A little over a month later, Harry was loading his and Dudley's trunks into Uncle Vernon's company car and feeling as though there was a balloon inflating his insides. Today was the day. They were going to Hogwarts!
He barely spared his aunt a glance as she gave them a stiff goodbye from the doorway. He did notice that Dudley seemed rather upset though. But then, after the last month, that was understandable. Harry was caught between a guilty sort of glee and pity when he thought about what had happened over the last month between his aunt and cousin. Aunt Petunia seemed torn between doting on Dudley as she always had, and being utterly repulsed by him.
The only thing Harry could make any sense of in the entire affair was that his aunt not only knew about magic, but she hated it. Passionately. And she seemed unable to decide if this hatred extended to her only son.
So Harry had spent the past month along with his uncle, watching in bafflement as Aunt Petunia alternately snapped at Dudley as though he was Harry, which upset and confused Dudley, and acted overly sweet toward him, which still confused him. During these sweet moments, she sometimes looked nauseous as she hugged her precious Diddydums, and if Dudley made one mention of school or magic or even Harry, she immediately froze up and snapped at him again.
As it was, Harry and Uncle Vernon had watched as Aunt Petunia said a brisk goodbye and gave her son a very brief hug, as though she didn't really want to touch him. She, of course, ignored Harry entirely, which was nothing unexpected.
Uncle Vernon allowed Dudley to sit in the front seat with him, which gave Harry the entire back seat to stretch out in. He didn't, of course, because Uncle Vernon would kill him if he put his feet on the upholstery, but the fact remained that he wasn't being crowded or whacked over the head by an idiot who kept forgetting he was a wizard. He smiled as he listened to Uncle Vernon swear at the radio. School hadn't even started, and here he was, already reaping the benefits.
When they got to Kings Cross, Harry nearly loaded their things onto separate trolleys, before remembering that there was no way Dudley would push his own. He steered the full trolley into the train station behind his uncle and cousin, who were discussing the matter of the platform in hushed tones. Uncle Vernon may have accepted that Dudley was a wizard, but that didn't mean he wanted people to know it.
When they got to platform ten, Uncle Vernon stopped and stared around uncertainly.
"Boy," he said, turning around and staring at Harry, who was breathing hard as he pushed the heavy trolley as best he could. "Do you see Platform 9 ¾?"
"P-platform what?" Harry panted, pulling as hard as he could on the trolley in an attempt to stop it. He sighed in relief and leaned against the trolley. "Are you sure they don't mean nine?"
"Of course I'm sure," Uncle Vernon hissed, shoving the ticket into his hands and forcing Harry to step away from the trolley. "It says it right there. Now find it."
Harry stared at the ticket in bewilderment and leaned against the barrier between platforms nine and ten, still breathing hard from the exertion of moving the trunk.
A second later, he fell through the wall and landed on his back, staring up at a sign that read, "Platform 9 ¾"
Ten minutes later found Harry loading his and Dudley's things onto the train. Uncle Vernon had been unable to get through the platform for some reason, so he'd said goodbye out next to platform ten. That is, he ordered Harry to go get on the train and said a proper goodbye to Dudley. The last thing Harry saw before falling back through the barrier again was Uncle Vernon gruffly shaking Dudley's hand and telling him how proud he was of him.
Harry thought Uncle Vernon might have been feeling slightly guilty over the way Aunt Petunia had been treating Dudley for the past month. He also thought he couldn't care less, and that he was finally rid of the both of them. As he struggled to load Dudley's trunk onto the train, he thought of various ways that he could keep Dudley from bothering him. There were a lot of people on this platform. Harry thought he might be able to lose himself in the crowd and make Dudley forget that he even existed.
It had worked before, he thought philosophically as he stuffed Dudley's trunk under a seat and set off to find a different compartment. He would start now by avoiding Dudley on the train.
He found an empty compartment toward the back and stowed his stuff there, in the luggage rack. It was more difficult than putting it under the seat, but he figured Dudley would definitely be looking for him and as long as his stuff was up high, his cousin wouldn't bother with the physical labor required to tamper with it. Harry had nearly been trunk-crushed just putting it up there.
