(Disclaimer: Most characters, etc., belong to that wonderful lady, J. K. Rowling! Along with the portions of Sorting Hat song in this chapter!
A/N: If you've never read anything by me before, be warned – this story is a sequel. Not only that, it's an AU sequel. You may well get lost in it if you haven't read the first story, "Living with Danger" – go on, try it, it shouldn't take you too long, it's only about 210,000 words. I'm not even going to try to summarize it, it would take too long... if there's enough demand, I might write a little redux fic that summarizes it, but I'll only do that if people want me to.
But, for all of you who have read LwD, and have been eagerly awaiting LwoD (for three days)... here it is, and I hope I can satisfy as much of everyone's wishes as possible!)
Chapter 1: Getting There
Four boys, one girl, one owl, one toad, one snake, and an enormous amount of junk food, all crammed into one compartment of a train – it was quite possibly the perfect way to travel, Harry Potter thought contentedly.
He peered closely at a Bertie Bott's Every Flavor Bean. "This look like strawberry to you?" he asked the red-haired boy across the compartment from him.
"Could be," Ron Weasley said, looking at it. "But it could be cherry too."
"Or it could be tomato," Hermione Granger-Lupin chimed in. "It has that kind of orange look to it that the tomato one I had yesterday did."
"You had Bertie Bott's yesterday?" Draco Black looked hurt. "You didn't give me any."
"Why should I give you any, when you ate all my Ice Mice last week?"
"I didn't know they were yours – you left them sitting on the kitchen table!"
"Yes, for five minutes!"
"It still counts!"
"Do they always do this?" Neville Longbottom asked, watching Draco and Hermione squabble.
"It never lasts long," Harry said absently, still regarding his bean. "I might as well just try it and see..."
He nibbled the end off it carefully, and tasted an odd combination of salt, copper, iron...
"Blood-flavored," he said, spitting it back into his hand. "I guess they're going after the vampire market now."
"Yeah, if they can pick them out," Ron said, holding up a green one. "What do you reckon – sour apple or grass?"
Draco had apologized to Hermione, who was looking slightly mollified. "Next time you see candy sitting out, ask around and see if it belongs to someone before you eat it," she warned him.
"Because if Padfoot or Moony left it there, ten to one it's hexed," Harry said, swallowing a mouthful of Chocolate Frog.
"I know that – I've only lived with them for seven years."
Neville frowned. "I thought you said nine years."
"No, that's me and Neenie," Harry said.
"Don't call me that," Hermione snapped. "That's a baby name, and we're not babies any more. If you call me that when we get to Hogwarts, I'll... I'll..."
"Poke me with the pillows?" Harry suggested. "Or put me in the comfy chair?"
"No, she'll tie you to the rack," Draco said in a sepulchral voice. "And then she'll give the rack a turn."
"It's some Muggle thing or other," Ron said to the confused-looking Neville as the three cubs howled with laughter. "I don't understand it, and if you try and get them to explain they just laugh harder. Just ignore it, they'll stop eventually."
"What is so funny, my eggling?" asked a voice from inside Harry's shirt.
"Sorry, Siss. Human joke again. Doesn't translate well."
Neville jerked and stared at Harry. Harry wasn't surprised. Hearing what sounded like a snake's hissing coming from a human being must be a little strange if you weren't expecting it.
"Neville, this is Siss," he said, reaching into his shirt with his left hand and gently extracting the snake, who was coiled loosely around his right shoulder. "She's a friend of mine."
"You're a Parselmouth," Neville breathed, still staring.
Harry nodded. "I found out when I was four," he said. "It was kind of an accident, and no one really knows why I can do it. Snakes tell good jokes sometimes, though. I met a snake once at the London Zoo who wanted to eat this fat boy who was in the reptile house." Something stirred in his mind regarding that, but it refused to come up far enough for him to see it.
Neville smiled slightly. "Can I touch it?" he asked a little hesitantly.
"Can Neville pet you, Siss?"
The snake nodded. "She doesn't mind," Harry said, holding out his hand.
Neville stroked Siss' head, tentatively at first, then a little more firmly as he felt the smooth, soft scales. "She's kind of pretty," he said. "I thought snakes were slimy."
"A lot of people do, but they're not." Neville having finished, Harry lifted Siss above his head and felt her slither off his hand and onto the bars of Hedwig's cage. Snake and owl had regarded each other warily for about a week after Harry had brought Siss home, but then had made friends. Hedwig hunted for them both now, since Siss had a much harder time getting outside to find her own food.
