Hello again everyone, and welcome to the second story in the series "Our Own Strange Little Family"! In this story, we will pick up where we left off from the first. Please be aware that if you are a new reader, and you haven't read the first story yet, you will be a little lost. You can find the first story by clicking on my profile link. For those readers who are joining me again, welcome back, and I hope you enjoy this story as much as you did the first one! I will give you a warning though. I may be a little slower updating this story as I connect important plot points, just so that this story makes sense with canon points and my own AU points. My worst fear is that readers won't understand my story, or that plots are all over the place making them seem unrealistic and spastic. I enjoyed reading your comments and questions on the last story, and if you ever have any questions, please ask. Questions allow me to see where I need to clarify something, and if I believe that it is essential everyone understand because it is important to the plot, then I certainly want to clarify! Also, I still want people to weigh in with their thoughts about Draco in Gryffindor. They won't be sorted into Houses in this story, but they will be in the next, so I need as many people to let me know their thoughts as possible. You can comment or PM me. For those who already have weighed in, thank you! For those that still want to, there is still plenty of time. However, I need well thought out arguments and points, and not just "That's stupid to put him in Gryffindor" or "I'll quit reading if he isn't in Slytherin". Well thought out replies only will be considered in the final decision. I believe that is all my announcements. Without further delay, let the reading begin! And Merry Christmas!

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The sun was slowly rising above the mountains, it's stunning golden rays creeping across homes, barns, and the picturesque valley they all resided in. The appearance of the sun brought with it the singing of birds and distant livestock waking. Somewhere a rooster also chimed in, his loud crows waking the few stragglers the sun itself couldn't wake. A couple of those stragglers were still softly snoring within Prince Manor.

Soft beams of light were coming through the curtains of Severus Snape's room, and were shining across his bed. The beams illuminated over two figures snuggled together, peace and contentment evident on their still sleeping faces. Again, that same rooster crowed somewhere in the valley, his proclamations of morning finally reaching Severus' ears. He groaned, wishing that he was within range, so he could Stun that blasted bird and resume sleeping.

He tried to roll over and go back to sleep for a while, but found that there was a small child laying half on top of him, making his movements to roll over impossible. He couldn't help but smirk as his daughter rested comfortably on his chest, and somehow Cubby Bear had managed to make his way to Severus' tummy, sit halfway up, and was staring at him as though daring him to disturb the girl's slumber. After all, it was a big day for her.

Today was the day Hermione would be going to Hogwarts. Unofficially, of course. She was to finish her last year of primary school at Hogwarts along with Draco Malfoy. In a million years, Severus never imagined that he would be sending a child to Hogwarts, let alone two. With Hermione as his ward and Draco as his godson, he was responsible for their well-being while they were away at school. Like any normal parent, he worried a little how they would fare this year being the only two students there who weren't allowed to do magic yet, and the only two students finishing their primary schooling. He was worried that they would be bullied by the older students for it, or that the older students would try to corrupt them, getting them involved in situations they couldn't get themselves out of for one reason or another. Hermione and Draco were naturally curious children, and while curiosity wasn't a sin, it could get them into a lot of trouble at Hogwarts. The castle wasn't necessarily dangerous, but the surrounding areas were like the Forbidden Forest or the Black Lake. It would be just like some of the older students to convince his children to explore the forest or swim in the lake, and something bad would happen. Hundreds of terrible scenarios were going through his mind as he thought about the coming year, and those thoughts only made him want to stay in bed, and keep Hermione locked away in Prince Manor until she was older.

However, there were good thoughts that would sneak in between the bad ones too. One thing he was happy about was that Hermione would be around many children who were just like her. Hopefully he could teach her that she wasn't a freak, regardless of what her parents had said about her and to her for many years, and that at Hogwarts she was perfectly normal. He also hoped that this year his children would make new friends who were positive role models and good influences, and he certainly wanted that for Draco. He hoped that his godson would see that with the right friends, and in the right environment, he could live outside of his father's shadow and defy what people thought of his family. While this year could cause his hair to turn grey, this year also held the promise of being a great year of growth for his children.

Hermione moaned in her sleep, and snuggled into Severus. Since Hermione had come into his life earlier this summer, Severus had felt a range of emotions that he wouldn't have thought he could feel. The most prominent feelings being love and protection. He knew he would endure a lot of heart ache, but he wouldn't give up his daughter for anything. He just hoped that Hermione knew that. He was willing to change a lot to make sure she knew. One major characteristic he was willing to change was how he interacted with students, especially Gryffindor students. For years he had been known as the greasy bat of the dungeons, and a professor that put up with nothing. He had always justified his teaching methods because he taught a dangerous subject that could cause tremendous injury or even death, and his strictness ensured that his students were kept safe. However, he was harsher than necessary on Gryffindors, and when Hermione had been worried that he would hate her if she was eventually sorted into Gryffindor, he knew he would have to ease her fears. The only way to ease her fears was to show her that he could be fair to Gryffindors. Perhaps not like them, but be fair to them.

As much as he wanted to continue sleeping, he knew he needed to get ready as did Hermione. He was thankful that he, Minerva, and Narcissa had packed Hermione and Draco's belongings the night before to save them the headache and added stress of making sure they were packing everything the children would need this morning. Narcissa and Draco would be coming over to Prince Manor after breakfast so that they all could go to King's Cross station together. Severus had asked Albus if he could ride the train to Hogwarts, just to make sure Hermione and Draco were all right, and he wasn't surprised when Albus had readily agreed. While Albus wasn't quite the worrier Severus was when it came to Hermione, he still did worry a little. Severus would tell Narcissa when she brought Draco over later that he was taking the train as he knew she would be relieved. A professor usually did ride the train, sitting in the compartment with the prefects and Head Boy and Girl, to ensure the students' safety should anything go wrong. The Heads of Houses were usually the ones assigned to take the train, and they would alternate every year. Severus had never done it as he had always flat out refused. Now that his children were on board, he wanted to be there for their first train ride. He couldn't wait to see the looks on the prefects' and Heads' faces when it was him who came to sit with them in the compartment. He had a feeling that he would have the compartment all to himself, save for the Slytherin prefects. Perhaps the train ride wouldn't be so bad after all.

Making the final decision to get up, Severus gently nudged Hermione trying to wake her and was greeted with a groan as she buried her face in his chest. Snorting at her antics, he nudged her again and this time said softly, "Time to wake up, Cub. You're going to Hogwarts today."

One moment Hermione was snuggled into him, and in the next she sat bolt upright, twisting around to look at him, her mouth in a perfect "o" from surprise before she cried with excitement, "Today is the day! I've got to get ready!"

She scrambled out of bed, covers flying as she grabbed Cubby Bear off Severus, kissed her father good morning on the cheek, and took off out of the room shouting over her shoulder, "Good morning, Daddy!"

Severus stared after the whirlwind that was his daughter and muttered to himself, "Well, that was easier than I thought it would be." Much slower than Hermione had, Severus hoisted himself up out of bed, and lumbered into his bathroom to get ready for a long day of travel.

