Unto the Breach

Kneazle

Summary: AU. Two Potter brothers, one marked as the Dark Lord's equal, the other not—but both with a touch of destiny about them. Not the usual 'brother of the BWL' story.

Disclaimer: Not mine.

Notes: A Coming of Age story, focusing on the war with Voldemort and not so much ships—so a bit different than what I usually write.

*

Cassius:
"The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars,
But in ourselves, that we are underlings."

Julius Caesar (I, ii, 140-141)

*

Beginning…

Lily Potter, née Evans, had always enjoyed history. It was hardly her best subject, of course; she excelled in Potions and Charms, but history was fascinating on its own. She had always done well in her primary school, and upon entering the magical world, she found a whole new history revealed to her to embrace and learn from.

Unfortunately, she also learned that the old adage of "those who do not learn their history are doomed to repeat it" was not well known in the magical world and that the Purebloods ruled supreme while Muggleborns such as herself were often cast aside.

Despite the prejudice against her and those like her, Lily had the luck to be exceedingly intelligent, and she married into an old, powerful, Pureblood family: the Potters. James Potter, while a prat at times, was the love of her life and after years of chasing her and then maturing, Lily graced James Potter with a 'yes' for a date in Hogsmeade, and the rest, they say, is history.

Things were not all peaceful though. The wizarding world was entrenched in a civil war of Pureblood supremacists against those who believed in equality for all magical users. Lily and James joined Albus Dumbledore's Order of the Phoenix once they left school and took on the mantle of soldiers for the cause.

Lily found it all morbidly ironic, given that just barely thirty years earlier the world was at war against a very similar ideology. No one else in the Order found her comparison all that interesting, and Lily was once again reminded that those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it. It was becoming her private mantra during the war.

Hoping to turn the tide, Lily began to delve further into history—into civil wars, into world wars, tactics, anything that she could put to use and explain to the Order as brilliant tactics to win the war. However, despite her frantic search through the ages, it didn't seem like anyone other than her, and her husband's friends, were all too interested in her research. And every day the Order ignored her research, the more innocent, and not so innocent, died.

Despite the war, the two Potters were happy, juggling their real life jobs to what they did for the Order—which was labelled a vigilante group by the Ministry—and enjoying their time with their friends and family. Then one autumn day, Lily discovered she was pregnant.

On July 31, 1980, Lily Potter gave birth to her son. He already had a tuft of black hair that stuck up in numerous directions and his eyes had changed to emerald green very soon after his birth. Since Lily loved history, she officially named her son Henry James Potter, after the Plantagenet ruler, Henry V. But by the end of the week her husband's best friend and her sons' godfather, Sirius Black, was calling him 'Harry.'

Lily was quite happy to get back on her feet; they were in the middle of a war and being firmly stuck in bed for the final two months of her pregnancy with a hovering husband and his anxious best friends, all eager to meet and greet "Prongslet," had severely diminished her patience. She had several Charms and Potions experiments backlogged, and spent numerous hours daydreaming how to apply the tactics of Genghis Khan to magic.

Yet soon after she got back into her routine of research, spells, magic and her normal work for the Department of Magical Creatures in the Ministry, Lily learnt she was pregnant again. So on August 2, 1981, Edgar Charles Potter was born and Lily Potter firmly said, to her husband, enough was enough. Bringing any more children into the world during a war was not an option and several important tasks were put aside for the care and raising of her sons.

James agreed and decided that his work—being an Auror—could temporarily be put on hold while he went into full-out Daddy mode, and more than happy to take care of Harry and Edgar whenever Lily wanted to experiment in the lab underneath the house. And since James was going all out—as were Sirius and Remus Lupin—Lily was more than happy to let James name her youngest son Edgar after Poe.

Lily later learnt that James was a large horror literature fan, and The Pit and the Pendulum was one of his favourite stories. His fascination with the gothic manifested itself after his parents' deaths, between the summer of his sixth and seventh year at Hogwarts. During that time, James realised he wasn't immortal and despite having spent his earlier years at Hogwarts strutting about and swaggering, he needed to grow up and get a grip. Lily had responded to his mature outlook upon their return to Hogwarts, and seemed to even respect James's dark, black moods that he sometimes slipped into.

