Disclaimer: Characters from the Harry Potter series are the property of J.K. Rowling and various publishers: including but not limited to Bloomsbury, Scholastic and Warner Brothers. No money is being made and no copyright or trademark infringement is intended by the writing of this story.


Year One
Unsteady Reality
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Chapter Three
Detours


"Breakfast is being ready, M'ster Harry," Toppy told him on the early morning of September 1st as Harry finished checking his trunk and its contents. Nodding in acknowledgment to the House Elf's announcement and thanking the small being, the young wizard gave a last glance at his room; seeing only the one bed, bare walls, floor and nothing that should have been packed before now. Nothing seemed to be left behind and none of his knickknacks were scattered about. Satisfied with his final search he took out his wand from the expanded pocket of his trousers, tapped the top of the vertical trunk and watched in amusement as the bookshelf wiggled and retracted its clawed feet, before sliding back into its compartment while the set of drawers on the left followed its example.

The trunk squirmed a bit more, as if getting comfortable with itself, before the cabinet doors of the front compartment were swallowed up as well, leaving only a smooth surface and a normal looking trunk in its wake. Hedwig's cage, his only other piece of luggage, had already been taken out and cleaned since it had been unused for the last three weeks and neglected under his bed. It was now waiting for him in the living room, along with his snowy owl, for their first trip to Hogwarts.

Stowing his wand, he tipped his trunk on its edge and shook his head slightly when the sound of the four spherical feet at the bottom of the piece of luggage rolled away from their places and hefted it up, placing themselves at the edge so that Harry could drag the trunk without trouble. Really, he didn't think he'd ever stop being amazed at what wizards could come up with, and was even more curious as to how the four little wheels didn't bump on the uneven floorboards and provided such a smooth ride.

Stowing this curiosity for later, he pulled on the handle and leisurely made his way towards the main room of his cottage, saw that it was not quite eight o'clock, and took the time to look around in satisfaction.

It might be bare, it might need a bit of polish and more than a few things replaced besides, but his little home was perfect in his mind, and already looked much improved from what it had been when he first set foot on it. He'd already given Toppy his directions for the year; the little elf was to finish cleaning every nook and cranny in the cottage, both inside and outside (which they hadn't really paid much mind to apart from patching up the roof), repairing what needed it, replacing what could not be repaired and spelling everything with care. After that, the immediate surroundings would be cared for and a small garden begun.

Both of them had walked the extensive property and found quite the selection of plants in and around it, and while restoring the whole terrain would be too much work at this point, refurbishing the closest field and planting a bit of everything edible in it would be enough to provide for the house and those who lived in it. Any surplus Toppy was to sell in the markets, which should bring a few more galleons in. While the little elf hadn't finished his gardening classes, he knew enough to take care of a normal garden.

The magical plants, on the other hand, would have to wait until Harry could pay for the little fellow to continue his training, or he could get another elf or elves that specialized in that area.

And they would be needed too, as there were quite a lot of them around the property. Harry had been right when he guessed potion ingredients had once been grown around this property. As a whole, about a quarter of it was set up to do that, with different environments provided in the small lake, the long bog and the woods. Most of the open fields had been farmed before and he had even seen bowtruckles in the light forest, meaning that there were wand-trees around as well.

Toppy had even mentioned spotting a few other magical creatures in the area, but none of them were hazardous to them both or the surroundings. It would take a bit more exploring to see what they all were though, but that could wait.

Having left his trunk next to Hedwig's empty cage, Harry made his way toward the dining room table, which they had found in the greenhouse and restored. It wasn't in the best of conditions, what with a mismatched and replaced leg and a rather battered appearance after they had to scrub it down thoroughly, but it did its job, and while small enough to fit only two people, there was only Harry in the cottage to use it, since Toppy was terrified of eating with him for some reason.

Indeed, the little elf's reaction to his invitation to eat with him had been a bit more violent than he thought possible and so he decided not to press the issue.

As it was, breakfast consisted of bacon, eggs and toast, which he ate in silent contemplation, checking things over in his mind just to make sure he hadn't forgotten anything.

His prospects for some useable money by the end of the school year was not because his investments wouldn't start paying beforehand, but because what revenue he did get during this year would be directed immediately into the magical protection of his property. A percentage of it would go into replenishing the gold he'd already used up, true, but the majority of it would go into having the Muggle-Repellent, Notice-Me-Not and various enchantments repowered or recast, since a few of them were rather tattered at the moment, what with no magic users living in the place for such a long time.

Besides that, Harry wanted the whole property to be made Unplotable, and lastly, his personal location, not the property itself, placed under the Fidelius. Both of which were rather expensive procedures.

True, there were a hundred other protections he could place, and actually planned on placing, but anonymity would be more than enough for next summer. If he couldn't be found, he wouldn't be, and that was more than enough for now. So Gornuk would remain under contract and every time there was enough money from his investments, the goblin would arrange for one or more of these magical protections to be placed.

Moreover, there were enough galleons on hand to last Toppy the rest of the year and pay for any materials needed so the small house could be fully repaired. Thinking as he ate, he wasn't sure if there was anything else related to his small home that needed to be done; Toppy had already been instructed to send Gulliver to a post-office if there was ever a need, instead of sending him directly to Hogwarts lest the owl be recognized.

Everything else he owned and needed was in his trunk, and all of his other resources were either spent or working hard at making more money. He wouldn't get word from Mr. Becket, who was in charge of his investments, until at least the middle of September, so there was nothing to be done on that end. The same went for Gornuk, since his contract with the goblin didn't come into effect until there were enough galleons in his vault.

His letter to Madam Bones had only been sent a few days ago, so it would take time before he heard news on that front, though he had already subscribed to the Prophet for the year to keep an eye out, and until he knew how she acted he wouldn't be able to know if he could use that avenue for his plans. Should it backfire or not work, he would need to find another way, but he was planning on taking things on that front somewhat slowly.

He finished his breakfast with a sigh, his belly nice and full, and took the paper that Toppy placed in front of him, which seemed to have arrived while he was eating. Looking at his watch, he noticed that it was only a quarter till nine at the moment. "Toppy?" he asked as he unfolded the paper on the table, his arms a bit too small to hold the whole thing upright.

With a pop, the elf was at his elbow, "Yes, M'ster Harry?"

"We'll be leaving in about forty-five minutes, could you remind me when it's time?" he asked distractedly, as he spotted a small article announcing that the Boy-Who-Lived would be attending Hogwarts today. There was even speculation about his childhood and interviews with some of Diagon Alley's shop-owners, where they had been asked if they had recognized him, or if he had been spotted.

