Disclaimer: I do not 'pwn' HP. But I do now know the meaning of 'pwn'. I'm so speshul.

Preview and FAQs will be up soon at my LJ. Review responses are at the end of the chapter. I'm afraid I may never get around to chapter 8's review responses. I'm such a bad person. -hangs head- I did, however, post chapter 8's FAQs at my livejournal, as well as the preview for this chapter. My livejournal is: www .livejournal. com /users/ opalish/ (without the spaces, obviously)

Many thanks to Nimbirosa and M'cha Araem, who so totally make sliced bread look lame.

As for those of you impatient for school to begin...well, I feel your pain. Hey, the Sorting is next chapter, though! And lo, there was much rejoicing.

Just a note - if you're impatient for Harry to get together with someone, you're in for a long wait, no matter how it seems this chapter.

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Chapter Nine: Why Harry Needs New Friends

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Try as much as possible to be wholly alive, with all your might, and when you laugh, laugh like hell, and when you get angry, get good and angry. Try to be alive. You will be dead soon enough.

-William Saroyan

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By the time September First arrived, Harry was ready to grievously injure, if not kill, Dolores Umbridge. He hated her. No, he loathed her, loathed her with every cell of his being. And the feeling was more than mutual.

Just as Draco and Dumbledore predicted, the awful toad-woman was doing her bounden best to make Harry's life miserable. And there wasn't a damned thing Harry could do about it, not while the bitch was Inquisitor. He tried fighting back with a good bit of sarcasm and some nasty insults, but that had resulted in Umbridge giving him eight weeks of detention, to be served once the new school year began.

Harry had, after perusing Hogwarts, A History, triumphantly pointed out that according to the Hogwarts list of rules, a detention couldn't be given during the summer.

And thus a new Educational Decree came into existence.

"Sucks to be you," Draco had said, earning himself a kick in the shins.

So Harry was understandably relieved when, on the first day of September, he and Draco were allowed to leave Hogwarts so they could ride to school on the train with the other students. Leander had wanted to accompany them so he could guard Harry, but Dumbledore had pointed out that a vampire's presence at King's Cross would only draw unwanted attention and cause the students to panic.

In the end, Leander capitulated, and Shacklebolt showed up to escort Harry and Draco to the platform. They had to leave Hogwarts rather early, as Kingsley was supposed to arrive at King's Cross at the same time as the other aurors assigned to the Hogwarts Express.

"It isn't likely the train'll be attacked," the auror reassured them as he set up a special portkey in Dumbledore's office. The portkey was keyed into the wards around both the school and the train station so that Harry, Kingsley, and Draco wouldn't be torn apart by the various defensive spells blanketing Hogwarts and King's Cross. "Death Eaters wouldn't want their children to get hurt on accident. But it's better safe than sorry, and there'd be an uproar if the Ministry didn't take some precautions."

"Bloody Ministry," Harry muttered, leaning against the wall of the office and glowering at the portkey - a twisted up coat hanger. He had been in a constant bad mood ever since Umbridge first showed up, and even now, with his escape imminent, he remained angry and sullen. "I don't see why they leave Fudge in power - for Chrissakes, the man refused to believe Voldemort was back and outright called Dumbledore a liar!"

"Actually," Draco interrupted smoothly while Kingsley uttered one last spell, "Fudge just said Dumbledore was senile, not a liar."

Harry rolled his eyes. "Oh, well, in that case..."

"Spare us your biting wit and sharp sarcasm," Draco deadpanned. Harry flipped him off.

An amused cough - and how, exactly, could a cough convey amusement, Harry wondered - sounded from the door. Harry and Draco both looked over to see Dumbledore himself standing there, his moustache twitching as he suppressed a smile.

"No need to be vulgar, Harry," the Headmaster scolded lightly. "Kingsley, have you finished?"

"Yes," the dark-skinned man said in his deep baritone voice.

"Are portkeys really that difficult to make?" Harry asked curiously. It had taken Shacklebolt a good thirty minutes to set it up.

"They require a good deal of concentration and power," Dumbledore said, "but normally they take little time to create. Keying them in to various wards, however, is a long and arduous task."