Meanwhile in her room, Hermione was hastily getting ready. She flew through her morning ritual, looking at her hair and reminding herself to have her father fix it up at breakfast. After finishing in the bathroom, she ran into her room, throwing her clothes on that Mrs. Malfoy had laid out for her the night before, as she said to Cubby Bear, "Today is a big day, Cubby Bear. I've got to make a good first impression. I don't want the other kids or professors to know about my life before I came to live with Daddy, you know? I don't want them to think I'm weird or feel sorry for me. I also don't want to answer a lot of questions. I don't like thinking about my parents, I get sad when I do. I also hope that Daddy keeps his promise about being fairer to the Gryffindors. I know he said he wouldn't hate me for being in Gryffindor if I happen to get sorted there next year, but I don't want to take any chances. If he gets practice liking them this year, maybe next year won't be so bad."

Severus was finishing adjusting his grey jumper as he walked past Hermione's room and heard her talking to someone inside. He knew he should give her privacy, but he was curious, and quietly opened her door to hear what she was saying. The corners of his mouth turned up slightly as he saw and listened to Hermione pouring out her thoughts to Cubby Bear who was listening attentively from Hermione's bed. However, the tiny smile on his face melted away when he heard her confide to the toy, "I hope I don't disappoint Daddy, or Granddad, or Mimi. They were so nice to take me in and give me a family and food and clothes and a home. I just don't want them to think they made a mistake by taking me in. I want to prove to them that I can be the best student, and that I won't be an embarrassment for them. You know they're all professors, right Cubby Bear? So, I've got to work extra hard, and be really good. Hopefully nothing bad happens."

Without saying anything, Severus softly closed her door. He didn't want Hermione to feel all that pressure, and he hoped that Draco didn't feel the same way. He would try to alleviate some of her worries and pressures at breakfast.

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Ten minutes later, Hermione ran into the kitchen, Cubby Bear tucked under her arm. She slid across the floor to the table, quickly seated herself and her polar bear down at her place, and started digging into her breakfast as soon as it appeared. Severus watched her with some amusement, happy to see how comfortable she had become at Prince Manor. Yet, despite her displays of some surface comforts, he knew – and had overheard – that she still had some deeper level insecurities. He would wait to address those fears until she was finished eating, so in the meantime, he finished his breakfast, sipped his coffee, and read his newspaper.

A few minutes later, Severus heard Hermione setting her cutlery down on her plate, and lowered his paper to see her staring at him with a soft smile and expectant eyes. He folded the paper and placed it on the table as he asked, "Yes?"

"When is Mrs. Malfoy bringing Draco over?"

Severus looked up at the clock hanging on the kitchen wall and answered, "Should be soon. However, I want to talk to you about something important before they arrive."

"Yes, Daddy?" asked Hermione.

Severus sighed before he said, "I wanted to reiterate to you that your performance at school does not correlate with how much I love you. Even if you struggle in school, I will still love you. If you flawlessly excel in your studies, I will still love you. If you get into trouble over something, I will still love you. If you graduate from Hogwarts without a single detention, I will still love you. Sweetheart, I will always love you no matter what. I don't want you to feel that you must be perfect to earn my love. You will never have to earn my love. I have already given it to you. I am your father, you are my daughter. You're stuck with me, and it is us against the world, remember? You belong with me. What do you think?"

At some point during Severus' speech, Hermione had looked down at her lap, but was now looking up at Severus through her eyelashes. She was speechless. She had secretly felt all the ways in which her father had described. Did she believe him? She had no reason not to. Wordlessly, Hermione stood and walked around the table to where her father was still sitting, staring at her with benign interest. After a few seconds, Hermione said, "I just don't want you to be disappointed. I don't want you to regret taking me in."

Severus picked her up and sat her on his lap. He didn't allow her to nuzzle into him as he wanted her to see the sincerity in his eyes as he explained to her how he felt. "I will never regret taking you into my heart. I will never regret forming this family with you. There may be times that I am disappointed in your choices, but that doesn't mean I will be disappointed in you. A couple bad choices don't define our overall character if we are trying to learn from those mistakes, and not repeat them. As a child, I know you will make mistakes, and as your father, I will do my best to help you see the mistakes and how you can grow from them. Granddad and Mimi will help you as well. I will also make mistakes, and Granddad and Mimi will help me, and there may be times that you can help me too."

When he was finished, that was when he allowed Hermione to break eye contact and cuddle into him. As he said these words about mistakes to her, he tried to apply that wisdom to himself. Why was it that he could forgive Hermione for her mistakes – mistakes she hadn't even made yet! – but he couldn't forgive himself for his? Perhaps it was because his mistakes had had devastating consequences? He closed his eyes against the barrage of thoughts and emotions, deciding that he would dissect them more when he was alone in the train compartment heading to Hogwarts. His thoughts were interrupted by four sweet, little words as he heard Hermione say, "I love you, Daddy."

"And I love you, Cub."

"Are you going to be this nice to me at school?" Hermione asked.

"I cannot show any favoritism," Severus told her, arching his eyebrow at her question even though she couldn't see it, "but I will not be mean to you. I will be fair. Behind closed doors, however, we will be exactly like this."

"Good," said Hermione as she got in one last cuddle, and then hopped down off his lap. She turned to look at the clock on the kitchen wall and asked, "When do we have to leave?"

"We will leave here at half past ten," Severus answered. "Students leave at eleven."

Hermione was about to ask something else when she heard the fireplace roar to life. Giving Severus an excited grin, she tore from the kitchen into the living room to see her grandparents stepping out of the grate. While she was disappointed that it wasn't Draco and his mother, she was always thrilled to see her grandparents. She and Minerva locked eyes first.

"Good morning, kitten!" Minerva greeted as she lowered herself so that Hermione could give her a hug. Albus remained standing, but drew Hermione into a tight hug nonetheless.

As she broke away from her grandfather, she was able to see his face, and she noticed how tired he looked. Ever since she and her father had had dinner at McGonagall Manor, and her Granddad had had that terrible attack of chest pains, he hadn't looked or sounded good since. Hermione was worried about him. She knew this wasn't normal for him as he had always been light on his feet and jovial since she had known him. Granted she hadn't known him long, but she knew this was atypical. She didn't like it, but her father had reassured her that he would recover and that he wasn't worried. Hermione could tell he was worried just by the tone of his voice. She was more astute than the adults gave her credit for. During her years of abuse at the hands of her parents, she had developed the skill of hearing and seeing subtle details that alerted her to any change in a person's demeanor. It had initially developed as a survival skill to avoid her parents when she felt she was in danger. Now she used it to gauge others' behaviors, not only for her safety, but now just because she cared to know how others were doing. And she could tell now that something wasn't right.

Albus winked at her as Minerva was saying, "We just wanted to come by and wish you luck, sweetheart. If you or Draco need anything, please come to me or your Granddad or your father. While we can't show favoritism, we are still here for you."

"That's what Daddy was saying," Hermione told her.

Albus chuckled and said hoarsely, "Your father is a wise man. However, pet, we still want you to come to us. Don't feel that just because we are at school doesn't mean we no longer care about you."

"Yes, Granddad," Hermione smiled at him.

Albus smiled back at her, the twinkle in his eyes small but still present. He slowly sank down on the sofa and beckoned for Hermione to join him. While she and Albus talked, Minerva walked over to stand beside Severus and quietly confided to him, "Albus is still weak."

Severus silently stared at the older man before he softly demanded, "What's wrong with him, Minerva?"

"We can tell you more in-depth details when we get to the castle, but there's word from the portraits that Albus may be feeling weak because it is possible that Hogwarts' defenses have been compromised," explained Minerva.