Was that there last time as well? He didn't remember seeing it, that's for sure.

Still, apart from that, the biggest news at the moment seemed to rotate around St Mungo's and some spell damage that affected half a dozen people, along with the usual gossip about the who's who of the wizarding world.

So immersed was he in searching for anything of note that he was halfway through the Quidditch section of the paper, which marked the end of the periodical, when Toppy appeared beside him once again, "M'ster Harry, it be time now," the little elf reminded him with a bow.

Startled, he looked at his watch and noticed that yes, it was nine thirty-five in the morning, and since he had wanted to get to the Platform early, it would be best if he left soon, "Thanks Toppy." Folding the paper and leaving it in the table, he went over to Hedwig, who was perched beside Gulliver, and stroked her feathers, "Hey girl, it's time we get going," reaching out, he took her cage from beside his trunk and opened it so that the snowy owl could climb in, "There's a girl, you can go back to sleep now, eh? I'll let you out again when we get on the train."

Hedwig clicked her beak at him and fluffed her feathers before settling down on her perch. Toppy was standing beside his trunk looking up at him with his enormously bright brown eyes, "Are you being ready, M'ster Harry?" the olive-brown elf asked, the tips of his long ears quivering at his shoulder blades.

Harry didn't answer right away though, and took a good long look of his home, trying to imprint the image in his mind; he was going to miss the place, even though he hadn't been here for long. When he was done, he looked down at Toppy, who was wearing some short overalls that the elf had bought with money he had given him for such a purpose, and nodded, stretching his hand for Toppy to grab.

Elf apparition wasn't all that different from wizarding apparition, true; there was the same compressing sensation, the same squeezing through a rubber-tube feeling, but there was one simple difference. While human apparition was seemingly instantaneous, and you got out of the tube almost as soon as you were squeezed into it, a House Elf's apparition took a couple of seconds longer.

And it was in those couple of seconds that the difference was found. The tube you felt yourself being squeezed through was not straight, but bent and swirly. Toppy had told him that it was this that allowed House Elves to bypass most magical protections and barriers, since the magic was not straight or instantaneous. It could still be blocked just as well as normal apparition, though. It just wasn't needed all that much; especially when wizards were too sure of their superiority to utilize the little beings to get anywhere.

Still, it was a tidbit of information that he'd only learned after he'd asked his little employee.

When they popped into existence Harry found himself in a hidden alcove of King's Cross Station; one of two apparition points in the area. Turning around to see if they had arrived in one piece, he checked his pocket to see if he had his ticket and made sure his clothes were muggle-proof, and then turned to the drooping Toppy, who had just popped back from retrieving his trunk and Hedwig. Squatting in front of the tiny elf, Harry smiled at the small creature's shuffling and tugged one of the elf's long ears gently, "I'll be home before you notice," he told him.

Sniffing, the little elf didn't look up as much as he peeked at him, before scuffing his feat a bit more, "M'ster Harry, sir, be gone for a year," came the whispered, depressed reply.

"More like eight months, really," he said in a thoughtful tone before something occurred to him, "besides," he told Toppy slyly, "there's still so much work to do at home, do you really want me to be there to work as well?" he asked and watched how Toppy's fingers twitched, knowing how the little elf took to seeing Harry cleaning. "I'll tell you what, why don't you come and visit me during Christmas, then? That way I can give you your present in person."

That snapped the elf's attention right up and disbelief was clearly visible in the big brown eyes. Luckily, Toppy had become used to Harry enough that he didn't get overly emotional or started groveling, bowing or scraping at the merest sign of praise, which Harry gave out freely and frequently.

Still, the shock was more than palpable in the little being, "M'ster Harry'll give Toppy a present?"

"I will," he nodded firmly, "so chin up, work hard, though not too hard, and be ready for when I call you on Christmas day, I'll want to know then how everything's doing, okay?"

Nodding vigorously, Toppy gave him a short bow, almost bouncing in place, "Toppy'll do his best, M'ster Harry, sir!"

"Good," he nodded with a last pull on the elf's ear and stood up, taking Hedwig's cage in one hand and pulling his trunk with the other before turning to leave the magically hidden alcove, looking back with a "Have fun Toppy, and take care!" before slipping out and seamlessly joining the hustle and bustle of people, knowing that the little guy would be fine. It didn't take him more than five minutes to walk the familiar way toward Platform Nine and Ten, and his step didn't even falter as he veered slightly and entered Platform Nine and Three Quarters.

He paused ever so slightly and a smile spread across his face. He was here once more, where it all began, and with this in mind he walked idly toward the train. It was as beautiful as he remembered and still as striking now as it had been all those years ago.

There weren't all that many people in and about the train yet, seeing that it was not even ten o'clock. The majority of the students would begin arriving after ten thirty he was sure, so there really wasn't anyone to take much notice of him as he entered one of the middle carts and settled into an empty compartment.

Before sitting down, he tapped his wand on the trunk and retrieved his satchel, which contained his flute, a couple of books and his uniform. With that out of the way, he quickly looked around and saw the very faint trickle of students and parents arriving early, with no one looking his way, and levitated his trunk into the overhead compartment. He let Hedwig out, stored her cage beside his trunk, took his thin book on Occlumency out from his satchel and settled down into a corner to read.

It was strange, really; of all the emotions he had experienced so far and all of the things that he had felt and sensed; something still bothered him. He felt too much anticipation at arriving at Hogwarts, something that he shouldn't be feeling so strongly since he'd been to and lived in the Castle before. But then, maybe it was because of the newness of these emotions that he felt them so strongly, so acutely. After all, all of his past memories were without emotional ties, so only those moments he had lived in this dimension truly registered as real.

Only these past few weeks felts truly whole to him; complete.

And it was then he realized what seemed so strange to him. True, he knew that even if he remembered his life in the other dimension, the emotions tied to it were gone. He was but a mere emotionless echo of his original soul, a mere reflection. He had a soul, true, and he had a body and mind. Two dimensions of a whole. But he didn't have any of the emotions or emotional bonds from his original life and this was the aspect he had been missing, this was what made his experiences so strange, so new.

So intense, and at the same time so flat.

Even as he looked outside at the milling people, he recognized more than a few of them; former and future classmates and friends. And yet, apart from the knowledge of who they were and the factual information of his former relationship with them, he couldn't feel anything else. No nostalgia, no friendship, no care or concern. It explained why he hadn't just gone straight to the Weasleys' after waking up in this dimension, or anything quite as sentimental.

And yet, the knowledge was there and the seeds of what could be his relationship with them had already been planted within him. It would only take a wee bit of effort, not even enough to count, and he could form the same strong friendships once again, maybe even stronger.

