no one's ever been hit in the face before."
Harry was pleasantly surprised. Paratactic sentences... She was obviously more of an erudite than Ron; perhaps he wasn't doomed to discussions of the latest football match, or to surveys of the largest breasts amongst the Hogwarts population.
"Don't worry about it—" He smiled, and meant it genuinely. "—no harm done."
She extended her hand, and at the same time, she shifted her weight so it looked like she was leaning back to get a better look at him. It was a very polished gesture, and it made her seem more serious, more in control. "I'm Hermione Granger," she said. "Who are you?"
"He's the boy who's blocking the passageway," said another redhead, as he squeezed past Harry.
"And you're the girl who's blocking it with him," said the first's identical twin, as he, too, pushed past. "Move, would you? Someone's stole Lee Jordan's tarantula—"
"Wasn't us—" said one, over his shoulder, with a grin that didn't seem quite authentic.
"—But we don't want to be caught near the scene when Lee wakes up."
"Sorry," said Hermione, and she pulled Harry through the link between the two carts and into a nearby compartment. There was a portly little boy sitting there, looking forlorn, and a girl had a look on her face that told him that she was less-than-pleased to be in there with them.
"Anyway," said Hermione, and she turned to Harry and made exactly the same movement as before when she held her hand out to him, "I'm Hermione Granger. Who might you be?"
"Harry Potter," said Harry. "And, yes, my hair's green. Accidental magic."
Hermione opened her mouth to speak, but she was cut off by the haughty-looking blonde. "Are you really? I had heard that you were to be in my year, but I was disinclined to believe it."
"As far as I know, I'm the real Harry Potter," said Harry, and he turned back to Hermione. "Anyway, a real pleasure. I'm afraid I can't stay to chat, though. Have to find the loo—"
"You can find it in a minute," said the blonde, once more interrupting Hermione, who looked quite taken aback. "My name is Daphne Greengrass. You should come with me; I know where you can find people who are genuinely interested in you, and who have connections."
"Thanks," said Harry, and he took her offered hand and helped her rise. "Please lead the way."
She opened the door and walked out, gesturing Harry to follow. He closed the door behind her and latched it.
"Sorry about her," he said to Hermione. "Anyway, you were saying that your name is Hermione Granger. I was saying that I had to find the loo, but while she's out there glaring at me—" He gestured to Daphne, who seemed to saying something quite nasty about him, if he could read her lips properly. "—I'd much rather stay in here, if that's all right."
The portly boy was smiling a shy little smile. Harry turned to him. "I haven't met you before, have I?" he asked, and gave a pointed look at Hermione.
She started slightly. "Oh! Harry Potter, this is Neville Longbottom. We were just going to go looking for his toad—"
"I've lost Trevor already," said the boy morosely. "I don't know how I'm going to remember any spells at Hogwarts—"
"—Well, that's no way to go about it," snapped Harry. "You sound like the most miserable person I've ever met; you're even worse than my babysitter, Mrs. Figg."
"Arabella Figg?" asked Neville. "She's my great aunt."
"Seriously?" said Harry, taken aback. "Wow. Small world. No wonder you're miserable, if you're related to her—"
"You'd be miserable, too, if you were a Squib—"
"S'that?" asked Harry, as he plunked himself down next to Hermione.
"Someone who's born to a magical family but can't use magic," answered Hermione.
"So she knew about me all along and didn't tell me. Wonderful. Anyway, you're only as happy as you want to be. You've got magic, you're obviously well-dressed—"
"—and you've got a pretty, intelligent friend sitting here—"
"—so what're you whinging about?"
Neville opened his mouth to reply, but nothing came out. He sat their for nearly twenty seconds, alternating opening and closing his mouth, but still nothing came out. Finally, he shook his head. "I'm just really bad at magic, that's all—"
"And, clearly, you're way behind everyone else, who, like you, has never done a spell in their lives?"
"Not that," said Neville. "My accidental magic just came really late. They thought I was a Squib until just recently."