"Can you show me how to make one?" Harry queried with his most innocent, butter-wouldn't-melt expression. Predictably, no one was fooled, possibly because Harry's 'innocent' face differed from his 'scheming' face only by a slight widening of his eyes.

"Each portkey must be approved by the Ministry," Dumbledore said sternly, "and you cannot make a portkey until you have passed a test and been approved for a license."

Harry nodded with a disappointed sigh. It would have been easier if Dumbledore had just agreed to teach him, but Harry wasn't about to let a little thing like legality stop him. He was sure the restricted section would prove very helpful...

Dumbledore's eyes sparkled, and Harry suspected that the Headmaster knew exactly what was going through his mind.

"You know," Harry said blandly, "all that twinkling can't be good for your health."

He had the dubious pleasure of seeing Dumbledore startled speechless, if only for a second.

"That sort of thing makes you go blind," he added, unable to stop himself. An odd strangled noise emerged from Draco's lips. Kingsley actually grinned, his teeth shockingly white against his brown skin.

Dumbledore...blushed.

"I don't understand," said one of the portraits - Armando Dippet was the inscription on the frame - in bewilderment.

"I'll explain when you're older," another portrait, Phineas Nigellus, drawled.

"I think," Kingsley said, his tone rich with laughter, "we should be leaving."

"Yes," Dumbledore agreed a little too quickly, still rather red-faced. "Perhaps you should."

Harry couldn't help it, he really couldn't. "You mean you aren't going to give me The Talk?" he asked, blinking. "But you've just adopted me, right? It's your job to tell me about that sort of thing."

Draco wheezed and Kingsley closed his eyes and buried his face in his hands. A little voice in the back of Harry's mind crowed in victory - he'd actually managed to ruffle the supposedly imperturbable auror!

Dumbledore, however, had gotten over his embarrassment, and now had a rather demonic light shining in his eyes.

"The Talk?" he repeated, bushy eyebrows rising. "Very well, then." Harry's eyes widened in horror and Draco blanched. "Now, there are wands, and there are holsters..."

Five minutes later, a mortified Harry vowed solemnly to never, ever, ever again bait Dumbledore. "Wands and holsters indeed," he muttered as he grabbed the portkey.

"I hate you," an equally scarred-for-life Draco said, shuddering.

Kingsley, the bastard, only laughed.

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Think where man's glory most begins and ends,

And say my glory was I had such friends.

-William Butler Yeats

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Despite having been held up by The Talk, which Harry and Draco quickly agreed to never mention again, they were among the first to arrive at Platform Nine and Three Quarters.

"Wotcher, Harry!" a little blond girl greeted them with a grin before she was shushed by an older woman stationed nearby. The girl was no doubt Tonks in disguise, while the older woman was likely another auror.

"She doesn't have a discreet bone in her shapeshifting body," Draco lamented with a shake of his bottle-blond head. Of course, he'd likely castrate Harry if it was ever suggested that he dyed or charmed his hair color.

"Draco," Harry said patiently, "you're about as subtle as a hippogriff."

"I am not!" Draco protested, stung.

"Well, all right," Harry grudgingly allowed. "You're not. You're actually far less subtle than a hippogriff."

Draco haughtily pulled out his prefect's badge and flashed it at Harry, who rolled his eyes at this blatant and rather pitiful attempt at intimidation.

"Go on, both of you," Shacklebolt said with an amused smile. "I'll be over near the barrier."

"Tired of us already?" Harry asked, feigning hurt.

"Yes."

Harry blinked, and then glanced at an equally bemused Draco.

"Well, that was blunt," Harry said.

"Oh, come on," Draco replied, grabbing Harry's arm in a most unMalfoy-ish manner and pulling him towards a small group of sniggering Slytherins gathered near the train. "Leave the poor man alone, Harry."

"But it's my duty to be a pain in the arse," Harry protested, striking a noble pose and forcing Draco to halt. The bandana wrapped around his forehead rather detracted from the overall effect.

"Good grief," Draco muttered as people began to stare. "Potter, you're ruining my reputation."

Harry laughed. "The horror. How will you ever survive?" He was already in a better spirits than he'd been in weeks. Hell, he could even breathe easier! Clearly, Harry decided, he was allergic to Umbridge.