But did he want that? What kind of impact would that have on this universe?

It was a cold view of things, true, but it was one he needed to consider, or this whole reality could collapse. Would that erase the existence of everyone else as well, just as it would his own? They were, after all, mere echoes made from a mesh of different, insignificant choices, and without him making enough waves to make the new choices they made noteworthy, this unsteady reality might well collapse with him.

Coincidentally, Hermione came into view soon after these thoughts, chattering incessantly at her parents, and he was conscious of the fact that there was no affection or closeness or any such feelings stirring within him, something that would have happened with her, if anything or anyone else. There was only flat, uncomplicated knowledge of their past interactions; past memories of what could be, or what had been.

Should he risk it?

Would the difference in interactions based on his initiative to befriend her change enough to affect this dimension? Would becoming her friend once more, although not a naïve or hot-headed one, be enough to cause a difference? Or would he fall into familiar patterns and familiar choices because of familiar company?

It was something that had stirred in his mind for some time now and in the face of what was and what could be, along with what he could create, what he could change, was he truly determined enough to take a different path? Or could he forge a different future from within the well-worn road that he had already walked upon?

Sighing and looking down at the book in his lap, he pushed these thoughts aside, along with the sharp emotional turmoil that such ponderings always seemed to bring. His emotions were too raw yet for him to go down that road. He couldn't really decide at the moment, not as he was, so he simply decided not to decide. For now, he would just go with what came and see what became of it. In this moment, he could better spend his time by finding out how to perfect his Occlumency techniques. Because although it was true that he had already mastered the trick of it, of keeping a Legilimens out of his mind, it was still somewhat rough around the edges, and there were certain aspects of the art that he had never attempted before.

How to get a grasp on his emotions being the most essential to him at that moment.

He was soon immersed within the patterns and techniques of obscuring the mind from others, curled up in the corner of his compartment. It wasn't a big and complicated book; in fact, it was all rather simple. But then, Occlumency was obscure because it had only one use: to hide your mind from others. To conceal it; it was, plain and simple, a counter to Legilimency.

It was odd how things worked out, but he had learned long ago that every spell and incantation, every curse and hex, and indeed, ever single piece of magic had a counter. If there was a way to do it, there was sure to be a way to undo it. What made the killing curse so feared was that it was the exception to the rule. Once death claimed you, there was no magic on earth that could bring you back.

True, you could avoid getting hit with the curse, but avoiding was not the same as countering it after it had been cast. There was nothing that could restore you after being hit, much like a transfiguration could be reversed, or a charm or hex could be undone.

Everything else was open game. Oh, that's not to say if you go to extremes you could reverse things, or you could erase the consequences of your actions and magic. It just meant there was a balance in magic, and in the most simplistic way, as long as you could conjure it, you could also banish it.

Some counters had long ago been lost; some had not been discovered. Others were so difficult to do and so complicated to make that it's like there wasn't a solution. And some, like Occlumency, were so obscure very few bothered with it. But Harry had already had to learn it by necessity, so it wouldn't be fair to simply give up the skill.

At the moment, should someone attempt Legilimency on him, they wouldn't be able to access his mind; they would just slide right out of it, either by lack of force or his own will. They wouldn't be able to read him. But that was a bit obvious, and he didn't want to be obvious, so he was determined to fine-tune his skill in the art until he could hide only what he needed to hide. And as he learned to hide some things and reveal others, so would he learn to better control the ebb and flow of his emotions. After that, well, he had already read a few tricks here and there he wanted to research.

His mind was already cleared of emotion as it was. It wasn't that he was suppressing them; just that he wasn't letting them rule him. Already he had found a better technique than the one he had used for this purpose; instead of simple shoving his emotions out of the way and ignoring them, the technique made you acknowledge what you were feeling and then letting it go, in a way.

It would be hard to do such a thing constantly, but if he mastered it, he would be able to stay calm and rational throughout any situation. He wouldn't be suppressing or ignoring his emotions so much as taking away their power over his actions.

It was fascinating.

So engrossed was he in his thoughts, his practice and his book, along with his musings of magic and its nature that Harry didn't notice when the door to his compartment opened and closed, or when someone tried to get his attention and failed.

-
- o -
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Once the train started moving he jolted out of his reading (and his cleared mind), but even then he was already half-way finished with the book, seeing that it was a really, really thin book and all.

Shock showed itself on his face as he found himself in a full compartment and everyone within it looking in his direction, but he consciously recognized his surprise and let the emotion dissipate, though it took some effort. He blinked at the people who were now looking back at him, probably because of his movements.

"Ehm, hi?" he greeted them awkwardly, blinking again and frowning slightly. Was he nervous? And why was he awkward? It wasn't like he had anything to be ashamed of. And why were they all staring at him still? It was creepy. They could at least say something, right?

Right.

He took a small breath and cleared his mind. Maybe it was because he hadn't felt awkward before now that the feeling was so much stronger? It had caught him somewhat unaware. That was something to look into; would anger overwhelm him when he experienced it? Would other emotions?

A boy with blond hair and grey eyes coughed into his hand and waved from in front of him to catch his wandering attention, "Right, hey, I'm Cedric Diggory," he introduced himself before he peeled his sights from him, or more specifically, his forehead, and offered his hand to shake before waving in the direction of the compact, auburn haired girl sitting beside him, while still shaking his hand nervously. Harry wondered briefly when the other boy would let go, but preferred not to bring attention to it as he was introduced, "This is Heidi Macavoy, and the bean-sprout over by the door is Kyle Summers," he said, ignoring the protests from the short, brown-haired boy ('Don't call me that, cabbage head'), as Harry waved his greetings and shook hands with those closest to him, glad that Cedric had let go of his hand. "Over on your side, those are Kathy and Mandy Brocklehurst, who's a first year like you."

A chorus of 'hello's and 'hey's and other various greetings came from the others in the group while they were being introduced, and Harry tried to think back and match the names and faces to see if he could recognize any of them.

Not that he didn't remember Cedric, of course; it's just that the boy was, well, short and runty compared to how Harry remembered him being. He had almost done a double take of the Hufflepuff when he introduced himself.

It seemed puberty did wonders for a few people after all.

And after looking at him briefly, Harry found that Cedric's head did look like a cabbage. That had not been the case when he had known him, that's for sure.