"Compromised? Why would that effect Albus' health?" questioned Severus.

"Because if the castle's enchantments and defenses are weakened or depleted, the castle will supplement itself by using the Headmaster's magic," Minerva told him as she too stared pointedly at Albus. "This is the result. Should Hogwarts' defenses get weaker, Albus will be much worse than this."

Severus frowned as he watched Hermione converse with Albus, the pair laughing and smiling together over something silly. He knew that Hermione would be heartbroken if anything were to happen to Albus. It was because of Albus that she was taken from her abusive former home in the first place. However, if anything happened to Albus, Hermione wouldn't be the only family member destroyed by the loss of one of their own.

At the thought, Severus cleared his throat as Minerva said lightheartedly, "Well, my dear, we just wanted to wish you luck before the Malfoys arrived, and tell you that we love you. Also, dear, let Draco know that when you both arrive that you are to sit with me at the Head table for the Welcome Feast. That is, unless you befriend some older students before you get there that you would rather sit with them at their House table."

"All right, I'll tell him," Hermione promised.

"Thank you," Minerva told the young girl. Turning to Albus, she asked gently, "Are you ready to go, love?"

"Yes, Tabby," he replied, slowly rising to his feet, and allowing Minerva to go ahead of him through the Floo. Minerva offered Hermione and Severus a small wave of farewell, and then stepped through shortly followed by her husband who smiled at the pair before he stepped through as well.

When the fire had died away, Hermione turned to her father, her bottom lip between her teeth as she asked, "Will Granddad be ok?"

Severus sighed through his nose. He didn't want to lie to her, but he also didn't want to burden her with all the knowledge. Severus knelt in front of the little girl so they were eye level and replied, "I believe he will be just fine. He's feeling a bit ill now, but he will eventually recover."

Hermione nodded, still feeling unsure. She had just found this family, she wasn't ready for one of them to die just yet. "All right."

Severus gently tugged her bottom lip free from her teeth, and stood back up just as the fire again roared to life. This time it was Draco, and Hermione's excitement about going to Hogwarts returned when she saw her friend. Draco stumbled out, a big grin plastered on his face despite his less-than-graceful arrival, his mother stepping out seconds after him. Severus and Narcissa silently acknowledged each other as they watched their children greet one another.

Narcissa sidestepped the excited youth, and stood beside Severus as she asked, "How's Hermione this morning?"

Severus regarded the woman for a bit before he answered, "Nervous and excited. How's Draco?"

"Much the same," said Narcissa.

"I wanted to have a word with him before we left for King's Cross," Severus told her. "Also, I am riding the train this year to Hogwarts. I'll be able to keep an eye on them."

Narcissa let out a relieved sigh. She was anxious enough for her young son to be going to Hogwarts early, even though it was what she wanted, but she felt a lot better that Severus would be on the train should anything happen. She didn't expect anything to as nothing really happened on the Hogwarts Express, but having Severus there made her feel better.

Severus looked over at the mantel clock and saw the time was a quarter to ten. They were supposed to leave at half past ten, so he needed to have this discussion with the children about rules and boundaries. He had mostly had this conversation with Hermione already, but it wouldn't hurt for her to hear it again. He cleared his throat and said with an authoritative tone, "Hermione, Draco, I need to talk with both of you."

Hermione and Draco looked up from their excited conversation, and immediately came to stand in front of Severus. Narcissa was standing slightly behind him so that all the attention was on him. She couldn't help but let out a quiet snort of amusement as she noticed the children looked properly scolded even though they had done nothing.

Severus carefully surveyed each child before he stated, "This year you have been awarded a special privilege thanks to the Headmaster. You both are the first students to come to Hogwarts for their primary studies. However, you will be treated as all the other children. While we are at school, you both will address Minerva and myself as Professor McGonagall and Professor Snape. However, behind closed doors, you may call us Minerva and Severus. While the professors are aware that Hermione is Minerva's ward and Draco is my godson, the student body is not aware of these facts. You may tell them if you wish; however, it may be in your best interest if you keep these facts close to you rather than gossip it all over the castle. Children can be cruel, and while some students may think that your relation to me and Minerva is impressive, others may see that as a means to manipulate you or bully you. Please exercise good judgment and discretion if you decide to tell anyone as the year goes on.

Furthermore, even though you have family among the staff, all school rules apply to you and neither of you are above those rules. If you are caught breaking those rules, which are put in place to ensure your safety, you will be punished as any other student would, and you will be punished again by either myself or Minerva since we are your guardians and responsible for your well-being while at school. Draco, your offenses, should you commit any, will be detailed and a letter sent home to your mother."

At this, Narcissa stared at her son intensely as though to drive the point home that should he get in trouble at school he would pay his penance. Draco vigorously shook his head that he understood. Hermione merely stared at Severus, still as a statue. Looking back at her, his features softened slightly as he came to the second part of his speech, "But I want you both to know that your performance at school, whether desirable, appalling, or somewhere in between, will not determine how much the adults in your lives care for you." At this, Narcissa smiled at Draco, affirming Severus' words. Severus noticed that Draco smiled back at her, and Hermione was smiling at him.

Severus nodded slightly to his daughter as he asked, "Do either of you have any questions?"

Hermione and Draco shared a brief glance at one another before they both shook their head in the negative. Severus nodded, and then turned to Narcissa and asked, "Do you have anything to add to the rules and boundaries?"

"I believe you covered those areas pretty well," said Narcissa as she stepped forward to stand beside Severus. "I will add though that it is important that you both take care of each other. You will be one of the youngest there, so look after each other and keep each other out of trouble, and keep your heads down. I know that you will have Severus, Minerva, and the other professors there to help you and look after you, but if either of you need me, I am only a letter away or you can use the Floo."

Both children smiled at her and nodded. Looking over at Severus, she said, "That's all I wanted to add."

"Very well," Severus stated as he looked back at the mantle clock. It was ten o'clock. "We must leave in a half hour. Narcissa, I will retrieve Hermione's trunk, and I will relinquish it over to you."

Narcissa nodded as Severus briskly disappeared upstairs to return a few minutes later with a miniature trunk which he placed lightly in Narcissa's outstretched hand. Turning his back on the children, so that only Narcissa could hear him, he stated, "When we get to King's Cross, I will need to make myself scarce. If you would please take Hermione with you and help her, I would appreciate it."

"Of course, Severus," Narcissa agreed immediately as she pocketed Hermione's trunk. "I'll see to it that she gets on the train."

Severus nodded his thanks to her as he looked over his shoulder to see his daughter and godson once again enveloped in excited chatter. He turned and walked towards the children as he said, "Hermione? May I speak with you a moment?"

"Sure," Hermione said happily as Draco walked over to his mother who started talking to him as well. Once they were out of earshot of the Malfoys, Hermione asked, "What's going on, Daddy?"

"When we leave the manor, I will need to leave you with Narcissa and Draco," he said. At her expression, he quickly explained, "Remember when we talked about the boundaries of me being your professor, and that the students are not aware that I am your guardian? When the children leave for Hogwarts, I cannot be there to see you off as the other parents can. The students would find it rather strange."

"You sure you aren't embarrassed by me?" Hermione questioned, slight accusation lacing her tone.

Severus arched his brow at her sass and her question as he stated bluntly, "Yes."