"So now you know about us," Draco said, unwrapping another Cauldron Cake. "All about our family. And Ron's." The usual explanations about the Pack, and Ron's rather simpler family background, had occupied the first few hours on the train. "What about you?"
"Well, my gran brought me up – you met her on the platform – and she's a witch, obviously, but the family thought I was a Squib for ages," Neville said frankly. "My Great Uncle Algie used to try and make me show accidental magic – he pushed me off Blackpool pier once, I nearly drowned – but nothing happened until I was eight. He was hanging me out an upstairs window by the ankles when my Great Auntie Enid offered him a meringue and he accidentally let go."
"I was fine," Neville said quickly. "I bounced – all the way down the garden and into the road."
Harry, Ron, and Draco laughed. Hermione bristled. "It's not funny!"
"Yes, it is," Neville said. He was laughing too. "You should have seen my face, I was so surprised – and everyone was really pleased, Gran was crying, she was so happy. And even more when I got my Hogwarts letter – everyone was worried I might not be magic enough to come. Great Uncle Algie was so pleased he bought me Trevor." He patted his pocket, then froze. "He's gone!"
"He can't have gone far," Ron said. "Come on, let's look."
But a search of the compartment turned up nothing. "He can't have got out," Draco said. "We haven't had the door open at all..."
"Except when the lunch cart came around," Hermione remembered unhappily.
"Oh no," Neville said, looking distressed. "I have to go look for him. I'll be back." He hurried out the door.
Harry looked out the window at the rather wild-looking countryside and couldn't resist grinning. It wasn't that he didn't feel bad for Neville, but somehow it was difficult to get upset about a missing toad when he had so much to look forward to. He'd be seeing Hagrid in a short while, and taking the boat ride across the lake, and then there was the start-of-term banquet, and somewhere along the way he'd find out what house he was in...
Harry frowned as he realized something. "Ron, do you know how we get put into houses? Moony and Padfoot and Letha wouldn't ever tell us."
"I think it's tradition to keep it a big secret," Ron said. "Fred said it hurts a lot, but I think he was joking."
"Padfoot would say stupid stuff," Draco recalled. "Like you have to make up a song on the spot about what house you want to be in, and if the teachers don't like it, they send you home. Moony and Letha would just smile and look all mysterious. And of course Danger doesn't know."
"She might," Hermione objected. "She shares Moony's memories, doesn't she?"
"Even if she did know, she wouldn't tell," Harry said gloomily. "Adult solidarity. It's not fair."
"Whatever it is, it can't hurt," Hermione said practically. "Parents would complain if their children got hurt on their first day at Hogwarts."
"Maybe it hurts so much no one ever dared tell about it," Ron said worriedly.
"For a thousand years?" Hermione scoffed. "No, it's probably something simple like a written exam."
"Only you would call a written exam 'simple', Neenie," Draco said, shaking his head.
Hermione grabbed Draco's collar and shoved her face very close to his. "Don't. Call. Me. That."
Draco swallowed. "All right. Fine. I'm sorry."
Hermione released him just as the door to the compartment slid open.
"Did you find –" Harry began, turning to the door. The question died on his lips.
The boy standing in the doorway was not Neville. He was rather small and skinny – a bit weedy-looking, really, Harry thought – and he was staring at Draco. "I remember you," he said. "We met at Madam Malkin's."
"What about it?" Draco said, not quite challengingly.
"You didn't tell me you were Draco Malfoy."
"What do you mean you're not?"
"My name's Draco Black. And you are?"
"Theodore Nott." The boy stuck out his hand. Draco took it warily and shook it.
"And you're Harry Potter," Nott said, extending his hand to Harry, who shook it also. "My father used to tell me stories about you. Both of you. But you more," he said to Draco.
"Stories about us?" Draco looked at Harry, baffled. No one except the Pack had known anything about them until the previous December.
"I know he was making some of it up, but then I read in the newspaper – I had to come and ask – were you really raised by Mudbloods?"
Harry and Draco shot to their feet, Ron only an instant behind them. "Get out," Harry said, his tone not quite a snarl.
Nott looked confused. "Why?"
"No one calls my family names," Draco said, his face furious. "Get out."
"Oh – you mean Mudblood?" Nott took an involuntary step back as Ron scowled at him. "But – everyone says that – all the really good families, anyway–"
Harry drew his wand. "Get out," he said. "Or you'll find out what Sirius Black taught me how to do."