He settled down in a chair with one of his books. It was potions, which was the one he understood the least. He had promised Uncle Vernon that he wouldn't waste his money, and he was afraid that if Uncle Vernon thought he wasn't getting much out of this school, then he would have to drop out and go to Stonewall.
He had a feeling that he was going to have to help Dudley somehow, because if Dudley did worse than Harry, no matter that Harry wasn't wasting his education, Uncle Vernon would still be upset.
In fact, Harry thought, having hit upon a sudden epiphany, if he knew the material well enough, he could bribe Dudley into leaving him alone by doing his homework for him.
And so it was with this thought that Harry returned to studying his potions textbook with renewed vigor.
They had been on the train for hours, Harry thought as he sat hidden in one of the lavatories. It looked a bit like his cupboard, only it had a sink and a toilet instead of a cot.
In fact, it was like his cupboard in more than appearance. He was hiding in here from Dudley, which made this very much like his cupboard. Aside from the toilet, and the fact that he could lock the door from the inside, and people couldn't just slam the door open and closed whenever they liked, this was very much like his cupboard. Especially since he'd been in here for the past four hours.
He'd been kicked out of his compartment not thirty minutes after he found it. Three older boys had wandered in, seen him, and ordered him out immediately. From there he'd wandered the hall, cautious to not be seen by anyone inside the compartments, in case one of those 'anyone's were Dudley. He knew what Dudley did when he was bored, and he also knew how easily Dudley could become bored, having lived with his fat cousin since his parents had died in that car accident.
Having wandered half the length of the train, and having arrived at the place where he'd left Dudley's trunk, he cautiously peeked inside the compartment to see if his cousin was there.
He was. He was sitting with two other boys, a redhead and a sandy haired boy. They both appeared fascinated by what he was saying, although Dudley didn't look too happy.
As Harry watched curiously, Dudley glanced up at the door, then did a double take and stared at him, an evil grin splitting his face.
It was at this point that Harry had taken refuge in the bathroom.
Much, much later, Harry awoke with a jolt as the train slowed and began to stop. He cautiously peeked his head out of the bathroom and glanced around. Dudley was nowhere to be seen. Good.
Harry stepped out of the lavatory, noting through one of the compartment windows that everyone else was wearing their uniforms. He probably needed to put his own on, especially since they were stopping. He darted down the hall to the compartment he'd been in and ducked inside, startling the three boys who'd stolen it from him. He quickly apologized and reached up to dig through his trunk, pulling out a set of robes before dashing out of the compartment. Those boys had looked about ready to hex him.
Newly changed and feeling much more confident, Harry joined the rest of the students as they disembarked and milled on the platform. He had just begun wondering what he was supposed to be doing when he heard a shout.
"Firs' years! Firs' years this way!"
Harry sighed in relief and followed the voice, ending up in a group with a bunch of other kids his age, all standing in front of a giant of a man. He remembered the creatures in the bank at Diagon Alley and shrugged mentally, figuring the wizarding world had all sorts. He saw Dudley and those boys he'd been with looking around and ducked to the opposite side of the small crowd. It looked like Dudley had gotten himself a new gang. Harry couldn't say he was happy that his cousin was making friends so fast.
He followed the giant man down a steep slope along with the rest of the students, and was told to choose a boat. He looked around worriedly, not wanting to get stuck with Dudley. There was a boat with only three people in it: a redheaded girl, a chubby boy with brown hair, and a dark boy with a snooty air about him. Harry quickly picked this boat, sitting down with his back to the water and keeping an eye out for Dudley.
"Hello," the girl said, "I'm Susan. What's your name?"
"Harry," Harry said after a moment, surprised that she had spoken to him. She offered her hand and he took it, feeling a little confused. He couldn't help but think of a boy who'd made friends with him back in primary school, mostly to spite Dudley and his gang. After a week, the boy had come back from recess with a black eye and hadn't spoken to Harry ever again. He hoped this girl wouldn't meet the same fate.
"Harry?" the dark boy asked, momentarily roused out of his pretentious silence. "You mean, like Harry Potter?"