"Bastard," Draco growled, once again pulling Harry towards the other Slytherins. Harry went along reluctantly, dragging his feet- not because he didn't want to meet the Slytherins, but because he wanted to annoy the hell out of his friend.

"Draco, who on earth is this?" a hard-faced girl demanded once they'd reached the small group. She looked down her rather squashed nose at Harry, who was, after all, dressed like a muggle. Like a poor muggle, at that - his clothes, while clean, were scruffy and worn. And just what sort of person wore a bandana like that?

The two boys exchanged a slightly surprised glance - the Slytherins didn't seem to be trying to exclude them, so they obviously didn't know about Draco's rebellion. Unless they just didn't care, but that wasn't likely at all.

"Pansy," Draco greeted the girl coolly. "This is my good friend Ace."

Pansy's face scrunched up, and for a moment she looked frighteningly like a disgruntled pug. "Ace?" she repeated disdainfully.

"That's right," Harry agreed with his most charming smile. Pansy went from contemptuous to flustered in record time.

"Slut," Draco insulted Harry, just loud enough for the green-eyed boy to hear.

"Drama queen," Harry whispered back.

"Man whore."

"Diva."

Other than Pansy, there were a couple fifth years, one yellow-toothed, red-faced seventh year, and two trollish lumps apparently known as Crabbe and Goyle. Harry resisted the urge to poke them with a stick to see if they were actually alive, as they spent the next five minutes staring with glazed eyes at the train. Harry could literally hear his brain cells begging for mercy when he finally sighted Theodore.

"Oh, there's Theo," Harry said just a little too brightly, cutting off Pansy as she ranted about the 'horrid state of wizarding fashion'. "Off to say hi!" He and Draco made good their escape before Pansy and the others quite understood what had happened.

Theodore's father left almost immediately, probably nervous from the glares he was getting from the various aurors on guard. Theodore himself looked bored as he slowly dragged his trunk towards the Express, and he stopped moving completely when he saw Harry and Draco headed his way.

"Merlin have mercy," Harry heard the dark-haired boy groan in despair.

"Aren't you happy to see us?" Harry asked innocently.

Theodore snorted. "With the kind of trouble that follows the both of you around? Not likely."

Harry tsked. "That's no way to greet an old friend, Theo."

"Theodore. Not Theo. And Ace - or rather, Harry - you're an annoyance, not an old friend."

"So you figured it out, then," Harry asked, suddenly serious. He glanced around the platform and noted with relief that no one was close enough to have overheard Theodore's statement...though the three of them were getting a lot of odd looks.

"It wasn't exactly hard," Theodore pointed out with a shrug. "You write me, saying you're at Hogwarts...and there's an article in the Prophet at around the same time, claiming Harry Potter has been found and is in Dumbledore's custody... It's rather obvious, really, who you are."

"Bet Longbottom hasn't figured it out," Draco said snidely. Harry glared at him.

"Draco, leave it," he said sharply. "Don't insult my friends."

Draco harrumphed but didn't argue.

"You know," Theodore said thoughtfully, "you're the only person Draco has ever actually listened to or obeyed. Other than Lucius, of course, but family doesn't really count."

Harry grinned. "It's my natural superiority shining through," he informed the brown-eyed Slytherin. "Draco knows that I'm better than him, so- Ow! Bloody hell!"

Draco smirked as Harry clutched his ribs. He tried not to let on that his elbow had collided with the handle of one of Harry's hidden daggers, and as a result now ached rather badly.

"There's Longbottom," Theodore said before the two could start fighting in earnest. Harry's head snapped up and he peered around, craning his neck as he tried to catch sight of his friend.

"By the barrier," Theodore supplied, and then yawned. "It's too bloody early to be up," he grumbled, catching Draco's amused glance. He stretched, his shirt slipping to reveal a glint of gold around his neck.

"What's that?" Harry asked curiously.

"Hmm?"

"Your pretty necklace," Harry supplied.

Theo shot him a dirty look as Draco sniggered. "Amulet, Potter. My father gave it to me - it's supposed to protect me."

"I thought your father didn't believe in frivolous things like gifts," Draco remarked, amused.