James and Lily Potter were quite happy with their position in life: they had two, beautiful, wonderful sons; they were madly in love; and they had fantastic friends. They weren't aware of the vague sense of impending doom as they dressed their two baby boys up for their first Halloween, and as the late night dragged on, and the Potter family settled down from a sugar high on October 31, 1981, both Lily and James Potter were completely unaware of their fate.

*

Lily though, was somewhat unsurprised to her James shout later that evening. She had felt the wards ripple and then completely drop, and in that instant she knew that Peter had betrayed them.

"Lily! Take Harry and Edgar! Run! He's here!"

The calm before the storm; waiting for the other shoe to drop; she had spent the past few months since Edgar's birth waiting for Voldemort to attack even if she logically knew that Sirius would not betray them. Peter Pettigrew though, could.

Both boys were already put down for the night in their shared crib, so she raced up the stairs with her heart beating loudly in her ears, ignoring the sound of splintering wood and James's hoarse cries as he battled Voldemort. She slammed the nursery door shut and began lobbing all the spells she knew at it, hoping against hope to wait out the attack until help could arrive.

Inwardly, she knew it was futile.

Harry was awake and watching her work, silent. Edgar was snuffling in his sleep, unaware of the dangers they were in, but Harry had always been an observant child. In those brief moments of eerie calm, Lily stared at her eldest son and heard Dumbledore's voice murmur through her mind.

"The one with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord; born to those who thrice defied him, born as the seventh month dies. He will have the power the Dark Lord knows not, and marked as his equal; neither can live while the other survives, for either must die at the hand of the other. The one with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord…"

She couldn't apparate out; she couldn't even Port-Key. There were too many wards surrounding Godric's Hallow that took effect as soon as Dumbledore's personal wards tied with the Fidelius fell. In that brief, stable moment, Lily felt a sudden, fiery rush of emotion spread through her body, warming her chilled hands and tingle her down to her toes.

She could protect her children, even if she couldn't protect James. Her research of past wars and tactics had her straying dangerously into an area of old, forgotten Druidic arts. One of the incantations she found mentioned the protection of a parent beyond death. A quickly murmured cutting curse to her left index finger had blood trickling up and, with Harry still watching her, she moved quickly to trace a jagged 's' shape on his forehead. A kiss on her sons' forehead and a murmured, lyrical phrase sealed the Druid spell.

Lily felt Voldemort's presence more than heard him dismantle her spells and wards, and within minutes the nursery door opened. She turned around to face him, after storing the loving faces of her children in her mind with that of her husband's, and stiffened her spine to face the Dark Lord.

He was tall, pale and had red eyes that made Lily think back to her Catholic upbringing of the Devil. In those last moments, she reverted back to her training before Hogwarts—if James could not stop him, how could she?

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want…

"Stand aside, you foolish girl. Stand aside."

He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters…

Lily pursed her lips, her grip tightening on her wand. "No, please," she said, urging him. "Take me, take me instead. Spare Harry and Edgar. Please, not my babies."

He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake…

It didn't matter.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.

The last thought Lily had before the green wash of Avada Kedavra hit her was that of joining James, and wishing she could have done more to protect her sons.

*

Tia Dalma: "You have a touch of destiny about you, William Turner."

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest

*

Chapter One

"Up! Up, get up!"

Harry groaned and rolled onto his side, carefully aware of the slight snores coming from his younger brother, pressed up against the wall in the cupboard under the stairs.

"Coming, Aunt Petunia," called back Harry, inwardly reining his temper and counting to ten.

"Mm, Harry?" asked a tiny voice, drowsy and quiet in the dark cupboard. "'S it morning already?"

"Yeah, Eddy," answered the elder brother, "But you can go back to sleep, don't worry. I'll make sure you've got something to eat."

When his brother didn't answer, Harry carefully shuffled out of the cupboard and wandered into the kitchen to prepare the morning meal for the Dursley family.

Ever since he was little, and from before he could remember, Harry and his brother Edgar had lived with their mother's sister, Petunia Dursley. They shared the small semi with her husband, Vernon, and their cousin Dudley. He and Edgar were considered extra baggage and not worth anything, and were continuously placed in the cupboard under the stairs instead of treated like family and receiving a room of their own.

Harry fought for scraps of food and he did his best to ensure that Edgar always ate a good portion while foregoing what he could. The two brothers shared everything, even more than just their sleeping quarters: they both had their fathers' hair, an unruly mess of black, spiky cowlicks and both wore taped up spectacles. They both wore Dudley's hand-me-downs and cast-offs, and both worked on an unchanging list of chores to be done at the Dursley household.