"Yes…" Harry said carefully, not liking where this was heading. "I suppose you met my cousin then?"
"Your…what?" The boy seemed bewildered. "My name is Blaise. Why would I have met your cousin?"
"Well," Harry began, but then the boats pushed forward and the brown haired boy fell into his lap.
"I'm sorry, I'm sorry!" he said, settling back in his seat and sounding positively mortified. "I wasn't expecting the boats to move!"
"It's fine," Harry said, fixing his glasses. They'd nearly dropped into the water when the boy had fallen on him. Harry was feeling confident compared to this shaking, nervous boy. "What's your name?"
"N-neville Longbottom," he stuttered. "And I really am sorry."
Harry nodded and everyone was quiet for a few moments, before Susan broke the silence with a question.
"What house do you think you'll be in?"
Harry looked at her and realized she was asking them all. Blaise gave an elegant snort and said, "Slytherin, of course."
She looked expectantly at Harry and Neville, who muttered with a sidelong glance at Blaise that he was hoping for Gryffindor, but who knew, really. Harry had no idea what she was talking about, but he didn't want to seem stupid in front of his boatmates.
"What house do you think you'll be in?" Harry asked, feigning thoughtfulness.
"All my family's been in Hufflepuff for generations," she said proudly. "So that's what I'm hoping for."
Harry nodded wisely and tried to think of something to say when Blaise spoke up.
"I'm in a boat with a future Hufflepuff and a future Gryffindor. How did that happen?" He didn't sound contemptuous, not really, but there was something in his voice that made Harry wonder what was wrong with Hufflepuff and Gryffindor. These two seemed perfectly nice, although Susan seemed a bit insulted at his tone and Neville had shrunk down in his seat and was now staring at his shoes.
Harry spent the rest of the boat trip staring up at the beautiful castle they were headed toward. He hadn't even noticed it at first, having been too busy avoiding Dudley to even look in the right direction. Now, though, he couldn't take his eyes off the sight.
I'm going to learn magic in that castle, Harry thought, and the balloon returned, expanding until he felt he didn't need the boat; he could float the rest of the way to Hogwarts.
"Harry Potter?! The Harry Potter? Is that him? D'you see his scar?"
People were standing up to look at him as he walked up to the stool to be sorted. Harry kept his eyes firmly on the Hat, but inside he was bewildered beyond expression. They hadn't reacted that way for anyone else. Dudley had gone up there, been sorted into Gryffindor (Harry thought he could understand Blaise's contempt now) and the only sound that had been made was the applause. After he'd been sorted. No one had asked if it was "The Dudley Dursley". No one had particularly cared. He'd just been another first year, as had the rest of the first years. Why were they so impressed with Harry? He wasn't anyone particularly special. He'd been a nobody at his last school. He sat on the stool and let the hat slip over his eyes, still pondering this curiosity.
"Well, well. What have we here."
Harry nearly, nearly jumped. He managed to stay still and not show any outward sign of surprise, a skill that had saved his hide on more than one occasion with the Dursleys.
Hello? he thought tentatively. Someone chuckled inside his head. Who are you?
"I'm the Sorting Hat, here to sort you."
Harry relaxed. This was supposed to happen. Okay then.
Sort away then, he thought cautiously. Another chuckle.
"Alright then, lets see what we've got here. Courage, oh my, yes…not a bad mind, either. Loyalty…and a thirst, to prove yourself…"
Well? Harry thought hopefully.
"Where should I put you?"
The thought of being stuck in Dudley's house crossed his mind. He remembered what Professor McGonagall had said, about houses being family. He'd had enough of being Dudley's family, and he thought he'd quite like a new one.
"Not Gryffindor, eh? Well, no problems there. You'd have done fine there, but you're really more of a…"
Harry sagged with relief and stood, noting in satisfaction that the whispers had stopped. No one was even clapping. He walked to his table and sank down into an empty seat next to a blonde boy who'd been sorted in under two seconds. It was at this point that he realized that everyone was staring at him in apparent shock.
Harry shifted uneasily, wondering what he'd done now.