Theo shrugged. "Don't expect me to understand my father. Merlin only knows why he does the things he does." Though it was masked, there was a hint of bitterness in the dark-haired Slytherin's voice.

"Harry, why don't you go talk to Longbottom," Draco suggested, still watching Theodore.

"Right," Harry said gratefully, suspecting his friend wanted to talk to Theo in private. Draco was one of the few people who could coax Theodore out of his darker moods. "I'll be back in a moment. Don't do anything stupid while I'm gone, Draco."

"What, do you have a monopoly on idiocy or something?" Draco asked snidely, but Harry was already off, ducking and weaving through the growing crowd of Hogwarts students, harried parents, and tearful younger siblings.

"He has far too much energy," Theodore observed as Harry darted around an enormous woman who was noisily blowing her nose while bidding her mortified daughter adieu. The dark-haired Slytherin stretched languidly before plopping down on his trunk.

"Quite," Draco agreed.

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A man learns to skate by staggering about making a fool of himself; indeed, he progresses in all things by making a fool of himself.

-George Bernard Shaw

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Neville caught sight of Harry while he was still several meters away, and promptly tripped over his own feet and landed on his face.

"Merlin and Morgana, boy," his grandmother said in exasperation as several people laughed, "can't you even walk properly?"

Bright red with embarrassment, Neville started to stand, only to lose his balance and wobble. Fortunately, someone grabbed his arm to steady him, and he retained his footing. Miserable and blushing more deeply than ever, Neville looked at his rescuer.

Harry Potter.

Or rather, Ace, but Neville wasn't a complete idiot, and it hadn't been hard to figure out who his friend was after all the newspaper articles.

"Thanks," Neville muttered, uncertain what Ace - no, Harry - would do next. They'd always gotten along just fine...but now Harry was going to Hogwarts, where he'd be popular and famous and Neville himself would still be nothing but the chubby, awkward outcast of Gryffindor.

Then Harry smiled - the same crooked smile as always - and Neville knew everything would be all right. He wasn't used to the upsurge of confidence he felt then, but he liked it, and figured it was one more reason to be grateful to Ace, or Harry, or whatever his name was.

"Did you get my letter?" Harry asked, letting go of Neville's arm and stepping back out of his personal space. Out of the corner of his eye, Neville saw his grandmother's eyes narrow; she hadn't been pleased when he'd received Harry's letter and refused to tell her who it was from.

"Yeah," Neville agreed with a shy smile, still a bit astonished that Harry Potter - Harry Potter! - was talking to him like a friend in front of everyone. Neville wasn't used to being friends with Harry Potter, and he hoped it wouldn't be too different from being friends with Ace.

Harry's smile widened briefly, before he turned to Neville's grandmother. The change that came over the other boy was enough to stun Neville into silence - he'd never seen that icy smooth expression on his friend's face before. Ace - no, Harry - had always been nothing other than kind and gentle with Neville.

What Neville didn't realize, though, was that he was an exception to the rule and that there were very few people with whom Harry showed any sort of patience.

"Madam Longbottom, I presume?" Harry asked coolly.

"I am," Neville's grandmother agreed curtly. "And you are?"

"I'm called Ace," Harry said.

The woman sniffed. "Neville, you're friends with this - this ruffian?"

Neville loved his grandmother, he really did. She was impatient, overbearing, and rather brusque, yes, but he knew she cared for him. Nevertheless, he wouldn't tolerate her insulting Ace - insulting the only real friend he'd ever had.

"He's not a ruffian," Neville said staunchly, standing up to his grandmother for the first time he could remember.

To his private astonishment, his grandmother didn't seem angry once she got over her shock. In fact, she looked almost...relieved? And a bit proud? Neville was utterly befuddled. He snuck a glance at Harry, and saw that his friend was wearing a smug smile.

"You said you're called Ace," Isabelle Longbottom said shrewdly, her attention returning to Harry. "But is that your name, lad?"

Harry's smile grew a little sharper. "No. My name is Harry Potter."

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We cherish our friends not for their ability to amuse us, but for ours to amuse them.