Hermione looked away and sighed. She knew there were boundaries, she knew he would have to treat her like another student, she knew her family had secrets to keep for everyone's safety, she knew. But just because she knew didn't mean it was going to be easy for her. It wasn't going to be easy going through her day with her family keeping her at arm's length until evening time. It wasn't going to be easy being so formal with each other. It was a change that she knew she had to partake in, but she didn't like it. She nodded.

"Good girl," Severus commended, briefly running his hand over her head. The gesture reminded her that she needed him to fix her braid.

Quietly she asked, "Will you fix my braid, please?"

Without a word, he raised his wand and pointed it at her hair. Immediately, she felt her hair smooth itself and tighten in the hair tie again. Lightly running her hand over her braid, she was pleased to feel that it felt flawless. She grinned up at him in thanks, and then left him to join Draco and Narcissa. Severus overheard Narcissa telling Hermione that she liked her hair, and thought that her braid was pretty. He looked over to see Narcissa smirking at him at which he rolled his eyes.

Twenty minutes later, Severus signaled that it was time for them all to leave. When the children asked where they were going and how they were getting there, Narcissa answered that they were Apparating to King's Cross station. Draco's features were a mixture of dread and confusion at the mention of Apparition, while Hermione bluntly asked in slight disbelief, "We're traveling to Hogwarts from a Muggle train station?"

Before anymore questions could be asked, Severus put his hand on her shoulder and led her out of the manor while Narcissa did the same to Draco. The adults silently marched the children outside the boundaries of Prince Manor, and once outside the wards, they took their respective child by the hand, turned on the spot, and with a loud crack, all four disappeared.

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"I hate Apparating," both Draco and Hermione said together once their feet had slammed back onto solid ground. Draco was gripping his mother for support and Hermione was clinging to Severus. Hermione felt like she was chewing on what she had for breakfast. Narcissa and Severus allowed the children a moment to gather themselves, Narcissa rubbing Draco's back while Severus ran his hand over Hermione's hair. After a while, the children recovered and noticed where their parents had taken them: King's Cross station.

"So, what are we doing here again?" Draco asked.

Hermione looked up at Severus and said, "Do students take a train to Hogwarts?"

Narcissa smiled at her as she replied, "That's correct, Hermione."

Giving the older woman a curious look she asked, "Won't Muggles see a bunch of wizarding children boarding a train?"

Severus smirked, "How about we go in and find out?"

Narcissa discreetly took the children's trunks from her pocket, placed them on separate trolleys, and returned them to full size. Severus and the children watched her and when she was finished she told the kids, "Each of you take your trolleys, and let's go inside."

Each child quickly grabbed a trolley and followed Severus inside the station with Narcissa bringing up the rear. Draco and Hermione were trying to pay attention to where Severus was going along with looking around the impressive and busy station. Hermione marveled that they were in a place full of Muggles, and none of them were aware that a magical train that would take young witches and wizards to a magical school was within the same station as their ordinary trains. Hermione wondered how much had gone on around her that had been a part of the magical world and she hadn't been the wiser.

While thinking she hadn't been paying attention to where she was walking, and she had to stop abruptly so she wouldn't crash into her father who had stopped. Draco hadn't been as quick, and as a result bumped into Hermione. She quickly turned to tell him to watch it, and the look on his face told her that he was about to tell her the same thing. However, before an argument could erupt, Severus arched an eyebrow at Draco to silence him while Narcissa did the same to Hermione. Narcissa pointed to Severus to alert Hermione that she needed to pay attention to him, and at the older woman's prompt, Hermione looked to her father. Severus beckoned Draco to come closer, and then Severus explained, "The platform to Hogwarts is between platforms nine and ten. It is called Platform Nine and Three-Quarters. To get to it, you have to go at a bit of a run at the wall between the two platforms."

Hermione was looking at her father as though she was suspicious that he lying to them while Draco verbally exclaimed, "You've got to be joking!"

"No, he's quite right," Narcissa confirmed giving her son a pointed look. Draco still looked to be in disbelief, but remained quiet. "Since Severus can't go through with you, I will go first to show you, and then he will guide you both through after me."

The children watched her as she casually and confidently walked ahead, and was absorbed into the brick, disappearing completely. Hermione and Draco looked around at the people bustling about, and it seemed that no one had noticed that a woman had been able to walk through a solid wall and vanish. They looked at each other in awe. Severus smirked.

"Draco, how about you go next?" Severus suggested. He gave the boy an encouraging nod when he noticed his slight worry as he said, "Just copy what your mother did. Aim your trolley directly between the signs for platforms nine and ten, and do not hesitate. I promise you won't crash."

Draco gave his godfather an anxious nod and a slightly worried look to his friend before he plucked up the courage to follow Severus' instructions. Taking a deep breath, he rushed at the wall, and like his mother, went through the brick and was gone. Hermione let out her breath she hadn't realized she had been holding, and heard her father ask, "Were you worried he wouldn't go through?"

"Yes," Hermione admitted. Looking up at her father, she asked, "It will let me go through, won't it?"

"Of course," he answered immediately. "You'll be fine, sweetheart. However, this is where I must leave you. Stay with Narcissa. You will also need this."

Severus reached into his trouser pocket and brought out a train ticket which he promptly handed to her. "This will allow you access onto the train. Do not lose that ticket. Goodbye for now, Cub. I love you, and I will see you at Hogwarts. Remember, you and Draco are to sit with Mimi at the High Table, unless you want to sit with another student. Also, remember what I told you about telling students about your relationship to Mimi. Now, please, behave yourself."

"I will," Hermione said a bit somber.

Severus' eyes softened slightly as he reminded her, "We will be together again soon. Enjoy your time on the train, and I hope you meet new friends. I love you, Hermione."

"I love you too, Daddy," she told him as she hugged him around the waist. He hugged her in return and kissed the top of her head.

"All right," he said after a bit, "we don't want to keep Narcissa and Draco waiting. You have ten minutes before the train pulls out. Please be on it. Be good. Now, just do as Narcissa and Draco did, and run at the wall between the signs, and do not hesitate. You can do it."

Hermione nodded and tried to harness some of his confidence. She wheeled her trolley around so that it was facing the wall, and with one last look at her father, she ran towards the wall. She tensed as she got closer, but found that rather than collide with solid brick, she passed through easily, and when she came out the other side, she was greeted with a wonderous sight.

There was a single train, painted scarlet, with a sign on the front that read Hogwarts Express. As far as she could see, there were parents and children saying goodbye. She passed many families looking for the Malfoys, and overheard various parents going through checklists of belongings that their children should have brought along, warning their children to behave, and children begging their parents to release them so that they could go meet up with their friends. Continuing to look around, she finally caught sight of Narcissa waving at her from the edge of the crowd.

When Hermione approached, Narcissa said to her with a smile, "Well, I am happy to see that you made it through! Now, did Severus give you your ticket for the train?"

Hermione nodded, taking the ticket out of her pocket to show her for additional proof. Narcissa nodded satisfied. Giving one last look to Draco, she told him, "Remember what I said, sweetheart. Listen to your godfather, listen to Minerva and the other professors, and keep out of trouble. You may hear some things that people say about our family, but do try to ignore them. Make a new name for yourself. Prove to them you are more than a name. It'll be all right."