But still, why hadn't he recognized the boy for who he was? Apart from how young he looked, it shouldn't have been so difficult. Then again, he didn't really look like Harry remembered him to be and he hadn't really met the other until three years later on the Quidditch Pitch during Harry's third year, or thereabouts. However, after the introductions were done with, and Harry was about to introduce himself, Cedric, who seemed to have gained his confidence back, simply pointed at Harry and announced, "And you're Harry Potter," with all the bluntness and tact of the teenager he was, to the awed and silent compartment.

It was an almost reverent silence. Again, creepy.

Harry wasn't all that surprised, really. It certainly explained why they had turned to him as one when his attention had left his book.

"I am," he replied with a tilted head, a bit curious about the situation that he found himself in. He remembered his first ride in the Hogwarts Express all too well, along with most of his years at Hogwarts. Indeed, if he remembered correctly, Heidi was already a part of the Quidditch team. Everyone else was a stranger to him, though it was a good guess they were all from the Badger's house.

Another curious thing was how they were so nervous around a mere first year. He hadn't really remembered how people had looked at him during the beginning of his schooling, but seeing it all over again brought those memories back to the forefront of his mind.

Everyone had been in awe of him for one reason or another, introducing themselves, whispering and asking stupid questions that had overwhelmed him all too quickly. He had retreated within a shell and stuck close to Ron, not to mention performed a great number of evasive maneuvers to avoid people in the corridors. But he wasn't exactly shy now, or childish for that matter. He wasn't afraid as much a wary of the attention, so how would things turn out this time?

Silence greeted his self-assured response, which made him crack a smile. They were all kids, really. Nervous and self-conscious. Even the brave and noble Cedric Diggory, who Harry had had nothing but respect for, seemed out of sorts in his presence.

It was a bit surreal all things considered.

Nodding at Kyle's school robes, since he was already wearing them, he decided to break the silence, "Are the lot of you Hufflepuff's then?"

And that got more than the estimated reaction, what with House Pride coming to the rescue.

Still, it did get the lot of them talking.

Immediately they almost tripped over themselves to tell him that yes, they were Hufflepuff's, and that, of course, all of them were in the same house, apart from Mandy that is, who was a first year like him, but that they were all third years, which was brilliant because they had some new classes this year they were looking forward to take.

All of them started telling him about their House and their favorite subjects, about what electives they would be taking and what they were looking forward to. It was all too weird, really, how they were talking to him as if he were supposed to know everything and could understand all the things they were saying. And though he could understand and did know what they were talking about, it only took a glance from the corner of his eyes to notice Mandy looking rather overwhelmed by all the chatter and all the strange things they were talking about.

What would a first year know about electives, anyways? Or about the professors and which class was more difficult than the rest? How could a new student be aware of the little idiosyncrasies and social standings of the Hogwarts Houses, even if she did have an older sister at Hogwarts? How could he, one of these supposed first year, keep up in a conversation with students a few years his senior?

No one questioned him, however, and no one found this as strange as he did, even as they asked for his opinions and talked with him about these subjects and others pertaining to the school and the wizarding world, however non-consequential they were, and listened to what he had to say.

Honestly, Harry didn't see the appeal of discussing the Weird Sister's latest concert. He had never had such light concerns, though it was interesting to listen to the comments made by the supposedly older students, and he made a mental note to go to a wizarding concert sometime in the future.

He made this known and they all started telling him about the different magical bands, some of which he had never even heard of before.

Honestly, who the hell were the Brewing Brothers?

As it was, by the time they were half an hour into the trip everyone in the compartment was rather more relaxed, and Harry took the time while the older friends cached up with their summers to really think about what had just happened.

He was the Boy Who Lived, Harry Potter, the only survivor of the Killing Curse and the defeater of the Darkest Wizard in the last century. To them, and indeed, to the rest of the student body and most of the wizarding world, he was supposed to know things above and beyond his years. He was supposed to be both remarkable and extraordinary.

Oh, Cedric, Kyle, Heidi, Kathy and Mandy, who was still looking somewhat wide-eyed and overawed at him, now knew that he was a normal wizard as well, and another boy. He could tell by how they were treating him that they already considered him 'one of the guys,' but still, they didn't find his extra knowledge strange. They didn't comment on his overly-mature perspective and comments.

To them, that was how it was supposed to be, and they were just glad to have him as a friend, for he was not a mere acquaintance to them. After all, they were Hufflepuffs, and making friends quickly was in their House's Charter, he was sure.

And now that he thought about it, maybe he had stood out more because of his ignorance during his first life than he would now? He had been young and shy, unknowledgeable and naïve, back then. How many expectations had been shattered because of this? How many people had been let down because of his ignorance?

Not that it had been his fault in any way, of course, but the wizarding world had still expected him to be much more than he had been. Would they be disappointed once again, though? That was something to look out for. Whatever the case, he would face it as it came.

"— was really brilliant, and you should have seen some of the maneuvers the chasers pulled off, Ced, I couldn't believe it!" Heidi was telling the others when he tuned into the conversation, and really, he needed to stop drifting off into his musings so often, "maybe you guys will join me next summer, eh? We could all go and see a game together!" she finished saying, obviously exited.

"I'm sorry Heidi, but I didn't catch which teams were playing," he asked sheepishly, "I was daydreaming a bit."

She waved it off, nearly jumping in her seat in excitement, "It was the Harpies versus the Tornadoes! And it was a really close game as well. If the Tornadoes' Seeker hadn't caught the snitch when he did, the Harpies would have wiped the floor with them, seeing how their chasers were running the keeper ragged."

"It does sound like a fun game," Cedric commented, "I wish I could have seen it. I'll ask my dad and see about next summer, though," he nodded, "how about you guys? Maybe we could make an outing out of it! I've always wanted to see the more official games, but I've only ever gone to a couple of the minor ones."

"Yeah, my brother told me that it's getting really competitive lately," Kyle jumped in, clearly eager, "we should check the game schedule and set things up!"

Kathy huffed and rolled her eyes, catching everyone's attention, "Honestly, people, we're just starting school now, and you're already planning your next summer holidays? That's a whole year from now!"

"Party pooper," Heidi stuck her tongue out at the dark-haired girl. The two boys just looked around guiltily while trying, and failing, to look innocent. It made him laugh, and he ignored the dirty looks sent his way.

"Well, she is right, you know," he pointed out, watching as the three Quidditch fans slumped in their seats and sulked, as if his word was law (and wasn't that weird enough?), "But that doesn't mean that you can't start planning anyways. If you buy the tickets early it should be cheaper, right?"

"Harry, you're a genius!" Cedric exclaimed, perking up and looking like he either wanted to shake his hand, pat his back or trap him into a headlock, but turned to his seat-mates instead, "I'll owl my dad this week and ask, you guys should do the same, okay?"