-Evelyn Waugh

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Luna arrived about fifteen minutes later, her father strolling along beside her. Harry abandoned Neville to Theo and Draco's tender mercies and went to greet his last Hogwarts friend.

"Ah, Ace," her father said with a genial smile. "Or should I say Harry?"

Harry grinned at Mister Lovegood and said, "Harry's good." Robert Lovegood was a nice bloke, if a bit absentminded and credulous.

"Luna always insisted you were Harry Potter," Robert chuckled.

Surprised, Harry turned to the eccentric blond girl, who shrugged and said, "It was really very obvious. You were clearly either Harry Potter or a Shapeshifting Shnargle."

"...right," Harry agreed belatedly, blinking.

Smiling, Robert turned to his daughter and said, "Why don't you get on the train? I'd like to speak with Harry alone for a few minutes."

Luna blinked, then nodded. "All right."

Robert leaned down to press a gentle kiss to her hair, hugging her tightly. "Have a good year, love."

Luna smiled dreamily up at her father. "Of course I will. The Jimjoms told me so." She grabbed her worn old trunk and started off for the Express, ignoring a few cries of 'there's Loony!'

Harry frowned.

"As you can see," Robert said quietly and a bit sadly as his daughter made her way through the crowd, "Luna's not exactly popular. She's teased rather badly by just all of her fellow students, and she's had some trouble with that Defense teacher, too."

"Umbridge," Harry said darkly. "I've had my share of problems with her."

"Luna won't tell me exactly what happened," Robert sighed, "but apparently Professor Umbridge insulted the Quibbler at some point during the year, and Luna tried to defend it. None of her classmates would help, of course, as they all seem to think she's a bit strange."

"I'll look out for her, if that's what you wanted to talk to me about," Harry promised. "She's my friend, after all, even if she can be a bit, er, odd."

Robert smiled fondly and patted him on the shoulder. "You're a good lad, Harry, I've said so from the start."

Harry shrugged awkwardly, feeling a blush coming on. "I'm not all that good. Do you have any idea how many laws I've broken in the last few months alone?"

"I could probably make an educated guess," Robert replied, amused. "Now run along; Luna's waiting for you."

In truth, Luna wasn't waiting for him, at least not on the train. Instead, she was with Neville, Theodore, and Draco.

"Figured you'd want us to keep an eye on her," Theodore said calmly. He really was very clever and perceptive, much more so than most people Harry knew.

Luna was sitting on her trunk, doing a crossword puzzle in an old copy of the Quibbler. Neville was trying to edge away from Luna without coming too close to Draco, and Draco himself was glowering at anyone who dared look too long at the odd group.

"My reputation is officially ruined," the platinum blond prefect complained with a scowl.

"My heart bleeds," Harry said dryly. "Neville, Draco hasn't been bothering you at all, has he?"

Neville quickly shook his head, while Draco glared at Harry, offended.

"Good," Harry approved, patting Draco on the head. Snarling, Draco batted Harry's hand away. Grinning, Harry continued, "It's getting late; we should probably get on the - holy crapsicle on a stick, be still my beating heart."

Draco, Theodore, and Neville followed his gaze. Luna began to hum tunelessly under her breath as she filled out the crossword puzzle.

"Let me just say, they sure don't make 'em like that on the streets," Harry murmured, eying a pair of gorgeous girls that had just come through the barrier.

"Gryffindors," Draco snorted. "McKierney and Weasley. McKierney's the blond, Weasley's the redhead."

"And what lovely Gryffindors they are," Harry commented appreciatively. Theodore rolled his eyes.

"McKierney and Weasley!" Draco squawked, horrified. "Potter, McKierney's a half-blood! And Weasley, she's poor! And from a family of muggle-lovers!"

Harry finally turned his attention from the girls back to Draco. "Stop being a prejudiced bastard, Draco. In case you've forgotten, my mother was muggleborn and I'm a half-blood."

Draco rolled his eyes. "Yes, and in case you've forgotten, your mother's muggle relatives locked you in a cupboard under the stairs for five years."

Harry, less than pleased with his friend for bringing up the Dursleys, sent a death glare at the prefect. Draco paled.