His godfather's name still had power, even though the news of his innocence was several months old. Nott blanched and retreated to the door. "You won't get away with this," he said, half in anger, half in fear, staring at the wand in Harry's hand. "My father's rich – and powerful – he won't let you do this."
"We're not doing anything," Ron growled. "And we won't, as long as you leave. Now."
Nott glared at them all, even Hermione, who hadn't come out from behind her book once during the whole episode, then left.
"What were you going to do?" Draco asked.
"I don't know," Harry admitted. "I don't really know any spells."
"You could have turned his hair blue," Hermione said. Her voice acquired a hint of snap. "It worked just fine on me."
"He's not my sister."
"So change the words a little. It's not that hard."
The door opened again. Harry whirled toward it, wand ready.
Neville shrank back. "What did I do?"
"Sorry," Harry said quickly, putting his wand away. "Did you find him?"
"He's right here," Neville said, showing them the squirming toad. "I don't know why he keeps getting away like this – I try to keep track of him–"
"Do you have a cage for him, or a tank or something?" Draco asked.
"No, I forgot it at home. Maybe Gran'll send it along by owl..." Neville furrowed his brow. "There was something I had to tell you, something important..."
"Are we slowing down?" Ron asked, looking out the window.
"We're almost there!" Neville blurted. "That's it, I found Trevor up at the front, and the conductor said we were almost there!"
"We should get changed, then," Hermione said, closing her book. "We'll have to take it in shifts, there isn't enough room in here for all our trunks to be open at the same time..."
Harry and Draco went first, then Ron and Neville (Harry held Trevor for him), then Hermione. She had just closed her trunk when a voice echoed through the train. "We will be reaching Hogwarts in five minutes' time. Please leave your luggage on the train, it will be taken to the school separately."
"Come on, Siss," Harry said, holding up his arm for the snake. "We're almost there." His stomach lurched with excitement. Ron was pale under his freckles, Neville was sweating again, and Hermione was rubbing her lips with her knuckles, something she only did when she was worried or excited, in this case, probably both. Draco looked totally calm, but Harry knew his brother – if it suited him, Draco could look calm in the middle of a hurricane. He was probably just as nervous as everyone else.
"Relax, eggling," Siss advised him. "You'll hurt yourself if you're so tense."
"I'll try," Harry murmured.
They made their way out into the corridor, which was already fairly full and becoming more so. The train was slowing down more and more, and finally stopped with a jerk which would have tumbled Neville to the floor if there had been any room for him to fall. As it was, he cannoned into Harry and Ron fairly hard – Harry was sure he'd have a bruise tomorrow.
"Sorry," Neville muttered apologetically.
They joined the push to the door, which admitted them onto a tiny, dark platform with the smell of pine trees all about. Hermione shivered a bit in the chill air, and Harry bumped his shoulder gently into hers, making her smile wanly.
"Firs' years!" called the voice he'd been waiting for. "Firs' years over here!"
Neville gasped at the sight of the enormous man holding the lantern. "It's all right, that's Hagrid," Draco said. "He works here, we know him."
"All right there, you three?" Hagrid called, catching sight of the cubs. They grinned and waved at him. "Firs' years follow me – mind yer step, now!"
Ron almost tripped as they started along the steep, narrow path which Harry was sure led down to the lake. Neville had started to sniffle. No one was saying anything.
"Hoy, watch it," Draco snapped as someone pushed past him, separating him from the other cubs.
"Keep yer eyes open, now," Hagrid called. "Soon as yeh come 'round this bend here, yeh'll be able ter see–"
Everyone gasped, even the cubs, who had been to Hogwarts before. They had certainly never seen it like this, Harry thought, admiring the view – the vast castle with all its towers, perched hawk-like on the cliff, every window brightly lit, reflected in the cold black lake before them...
"No more'n four to a boat!" Hagrid called, pointing to a fleet of little boats lined up along the shore. Harry looked around for Draco and spotted him some distance away, being talked at by a girl with a rather squashed looking face. He was getting into a boat with her, although he didn't look happy about it...
"Come on, Harry!" Ron hissed, and Harry realized he was almost the last person not in a boat yet. He quickly got in and sat down beside Neville.
Hermione squealed with excitement as Hagrid roared out "FORWARD!" and the boats began to move. Harry watched the castle coming closer and closer, and wondered with a sudden shiver where he'd be sleeping that night... tower or dungeon...