"Abso-bloody-lutely!" Kyle said with a pumped fist.

"I'll send mum a letter, too," Heidi said, rubbing her hands in anticipation before looking over at Kathy who gave the lot of them a flat look.

They stood there, silently staring for almost a minute before the girl shrugged and looked away, "Fine."

"Yes!" Cedric and Kyle traded a high-five above a smug-looking Heidi's head.

He was surprised, however, when the three of them turned and looked over at him as well, "What?" he asked, confused at the sudden attention.

"You have to come with us, Harry," Heidi told him, while Cedric nodded along.

Kyle cut in enthusiastically, "That'd be brilliant, mate! Have you ever seen a professional game? My brother told me it's one of the most exciting things there is and nothing like the games played at Hogwarts! You have to come with us!"

He couldn't really tell them that he'd seen the World Cup now could he? But still, Kyle was right on saying a professional game was way more exciting than a regular one. And yet, he was surprised all of them, including Kathy, who was looking very much like he was the only sane person in the compartment, wanted him to go as well. Him, a first year, "Let me know when it'll be and how much and I'll ask," though he never specified who he was going to ask, or indeed, what, "and I'll let you know then."

Kyle and Cedric whooped and started chattering away with Heidi while they made plans on which teams they wanted to see and whose parents they should ask to take them.

It was bizarre, though. He remembered all too clearly how the older years seemingly ignored the younger students, and he had to admit he was guilty of doing the same thing himself, so it surprised him how easily these four, who were obviously close friends, had invited him to hang out with them and welcomed him so easily into their fold. Why was that? Was it because it was in their Hufflepuff nature? Was it because of how easily he had kept up with them, or how he had clicked with them? They did, after all, have some common points of interest.

Still, at the same time he thought all of this, and after watching how out of place Mandy looked, he started a conversation with her, though it was not nearly as interesting as the one with the third years had been. They talked of more mundane things, like what house they thought they would end up in and what classes they were most looking forward to.

Harry had to coax her to answer his questions and babble about quite a number of nonsensical things to make her open up.

It struck him how very young they all seemed to him; how very innocent. None of them had experienced war or grown up as fast as he had, and were only concerned with trivial topics while he himself had much deeper and more impacting worries; not that he didn't like talking to them, of course, but it made him feel older than he had ever felt before.

And certainly older than an eleven year old should ever feel.

It didn't take too much for the Hufflepuff foursome to join into their idle chatter and started telling Mandy and him about the teachers, giving them tips about them and their classes; who to watch out for, what to do and all of usual gossip students shared about their professors.

He didn't miss the grateful look that Kathy sent his way as Mandy became more animated, and so gave the older witch a cheeky little wink in response, almost laughing at her startled expression.

Boys his age shouldn't be able to catch looks like those, he was sure, and Kathy looked like someone who was rather smarter than the norm. Not someone with Hermione's intellect, no, but someone with a rather developed intuition all the same. He had to wonder what she and the others were making out of him; what kinds of conclusions had they drawn about the Boy Who Lived?

Had they even made any conclusions in the first place?

The older students were in the middle of a comparison between who was stricter, McGonagall or Snape, when a shrill scream echoed throughout the carriage. Everyone jumped, startled, and whipped toward the door, which Kyle had already opened to see what the hell was going on.

No one noticed how he had tensed or how his wand had seemingly appeared in his hand. Harry could hear multiple compartment doors opening, and an equal amount of doors being quickly closed right after, and he was almost about to push his away outside when he heard it.

Laughter.

Or more precisely, a very familiar laughter.

The Weasley Twins, he though and relaxed, now curious as to what the two troublemakers had done. He didn't remember this from his first trip, but then, he had been in the absolute last compartment of the train.

He stood up when the laughter grew louder as doors were quickly shut and students scrambled and screamed because of something unseen. Kyle was still peeking outside when something seemed to startle him and he tried to shut the door, but he had slammed it so fast and so hard that it just bounced open once again.

Before he knew it, Kathy was screaming and Mandy and Kyle and Heidi were joining her and everyone was scrambling onto the seats and away from the floor. And that's when he saw it, and he couldn't help the chuckles that escaped him; it was the single biggest effin' tarantula he had ever laid eyes on.

He leaned down and was amazed when it reared on its back-legs while baring its gigantic fangs and waved its fore-legs in Harry's direction. It was half the size of a small dog, and though he had never really seen Lee's giant tarantula, the thing was famous enough in Gryffindor Tower for him to know what it was.

"Well, aren't you a monstrous little thing, eh?" he asked as he kneeled in front of the tarantula, looking all fuzz and legs and big eyes, even as he put his hands in the floor in front of it and it settled down and inspected both appendages.

"Dear Merlin!" Heidi squeaked.

"Don't get close to it!" Kathy warned him shrilly while hugging Mandy to her.

He ignored the wide-eyed looks sent his way from his cabin-mates and simply smiled at the tickly feeling of the hairy legs of the tarantula as it climbed up his hands and settled in his arms, tucking its rear legs against its body and waving its long, even hairier front legs in front of Harry as he stood up.

It tickled too.

Compared to an Acromantula, the little bugger looked kind of cute, as well, in a Hagrid-like perspective.

"Bloody hell," Kyle breathed, looking pale from his plastered position against the compartment wall, "you'll be a Gryffindor for sure, Harry."

And someone laughed in relief when nothing untoward happened to him.

Still, everyone seemed to agree, including the incredulous looking Lee and the ecstatic twins, who were just holding onto each other in hilarity while they stood in their compartment door. "Blimey, mate," Lee spoke up, half-apologetic, half-amazed, "I'm sorry about all this, but these two numbskulls set him loose," he nodded toward the curious looking arachnid in his arms.

Now that he could see the blighter up close, he was amazed at the bright red in its fur as well as the fact it didn't have the horrifying amount of eyes the Acromantula in the Forbidden Forest had had.

"So he's yours, then?" he walked up to the Quidditch commentator, amused when everyone settled down and Cedric and Kyle came in for a closer look, though they didn't get too close.

"Yeah, I got him just last week. He doesn't even have a name yet," he said and added with a shrug, even as he reached to scratch the tarantula behind its big eyes. "I'm Lee Jordan, and those two buffoons," he pointed at the twins, who were getting themselves together, "Are Fred and George Weasley."

"Its nice meeting you," he nodded at his new friends, "you probably know them, right? And that's Mandy over there. I'm Harry Potter."

"Harry Potter?" The twins yelped, straightening quite suddenly, and Lee's hand froze at his introduction, looking at him goggly-eyed.