Harry sat on his bed in the Slytherin first year dorms, marveling at the fact that he had a bed. He'd never had a bed before. He bounced a bit, trying not to grin too broadly, and thought about what had happened at the Welcoming Feast.
After the initial silence that had followed his sorting, the table he was already sitting at seemed to realize what had just happened, and very suddenly exploded in cheers. Scores of older students had come over to shake his hand, and he had barely contained his shock. He could not, for the life of him, figure out what was going on. Why were they so happy to have him with them? Granted, it was a wonderful change from being constantly sniped at or ignored, but why? He hadn't done anything in particular. He'd hidden in the bathroom for most of the train ride! These people should have had no idea who he was!
The boy next to him, the blond one, had shaken his hand as well and introduced himself as Draco Malfoy in a very superior sort of tone. Harry could hear the italics in his voice. It appeared that he expected Harry to have some sort of reaction to his name. Harry had no idea who he was, but he nodded and smiled and shook the other boy's hand and pretended that there was a reason why everyone knew him and assumed that he knew them, inwardly wondering if he would find a sane person in this school.
The headmaster did not offer him much in the way of reassurance, ending his speech with a shout of, "Nitwit! Blubber! Oddment! Tweak!" and then sitting down in a very satisfied sort of way, as if he'd given some very good advice. Harry had tried very hard not to look confused, figuring it was a wizard thing, as some people had laughed at the other tables, and even the Slytherins he was sitting with didn't look too surprised.
Dudley's gang had all been sorted together, to Harry's displeasure. Gryffindors, the lot of them. Draco Malfoy mentioned that the Gryffindors were a bunch of goody two shoes, and Harry snorted in disbelief, wondering how anyone could think his cousin anything but a fat pig.
He said as much to him, and was surprised by the grins he got from just about everyone seated around him. An older boy, Marcus Flint, began pointing out the teachers to the first years, telling them that they would do well to remember who was who and how best to deal with each teacher.
A lank haired, hooked nosed man was introduced as their Head of House and Potions Professor, Severus Snape. He was staring at his plate in a vaguely threatening manner, and Harry decided to treat this man how he treated Uncle Vernon in a bad mood. Next to him was a man in a purple turban that Flint identified as Professor Quirrel, their Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher. Harry watched curiously as he cut his steak with a butter knife. Then Quirrel turned away from them to talk to the teacher on the other side of him and Harry's head felt like it was being sliced with a knife. His eyes went wide and he nearly dropped his fork, grimacing in pain.
Several people noticed this, and asked what was wrong. Harry waved it off as a headache, which was the honest truth. He stared up at Quirrel, wondering what had caused that sudden flash of pain. It had happened when the professor had turned away. Harry filed that information away in the back of his mind for later.
After the feast, a fifth year prefect took them down to the dungeons, pointing out the way to the library and the potions classroom and telling them to remember the way back to the Great Hall.
Harry resolved to remember as much as he could, and paid close attention as they walked. He reflected once again on the madness of the wizards and witches he had met so far and decided to find the library when he had some time. At the very least, there should be something there about all this information he was expected to know.
The prefect pointed them in the direction of their rooms, which was where Harry was now, sitting on his bed, as amazing as that seemed to him. He was sharing with five other boys, including Draco Malfoy and Blaise, and the room was huge. They had all introduced themselves and Harry found that he was living with a Theo Nott, a Greg Goyle, and a Vincent Crabbe. And of course, Blaise, who actually had a last name (Zabini), and who could forget Draco Malfoy. He was the only boy Harry knew who had italics in his name.
Harry found though, that he wouldn't have cared if one of them had asterisks in their name, because they seemed to have decided he was a friend. Harry'd never had a friend before, unless you count Mr. Black Eye, and he didn't, not really. He admired his new green and silver Slytherin scarf and ties, set them carefully in his trunk with the rest of his things, and lay down on his bed. It was the most comfortable thing he'd ever slept on. And tomorrow he was going to learn magic. He closed his hangings and grinned like a loon. Let them all be crazy, he didn't care. He was going to learn magic, he was going to have friends, and he was going to live in a dungeon, and not even knowing that Dudley was somewhere in the castle with him would spoil this.