There were some differences though; Harry had green eyes, and Edgar brown. Harry's nose was longer than his brother's, and Edgar's hair had an odd shade of reddish-brown that appeared whenever he was out in the summer.

Harry, being the elder brother, made sure Edgar was taken care of. Harry gave him what food he could smuggle, helped him with his homework, taught him to read, write, and where the best hiding spots at school and in the neighbourhood were. Harry protected Edgar fiercely—and whenever he was caught, he was sent to the principal's office for being in fights with the other students. Harry also encouraged Edgar to hide their intelligence from the Dursley's and cultivated his younger brother's love for books by leaving him often in the local library while he drew Dudley's attention.

No brother of his would participate in 'Harry Hunting.'

Over the years, with only each other to rely on, Harry and Edgar discovered that whenever they were overly emotional, things happened. Once, while drawing off Dudley and his friends, Harry ended up on the school roof. Edgar made a teacher's wig turn blue. Harry could speak with a garden snake he found at the abandoned lot by Harrogate Court; Edgar made a brick wall disappear once when he was running from neighbourhood bullies.

Neither knew what to make of their comic book superhero powers, but Edgar was convinced that their parents had come from the planet Krypton. Harry was far more sceptical, but humoured his brother's imagination. Instead, Harry found through trial and error that their Aunt and Uncle abhorred the word 'magic' and seemed frightened of anything supernatural or paranormal. Harry could only surmise that perhaps instead of being a whore and a drunken layabout, Lily and James Potter were actually gypsies or possibly New Age practitioners.

Maybe.

However, on that particular day in early July, something was about to change in the Dursley household and Harry and Edgar were about to receive their answers.

When fetching the mail, and leaving Edgar alone in the kitchen with the Dursleys (never a good idea, as Edgar was Dudley's favourite punching bag when Harry wasn't there), Harry noticed something odd: a letter addressed to him, Henry James Potter.

He was still contemplating it when he entered the kitchen, drawing Dudley's attention from a visibly upset and red Edgar.

"Dad! Look, Harry's got a letter!" cried Dudley, gleefully yanking the letter from his cousin's grip.

"Hey!"

"Who'd be writing to you?" chortled Vernon Dursley, his eyes turning from his proud son to the thick parchment. He ignored the rip at the corner of the envelope, and looked to the address. His eyes narrowed on the text "Cupboard Under the Stairs," as unease began to creep up his spine. Flipping it over, he saw the return address and froze.

"Love? Who's it from?" asked Petunia, laying a gentle hand over her husband's.

"That," Vernon sputtered, tossing the letter to the kitchen table, "That school."

There, written in flowing cursive in green ink, was Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.

*

Vernon and Petunia had kicked Harry, Edgar and Dudley (much to their surprise) out of the kitchen almost immediately once they saw the return address on the letter. The boys then quickly arranged themselves to eavesdrop on the two adults. Vernon was all for packing the family up and running to escape them—whoever they were—but Petunia stood firm against leaving.

In the end, she gave Harry the letter and finally declared him a lost cause. She muttered under her breath, though, about how they had a year to still save Edgar, but she didn't think it was possible anymore.

Following the argument, she took Harry, Edgar and Dudley in Vernon's new car to the local shops where she ignored her sons' whining except to buy him an ice cream. Petunia bought new clothes for the two Potters, and had their eyes checked by the optometrist.

Both boys were further surprised when they returned to Privet Drive to find that they were no longer sleeping in the cupboard, but rather Dudley's spare toy room, which had been cleaned by Vernon.

There was a rather cramped bunk bed pushed up against the wall across from the single window, and the two boys were sharing a new wardrobe with new clothes. A five-tiered bookshelf with brand-new, never read books was snug between the wardrobe and far wall, and a single writing desk, with a plastic chessboard on it, along with a rickety chair, was up against the same wall as the bunk bed and bedside table.

The only item that they had claim to, something of their own, was the old plastic chess set that Edgar had smuggled out of the rubbish years ago after Dudley threw a fit. Years ago, Dudley had watched a documentary on television about the genius of chess masters and Vernon had it in his head to promote Dudley's intelligence from a young age. When it became apparent that there was nothing to cultivate, Dudley threw the plastic set against the wall of his room and Petunia put it out by the rubbish for collection.