Fred and George, shocked, immediately looked up at his forehead and gawked, and Kathy muffled a laugh when he rolled his eyes in her direction. Luckily, he didn't have arms for the twins to shake and Lee was too awestruck to do anything else.

"Does he—?" one twin asked the other.

"He does," the closest twin confirmed.

"Yes, yes, I know I'm rather fit and all, what with this dashing scar, but you don't have to stare at me quite so much. I've already declined to pose for a statue to be placed in a museum, though my chocolate frog card will be out soon, so you can gawk at that, eh?"

"Really?" more than two people asked at once, including the wide-eyed Weasley twins, and he couldn't keep the snort of laugher in after a few moments.

"That was too easy," he laughed and the tarantula in his arms waved at them all, even as the twins broke into identical grins. "I was only joking, you know," and with a shake of his head, he lifted the giant spider up a bit, "Anyways, don't you have a place for this cute fellow here?" he asked Lee.

"Cute?" he heard Heidi disgustingly ask at Cedric, who just shrugged.

Maybe he'd been around Hagrid for too long…

It didn't take long to get the tarantula into its comfy basket or for a few more introductions to take place, mostly consisting of Angelina, Alicia and Katie. But he was soon back in his compartment prattling away about what had happened with his Hufflepuff friends, who were laughing off their own reactions and poking fun at the reactions of everyone else.

It was comfortable, really, and the time flew while they talked.

The clattering approach of the lunch cart lady cut through their chatter though, and Kyle was suddenly peeking out of their compartment once again. Looking at his watch, Harry was surprised she had showed up so early, but then, if she was going front to back, it was only logical.

He walked outside while his cabin-mates bought what they wanted and when they were done, he took out his money pouch from his satchel and bought a whole box of chocolate frogs and a large amount of all of his favorites, knowing there wouldn't be a trip to Hogsmeade this year, and thus, no way to buy his favorite sweets unless he wanted to spend extra by owl-ordering them.

When he was satisfied and had stuffed everything into his satchel, he also bought a more healthy lunch for today and went back into his compartment were everyone was munching on something, mostly sweets, and arguing over what was better and which candies were the best.

"Aren't you going to eat some sweets, Harry?" Cedric asked from around a particularly twitchy frog when he saw him take out one of the sandwiches he'd purchased.

"I have to eat something before I get to the sugar, don't I?" he asked, "I'll starve otherwise."

The blond shrugged; "If you say so," before turning his attention toward a Licorice Wand and taking a hefty bite out of it.

-
- o -
-

A knock in their compartment during mid afternoon made everyone looked up from their places, and Heidi, who had switched with Kyle so that the boy could play chess with Cedric, opened the door, even as Harry put his Occlumency book down to see who it could be; he had honestly been waiting for Malfoy to show his pointed face sooner or later, so he was surprised when the pudgy and nervous face of Neville Longbottom appeared in their doorway instead.

"E-excuse me," he said, his voice low and anxious, before he cleared his throat, "b-but have you seen a toad around here? I-I've lost mine."

Kathy, who had been whispering with her younger sister told Neville nicely that no, they hadn't seen a toad in their compartment, which made the shy first year slump slightly.

"And where was the last time you saw him?" Harry asked, his head tilted; Trevor was a slippery little bugger, and he had taken off more than a few times from their dorm room. In fact, he still remembered the time that someone found him in the sink of one of the girl's bathrooms as well.

Startled by the question, Neville fidgeted in thought, which Harry recognized, so he waited patiently, "I, eh, only remember bringing him into the train," the brown-haired boy admitted reluctantly after a moment or two.

"Couldn't you ask one of the older students to summon him?" Cedric asked, but Kathy shook her head.

"No, you need to know what you're summoning and visualize it, so unless a person knows what the toad looks like, they wouldn't be able to summon it."

"Oh," the future Hufflepuff Seeker said, looking thoughtful.

Harry, meanwhile, motioned Neville in as he rummaged in his satchel, storing his Occlumency book once again, somewhat glad for the break, even if he was almost finished with it. The last chapter was particularly tricky, all things considered. Everyone had settled in for the long haul and started doing their own thing, they had all taken turns playing chess and gobstones, and Harry had taken to reading his book after he had played a few times.

However, his actions seemed to attract as much attention as ever and all of his companions looked on curiously until he took out his flute, even as Kyle scooted over and pulled Neville into their seat.

It was Kathy that spoke up first, "What are you doing, Harry?" she questioned.

"Well," he started after taking the flute out of its case and changing it into a more simple and easy to play type, to the awe of his new friends, "have any of you ever seen that little shop in Diagon Alley called Musical Magic?"

"I've seen it a time or two," Kyle piped in, and he saw Heidi nod beside him.

"I went in and found out a whole lot of things about the magic you can do with a musical instrument and bought myself a flute," he let them get closer to it so they could see it, "and I've been practicing for the last month or so. I'm not very good yet," he explained at their interested looks, "but I do know a simple score to attract animals."

"Ohh, like that muggle story where the musician enchanted all the rats and later the kids in a city to follow him?" Mandy exclaimed.

Grinning at her, he nodded, "Yeah, exactly that. The score I know is pretty simple, really, and it doesn't work on big animals, only on small ones. Some wizards even use it when hunting to lure their pray closer."

"And you're going to attract the toad with that, then?" Heidi asked dubiously.

"Yup!" Harry responded chirpily, "So let me try it out, if it doesn't work, well, it won't work."

"T-thanks," Neville told him softly.

Harry simply waved him off and put the flute to his lips and started playing. It was not really all that difficult, anyways; the whole concept of the score was based on repetition. It used three as its base number. It consisted of three notes repeated three times over and over again. You could add variations and change the tone and speed of the melody, just as long as it was the same three notes repeated three times.

If he added any extra notes after each third repetition and made sure to repeat that one after he had repeated the main score three times, that lent a bit more strength to the enchantment.

And so Harry played a wispy, light melody that quickened a bit before slowing and jumped again to make it more catchy; everyone seemed to be enjoying it and he hadn't made a mistake yet, not with how easy it was to play, and especially since he wasn't introducing anything extra or fancy into it.

Slowly, ever so slowly, he felt his magic mix with the flute and then with the music; it was that same warmth that he felt from his wand every time he used it, though it felt constant now, instead of the brief flash he always felt when incanting a spell. Soon, a smoky trail of golden air was pouring out of his flute and it twisted, turned and looped around them before leaving their compartment altogether, the faint shimmering track of it lingering around them, flowing always forwards as it became longer and longer, in search of its quarry.