Draco nodded looking a little downcast in Hermione's opinion. She wondered what their talk had been about, and what Narcissa had meant by people saying stuff about their family. Before Narcissa could say anything more, the train's whistle blew which must have meant something as it sent many children and families scattering. Narcissa embraced Draco again, and then, much to Hermione's surprise, she embraced her too. Narcissa winked at her as she said, "I hope you have a good year, Hermione. Be good and if you happen to need anything, you can always reach out to me too. All right?"

Hermione smiled. Her first impression of Narcissa hadn't been great, but lately she had been a lot warmer, and seemed like she had changed for the better. Hermione was beginning to really like her. Narcissa smiled back at her, and then said to them both, "It's time to board. Let's get your trunks packed on, and then you can find a compartment. Write to me, Draco, whenever you get a chance. Have a lovely school year!"

After pushing past the crowds, they were finally able to board the train, heaving their trunks behind them. Hermione led the way down the corridor with Draco following, finding an empty compartment, and quickly entering it before someone else could take it. She peered up at the luggage racks overhead, and together, she and Draco managed to hoist both of their trunks up onto the racks. Slightly out of breath, they searched out the window to see if they could see Narcissa, and then finally located her. Draco rushed to open the window as they heard the train's whistle blow again, and stuck his torso out to wave at his mother. Hermione remained inside the train, opting to wave from behind the glass. A moment later, she felt the train jerk, and slowly start moving. She watched sadly as parents, younger or older siblings, and other members of the family walked alongside the train, still waving goodbye, and shouting they loved whoever was on the train. Hermione wished her father and grandparents could have been there for her, but because they were professors, and they were worried people would find out that Severus was her real guardian, they couldn't come. She then started to wonder what it would have been like if her birth parents had loved her, and if they would have come to see her off. At the beginning of the summer, what she wouldn't have given for her parents to be like these parents here seeing their children to school. She had to stop herself from going down that road. That was the past, and she now had a better family than she could have ever imagined. Honestly it was the best, just complicated.

"I can't believe it," she heard Draco say somewhere in the distance as his statement brought her back to the present, "we are finally on our way to Hogwarts!"

She couldn't help but smile too as she observed his enthusiasm. Despite her lack of family present on the platform, she got to spend the entire school year with her family, unlike the other students. She decided to focus on that instead, and be happy and excited about their first year at Hogwarts. "Yes! I have a feeling it's going to be an adventure!"

They talked about what sort of fun they would have as they watched the scenery fly past their window.

Xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

Once Hermione had gone through the barrier, Severus had waited a couple of minutes, and then went through himself. Being a former spy, he was an expert at using his surroundings to blend in. Before most of the students had boarded, he used his current Muggle clothing to slip past undetected as no one recognized him or paid him much attention without his billowing robes. He snuck into one of the compartments reserved for the prefects and Head Boy and Girl, and then transfigured his clothing into his usual teaching robes. He got comfortable, anxiously awaiting the students' reactions when they saw him sitting there instead of the fun and happy Professor Sprout or the witty and charming Professor Flitwick. However, he had promised Hermione that he would try and be fair, but while she wasn't around to witness anything, he figured he could have a little fun at their expense. Yet, while the compartment was quiet, he thought about Hermione and Draco. He hoped they would be all right. He was interested to see who they would become friends with. While he knew most of his Slytherins were, in fact, good kids, he hoped Draco would branch out and talk to others as well. He also hoped that Draco would help Hermione making friends if she had trouble. He didn't think that she would since she had made friends with Draco on her own; however, this was a castle full of other children. He had never seen Hermione in a large group setting, and he hoped that she would cope well.

He heard the whistle blow its first warning, signaling for families to say their final goodbyes. He wished he could be like other parents, and be there to wish Hermione farewell from the platform. He wished that he could openly dote on her like the other fathers were doing now. Feelings of guilt were starting to creep in as he began to think about Lily not having the opportunity next year to see Harry off onto the train either. He closed his eyes briefly, shoving those thoughts away and behind the walls of his Occlumency. Now was not the time or the place for those feelings. Those feelings were only appropriate to dwell on down in the dungeons of Hogwarts.

He heard the second and last warning whistle, and he prayed that Narcissa had gotten both children on the train. A minute later he felt the jerk as the train started moving. He knew that at any moment, he would see the prefects and Heads making their way into the compartment. He straightened himself up and put on his best scowl. Some old habits were hard to break. He had said he would be fair, not smile and wave at them. He looked out the window, and saw that the train was picking up speed based on the swiftly passing scenery. Somewhere on this train, his daughter and godson were fending for themselves. Had they found a compartment to themselves? Had they had to sit with a couple other students? If so, who were they sitting with? Were they doing all right, or were they nervous? He hadn't told Hermione or Draco that he would be on the train as he didn't want them to seek him out and cling to him, but now he was wanting to check up on them. He knew that as soon as they saw him they would run to him, and if he was going to maintain boundaries with them around the student body, he couldn't be seen walking around. He was trapped within this compartment for the duration of the trip, unless something happened that demanded his attention and presence. If he was having this much difficulty on the train to school, how was he going to balance being a parent and teacher for the rest of the school year?

He heard rushed footsteps in the corridor, and looked up to see some of the prefects coming into his compartment, and some filing into the other compartments across the way since there were twenty-four prefects total and the Head Boy and Head Girl. The first student, a sixth year Ravenclaw prefect named Samuel Breckinridge, bounded into Severus' compartment, but immediately stopped in his tracks when he caught sight of the formidable Potion's Master which caused quite a pile up in the corridor with multiple exclamations, several questioning and complaining about what the holdup was.

Breckinridge gulped, his eyes wide as he stammered, "M-my apologies, Professor Snape. I-I didn't know you would be in the compartment, sir."

Severus arched his eyebrow as he drawled, "Yes, Ravenclaws seem to feel they are entitlement to know everything."

Breckinridge turned a light shade of pink as he quickly backed out of the compartment, shoving back his classmates as he mumbled haste apologies to Severus. Severus was amused to see that once Breckinridge had told his fellow prefects who was in the compartment, they all attempted to squeeze into the other compartments, even the Slytherins. However, when that didn't seem to work, some opted to go into other cars, and sit with their classmates. He knew that the prefects who had gone to sit in other cars would tell their fellow students the reason for their choice in seat when their friends questioned them. He also knew it wouldn't be long now that Hermione and Draco got word of his presence on the train.

Xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

The trolley of sweets had just left Hermione and Draco's compartment, Draco walking back in with an armful of goodies. He had been in utter disbelief when Hermione had told him that most of the sweets and pasties on the witch's trolley she had never tried, and so he had bought a sampling off everything. When Hermione asked where he had gotten the money for the trolley, Draco explained that his mother had given him some money before she had met up with them on the platform. She wished Severus had given her some money, but maybe he had just overlooked it. She was thrilled though when Draco had said he would share with her so that she could try the food she had, apparently, been "ruthlessly deprived of" all her life, in Draco's words.

She was savoring a chocolate frog after she had struggled to catch it, when she heard someone knocking on the compartment door. Together she and Draco looked up to see three red-headed boys standing outside their compartment. Sharing a brief look, Hermione quickly jumped up and opened the door, allowing the small group inside. She noticed two of the boys were identical, and the third appeared to be older as he puffed up his chest and said a bit too pompous for Hermione's taste, "Hello there, my name is Percy Weasley. These are my brothers, Fred and George. Would it be possible for us to sit with you for now? Everywhere else is full."

