Warnings and Disclaimers: I tried to follow at least some of the canon guidelines for the common room, but took a bit of artistic license as well. Likewise with the tower system.

"I'm afraid most everyone is at dinner, Mr. Potter," the professor said in his rather squeaky voice, leading Harry past the (moving!) portrait into the room. "Now, normally we don't approve of skipping meals in the Great Hall, but the Headmaster agrees that you've been through quite a lot today, so you'll be introduced to the school at large at breakfast. The house elves have delivered a plate of sandwiches for you in your dorm, so feel free to settle yourself in. I don't doubt your classmates will be excited to meet you…"

Harry hid a wince by glancing around. The walls of the round room were covered by bookcases, and dozens of white candles in bronzed sconces burned with an unnaturally bright and steady light. There was a statue of a woman in robes in the middle of the space, with small tables and couches surrounding it. A few of the couches were occupied, and the students, all older than Harry was, stared at him in curiosity as the professor nudged him towards the stairs on the opposite side of the room.

"Now don't mind them, Mr. Potter," Professor Flitwick whispered, patting Harry on the shoulder. "They mean no harm by it, and it'll die down once they're used to you, you'll see."

Harry nodded and quickly crossed the room, doing his best not to meet any eyes. He hadn't been around this many people his age- few as they were, according to the professor- since his very brief stay in Zion's orphanage. Even the required civilian classes for literacy and mathematics, and basic coding, never tended towards more than four or five students to a class. There simply weren't that many children in Zion, and in contrast there were many adults willing to teach between shifts.

It was obvious already that Hogwarts was going to be different; Harry would just have to adjust to being around other children. And civilian children, on top of that. These weren't those few children he was used to, who were completely aware of the danger their home was constantly in. They would be more like the children he'd gone to school with in Little Whinging…

Those really weren't very fond memories, and he did his best to put them out of mind. If nothing else, there was no Dudley here to turn the other children against him.

Professor Flitwick led him up the spiraling stairs, passing a door every few feet. "Each year is divided into boys and girls, and each group of students has their own half-level. As you can see, the doors are clearly marked with Runes so that no one accidentally tries to open the wrong door. There are a few minor hexes on each door for anyone who tries to sneak in anyway, catches a few students every year." He paused about halfway up the stairwell. "This is Sowilo, your dorm.* You shouldn't have any trouble remembering its shape."

Harry stared at the door and resisted the urge to brush his fringe in over the scar on his forehead. The rune looked like nothing so much as a vertical lightning bolt. "Yes, sir," he muttered in response.

He was ushered into the room, which curved along the outside of the tower. Windows covered the external wall, and six beds were placed at even intervals between the windows. Bookshelves and desks occupied the inner curve of the wall. There was a flash of movement caught in the corner of his eye, and Harry jerked his head around, hearing a loud pop.

"Nothing to worry about, lad, just a house elf bringing you some sandwiches," Professor Flitwick reassured him, reaching up to pat his shoulder. "As you can see, the bed on the north end is yours."

The simple trunk he and Professor Snape had purchased in Diagon Alley was already sitting at its end. Resting on the bedside table were a glass of orange liquid and a plate stacked high with sandwiches of some dark meat, and Harry's stomach abruptly rumbled.

The professor chuckled at the sound. "I'll leave you to it, lad. Come morning I'll lead you down to breakfast, and we'll work out what to do about your classes." Humming cheerfully, almost skipping, he left the dormitory.

Harry ate slowly in the darkness of his bed hangings, enjoying despite himself the rich flavors that food had within the Matrix. Zion simply didn't have the ability or resources to grow a great variety of foods, opting instead to grow foods by quantity or in protein vats. The boy had gotten used to it fairly easily, since meals had been scanty and generally the worst parts of what had been laid out on the table at the Dursleys', but that didn't change the fact that, fake as it was, Matrix food was delicious.

The scuffling of feet and quiet whispers drew his attention to the tiny gap in his bed curtains. Between them, Harry could just see other boys his age entering the room, and staring at his bed. He held still, scarcely breathing as he hoped none would approach the bed…

None did. It felt as though hours had passed before the last boy settled into his bed with a rustling of sheets and curtains, and Harry could breathe freely again.

He couldn't avoid them forever. His mission wouldn't allow for it, much the opposite in fact, and the fate of Zion might very well rest on the success of his mission (a thought which occasionally sent a chill through his innards).

But the morning would be soon enough.


The Great Hall took only a moment to quiet when Headmaster Dumbledore rose and tapped his glass with his wand.

Normally, such cooperation would have been longer in coming, but the students already suspected there was something unusual in the works. The Ravenclaws had spread the rumors of a strange new student escorted to their dorms by Professor Flitwick almost upon waking, and the majority of the student body had witnessed the same professor bring a young, dark-haired boy to breakfast just a bit late. The diminutive wizard had given the boy an encouraging smile and the Ravenclaws a quelling look, before making his way towards the Head Table. The professors there immediately pulled Flitwick into excited, whispered conversation.

No Ravenclaw had yet dared their Head of House to approach the stranger. Yet. The strain of holding back their curiosity was taking a visible toll on them. The other Houses were much the same. The Hufflepuffs made frequent glances towards him and whispered among themselves. The Slytherins glanced at him often from the corners of their eyes. And the Gryffindors weren't making even a pretext of subtlety as they craned their necks to get a good look at him. There was an audible sigh of relief from the entire Hall when at last the Headmaster stood to address them.

"First of all, a good morning to one and all," he said, eyes twinkling merrily. "I hope everyone is looking forward to their classes today?"