Amazed, Heidi opened the compartment door and stuck her head out to follow the wispy trail, and Harry herd her whisper that it disappeared after a few feet, and that the sound seemed not to echo outside of their compartment, to which Harry nodded happily since that was as it should be.

It was working!

More and more his new friends were becoming excited as just in front of them a small mirage appeared, even as Harry concentrated a bit more. Within the mirage, a muddy forest floor could be seen, translucent to their eyes and yet seemingly enticing to a toad. But Harry didn't pay it any mind and continued playing, his concentration unbroken, and before five minutes had passed, they all heard the slow thump-thump of a leaping amphibian as Trevor the Toad leapt into their compartment and landed contently within the illusion created by his music.

The distorted air shimmered and the trail of magical music curled around the mirage, making it look more and more solid the more he played.

There were ways to make the illusion somewhat long-lasting to the animal's perception, but that would take certain dexterity in the closing of the song Harry just didn't have at the moment.

Everyone just started at the content looking toad and then at him in open-mouthed amazement, but Harry didn't stop playing, as he gave a look at Kathy, who he knew to be the most sensible of the lot.

"Ah, yes, right. Why don't you pick your toad up?" she asked distractedly.

Nodding equally dazedly, Neville did just that, relief plastered in his face when he saw that, yes that was his toad, before he turned to Harry, who was just putting his flute down and taking a steadying breath while the other first year thanked him profusely.

"That was incredible, Harry," Kathy told him, getting a bit more animated than he had seen her in the whole trip, "But how did that work? I've never heard of anyone doing anything like that."

Harry explained, even as Neville excused himself to go to his own compartment, and they all listened to what he had learned about the magic in music and the enchantments that could be weaved with a musical instrument.

In fact, Harry was at the stage where he was ready to tackle the slightly more complex score that allowed the magical musician to enchant a flower to bloom. After that, there were other scores that would make a small plant grow and such. Above all of these, Harry wanted to become proficient enough to place some privacy enchantment around his bed later in the year, and maybe a few other simple things on his trunk.

There was a whole world of possibilities, truth be told, and it wasn't long before Mandy and Kathy were talking about looking up what could be done with a violin, which they had both learned to play as children.

The rest of the trip passed by without a glitch; even as Kyle tried to convince Harry to enchanting a gift he was planning to buy for his little sister during the first Hogsmeade weekend, and whose birthday was in October. It was a little illusionary enchantment on a small locket, or so the older boy had told him, so Harry told him he'd give it a try, though he didn't make any promises.

It would make a nice project, though, and should help him develop his skills a bit more, what with another goal in mind. A permanent illusion required a rather delicate melody to make, and though it wouldn't be big, it would still require some rather specific preparations.

Harry was looking forward to the challenge.

-
- o -
-

They arrived in Hogsmeade Station in a buzz of activity and seeing that Kyle was rather enthusiastic about being the very first student to arrive at Hogwarts after the summer, it meant that they needed to get onto the first thestral-drawn carriage waiting for the second years and above.

Somewhat bemused, Harry was dragged out of the compartment with the rest even before the train had stopped, though by the eye-rolling going on, this wasn't a strange occurrence, or indeed, the first time it had happened. Still, it did mean they were out the door and onto the Hogsmeade Station before the train had come to a full stop, and stepped out of it running.

Which wasn't half as terrifying as he had first believed.

It was fun actually, so Harry didn't complain too much, even when Cedric and Kathy took Mandy and him to where Hagrid was waiting while the other two secured the first carriage, which sounded like it was successful if Kyle's cheering in the distance was anything to go by.

Shaking his head, he looked around curiously as the sea of students in their black robes and pointed hats swarmed out of the Hogwarts Express. And really, it wasn't until that very moment that he took notice of his hatless state. He swore that he had put the thing on, but now, it wasn't there.

He had no pointed hat on.

Maybe there was some weird magic going on in the train that didn't let him keep his hat on? It seemed like a logical thing to do, true, what with the school's sorting method, but it was still strange he hadn't seen it before.

Then again, he had been a bit too nervous, not to mention excited when he arrived at Hogwarts for the first time. Losing a hat wouldn't have been that important, especially if the magic that did take their hats covered up for their absence, like a Notice-Me-Not or something of the sort.

And he was day-thinking too hard.

Right.

Looking around him, he saw the last few first years joining the group as Hagrid rounded them all up and took them to the boats. Mandy was as silent as ever and visibly nervous as they entered the gloom and darkness of their path, what with only Hagrid's lamp lighting the way.

His wand was in his hand and lighted into a Lumos before his brain registered the fact, and apart from Mandy's shaky smile of thanks, he could see more than a few surprised students looking at him. Still, as Hagrid announced their first view of Hogwarts around the bend, no one really commented on his feat of magic, even as he dimmed his wand-light so those around him could better see the looming castle.

It was just like he remembered it to be, though his emotions toward it were raw and new. He identified them as if they were fluffy puppies in his head and patted the lot of them before sending them away; there was awe and amazement, excitement and belonging, there was a bit of dread along with the not so insignificant weight of responsibility.

He cleared his mind.

Silently he entered a boat and pocketed his wand, staying in the back of the group and mixing in with the shadows. He went unnoticed for the most part, though he saw Malfoy's pointed face turn curiously his way more than once. And just why hadn't the poncy git come searching for him in the train?

It was true, however, that the rumors of his coming to Hogwarts were greatly diminished and mere speculation this time around. Could this be enough for him to fall under Lucius' radar? Maybe the elder Malfoy hadn't given any directions to his son concerning him? That . . . was something to consider.

And as McGonagall gave them their welcoming speech and led them to their sorting, Harry couldn't help but amend a few things to his plan. Lucius Malfoy, after all, had been instrumental in his first years of Hogwarts, and one of his principal antagonists, even if only through his son at times, until Voldemort's return.

If Harry could only get him out of the way sooner . . .

"Now, form a line and follow me," McGonagall's strict command brought things into focus, and Harry followed the nervous pile of first years. His own stride was smooth, however, and he took his time to examine his surroundings, taking particular note of known and familiar faces.

The sorting Hat was perched atop its stool in all its ancient tattered glory and Harry wondered, even as it burst into song, if he could ask the Hat to let him borrow Gryffindor's sword one of these days. Unless, of course, he needed to do something foolishly brave to be allowed to use it.

And wouldn't that be a difficult thing to plan?

He heard Hermione comment on the enchanted ceiling and focused on the here and now. Had Ron, who Harry found whispering nervously to what he was sure would be a Ravenclaw, worried about having to fight a troll? He didn't pick that up, really, though he had tuned out the conversation after the ghosts had appeared.