She looked back behind her at Draco to silently ask his permission as well when she noticed a peculiar look come over his face. Taking notice that she was staring at him for his approval too, he gave a short nod.

"Sure, come in!" she said happily. "My name is Hermione Granger, and this is my friend, Draco Malfoy."

The three newcomers stopped whatever they were doing and stared at Draco as the eldest boy, Percy, asked with a bit of disapproval, "Malfoy? I didn't think you were supposed to come Hogwarts until next year?"

Hermione looked from Percy to Draco in confusion as Draco answered stiffly, "I received permission to finish my primary schooling at Hogwarts, as did Hermione."

"Primary schooling?" Percy continued. "I've never heard of anyone finishing their primary schooling at Hogwarts. Did your father happen to have anything to do with that?"

Draco narrowed his eyes as he said defensively, "My father had nothing to do with it!"

"Draco and I got permission from Professor Dumbledore," Hermione stepped in before Draco and Percy got into an argument. "So, we aren't official students at Hogwarts."

"How on earth did you –" Percy started but didn't finish as another boy with red hair vigorously banged on the compartment door.

Either Fred or George opened the door, and the stranger rushed in, ignoring Hermione and Draco. He hurriedly told the others, "Have you heard who's on the train?"

"Who?" Fred and George asked in unison.

"Snape is on the train!" the newcomer announced. "The greasy git himself is riding in one of the prefects' compartments. He about gave Breckinridge a heart attack, he did!"

Draco and Hermione stared at each other wide eyed as Percy asked impatiently, "What's the big deal, Charlie? One of the professors always takes the train."

"Snape has never taken the train," the boy named Charlie explained. "It's always either Sprout or Flitwick. I wonder what made him ride it this year? I'm curious how Dumbledore pried that bat from his walls in the dungeons?"

Hermione was getting increasingly more offended by Charlie's words the more he talked about her father. She saw out of the corner of her eye that Draco was scowling too. Before either of them could come to his defense, the boy named Charlie said quickly, "Sorry, I've got to go. We have a prefects' meeting soon in one of the other compartments. Don't want to have it with Snape. See ya later, my brothers!" With a flourish, he was gone.

Percy looked at Fred and George, then at Hermione and Draco and said, "I'm going to go find my friends. It was nice to meet you Hermione and Draco. See you around at school." Then he too vanished down the corridor. However, Fred and George remained, both surveying Hermione and Draco. Without knowing who was who, one of the started, "So, how did you both –"

"Actually convince –"

"Dumbledore to let you –"

"Come to school early?"

When both the younger children remained silent looking between the two, the twins started again, "Don't worry –"

"Neither Gred –"

"Or Feorge –"

"Will bite you –"

"Too badly, that is!"

Draco blinked. "Do you two always do this?"

"Not usually –"

"We usually do it to new people –"

"So that we can show off –"

"Our amazing –"

"Twin skills!"

"Drives our family –"

"Absolutely mental!"

"I could see that," Draco mumbled mostly to himself.

"So, who is who?" Hermione asked. "How do people tell you apart?"

"Well, I'm actually Fred," one of the twins stated, holding out his hand to shake both of theirs. "I'm the more handsome one. We are quite difficult to tell apart, which is why we have so much fun tormenting people!"

"I'm George," the other twin introduced himself, copying the actions of his brother and shaking both of their hands. "I'm actually the most handsome. Even our family has a hard time telling us apart! The only one who seems to know who is who all the time is our younger brother, Ron. He'll be coming to Hogwarts next year."

"How many siblings do you have?" Draco asked.

"In order, there's Bill, Charlie, who was just here, Percy, me and George, Ron, and our only sister and the youngest, Ginny," Fred explained. "We are quite the lot."

"Also," George said looking at Draco, "don't mind our prat-of-a-brother, Percy. He thinks he knows everything, and he's trying really hard to become a prefect next year. Wants Mum and Dad to be proud of him, or some rubbish like that."

Hermione was pleased to see that Draco smiled a bit at George. Hopefully she and Draco could get along with Fred and George, and not have to bother with Percy. She did really like them, she thought they were fun. Before she could say anything more, Draco stated, "We got sweets earlier since Hermione's never tried most of them. Would you both like some?"

Fred and George's faces lit up as they helped themselves to chocolate frogs and fizzing whizzbees. Then the twins got mischievous looks on their faces as Fred asked Hermione, "So, a lot of these things you've never tried before?"

"Nope," she answered.

"Even Bertie Bott's Every Flavor Beans?" Fred clarified.

"Never had them," Hermione confirmed.

Fred looked at George then at Draco as he reached for one of the boxes of Bertie Bott's Every Flavor Beans, and said, "Here, have some jelly beans, Granger. Try this flavor."

He handed her a grey bean with black speckles. She took it curiously then popped it into her mouth and chewed. Immediately, she started coughing as she asked, "What was that? It's horrible!"

"That was a Black Pepper flavored bean," Fred answered. "Bertie Bott's has all different flavors, hence their name. I dare you to try this one!"

Daring each other to try different flavors, they were able to kill an hour of the trip laughing at each other and having a wonderful time.

Xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

A while later after the beans and most of the sweets had been consumed, George asked Hermione and Draco, "So, neither of you ever did answer our question about how you got permission to attend Hogwarts early."

Neither of them said anything as they carefully thought about their answer. This is what her father had meant when he had said to be careful about who she told as it would spread through the castle quickly. However, she and Draco had been having a great time with Fred and George, and they seemed to be nice. She felt she could trust them and she hoped Draco felt the same way. Giving him one last look, and when he nodded at her unasked question, she knew he felt the same way towards the twins as she did.

"You promise not to tell anyone?" Hermione began. "We're already going to be talked about because we're finishing our primary schooling at Hogwarts. This needs to be kept between us."

Fred and George shared a frown before they eventually nodded their agreement to keep their secret. Hermione leaned forward and said, "I was able to get permission to come to Hogwarts early because my guardian is Professor McGonagall."

The twins' eyes grew large as they let the information sink in. Finally, Fred asked shocked, "Your guardian is Professor McG?"

"Yes," Hermione confirmed.

Fred and George looked at each other again, an identical grin growing on their faces as they both said in unison, "That's brilliant!"

"You think so?" Hermione asked a little bewildered.

"Yes!" said George. "She's a tough person, but she has always been nice and fair to us, even when we go a bit far with our pranks at school. We secretly think she enjoys them when she's not the target. Is she like a professor at home too? Does she make you call her professor?"

Hermione laughed as she said, "No, she doesn't make me call her professor. I haven't seen her as a professor yet, so I'm not sure how she's different. Anyway, since Draco and I are friends, she spoke to Professor Dumbledore, and he also got permission to come with me, so I wouldn't be alone."

"How did you two become friends?" Fred asked. "We know some about your family, Draco, and I know this will sound mean, but to us it wouldn't seem that Professor McG and your family would be, well, friends."

Draco nodded glumly. "You're right. They weren't at first. My mother was the one who wanted me to come to Hogwarts as well, so when Professor Dumbledore asked her, she said that I could come. Hermione and I became friends when my godfather, who is a friend of Professor McGonagall's, introduced us."