There were quiet groans, and he chuckled. "Yes, yes, I'm sure. And I'm also sure you've all noticed our new student? His letter of invitation unfortunately did not reach him prior to the school year beginning, but due to the circumstances, it was judged that making up a single month of classwork would not be an issue. It is my hope that you will welcome him among you, and give him your assistance until he catches up with the rest of you."

Having apparently said all he meant to, Dumbledore resumed his seat and piled sticky pastries onto his plate. Further down the table, Professor Snape glowered briefly at Potter before applying fork and knife to the last of his sausages. Leave it to the brat to attract this much attention even before factoring in his fame. Yes, it was an unusual situation, but not unheard of; and the Headmaster hadn't helped it a bit, being as evasive as he had been. Any student with even half a brain- a quarter, the wizard corrected himself, as half was giving the students he had to endure far too much credit- would look past his banal statement and wonder what was truly going on.

Several of his Slytherins were giving him cautious looks, waiting to see if their head of house would give them direction in the matter. Irritated by the necessity, Severus glared at them, doing his best to impress upon them that this was a matter best left unmolested. For now, at least.

Distracted by running herd on his students, he didn't notice the Headmaster had risen again from the table until he was at the doors. "Oh, yes!" Dumbledore said, speaking far more loudly than could have been necessary. "Mr. Potter, if you'll join me in my office? We need to go over your schedule."

Pale, even more pale than he had been before, Potter rose from his seat and followed the Headmaster. Cursing under his breath, Flitwick did the same, rushing from the hall after them.

Whispers and then shouts rose in their passage. Severus pinched the bridge of his nose between two fingers, feeling a severe headache coming on. Damn the man and his incessant, juvenile need for theatrics.

And it had been going so well.


"It's pure favoritism! It shouldn't be allowed!"

The Gryffindor girl's voice was high and shrill with righteous indignation, and Draco winced as he was forced to listen to it. Some of the crowd of Gryffindors around her, and even a couple of Slytherins seemed receptive to her tirade, but most of them looked at her as though they couldn't believe the words coming out of her mouth.

"Are you stupid, Granger?" he finally asked, unable to stay silent any longer. The sneer that came naturally to the Slytherin's face was heartfelt. "Of course they let Potter in. What else could they possibly do?"

The Muggleborn spun to face him, her face flushing. "He didn't accept his letter in time. I know Potter is the Boy-Who-Lived, and that he's famous and everyone is grateful, but he should still have to wait his turn like anyone else and apply to Hogwarts next year."

Draco was amused to see that the Gryffindor had lost all of the purebloods, and some of the halfbloods, who had been on her side before, and even more that she hadn't apparently noticed. "Granger, they couldn't not teach Potter. It wouldn't be safe," he drawled. "He survived one of the most powerful curses there is as a baby, and as near as anyone can tell, his accidental magic took out a Dark Lord. Potter has to be trained, it wouldn't be safe for him or anyone near him to leave it another year."

Granger spluttered. "But… but I had to wait a year, and I was only a month too young for last year's class! That doesn't make any sense!"

He had to laugh. It was simply too perfect not to laugh, and the all the scorn an eleven-year-old could pack into it made the girl flinch back as though he'd struck her. "Don't fool yourself, Granger. You're just not that powerful. Of course you could wait a year and no one would care."

By now he was the only person in the classroom anyone was paying attention to at all, and Draco reveled in the feeling. This was what his father had meant by ruling his year, the recognition of his superiority over the other students even in so small a matter. Other students might have shared his knowledge, the purebloods especially, but Draco was the one who'd spoken up. It was something to build on.

Provided Potter didn't have any designs on Draco's proper place, that was. Draco would never let him take it, but the Ravenclaw- and wasn't that as much of a shock as the Boy-Who-Lived showing up at all after being kidnapped years ago- could make things annoyingly difficult. Draco had had a month to follow his father's instructions and lay the groundwork for his future alliances, but Harry Potter had the advantage of his fame and the known power of his magic. If the Slytherin couldn't convince him that following Draco was in his best interests, or at least to stay out of the competition, then the next few years were going to be… interesting.

Chuckles had spread through the classroom as Draco put Granger in her place, but were quickly stifled as Professor McGonagall swept through the door and to the front of the room. Her basilisk stare challenged any of her students to gossip about their newly-returned celebrity instead of paying attention to her lecture; yet they were as well-behaved as they could be, even if Granger was too subdued to wave her hand in the air to answer questions as was her usual wont. Not even Gryffindors would have been foolish enough to take on that dare, with their Head of House in such a mood.

In the seat near the window, Draco Malfoy laid plans with Potter in mind.


Half the castle away, and two floors up, Harry Potter leaned over his class schedule as he listened with half an ear to Professor Dumbledore, and wondered how he'd ever get some of his fellow wizards to follow him out of the Matrix.

*Note: Any time I refer to a rune, I'll be using the Younger Futhark version.

A/N: Some of you will believe that I am bashing Hermione in this chapter. There are times I don't care for her, I admit, but this particular scene I feel is a completely logical progression from her character in the first book. She is rule-abiding to the extreme, while also believing that everything, especially the actions of authority figures, must and will be fair to all. She is also friendless, as in canon; in canon, I suspect that this was the result not just of her reliance on her intelligence and a lack of social skills, as shown in many other fics, but a combination of knowing both that she was smarter and older than her peers (born in September, she is nearly a year older than Harry), and therefore obviously more mature than her peers. Which she is, in some ways, and yet more immature in others.

I decided I wasn't going to sleep tonight until I had at least two chapters finished and posted, perhaps with a couple of the drabbles that have been distracting me lately as well. Sort of a Christmas present to myself that you might enjoy a bit too, and since those two chapters were maybe 500 words each from being semi-finished, completely doable. And yes, it's short. I suspect I've been somewhat depressed for a few months now, so it feels good to be writing at all.

25 December 2010