Harry rolled his eyes. "Whoopee. Let me tell you a secret: it's not that great. All I can do with accidental magic is make my hair grow out or turn color." He demonstrated, causing his hair to grow down to his shoulders and turn from green back to its usual black. "Big fucking—oh, grow up, Hermione; you're eleven, for crying aloud—whoop. I can grow my hair. Big fucking whoop."
Neville seemed a little bit warmed at the thought that he was not any worse off than Harry. A smile once again flitted over his face. "Yeah," he said, at last. "Things are pretty good. I'm going to be a good wizard—"
"If you work hard, you'll be a great wizard. Don't let anyone tell you differently. Also, quit being a pansy. It's really annoying."
Despite Harry's words, Neville smiled; Hermione smiled; Harry smirked. The smirk gave way to a look of concern, though, when his stomach gave a great gurgle. "I really have to find the loo..." he said. Daphne was long gone, so he stood up and unlatched the door. "Where are they?"
"Here," said Neville. "I'll show you; they're kind of hidden."
Harry smiled back at Hermione. "I should go back to my own compartment afterward. There's a boy in there, and I'm not sure how he remembers to breathe when I'm not present. I'll see you up at the school?"
"Sure," she said, as she flicked an errant strand of hair back over her shoulder. "It was good to meet you, Harry."
"Likewise, Hermione," he said, as he and Neville stepped out into the corridor. "Now, where's the WC?" he asked Neville.
"Down this way," said Neville, and he led Harry further down the train.
The WC happened to be halfway down their car; the door to it was nestled in between two compartments, but wasn't marked as such. Harry had already passed two of them on his way up the train—he just hadn't recognized them as such.
"Listen, mate," he said to Neville, who had just bid him good-bye with a handshake and a promise to see him up at the school, "you'll do fine. Just be confident. Most of the people in our year that I've met so far are so dense that they don't know which way's up. None of 'em have ever cast a spell before. Just be confident and work hard, eh?"
"Thanks," said Neville, who shook Harry's hand again. "I'll try."
"And Neville? Go ask a prefect to help you find your toad. They'll probably know some way of tracking it easily with magic."
"Good idea," said the boy, whose eyes lit up at the thought. "I wonder if I can get them to teach it to me..."
"Worth a shot. See you later."
Harry stepped in and closed the door.
After he had made use of the facilities, he opened the door and stepped out. Immediately, though, he bumped into something that seemed to be blocking the doorway; it knocked his glasses momentarily askew. 'It' turned out to be a 'he'. Judging by the size, Harry thought he was probably a second or third year. The boy had limp almond-brown hair, a pudgy face, and the stupidest-looking expression that Harry had ever seen (and he was familiar with Dudley's mug).
While Harry fixed his glasses, the larger boy moved out of his way to reveal a much smaller boy, though he still stood a few inches taller than Harry. He was pale, very pale, and Harry immediately recognized him as the boy from Madame Malkin's. His eyes narrowed, as he remembered the blond's disdain for Hagrid.
His thin lips were slanted in a sneer of contempt, and when they opened, they emitted a whiny voice that reminded Harry of Dudley at his most spoiled. "Crabbe, you oaf! You were leaning on the door all this time! Move out of the way, you dolt!"
Once Crabbe had moved, the boy pushed past Harry with barely a look. He shut the door in Harry's face.
He was left standing in the hallway with the larger boy, and another of almost the same build, but with black hair. This one seemed to understand what was going on—or, at least, he didn't look brain-dead. He gave a contemptuous snort as Harry glanced him over.
If there was one thing Harry couldn't stand, it was dismissal. He rolled his eyes, and looked up into goon number two's eyes. "Do you have a handkerchief? I only ask you because your boss looked like he was going to need your help to wipe his arse—or is that goon number one's job?"
The sneer of contempt was quickly replaced with a glare of rage, and he made a grab for Harry. He wasn't quick enough, though, since Harry had already darted away down the corridor and was halfway toward the next car. A second too late, he realized that he'd escaped the wrong direction from his own compartment. Not willing to pass the blond-headed snot-rag, Tweedle-dum, and Tweedle-dee again, Harry decided to continue down the train.