"Cool!" George stated. "Who's your godfather?"

Draco paused. He had heard how Charlie had described his godfather, and he knew Hermione had heard as well. It would have been hard not to hear. He wasn't sure if the twins would have the same reaction as their brother had. He decided to trust them, and go with it. "My godfather is Professor Snape."

There was a long silence in the compartment as that information washed over the twins. Hermione looked as anxious as he must have looked as he waited for the twins' reactions. After a few seconds, Fred whistled as George mumbled, "Bloody hell."

"He's really not that bad of a person," Hermione insisted. She didn't know if her father would appreciate her saying this to his students, but she felt the need to defend him.

"I'll believe that –"

"When I see it."

If her father kept his promise to her, then they would see it soon. She was sad that students didn't really know her father. They had no idea how great he was. She had a feeling that she was going to be defending him a lot this year, and for years to come unless something significant happened that changed peoples' minds about him.

Desperately she asked, "Promise you won't tell anyone? About either Professor McGonagall or Professor Snape?"

"Trust us, Hermione," George said. "This information is best kept hidden."

"Does that mean you'll be staying with them throughout the year?" Fred asked. "Since you won't have a House? Will you have to sit at the Head Table all year?"

"Yes," Hermione answered. "I was told that Draco and I should sit up at the table tonight unless we want to sit with someone else. If someone invited us to sit with them at their House table, then we can do that."

Looking at Draco, Fred asked somewhat tentatively, "Will your godfather allow you to sit with students from Gryffindor. Or rather, being from the Malfoy family, do you want to sit with people from Gryffindor?"

"Are you inviting us to sit with you tonight?" Draco asked slightly shocked. He had always been brought up to think that Gryffindor students were more brawn than brain, and that Gryffindors, while supposedly chivalrous, were mostly being that way to boost their own image and because they were foolish. Draco thought that Fred and George had been genuine with them the entire train ride, and he had enjoyed spending time with them. He hadn't ever seen Hermione as relaxed as she was around them, and she even laughed more than he had ever heard her. He too had laughed more than usual, and he was feeling happy as well. The more he thought about his and Hermione's time with the twins, he did hope that Fred, a Weasley to boot, was inviting them to sit at Gryffindor table.

"Well, ya," George chimed in, "that is, if you want to."

"Yes!" Hermione and Draco said eagerly at the same time. They looked at each other and smiled. Fred and George were smiling too.

"It will also save you from having people staring at you, and wondering why you're sitting up there with the professors, especially if you don't want people knowing that they're your guardian and godfather," Fred explained. "Besides, we'll introduce you to the whole of Gryffindor house, plus some of our other friends in other houses. However, we're on speaking terms with only one Slytherin. If you want to know more of Slytherin house, you'll have to meet them through her."

"Sounds brilliant," Hermione said. She wanted to know people from other houses. She wanted this time at school to be a blank slate for her. A chance for her to reinvent herself. So, she was prepared to try things that she otherwise wouldn't have felt comfortable doing. With Fred and George helping her, she felt that she could accomplish her goal.

"Great!" George exclaimed. "Besides, Fred and I will teach you both all that Hogwarts has to offer. You may have family on the staff, but I doubt they'll share with you what we know about the castle. Stick with us, and we'll teach you everything we know!"

Hermione and Draco couldn't help but grin like fools as Fred and George told them about all the hidden passages throughout the castle, the tunnels that led outside of the school, and all their other wonderful bits of knowledge. This year was going to be better than either of them imagined.

Xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

The hours were passing ever so slowly for Severus. He was starting to get cabin fever. He knew they were getting closer as the sun was beginning to set. The train didn't get to Hogwarts until dinner time. He was seeing familiar landmarks from when he had been a student riding the train to and from school, and his thoughts drifted to Lily. He had been thinking about her on and off the entire trip, and after a while he couldn't stop the thoughts. He had put a spell on the glass so that the students couldn't see into his compartment, and he had locked the door. He figured that if there was an emergency, someone would come get him and knock on the door. However, he didn't want people looking in on him like a goldfish when he was thinking about Lily.

This train used to bring him so much joy and so much heartache. This was when he would meet up with Lily again after a long summer with his abusive father, and this is when he would say goodbye to her and have to endure that long summer with his parents always fighting, his mother always crying, and his father always drinking. When he had taken Hermione in, he had vowed that her childhood would not be that way. He would be a better father to her than his father had been to him.

Now he was on this train again and separated from his daughter and godson. He wanted to check up on them, and make sure they were all right. This was torture for him, and he wondered if they had heard yet that he was on the train.

Xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

"Do you think we should go see Severus?" Draco asked Hermione quietly.

They were alone in the compartment now; Fred and George had decided to leave to spend time with their other friends before they got to Hogwarts. They had promised to return when they were close to the castle so that Draco and Hermione would have ample time to change into their school robes. They had been sad to see the twins go, but this gave them time to talk.

"I don't know where the prefects' compartments are," Hermione answered, "or else I wouldn't mind going to see him."

"Ya," said Draco sadly, "I don't know whether they're located in the front or back of the train, or if we would even be allowed to go near those compartments."

"Well," said Hermione, remembering her goal of wanting to reinvent herself, "how about we go exploring and find out?"

Draco blinked at her for a second, and said with a smile, "All right. Let's see if we can find Uncle Severus." Then faltering a bit, he added, "You don't think he'll be mad at us for visiting him, do you? Maybe he didn't want us to know he was on the train because he didn't want us to bother him, and that's why he didn't mention that he was coming on the trip?"

That thought made Hermione falter too. Maybe he didn't want them to see him. Maybe this was part of the boundaries rule? Perhaps her Granddad had insisted that her father ride the train to keep an eye on them, but not talk to them. At those thoughts, the gusto was knocked out of her. Sighing and sitting back down in her seat she replied glumly, "Well, then maybe it's best that we don't visit him. Maybe we should just wait until after the Welcome Feast to talk to him when we're in his quarters or Minerva's quarters?"

Draco nodded his head sadly as he too dropped back down into his seat. They both sat in silence, watching the fading sunlight take with it the glorious view of the massive mountains, lovely green, rolling hills, bright blue lochs, and farms. They wished Fred and George would return soon, and tell them that they were close to Hogwarts. They missed their family.

Xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

It seemed like ages later that Fred and George bounded back into their compartment, telling them that it was time to get their robes on. They helped Hermione and Draco lower their trunks down from the racks so that they could access their robes. Fred told Hermione where the girl's toilets were so that she could change there while they took Draco with them to the boy's toilets to change. They met up about twenty minutes later back at the compartment, Hermione explaining what a nightmare it had been fighting all those girls for a stall to change in.

"We thought you'd either gone down the loo or jumped the train," explained Fred as he adjusted his red and gold tie. "We're pretty close to Hogwarts now. Now, when we get off, I know you two aren't technically first year students, but Hagrid will be calling for the first years –"

"Hagrid will be here?" Hermione asked excitedly. She hadn't seen Hagrid since her first trip to Diagon Alley with her father, and she was eager to see him again.

"Ya," Fred answered, "you know him? Well, I suppose it makes sense that you do. I imagine you've met most of the staff and teachers?"

"No, actually," Draco answered this time. "They were pretty secretive about Hogwarts with us. They didn't take us there at all over the summer. I haven't met anyone other than Professor McGonagall."