Edgar had retrieved the chessboard and the only one piece that escaped the rubbish bin: the black king. With Harry's help, Edgar spent a few weeks reading up on chess in the library while Harry warded off Dudley and his friends. Edgar soon fell in love with the game and despite not having the rest of the chessmen, the two Potters claimed the chessboard as theirs.

From there, whenever a brother had a moment of success—never in school, but outside of it; outsmarting Dudley, finishing a difficult book in the library, avoiding detection when using their powers—the black king was given.

"Kings to you," one brother would say to the successful one. The metaphor tickled Edgar's humour, and Harry enjoyed the symbolism of a black king chess piece alluding to the two Potter brothers being more than pawns in a game, able to crown themselves with ultimate power and the ability to end any game if they played things carefully. In addition, the colour of the piece endeared itself to Harry's dark humour, as everyone on the street already thought the two Potters were delinquents thanks to the Dursley's rumour spreading—even if it were far from the truth… or perhaps not that far off.

With their new purchases put away in the still relatively bare wardrobe, Edgar and Harry spent the remainder of the afternoon in their new room. They were wrapped in a used duvet from the linen cupboard, to replace their thin quilt from the cupboard under the stairs, rereading the letter Harry received.

"D'you think it's real?" asked Edgar, brown eyes alit with excitement, turning amber in the fading light.

"I think so," replied Harry, slowly, running his hands over the parchment and turning the opened envelope over and over in his hands. "Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia were actually scared, Eddy—they wouldn't fake it over something that is a joke."

"So what does it say then?" asked Edgar, nudging his older brother with his shoulder.

Harry frowned and pulled out the two pieces of paper from the envelope and read them out loud.

"Dear Mr. Potter," he began, "We are pleased to inform you of your place at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry…"

Edgar frowned. "What do they mean, 'we await your owl'?"

"I reckon that's how they talk to each other," answered Harry. "There's no telephone number or address to write to, anyway."

Edgar nodded, and then his frown deepened. "Why didn't I get an invite? Aren't I magical too? I make the same things happen."

Harry glanced down at his brother, feeling a tug in his heart. They had never been apart except for when Harry began school the same year as Dudley, with Edgar joining them a year later.

"I won't go unless you're coming too!" vowed Harry. He reread the letter, and then thought of something. "I bet you need to be eleven to go, Eddy. You'll probably have to wait until next year, but we'll ask."

Edgar grinned at his big brother, and snuggled firmly into his side. The two continued to dissect the letter, and wondered what the next steps were for Harry to enrol. They would find out soon enough.

*

Harry and Edgar were in the middle of drying the lunch dishes when the doorbell rang. Dudley was out of the house playing at Piers' and Vernon was at work, so Petunia decided to answer it herself.

Neither Harry nor Edgar thought much of the event until they heard their aunt shriek and slam the door shut. A few moments later, the doorbell rang again, and again, and finally, the well-oiled hinges swung open again.

Petunia appeared in the kitchen doorway a few seconds later, a pinched look on her face. "Boys? Could you… ah… please come with me to the reception room?"

Harry and Edgar shared a confused glance, but Harry placed the dish he was washing back into the sink and Edgar carefully placed his glass on the countertop.

Upon entering the reception room, Harry stopped so suddenly that Edgar crashed into his back; he ignored his younger brother's "sorry," though, his gaze caught on the man sitting on his aunt's couch.

"Ah! And you must be young Mr. Potter," the cheery man said, rising from his seat, although struggling and leaning heavily against a walking cane. Edgar peered around Harry's slightly larger frame with undisguised curiosity, causing the man's jovial expression to change to surprise. "Oho! And this must be the younger Potter."

"Yes," answered Harry for his brother, narrowing his eyes. "And you are…?"

The salt-and-pepper haired man smiled genially. "Ashley Kettleburn, professor of care of magical creatures at Hogwarts."

Harry nodded slowly, stepping further into the reception room with Edgar still hovering behind him and Petunia just off to the side, staring at the fireplace mantle. Kettleburn wasn't too old—Harry reckoned him to be a decade or so older than Vernon, making him fifty or so—and seemed to be an alright fellow, if not for the numerous scars, his missing lower left leg and several fingers on his right, and the roguish eye patch he wore.