"Alison McKierney doesn't date at all, and Ginny Weasley's already got a boyfriend," Neville piped up, saving the blond Slytherin from extreme pain.

Harry sighed, disappointed. "Doesn't date? Why not?"

"She says males our age are immature and get in the way of her studies and friendships," Luna said calmly.

Harry grimaced. "Ah. And Weasley has a boyfriend?"

"Oh yes. Ever since the middle of last year," Luna agreed.

"Eh. I'm sure she'll realize the error of her ways and jump me."

Draco gave a heartfelt groan.

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You can't make a person love you...you can only stalk them and hope for the best.

-Anonymous

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An hour into the train ride, Draco announced it was time for his annual "Visit the Weasel and annoy the hell out of him" session. Harry agreed to accompany him, mostly so he could stop things from getting out of hand.

"Yes, because you're ever so responsible and mature," Draco said with a snort.

Weasley wasn't alone in his compartment; a pretty blond girl was in there with him, as well as his sister and a boy with mousy brown hair who was apparently the Weasley girl's boyfriend. Both Weasleys had the same bright red hair as the rest of their family; the girl had their mother's brown eyes, while her brother's were the same blue as their father's.

"Malfoy," Weasley spat the moment the compartment door slid open. "What the hell do you want?" Harry noted that all four of the compartment's occupants were wearing prefect badges.

"Now, now, Weasel," Draco drawled in a way that made even his best friend want to strangle him, "didn't your mother teach you any manners? But that's right...Weasleys have no money or class."

Ron Weasley snarled, and both he and Ginny Weasley stood and drew their wands, flushed with anger. The blond girl squeaked, eyes wide, while Ginny's boyfriend eyed Draco nervously.

"That's enough," Harry said, shooting his friend a reproving look. He rather liked the Weasleys, after all - especially the twins and Bill.

"Who're you?" Weasley demanded while Draco sulked.

"Ace," Harry said curtly, not wanting to be gaped at any more than necessary. "And I apologize for my moron of a friend, here." Draco's eyes narrowed dangerously.

"You're friends with Malfoy?" the Weasley girl asked incredulously, her wand still at the ready. Harry approved- it never hurt to be cautious.

"Unfortunately," he replied with a flirtatious smile. Ginny blushed lightly but didn't back down.

"What kind of name is 'Ace'?" Weasley - Ron, Harry reminded himself - asked with a poor attempt at a sneer.

"It's a nickname," Harry said dryly. "Draco, why don't you introduce me to everyone?" He glanced pointedly at Ginny Weasley, whose eyebrows rose in bemused interest. The boyfriend bristled.

"Ace, meet the scum of Hogwarts. Scum, meet Ace."

"Draco," Harry said warningly as both Weasleys went red again.

"Fine," Draco snapped. "Ronald Weasley, Ginevra Weasley, Hannah Abbott, and Colin Creevey." He pointed to each in turn, sneering contemptuously when he came to Creevey.

"Ginevra," Harry repeated slowly, a smile spreading across his face. "Lovely name for a lovely girl."

"I go by Ginny, thanks," the girl said tartly as Creevey and Ronald scowled at him.

"I'll stick with Ginevra all the same," Harry replied, smirking. She really was very pretty, with her freckles and large...brown eyes.

Said eyes narrowed dangerously, but she didn't protest - something that had her brother and boyfriend gaping. Noting their reactions, Harry winked at Ginny and sauntered out of the compartment, and irritated Draco following behind.

"You know," he commented to his angry friend, "this year's starting to look better and better."

"A Weasley," Draco muttered in response. "Might as well chase after a mudblood."

Harry froze before turning furiously on Draco, who paled and backed away. "If you say that word one more time," he said coldly, "then I will hurt you. Badly."

Draco, to his credit, looked a bit ashamed. "Sorry," he said rather petulantly.

Relaxing, Harry offered Draco a twisted smile. "Me too. I've been a bit, ah, overly aggressive lately, haven't I?"

"Yes," the blond Slytherin agreed shortly. "I know you've got a lot to deal with, Harry, but you're taking things a bit far, don't you think? Normally you would never have gotten into a duel with that trainee, not without knowing his capabilities and strength. And lately you've been snapping at people and baiting everyone you come across."