A few cars down, Harry chanced upon a trolley pushed by a dumpy older woman, who fit into her frilly pink dress like an over-sized loaf of bread wanting to burst from its packaging. She reminded Harry slightly of Uncle Vernon, except that her lips were twisted into a polite, cheery smile instead of a rictus of hate. "Why, hello there! Must be a firs' year, I bet. Wou' you like a Pumpkin Pasty, or some Bertie Botts'?"
"Uh..." Harry replied, and the woman smiled, revealing gaps in yellowing teeth. She pointed to a number of what were presumably bags of treats, arranged in neat rows. A few were shaped like pumpkins—what Harry assumed were Pumpkin Pasties—and there was a bag which was emblazoned with 'Bertie Bott's Every Flavor Beans', which seemed fairly unappealing, as well as some frogs wrapped in tinfoil.
"The Choc'lit Frogs're 4 knuts apiece, a sickle for a bag of th' Beans, th' Pumkins're 11 knuts..." Harry grabbed a few Chocolate Frogs and dug into his pockets for some change, bringing up a silver sickle. Was it 27 knuts to a sickle, or 29? How ridiculous. He handed the lady the sickle, and she handed him back 15 bronze knuts—27, then. He gave her a thin smile and she thankfully returned it with her mouth closed, and began to push the squeaking trolley past him into the next car.
His first attempt at eating one of the Chocolate Frogs nearly ended in disaster. When he opened it, it leaped away from him. Only his quick reflexes (honed from many dinners where he would have to be quick and deft-fingered to snatch any food from the dinner table before his uncle or cousin ate it) allowed him to grab the little frog before it could hop away from him. Harry wasn't sure how he felt when he bit the little bugger's head off; after all, it just seemed to want freedom. Was that so bad? But the warmth from the chocolate quieted his concerns, and he munched on his purchases while he wandered down the oddly calm corridor from car to car. The cards that came with the purchase weren't that special, beyond the fact that they moved. All three—Albus Dumbledore, a man named 'Nicholas Flamel', and Agrippa—were stuffed unceremoniously into his pocket.
There was nothing worth seeing up the train. He had reached the front end of it, and all that remained before him was a locked door to the engine hauling the train. Sighing at the waste of time, he turned around and began to make his way back to Ron.
Unfortunately, two cars down, the corridor was blocked by the two massive boys and the white-haired ponce. They had caught sight of him before he had caught sight of them, and were now advancing on him, looking particularly murderous—goon number one even cracked his knuckles menacingly.
Left with no other option, Harry turned to his right, slid open the door to the compartment, and stepped in.
Inside, four older-looking boys sat laughing and joking around a deck of cards, some of which were smoldering. They didn't even bother to look at who had entered for a minute. "Oi, Stebbins!" said one of them, a brown-haired lad wearing a yellow-and-black tie over his white shirt. "Took you long enough in the loo—what were you doing in there, shagging Melinda Turpin?"
"Not quite," said Harry, and all four of the boys spun to look at him.
"You're not Ben," said the one who had salt-and-pepper hair.
"Well spotted," said Harry. "I'm sorry for barging in, but there's someone—"
The door opened behind Harry, and he quickly stepped into the compartment and away from the door. There stood The Ponce, reinforced by Crabbe and Ugly.
"So you thought you could run, eh, Potter?" he said. "Nice try. Come on out and put your wand where your wit is."
Two of the boys down exchanged looks, and one stood. He straightened his robes, and casually removed his wand from his pocket. "What do you want, Malfoy?"
Malfoy kept his angry glare on Harry, but Harry caught him sneak a peek up at the older boy. "None of your business, Diggory. Just hand Potter over to me, and we'll leave you alone."
Diggory looked down at Harry, who was returning Malfoy's glare with equal enmity. He looked back at Malfoy. "I don't think so," said Diggory. "See, Potter's our friend, too—we happen to owe him a debt of gratitude. We also happen to know how your type works. Get lost."