"Pleasure," replied Harry finally. "How may I help you, Professor?"

Kettleburn rocked back on his heels as best as he could with one artificial leg, chortling. "Well, someone has to take you to Diagon Alley to help you purchase your school supplies, don't they?"

"I haven't any money," answered Harry, who cut a quick eye at his aunt. "And I won't be receiving any either from my relatives."

Kettleburn frowned. "Well, you've got your own, of course; your parents did set up a trust fund for your schooling, Mr. Potter. That is, for you and your brother."

Edgar decided to no longer remain silent and excitedly asked, "Will I be attending Hogwarts too, sir?"

Kettleburn laughed. "Not this year, young Mr. Potter. You're a year shy of receiving your entrance letter, although I do know you will be attending. Both your names have been down since your births."

"Can I join you and Harry, though?" he continued, eyes alight. "To this Diagon Alley?"

"I don't see why not," smiled Kettleburn, "as long as your aunt agrees."

Both Harry and Edgar knew she would agree to anything to get the two Potters out of her house, even if it was temporary. With her permission, Kettleburn quickly instructed Harry to fetch his letter, and Edgar retrieved light jackets for chilly summer evenings, and soon the trio were out of the Dursley residence and standing in the middle of the street.

"Watch carefully and do not leave my side," instructed Kettleburn sternly, raising his free arm, with his wand in hand.

A loud crack later, and a bright purple, triple-decker bus was swerving around the corner screeching to a stop in front of them.

"Welcome to the Knight Bus, transportation for the stranded witch or wizard," a bored-looking conductor was reciting as the doors hissed open.

"Hello," greeted Kettleburn. "Three to the Leaky Cauldron, please."

"Ah, hello Professor!" the conductor smiled pleasantly. "More firsties?"

"Yes," the elderly man replied, ushering Harry and Edgar onto the bus but urging them to keep their heads down. Harry gingerly set himself in the seat Kettleburn pointed out, Edgar beside him. He remembered how violently the bus appeared and murmured to his brother, "hang on tight!"

Edgar obeyed, wrapping his hands around the chair's armrests and gripped tightly, enough for his knuckles to turn white. However, seconds later there's another loud bang and he was glad he listened, as he was nearly thrown back into his seat.

Kettleburn began explaining the Hogwarts letter. "Now, as a first year, Mr. Potter, you cannot bring a broom to fly," he started, sternly. Harry just glanced at him askance, as if wondering why he'd bring something to clean with anyway. "First years need their books, protective gear for potions, as well as potions supply, and their uniforms." Here, the professor stopped and looked at the hand-me-down clothing that Harry and Edgar were wearing. "Perhaps we'll make that our first stop after retrieving your money?"

"About that," began Harry hesitantly. "Can my relatives use it, or is it just for me an' Eddy?"

"Edgar and I," corrected Kettleburn absently, as he stroked his chin in thought. "I'm quite sure that it's only for the two of you."

Kettleburn chose to ignore the two sighs of relief coming from the Potter brothers, but privately wondered what he was going to say to his employer once the trip was complete.

*

The Leaky Cauldron had been busy and nearly packed with the early dinner crowd, as well as several parents taking their children around to buy school supplies. Both Edgar and Harry were incredibly surprised to see so many magical people in one area, but at Kettleburn's firm directions they kept their heads down and eyes averted to not draw attention to themselves.

The first stop after several moments of gawking at Diagon Alley, was to Gringott's Bank. Harry and Edgar were speechless once they saw the amount of gold in their vault, and soon Edgar was taking charge, asking the goblin Griphook about shares and stakes, interest rates and the family portfolio. The goblin was quite taken aback by the youngest Potters' questions at first, but then began answering in a prompt fashion. Harry never had the head for maths, but Edgar was quite taken with numbers and the eldest Potter was more than happy to let his baby brother handle their monetary affairs.

Kettleburn was quietly amused.

After both boys collected a moleskin pouch for their shopping—Harry argued quite sternly for Edgar having money of his own, in both Galleons and pounds—Kettleburn led the two towards Madam Malkins, explaining the House system at Hogwarts. Both boys were sceptical of it, having never been separated like that before in an education system.