"Heads down!" Hagrid called as they reached the cliff on which the castle was built. Everyone ducked as the boats passed through a curtain of ivy and down a tunnel to an underground harbor, where they climbed out onto a pebbly shore. Ron grabbed Trevor on the way out and handed him back to Neville.
They followed Hagrid up the rock passageway, onto the grassy lawn of the castle, and up the stone front steps. Draco had maneuvered his way back to them at some point, and the cubs pressed close to Hagrid as he raised his hand and knocked three times on the door. As his hand came down, it passed ever so casually across Hermione's head and Draco's shoulder, and a great finger stroked Harry's face. Harry knew it was Hagrid's way of saying "Good luck".
The door opened, and Professor McGonagall stood there, looking quite stern and forbidding. Harry bit down on his lip as he recalled one of her last visits to the Den, when Moony had cracked a joke that had made her laugh for almost thirty seconds straight.
"The firs' years, Professor McGonagall."
"Thank you, Hagrid. Students, follow me." McGonagall opened the door wider, and everyone crowded into the entrance hall. Harry was about to turn right and go into the Great Hall, but Ron grabbed his arm and pulled him after McGonagall, who was leading them into a small chamber off the entrance hall.
"Thanks," Harry whispered. He resolved to pay attention to what was going on. Just because I've been here before doesn't mean I know everything.
"Welcome to Hogwarts," said Professor McGonagall. Her eyes – or was it Harry's imagination? – rested a moment longer on him and his brother and sister than on the other first years. "The start-of-term banquet will begin momentarily, but before you can take your seats in the Great Hall, you must be sorted into your houses. The Sorting is very important, for while you are here, your house will be like your family. The four houses are Gryffindor, Ravenclaw, Hufflepuff, and Slytherin..."
Harry tuned her out in favor of looking around the room. He spotted Theodore Nott against the far wall, looking bored, and the boy Danger said was his cousin Dudley, pressed into a corner. He seemed exceedingly nervous and was listening desperately to McGonagall, as if hoping she would tell him it had all been a mistake and he could go home...
"I shall return when we are ready," Professor McGonagall announced. "Please wait quietly." She left the chamber. A hushed buzz of talk sprang up, mostly people asking their neighbors if they knew how the Sorting would happen. Harry swallowed.
"Whatever happens, it happens to all of us," Hermione said, trying to sound brave and succeeding only in sounding brash, but Harry appreciated it anyway. "Pack together."
"Pack forever," Harry and Draco answered.
"The oath," Ron said, in the tone of one grasping at straws. "The Pack-oath. Maybe that would help."
"Couldn't hurt," Draco said, licking his lips nervously.
Harry reached for someone's hand and got Neville's. No reason he can't do it too. "Do what we do," he said. "It might help us."
Neville nodded, his face rather pale, and crammed Trevor into his pocket again. Hermione giggled a little shrilly, reached over to adjust Neville's cloak (which was fastened under his left ear), and ended up holding his other hand. Draco and Ron quickly fit themselves into the circle, and they began to recite.
"My hand in yours,
"My wand with yours,
"My life for yours,
"Now and always."
Neville picked it up quickly, and they had just time to say it the full three times together before someone screamed at the back of the room, making them all jump and turn to see what it was.
"Ghosts," Neville moaned quietly. "Why did it have to be ghosts?"
"What's wrong with ghosts?" Draco asked. "They don't hurt anything."
"They're scary," Neville said, looking at the pearly-white, luminescent figures with dread.
"Come along," said Professor McGonagall's voice from the doorway. "The Sorting Ceremony's about to start."
"That's scarier," Ron said in a voice that was almost a whimper.
Falling into line behind Draco and in front of Ron, Harry followed Professor McGonagall out of the antechamber and into the Great Hall, where he shuddered as hundreds of faces all seemed to be looking directly at him. He looked up as he walked to see the enchanted ceiling, until he stepped on Draco's foot by accident.
"Ow," his brother hissed at him.
"Sorry," Harry answered guiltily.
Professor McGonagall led them up between two of the house tables and around so that they had to face the other students. Just before Harry turned the corner, Dumbledore caught his eye and winked. Harry tried to smile back, but his heart wasn't in it.
Professor McGonagall set a four-legged stool in the center of the clear space in front of the first years, then placed a very shabby looking wizard's hat on top of it. The Hall went utterly silent.