Harry winced, knowing the other boy was - for once - telling nothing but the truth. "Right," he sighed. "I just...this is all so new, you know? I mean, I've spent the last ten years fending for myself, and now I'm stuck in a castle, under Dumbledore's thumb. I like him fine, don't get me wrong, but it's...frustrating."

Draco failed to look sympathetic. "Deal with it, Potter. Because your endless tantrums are getting on everyone's nerves."

"Gee, you say the nicest things," Harry snarked. Draco rolled his eyes, but then they were both grinning at each other, and Harry knew everything would turn out all right.

"Get a girlfriend if you want to be flattered," the Slytherin said. "One who isn't a Weasley."

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He deserves Paradise who makes his companions laugh.

-Qur'an

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The rest of the ride was fairly boring, though it was amusing watching Neville's reactions to Luna. The boy was positively terrified of the odd girl, and was greatly alarmed by some of her unusual theories.

Strangely enough, Theodore and Luna got along very well. Draco was disgusted.

"So how does this Sorting business go?" Harry asked when they were about a half hour away from the school. They'd all changed into their robes; only Harry's were plain, without a house crest.

"Oh, it's very painful," Draco said earnestly. "No one's died yet, thank Circe, but there have been injuries."

Harry rolled his eyes.

"I heard someone was put in a coma," Neville said solemnly. Harry's jaw dropped - Draco would lie, certainly, but not Neville!

"One of the current seventh years," Theo agreed with a nod. "She didn't wake for two weeks."

"Luna," Harry said, swallowing nervously, "please tell me they're joking."

Luna finally looked up from the Quibbler and fixed her large blue eyes on her friend. "They're joking," she assured him, and he started to relax. "She was only in a coma for three days."

Harry paled.

Draco burst into laughter and Theodore snickered. Neville chuckled quietly to himself, while Luna smiled absently and returned to her reading.

Glowering, Harry informed them, "You're all disowned as my friends."

Unfortunately, this just made them laugh harder.

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If I had all the money I've spent on drink, I'd spend it on drink.

-Stanshall Vivian

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Harry got quite a few odd looks when he went with the first years to meet Hagrid. Though he wasn't exactly tall, he was certainly higher up that the midget eleven year olds.

Hagrid, of course, dwarfed them all.

"'Arry," the half-giant said with a fond smile. "Ye get a boat all to yerself. Don't want yer to scare the liddle 'uns, eh?"

The two of them hadn't met until the day after Umbridge arrived. Hagrid caught Harry hiding from Umbridge at the edge of the Forbidden Forest, where the Defense Professor would never, ever go - not while it was filled with half-breeds. The two had bonded over their mutual disgust for the Undersecretary, and Harry had even managed to wheedle a little firewhiskey out of the big softy.

"But it's so much fun to frighten them," Harry said, amused. Hagrid laughed.

Harry rather liked Hagrid's laugh. It was big and booming and warm, completely unlike any other laugh he'd ever heard. Hagrid was, more than anyone else Harry had ever met, the complete antithesis of all things Dursley. He was wild and messy and cheerful and kind, and would have given Petunia a heart attack at first sight.

Hmm. Perhaps he'd have to test that at some point...

The boat ride was fun, especially as Harry didn't have to share with any snot-nosed first years. He got to stretch out and stare up at the night sky as the vessel made its way smoothly across the lake.

Harry found the dog star, Sirius, and smiled a bit wistfully as he wondered what his godfather and Remus were doing at that moment. They'd promised to visit sometime during the beginning of the school year, and Harry was definitely looking forward to it - especially as they were planning on giving his Animagus form a name...though why they needed an extended period of time to come up with one measly name, Harry couldn't say.

Both remaining Marauders had been utterly delighted when they'd discovered he was an Animagus. "Like father, like son," Sirius had said proudly, and for once Remus had nodded in agreement rather than scold the ex-convict about confusing Harry and James.

Fortunately, Sirius was slowly coming to understand - and accept - that Harry wasn't his father and was in fact a very different person indeed.

He was startled out of his musings when the boat jerked to a sudden stop. Harry clambered out, following the first years as they headed towards the castle. He trailed behind everyone, in an unusually peaceful state of mind.