Malfoy turned his gaze up to Diggory. "You're making a mistake. When my father—"
Diggory rolled his eyes. "When your dad finds out, he's going to say something to the Minister and get my dad fired. Yeah, yeah. Heard it all before, Malfoy. Let me tell you something—my dad's got political protection. He can't be fired without just cause, or Fudge won't survive the next election. Blather on all you want, but just get out of here before I curse you."
"You've not heard the end of this."
"Oh, go bugger one of your peacocks, Malfoy. Just leave us alone."
Malfoy turned to leave, but not before glaring at Harry again, and not without Crabbe cracking the knuckles on his other fist. "You'll get what's coming to you, Potter!"
Once they left, Diggory turned to look at Harry. "So you're Harry Potter, hmm?"
"Yes sir," replied Harry. "And thanks for that. That arse bumped into me going into the loo, and now he can't seem to leave me alone."
"Strange," said Diggory. "You'd think someone would have told me that your hair was so long."
Harry rolled his eyes.
"And then—and then Professor Caldwell jumps up. His beard is still on fire. He's got his legs locked together by the jinx. What does he do? He turns to Dumbledore, right there, in front of the entire Great Hall, and says, 'Dumbledore! I quit!' And then he goes hopping out—his beard is /still/ on fire-and the hall's absolutely dead silent, but for Fred and George Weasley, who burst out laughing!" finished Diggory—Cedric, as he had introduced himself.
"Oh, God," said Owen Norice (the brown-haired one), as he wiped a tear from his eye. "That story is funnier every time I hear it."
Harry tried to stop from smiling so hard. The muscles in his cheeks hurt from the previous half-hour of jokes and funny stories that the four Hufflepuff boys had told.
"I wonder who our new Defense Professor is, then?" asked Odysseus Wagner.
"No idea, Odie. I haven't heard anything," said Cedric.
"Professor Quirrell," said Harry. "I met him in Diagon Alley."
"Quirrell?" asked Odie. "Are you sure, Harry? He used to be the Muggle Studies professor..."
"Positive," said Harry. "Hagrid introduced me. He's got this wicked stutter—"
"That doesn't sound like Quirrell," said Cedric, who rubbed his chin. "Eh, I trust you, Harry. Just sounds strange to me."
Harry leaned back and looked outside the window as the train chugged through the country. It was getting darker, now, and Cedric had told him that they were an hour out of Hogwarts about fifteen minutes ago.
"So, Harry," asked Cedric, and he leaned forward conspiratorially, "which house are you going to be in?"
Harry blinked. "I didn't think you could know before it happened."
"You can't," said Odie.
"But most people have a good idea," added Cedric quickly. "Where do you think you'll wind up? Gryffindor? Slytherin? Ravenclaw? Hufflepuff?"
Harry opened his mouth and then closed it. "I get it," he said, after a minute. "You really think I'd say anything but Hufflepuff amongst you four?"
Harry stretched his arms and yawned. "Fine: if you guys are what Hufflepuff's like, count me in."
They all gave a cheer. Harry stood up. "That said, I'd best get going back to my compartment. Thanks for the company, lads," he said, "and thanks for the tip about Snape, Cedric."
"No problem." Cedric waved lazily at him. "If Malfoy and his two pals give you trouble, use that Furnunculus Jinx we showed you, or come find one of us. We'll give him a right boot in the bum for you."
Harry nodded and pushed his way out of the compartment, just as a pink-cheeked boy came in. The last thing Harry heard from the compartment was the boy letting out a deep sigh—"Boys," he said, "I know it's cliché, but that Melinda Turpin has really filled out in all the right places, if you know what I mean."
There came another cheer from the compartment, but Harry had closed the door and was moving down the hallway.
When he returned to his own cabin, Ron was still alone in it, and he was still reading his book. He looked up at Harry when the latter came into the room. "S'not bad," he replied, "I thought it was going to be boring, but some of these things are really cool. There's this one plant, it can rip your face off!"
"I'm glad you're enjoying it," said Harry, honestly. "You should try the Magical Creatures text—I had a glance at it, and it's really captivating."
"I might," said Ron, with actual enthusiasm.
The rest of the ride was quiet, and spent amongst words.