"I met Hagrid in Diagon Alley," Hermione replied simply at George's raised eyebrow. She didn't want to go into that whole story.

George nodded, accepting her explanation, and picking up Fred's instructions from earlier, "So, when Hagrid calls the first years, go with them. He'll be responsible for getting you to the castle."

"How are we getting there?" Draco asked. "I thought we would already be there having traveled by train all day."

"That would be telling, wouldn't it?" the twins said together.

Hermione and Draco looked at each other and shrugged. They would find out soon enough. Suddenly they felt the train jerk as it slowed its momentum, indicating that they were approaching their destination. Hermione was starting to have butterflies. It had been all great up until now, and now that she was here, she was nervous about her new school. She hoped it wouldn't be a repeat of her Muggle schooling experience. She had to close her eyes and take a few deep breaths as the train continued to slow.

"What about our trunks?" she heard Draco ask.

"Leave them," Fred answered. "They'll be brought up to the castle later. I'm assuming Professor McGonagall has already informed the elves where your trunks will be going."

With a last final clacking sound, the train finally came to a stop and blew its whistle. They saw the prefects moving down the corridors as they jumped off the train first, holding the doors of the train open so that the other students could get off.

"All right," George prompted, "let's get off this bloody train, and get some of the best food you will ever eat in your life! Our Mum is a good cook, but nothing compares to a Hogwarts' feast!"

Draco smiled at the mention of food, but the idea of food, for once, made Hermione ill. The butterflies in her tummy were so crazy that she felt that if she ate anything it would come back up. She felt a hand on her shoulder, and looked up to see Fred smiling warmly at her as he said, "I know it's scary. It was easier for me since I was an actual first year when I came, my brothers were already here, and I had George by my side always. You have McG who will take good care of you, and with her probably the entire teaching staff! Plus, you have Draco, me, and George. You'll have other friends too before you know it. C'mon, you'll be fine."

She smiled gratefully at him as he led her out of the compartment and into the crowded corridor, the throng of students waiting their turn to get off the train. As she got closer to one of the exits, she heard a booming voice calling, "Firs' years over 'ere! Firs' years follow me!"

Once she, Draco, Fred, and George were on the platform, the twins bid goodbye to them, quickly and loudly reminding them to sit with them once they were in the Great Hall as they rushed off in another direction. Taking another deep breath, she turned towards Hagrid's voice and walked towards him, Draco by her side. Hermione walked straight up to the half-giant, Draco opting to hang back a few steps as she said politely, "Hello again, Hagrid!"

"Hello there, 'Ermione!" Hagrid said happily. "Professor McGonagall said you and Draco Malfoy would be arriving this year, and tha' I was ter look after you two especially! Where's Draco?"

"He's here," Hermione told him, looking behind her to where Draco was standing uncertainly, beckoning for him to come stand next to her. Hesitantly, Draco obliged, slowly walking up to Hagrid trying to take in his vast presence. "Draco Malfoy, this is Hagrid. Hagrid, this is Draco Malfoy."

"Pleasure ter meet ya, Draco," Hagrid said politely, gently shaking Draco's outstretched and shaking hand.

"You too, sir," Draco said, quieter than he had intended.

"No need to be scared o' ole me," Hagrid said, trying to ease the boy's nerves. "I haven't eaten a student since the sixties!"

Draco's eyes grew wide at Hagrid's attempt at humor. Hermione giggled and said exasperated, "Oh, honestly, Draco, he's joking!"

Draco gave her a look as if to say it may not be a joke, but smiled up at Hagrid nonetheless. Hagrid winked at him. "You'll like me soon enough, Draco."

Draco nodded as Hagrid called out loudly again, "Firs' years over 'ere! Firs' years follow me!"

Steadily, a group of students gathered around Hagrid, all of them looking up at him with unsure expressions as Draco had. Hermione shook her head. How quick people were to judge a person by his outer appearance. She knew how hurtful it was to be judged. It hurt a lot. She looked up again when she heard Hagrid say, "All righ' ya lot. This way!"

In a group, they took off after him as he led them down a footpath, each of them having to jog to keep up with him. By the end of the trail, they were all panting and looking around rather confused. They were at the edge of what looked to be a loch. Hermione heard one boy say smartly, "Are we supposed to swim there?"

"With tha' attitude, ya migh'!" Hagrid said, addressing his threat to the overall group. "We are takin' the boats. Four to a boat please, and one of ya take a lantern. The boats will steer themselves!"

Hermione and Draco climbed into a boat with two other boys, Draco offering to hold a lantern. They watched as Hagrid got into a boat by himself, and everyone was watching to see if the boat would float. Miraculously it did, and as soon as Hagrid's boat took off, apparently of its own accord, the rest of the boats followed. For a while, they could only see more of the lake ahead of them, and trees on either side of them. Hermione thought this was perhaps the creepiest thing she had ever done when suddenly in front of them the castle appeared. Hermione and Draco, along with the other students, "oohed" and "aahed" at the magnificent and majestic castle looming in front of them. It was perched on a hill, rising above everything else around it, the mountains themselves seemingly dwarfed by the towering structure. It was so massive that Hermione was surprised the hillside could hold it, much like she was surprised that Hagrid's little boat could keep him afloat. It seemed that there were hundreds of tiny lights all over the castle, and outside lights seemed to illuminate the many towers of the school. Its reflection shown clear in the lake, and with the stars and moon shining down on it, Hogwarts was simply breathtaking. Draco's mouth was hanging open slightly as he too took in the sight of Hogwarts castle. As she admired her home away from home, her butterflies seemed to quiet down a little. She couldn't deny that she was grateful for that.

The boats slowly drifted to what looked to be a boathouse, and one by one, the boats docked allowing Hagrid out first so that he could assist the students with getting out of their boats. He took their lanterns from them, and when everyone was gathered around him again, Hagrid instructed, "Righ', if you go up these steps, they will take ya ter the front doors of the castle. One o' the professors will be waiting to collect ya there. Good luck with yer Sortin' firs' years!"

All the students mumbled as they took in the sight of the never-ending stairs. With a huff, the students began their ascent, some counting how many steps there were, and others simply wishing they would end soon. After what seemed like a lifetime, and the best work out of Hermione's life, they all finally managed to make it to the top of the stairs, and were greeted by two heavy, solid wooden doors adorned with an intricate metal design along with metal door handles, and metal locks. However, when they arrived, there was no professor waiting to greet them. After a while, some of the students started wondering if they had taken a wrong turn somewhere, or they had been forgotten. Draco leaned over to Hermione and whispered, "Some of these kids aren't very bright. I mean, how could we have taken a wrong turn on a staircase where there was no option to turn? And no one would have forgotten us, they have first year students come every year!"

Hermione was about to respond when both doors slowly opened inward, revealing a stunning entrance hall, and standing waiting for them was Professor McGonagall. Hermione had to fight back a smile when she saw her Mimi; however, the older woman didn't seem to be having that same issue as she stiffly beckoned them to come inside, avoiding eye contact with either Hermione or Draco. Immediately, the students obeyed, and once everyone was inside and gathered in front of the formidable professor, the doors slowly closed behind them. Once the doors were shut, Professor McGonagall stared at them as she waited for complete silence. She needn't wait long, all eyes and ears were already on her.

In her full Scottish lilt, she greeted, "Welcome to Hogwarts!"