Sidling up to Hermione in the line, he watched as they all settled and McGonagall made her way to the Hat, "So which house do you think you'll end up in?" he asked, even as he looked around to see Mandy looking on quietly from beside him (had she left his side at all during their trek?), and Padma Patil on Hermione's other side.

"I want to get into Gryffindor, of course," she whispered back as if it were the most obvious thing in the world.

Still, Harry persisted, until the sorting hat was done with its song, "Why?"

Startled, Hermione peeked anxiously at him, her sights more on the Hat than anything else, "Well, it's obvious, isn't it?" she declared after clearing her throat, though Harry could pick up on her uncertainty, even as 'Abbott, Hanna!' was called to be sorted, "It's the best house in the school; I heard that Dumbledore himself was in it."

She was rather more certain about that then she had been when he had met her the first time on the train, as well, "And you're just going to go into a house because someone else was?" he asked her innocently, "What's to say whatever house Dumbledore was in is the best house for you?" he prodded, and he could see the doubts arising in her mind.

Hermione, nervous, insecure, first year, Hermione Granger just looked at him in horrified realization, her logical brain twirling indecisively in her mind, even as 'Brocklehurst, Mandy' was called to be sorted.

Harry gave her a reassuring smile and saw as his silent companion was placed in Ravenclaw.

He watched silently and more calmly than any of his other year mates as, one by one, they were sorted into their houses. And when 'Granger, Hermione' was called and she didn't run to the Hat like last time, her face frowning, it took more than he remembered for her to be sorted, until at last the hat placed her into Ravenclaw.

A slow, crooked smile spread across his face as the Ravens erupted into cheers, and he nodded at Hermione as she made her way there.

Truly, it was the least he could do.

Oh, she had found friends in Gryffindor sooner or later, but that had taken two months. Harry remembered how lonely she had been before that fateful Halloween, how alienated from her own house. Her intellect wasn't truly appreciated in Gryffindor, and even after they had been friends, Harry admitted to himself that they had used her for her brains on more than one occasion.

It wasn't until later, when his confidence had risen that he had been able to pay in kind, but still, he didn't want her to go through what she had once more. In Ravenclaw, if in no other place, she would be appreciated for who she was, and her intellect would be nurtured all the more. Maybe he would have to prod her here and there, just so she didn't lose herself in her books, but that wouldn't be such a bother. It was the least he could do for someone who had proven herself to be such a remarkable friend once upon a time.

And just like that, without hassle or over thought, Harry Potter knew he had to forge a different future. It didn't mean he wouldn't approach those who could have been his friends, just that he would approach each of them differently.

For now, he would help them from afar.

"Potter, Harry!"

Looking up, he nodded at Professor McGonagall and walked up to the hat, and loud whispers suddenly spread across the Hall like wildfire.

"Did she say Potter?"

"The Boy Who Lived?"

"Really?"

He saw the whole student body craning their necks to look at him, with those farthest away half-out of their before the hat was dropped upon his head. Just like before, he waited.

"Strange," came the hat's small voice in his ears, "Very strange," and Harry could hear the frown in the small voice, as well as the concentration, "A complicated mind you have, yes – with courage enough to spare. Such natural capacity I have not seen in centuries. Truly difficult. But where shall I put you?"

Harry tilted his head slightly; curious as to why he couldn't feel any intrusion into his mind. But then, it could be that the Hat didn't use Legilimency, which would mean that it wasn't watching his memories. Could it be that it was directly reading his mind? Maybe gauging his attributes directly?

"Oh, very good," the small voice praised, "That is a rather accurate assessment of my capabilities, though a few things are missing. However, I am here to sort you, even if your mind is rather hard to interpret, so let's see— and what a cunning mind too. But no, Slytherin would feel threatened in your presence . . . and Ravenclaw won't give you any peace."

Quirking a smile, Harry tried not to think too hard on why that would be, though he could understand why Slytherin would be a detrimental choice, more because of what would happen to them than what would happen to him.

"Yes, of course," the hat's small voice agreed, "And that's the difficulty with you, isn't it? Unlike every child I've sorted, I need to consider not what your future House can do for you, but how you will affect each House as well — yes, that might just work. An extraordinary consideration, but I think it will be best if you are in HUFFLEPUFF!"

Taking off the hat, though surprised, Harry couldn't really help but feel pleased, and as he stood up from the stool he noticed the reverberating thumps of stamping feet and noticed the wild cheering from the black and yellow table. Grinning, he made his way to his new house amongst the loudest reception he had ever heard.

The Hufflepuff's were all standing up and clapping, and when he was close enough to them the lot of them surged forward from their table and surrounded him. He felt immediately welcomed as one after the other, the Hufflepuffs introduced themselves and helped him toward their house table while the thumping and clapping and yelling never stopped.

For being the smallest of all four Houses, they sure made themselves felt that night, even an ecstatic Kyle and a grinning Cedric suddenly materialized beside him, thumping him on the back and leading him towards a seat.

He was the last Hufflepuff to be sorted that night as well, so while everyone kept an ear out for new housemates, Harry answered or redirected most of the questions thrown his way. His third year friends helped quite a bit in this regard, even as he thought about his placement and the hat's words.

It made sense, he guessed, being placed with the badgers.

Hufflepuff was the only house that didn't value any particular aptitude in its members, instead valuing hard work, patience, friendship and fair play. Apart from the patience, he knew he fit most of the criteria. And patience could always be learned with some hard work.

It was something to consider later one, that's for sure.

He listened to the Headmasters short speech and nearly dived into the feast when it appeared, hungry as a hippogriff. It was different though, how the conversations around him where about lighthearted subjects as the older students began telling wacky little stories about their summers and their House, as if competing for who could make the funniest joke.

The fifth year prefect, Travis Hart, told them about the who's who of Hufflepuff and pointed towards their Head of House, who waved cheerily down at them.

As a whole, when the feast finished, Harry was completely stuffed and even more interested when his new housemates shared curious looks and shrugs about Dumbledore's warnings of the third floor instead of serious frowns.

Smiling, he joined Cedric and Kyle in a fast clipped rendition of the Hogwarts song, bellowing so loud that his lungs ached when finished, but it had still been fun. He was eleven after all, it was expected of him.

Now though, as they were dismissed to their common rooms, and they followed Tavis's lead, he couldn't help but be tiredly excited.

Of all of the common rooms of the Hogwarts Houses, Hufflepuff's had been the only one to remain a mystery to him. And from what descriptions he had heard of it before, it was supposed to be a singularly comfortable place.

And he couldn't wait to see it.


To be continued…