Harry heard a squeal among the first years as the hat twitched – a rip near the brim opened wide, looking rather like a mouth, and the Hat began to sing:
Oh, you may not think I'm pretty,
But don't judge on what you see,
I'll eat myself if you can find
A smarter hat than me.
You can keep your bowlers black,
Your top hats sleek and tall,
For I'm the Hogwarts Sorting Hat
And I can top them all.
There's nothing hidden in your head
The Sorting Hat can't see,
So try me on and I will tell you
Where you ought to be.
Harry relaxed all over. He should have known it wouldn't be anything bad – his Pack would never have let him go if the Sorting were going to be bad – and Dumbledore wouldn't make his students do anything that would hurt them...
The Hat had just finished delineating the defining characteristics of each house. It wound up its song:
So put me on! Don't be afraid!
And don't get in a flap!
You're in safe hands (though I have none)
For I'm a Thinking Cap!
Harry laughed and applauded with everyone else as the Hat bowed to each of the four tables.
"I'm going to kill Fred," Ron muttered in his ear. "Wrestling a troll, my arse."
The Weasley twin in question – at least Harry thought it might be him – was sitting at the table farthest to the left, staring intently at Ron. So were Percy and the other twin. It struck Harry suddenly that if they were called in alphabetical order, as seemed likely, Ron would be going almost last...
"Abbott, Hannah!" Professor McGonagall read from her list.
"HUFFLEPUFF!" shouted the Hat after a moment on Hannah's head. The table on the other side of the hall from the Gryffindors cheered, and Hannah scurried towards it madly, finding a seat there just as the cheers died down.
Draco went white. Harry squeezed his shoulder, and he walked forward towards the stool a bit jerkily. There was whispering, Harry noticed, and with a surge of anger he made out the word "Malfoy" in some of it...
Why do you care so much about that? Get over it. He's a Black now. And he's my brother. And that's not going to change, no matter where he gets Sorted...
Harry's stomach dropped as he had a horrible thought.
What if he gets put in Slytherin?
Oh no, please no, please not that...
Hermione seemed to have had the same thought – Harry could see her stricken face out of the corner of his eye. The Hat was taking much longer than it had with Hannah. The Hall was dead quiet. Twice, the rip on the brim of the Hat opened as if it were about to speak, then closed again. Then, finally, when the whispering had started again out of sheer annoyance, the Hat straightened up on Draco's head –
Hermione screamed with glee, Ron yelled, Harry stuck his fingers in his mouth and whistled the way Padfoot had taught him. Draco whipped the Hat off and practically ran to the Gryffindor table, where Fred and George clapped him on the back. He sat down grinning almost literally from ear to ear.
The Sorting continued. "Dursley, Dudley!" Professor McGonagall read out, and Harry, with several years' experience reading her expressions, could see distaste on her face – she obviously remembered the name of Dursley. The pudgy blond boy wobbled out from the crowd of first years and sat down shakily on the stool. It didn't take quite as long as it had with Draco, but it was still a fairly uncomfortable wait before the Hat shouted "SLYTHERIN!"
"He's a Muggleborn, isn't he?" Ron whispered to Harry.
"He's going to die," Ron predicted. Harry agreed, seeing the looks of distaste on many Slytherin faces as Dudley joined their table and knowing, as he did, the reputation of Slytherin house as the purest of the pure.
"Granger-Lupin, Hermione!" came up in due course, and Hermione walked proudly to the stool and sat straight and tall as the Hat fell onto her head. Harry thought it might have been hearing her newly-doubled name that gave her the confidence.
Harry and Ron high-fived. Hermione ran straight into Draco's hug, nearly knocking the blond boy backwards onto the table before Fred Weasley could catch him.
"I'll hold him," Harry said, extending his hands for Trevor.
"But what if I don't get into the same house as you?"
"Nothing says we can't move around a little once we've been Sorted," Harry said. "Go on, she's waiting." Professor McGonagall was not quite tapping her foot, but she was very obviously ready for Neville.
The hat took almost as long with Neville as it had with Draco. When it finally shouted "GRYFFINDOR!", Neville ran to the table still wearing it, and didn't realize until Hermione said something to him when he got there. He flushed and jogged back to return it to Professor McGonagall amid the laughter of the school, and detoured to pick up Trevor from Harry on his way back.