"Each house, of course, has its own merits," said Kettleburn, limping slightly as he took a fast clip towards the clothing store. "Gryffindors are the brave and foolhardy; Hufflepuffs the hardworking and loyal; Ravenclaws the studious and quiet; and Slytherins are the ambitious and cunning." The wizard paused. "You'll find that there is prejudice against each other by another, but nothing so strong as that between the Gryffindors and Slytherins."

"How come?" asked Edgar, pensively.

"The Dark Lord," here Kettleburn cast a nervous glance about before lowering his voice to speak the name, "Voldemort studied at Hogwarts and was sorted into Slytherin." As Kettleburn reached the door for Madam Malkins, he paused long enough to look at both boys and say, "And both your parents were Gryffindors. They'll expect you two to be the same."

Harry frowned; who was this 'they' Kettleburn mentioned? And why would anyone have any expectations about Edgar? About him?

He didn't have a chance to ask the professor, because he and Edgar were ushered into the clothing store.

"Another one for Hogwarts dear?" asked a white-haired witch in black robes. "I've another here, just step on the stool, love."

Harry did as directed, watching Edgar and Kettleburn out of the corner of his eye as the two began to discuss Kettleburn's class. Harry quirked a tiny smile; Edgar was doing Harry's job: asking all the questions and receiving all the answers. Yet Harry was glad of this, as it allowed him to observe and make judgments without revealing his own thoughts.

"Are you going to Hogwarts?" drawled a voice beside him.

Harry's attention turned to the voice. The other boy was short and skinny like Harry, draped in a swath of black fabric while a tape measurer, scissors, pins and thread were flying about him without hands, pining here and cutting there.

"Yes," replied Harry, his head tilted towards the boy. Across from him was a large floor to ceiling mirror that allowed him to also keep an eye on Edgar.

"What House do you think you'll be in?" continued the boy, a tiny light of something appearing in his eye despite the affected, drawling bored tone he adopted. Prep school, Harry automatically classed him as. Poor thing probably doesn't even know he's associating with a townie like myself.

Harry had several experiences back in Little Whinging with those who did not attend Little Whinging's public elementary school. Vernon and Petunia had tried to have Dudley enrolled in St. Christopher's but Dudley didn't pass any of the entrance tests (Vernon then declared it a sissy school, but even Harry could see the disappointment in his eyes). Not a single student from St. Christopher's ever willingly associated with those at Little Whinging.

The boy had continued speaking. "My whole family's been Slytherin, so I'd like to be there; Ravenclaw wouldn't be too bad, I suppose." He gave a tiny shudder. "Oh, could you imagine Hufflepuff? I'd leave!"

"From what I understand about the House system, it's not so much your choice other than where the hat places you based on your personality," said Harry, finally contributing.

"A hat?" the boy looked shocked for a moment. "You mean I wear a hat to be sorted?"

Harry gave a tiny smile. His voice automatically adopted the same tonality as the other boy. "I just learnt myself. I don't think it's actually supposed to be common knowledge, but my brother managed to weasel it out of our guide."

A general hand wave towards Kettleburn and Edgar had the boy's silver eyes drift in that direction. Numerous expressions flickered on the face of the boy, as he struggled to find something to say.

"Your guide?" the boy finally settled on something.

"Our parents are dead," offered Harry, simply.

"Oh. Sorry," the boy said, awkwardly, as if he didn't know what to quite say, and therefore not sure if he meant it or not. "They were our kind, though, weren't they?" his tone may not have said anything, but Harry saw the silver eyes flicker up and down his clothing, settling on the large jeans and baggy jacket.

Harry's eyes narrowed. Ah, the prejudice, he thought. "They were witch and wizard, if that's what you mean."

The boy nodded, accepting Harry's words. He then seemed to brighten. "My father's looking at brooms and my mother's looking at wands. It's a shame, I think, to not allow first years' brooms! Maybe I can smuggle one in?"

"I doubt you're the first to think of it, and I'm sure there are rules against first years having brooms for a reason," Harry pointed out, "although I reckon it's possible to cleverly disguise, or just have your parents send it to you once you're settled in. Then, you can always say you didn't 'bring it' like the letter says. It was sent to you."

The boy looked thoughtful. "I didn't think of that."

Harry gave a tiny smile, lifting an arm as Madam Malkin came back over, checking on their progress. "You're all finished, dear," she said to the silver-eyed boy.

He hopped off the stool, pausing at Harry. "I'll see you on the train, then?"