Allergies to Umbridge aside, he was beginning to think that this school thing wouldn't be a total disaster after all.

oo00oo00oo00oo00oo

Review Responses!

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Nimbirosa - with each passing day, you make less and less sense. -runs and hides-

shazia)Riavera - 'Invictus' is Latin for 'unconquered', I believe. I mostly just used that as the title because I like the poem and had no other ideas for a name.

Herald-Mage Brianna - McKay is probably my favorite SGA character, and I adored him back when he was on SG-1, as well. But I'm afraid I'm a Sheppard/Weir shipper, if anything. If I gotta pair McKay, then I'd do it with the Scottish doctor (dammit, can't remember his name...) I gotta say, Teyla annoys me. She seems like a cheap female version of Teal'c.

CannonFodder - I rewrote the confrontation about ten times until he wasn't quite so bad. And I really don't think this story will get stuck in permanent hiatus, but you never know, so fingers crossed.

Larna Mandrea - Your love is returned tenfold.

The Slice - Dude. You've been flooding my inbox with reviews. Please continue. Grin.

Stahchild - You mean my fic isn't intellectually challenging? Oh no!

dress-without-sleeves - Leander fan, I take it? I'm surprised there's so many of you. Personally, I'm not overly fond of him. Anywho, I do try to keep most people IC. I don't want to rape canon, just do really kinky but entirely consensual things (possibly involving handcuffs and feathers) to it. But perhaps I'mReallyALesbianWoman!Snape could make an appearance...

Von - This chapter is about as fanon!Ginny as she gets. After this, she's MY Ginny, who is so much cooler, mostly because she doesn't talk nearly as much as fanon!Ginny.

gatogirl1 - Correcting Harry's faults? I hadn't even thought of that, but now that I reread the chapters I've already posted, I think you might be right. I loved book five Harry, but that wasn't really what I wanted for this...and I think I did go a little overboard in separating the two. And I like Umbridge. She's fun as hell to write.

SensiblyTainted - Ashamed to admit you love my story? Well that's a backhanded compliment if I've ever seen one... Grins. (psst. i'm ashamed to admit i love it, too. comes across as a bit smug and narcissistic)

Thanks also to: athenakitty, neferseba, Quillian, HecateDeMort, JerseyPike, Lil Ole Me 97, LadyShilver, BrattyWitch, ERMonkey Burner of Cookies, azntgr01, donna ficfan, bandgsecurtiyaw, Julie Long, HeWhoComesWithTheDawn, japanese-jew, IndiaInk, Night-Owl123, SeekerTLK, Tinkering, SunflowerLynx, Kara, RebelHanyouofDarkness, Crissy Potter, ShAdOwAdRiA, Surarrin, e, D3, T.I.Phoenix, insanechildfanfic, methoslover, my hero, Bloodless Ace, Lady11Occult, mysterywalker, GaLlOpInGaRgOyLeS, GreyGranian, Daughter of Darkness777, yo-yo55d, kobe23, bobskull9, Heather, Letishia, A-man, Talons, emikae, Gryphnwng, Kaori Bibishii, samuraiduck27, Munching Munchkin Managem, triplecrown, yvonne, Weirkat, Tim Digidestined of Loyalty, MysterioX, Mattel-chan, Siri Kat, bibble, tweeny-weeny, movielvr, Pretty Padfoot, zafaran, Fate, Firehedgehog, Team Graecisso, Dark Whispers, ivan the terrable, Deh Vap, marideth, Shadowface, DollyGall, darkanglefrmhell, Monaki-cheung, Bongie, Kazco, Jeah, Cherrysinger, baileygirl42, brokentoy19, latin-freak, ZergMaster, peoples, I)ark/-)ngel, Sukera, Danaan, Lady Urguenthia, chekiita, risi, HoldOnTillForever, AyamexKouga, Meggplant, Lady-Snape7, SeleneA, Wren Truesong, Rkhiara, Nooka, dead feather, Zevrillion, thedarklordsonlyheir, yellow eyes, ardent, Inken, m-girls, LPEJ, Lady Addiction, hee hee, yuya-chan, Makieus, and Starr-Light1.