More students were sorted... "Nott, Theodore" became a "SLYTHERIN!"... a pair of identical twins, "Patil, Padma" ("RAVENCLAW!") and "Patil, Parvati" ("GRYFFINDOR!"), and then...
The whispering was more prevalent than it had been with Draco, and everyone seemed to be leaning forward to stare as Harry sat down. "Good luck," said Professor McGonagall out of the side of her mouth as she lowered the Hat onto his head, cutting off his view. He waited.
"Hmm," said a small voice in his ear. "Another difficult one, there seem to be a lot of them this year. Brave, yes, that you are, and quite bright as well... talent, oh yes, loads of it, with that interesting little sidelight of Parseltongue... and what's this, buried down deep – you want to be as good as your father was? I remember your father quite well, quite well indeed, and your mother too... so where shall I put you, then?"
Harry gulped. I'd like Gryffindor, but just please not Slytherin. Not Slytherin. Please. Anything but that.
"Anything? You're sure? That's a dangerous thing to promise, anything... you would do well in Slytherin, you know, and it would help you become truly great... no? Well, if you're sure, all right – GRYFFINDOR!"
Harry's heart leapt as Professor McGonagall pulled the Hat off his head. She looked down at him and gave him a very small wink. He grinned back and ran over to the Gryffindor table, where Hermione hugged him tightly and he and Draco performed the secret boy-cubs handshake that was theirs and theirs alone. Fred and George were chanting, "We got Potter, we got Potter!" and pounding on the table, ignoring Percy's look of displeasure.
"You are not tense now, eggling," Siss remarked.
"I've been put where I wanted to be," Harry answered in the quietest whisper he could manage. "Where my sire and dam were, and with my nest-mates."
"I am happy for you." He felt the smooth coils gently constrict once around his arm in the serpentine equivalent of a hug.
Hagrid gave Harry a thumbs up from the High Table – Harry returned it with a grin. Professor Grumpy (Harry snickered to himself at the nickname he'd been strictly banned from using out-of-den) was staring into his goblet, looking as sour as usual. Next to him sat a nervous-looking young man in a large purple turban, and next to him was a very good-looking blond wizard in neatly tailored lavender robes and matching hat, who looked familiar somehow...
"Harry!" Hermione hissed, poking him. Harry looked around just in time to see a pale green Ron sit down on the stool. Harry crossed his fingers, but the Hat took only a second to shout "GRYFFINDOR!"
Harry whistled again, releasing all his pent-up anxiety in the shrill, piercing sound.
We're all together. This is going to be great.
Ron staggered over to the Gryffindor table and fell onto the bench between Harry and Hermione. "Good show, Ron," Percy said solemnly from up the table.
Ron's older brother seemed to have decided that the best way to deal with his rat turning out to be the man who had betrayed Harry's parents was to pretend that Harry didn't exist. He was starting to come around, though – he'd asked Harry very primly for the salt at a picnic the Pack and the Weasleys had shared a week or so ago, and he'd remarked on the weather positively civilly two days ago.
Dumbledore rose and lifted his arms in a gesture of welcome, beaming at the entire school, though Harry was almost certain that the Gryffindor table was getting just a little more attention than the rest. "Welcome!" he said. "Welcome to a new year at Hogwarts! I have a few words to say before we begin our banquet: Kumquat! Cobble! Fuchsia! Gape! Thank you, and enjoy your feast!"
Dumbledore sat down as the school applauded. Harry turned to Draco and grinned. "Pay up," he said.
"No fair," Draco grumbled as he reached into his pocket.
"Honestly, is there anything you two won't bet on?" Hermione asked from across Ron, who was still rather pale and confused-looking.
"I won't bet on there not being food here," Harry said. "Because here it is." He helped himself to roast chicken from the platter which had just appeared in front of him.
Dumbledore had asked for the cubs' help in composing his start-of-term speech – he had wanted each of them to come up with words which were fun to say. Harry and Draco had agreed that for every word Dumbledore used from one of them, the other one had to pay five Sickles. Harry had found both "cobble" and "gape", while Draco had contributed "fuchsia". "Kumquat" was Hermione's, but she didn't care to bet.
Food, as usual, broke through Ron's stupor, and he was soon devouring everything he could reach. It was understandable, since the feast was every bit as good as Harry had come to expect from the Hogwarts house-elves. He slipped a few morsels of chicken to Siss, who enjoyed her food cooked occasionally. Once everyone had reached the "toying with dessert" stage, Dumbledore rose to his feet again.
"A few start-of-term notices for everyone. Firstly, I would like to welcome a new addition to our staff – Adjunct Professor of Defense Against the Dark Arts, Gilderoy Lockhart, who joins current Professor Quirinus Quirrell."
The wizard in lavender stood up and took several flamboyant bows to applause, especially loud, Harry noticed, from the girls in the room. Hermione was staring at the man, enraptured. Harry groaned inwardly. Oh joy. My sister's in love. He rubbed his forehead as Lockhart bowed exceptionally deeply in Hermione's direction. This is going to be a headache.
Dumbledore announced Quidditch tryouts, reminded everyone that the Forbidden Forest was forbidden ("Never stopped us before," George Weasley said), and concluded with something unexpected: "And finally, I must tell you that this year, the third-floor corridor on the right-hand side is out of bounds to everyone who does not wish to die a very painful death."
Harry exchanged a look with Draco. Investigate third-floor corridor had just gone to the top of their to-do list.
One semi-rousing rendition of the school song later (Draco muttered something to Hermione about remembering the words, and Harry wondered if his brother was thinking of composing an actual melody for the song), Percy Weasley led the Gryffindor first years out of the Great Hall. Harry made a mental note to get the Marauders' Map off Fred and George at some point in the near future and study a few basic routes – like how, basically, to get from the Great Hall to the Gryffindor dormitories... he knew it wouldn't always be the same, Hogwarts changed day to day, sometimes hour to hour, but a general idea of what was going on would be helpful...
Besides, the Map should help me more than it helps them. I'm the son of a Marauder...
"Non carborundum," Percy said to the portrait of a fat lady in pink. It swung forward, revealing the round hole in the wall Padfoot and Moony loved to reminisce about – mostly about all the times Wormtail had needed a boost to get through it. Neville was the one who needed a leg up tonight – Harry wasn't sure if that bothered him or not.
Harry already knew what he would find on the other side of the wall – a homey, round room full of soft armchairs and sofas and round wooden tables, mostly done in red and gold, with a large fireplace in one wall. It reminded him a lot of the Den, though he knew the cause and effect were really the other way around – since the Den was inhabited by Gryffindors, it made sense that it resembled the Gryffindor common room.
Harry and Draco hugged Hermione good night before she followed the other girls up their own staircase to bed, and Ron shook her hand.
"Going to be odd not sharing with–" Harry started, but was cut off first by an enormous yawn and then by Draco shaking his head.
"Probably better to keep the 'sharing-a-room-with-girls' bit under wraps," Draco muttered, barely moving his lips.
"Ah." Harry understood what Draco was getting at – Dean Thomas and Seamus Finnegan, the two "unknowns" among the Gryffindor boys, might well think it strange for boys and girls of his and his siblings' age to share a room, as indeed Neville might. Ron was used to it, it was just another of the strange things the Pack did, but there was no telling how the others would react.
So, it won't come up, they don't have to know, everyone's happy. Harry yawned hugely again as they climbed the stairs. Did our dorm have to be at the very top?
He pulled his pajamas out of his trunk. A slip of parchment fluttered to the floor. He picked it up and looked at it.
Thinking of you, Greeneyes. Much love, sleep well, and best of luck.
It was in Danger's handwriting, and all four Pack-parents had signed it.
Harry looked over at Draco and smiled to see that his brother had one too. He was sure it was almost identical, differing probably only in saying "little fox", and Hermione's would say "Neenie", or if Moony had written it, possibly "Kitten"...
He swallowed against an emotion threatening to rise inside him. No, I am not going to be homesick my first night here. I can be homesick tomorrow. Right now, I'm tired and I'm going to bed.
He dug a little farther down into his things and extracted his stuffed lion, which he tossed onto his bed. Draco did the same on the bed next to his. Ron was already in his pajamas and climbing into the four-poster on Harry's other side.
"G'night," Harry said as he finished buttoning his pajama top.
"G'night," Draco answered from his bed, pulling his curtains shut.
"Good night, Siss."
"Good night, Harry." The snake slid out from his pajama sleeve and curled up on his pillow. "Sleep well, and dream of fat prey."
Harry smiled and closed his eyes.
(A/N: And we're off! Please remember to review, I live for feedback, and give my Yahoo group (link on bio page) a visit! Just to let you know, I haven't decided yet if this story will stay almost entirely from Harry's POV (canon style) or if it will switch around... And happy LwD birthday, Remus Lupin!)