"Yeah," Harry agreed noncommittally. His interaction with the boy told him that he and Edgar had to learn much about the magical world before Harry even thought about the train ride up to the school.

"Goodbye then!"

Madam Malkin finished with Harry's robes, and then began on a new wardrobe of jeans, jumpers, trousers, and vests for him and Edgar.

"Who was that then?" his brother asked, looking up at him with his brown eyes, as he stood on the stool the other boy vacated.

"Not a clue," replied Harry, "just someone starting Hogwarts like me this year."

Edgar frowned. "You didn't get his name?"

"I didn't want to," answered Harry. He cut a look at his brother. "We need books, Eddy."

Edgar stilled, his entire body going rigid. The last time Harry had said they needed books, was when he started primary school and Harry a year into the system. After a year of being yelled at for his grades, Harry had to hide his intelligence and never do better than Dudley. He wanted Edgar to be spared the pain and humiliation that Dudley and the Dursleys showed him over the course of his first school year. He told Edgar to learn everything he wanted but to never get everything right in class; to learn independently from books in the library instead of in class.

Edgar glanced up at his brother, and caught the emerald eyes, which were gazing steadily back at him. "Okay," he said.

*

The rest of the trip was uneventful. They didn't run into any other prospective students at Ollivander's when Harry got his wand. Edgar watched the process eagerly; barely able to restrain himself for his turn, but the youngest Potter still felt a chill when Ollivander mentioned that he sold the wand that gave Harry his lightening bolt scar. They boys were clearly missing something.

Harry's trip to the apothecary was short and simple, and Kettleburn stepped in to ensure that Harry received a full kit instead of a standard Hogwarts issue. The boys were then at Flourish and Blott's, where Kettleburn fully expected the two to take several hours after Edgar's inquisitive and blunt comments on the wizarding world.

Besides the standard grade one texts, Harry and Edgar decided to buy books that caught their fancy despite the grade level, in order to learn more about the magical world. Edgar strayed more towards history and theory texts, picking up Dark Wizards Throughout the Ages, Great Wizards of the Twentieth Century, The Wizard World: this Millennium, and An Introductory Guide to Spellcasting and Magic.

Harry, however, was primarily focusing on learning about protecting himself and Edgar from Dudley and the Dursleys, and anyone else. He picked up 1001 Hexes and Curses, Spells You Wish You Knew Then to Protect Yourself Now, Mind Magic, Defensive Wards, and even a third year book on Runes, if only because on the cover was a rune shaped similarly to his scar.

Their last stop was to Magical Menagerie, where Kettleburn suggested the Potters buy an owl so they could keep in contact while Harry was at Hogwarts. They agreed, seeing the wisdom in it despite the pain that having magical items would bring them at number four.

Edgar chose a snowy white owl with golden eyes. Harry, who was gathering biscuits and water trays for the owl and shoving them at Edgar while he tried to move a large perch, stopped when a hiss distracted him. Edgar, who was only a few steps ahead, glanced back when he realised that Harry stopped.

"Harry?" he asked, curious.

"Shh," replied Harry, kneeling in front of a glass tank, peering intently into foliage of green leaves and bark. His voice was almost dreamy, his expression peaceful. Edgar sighed; he knew that expression.

The younger Potter knelt beside Harry and peered into the tank as well, his keen eyes searching for—there, scales and a slow movement designed to hide the predator from its prey. "The letter doesn't say anything about bringing a snake, Harry."

"Eddy," began Harry, patiently, "Isn't he beautiful?"

The snake was quite good looking, Edgar thought, black and brown with lighter brown spots like a leopard, with a heavy body and small head. Edgar glanced at the plaque beside it: Python Regius, age 2.

"At least he's not venomous," sighed Edgar, glancing at his brother. "Are you going to get him? I know you've always wanted one since that incident at the zoo."

"Like you said, Eddy, snakes aren't on the list," sighed Harry, still staring at the snake who now noticed the stranger on the other side of the glass. The snake was clearly debating whether he was in danger or not, slowly drawing into itself, its tail tucked in the middle of its coiled body.

"I won't hurt you," hissed Harry, and Edgar did a quick glance around to ensure no one was around. His brothers' talent to naturally speak to snakes manifested itself early on, but it wasn't until earlier that year when he helped a boa constrictor escape from the London Zoo that Harry took a stronger interest in the species. He had, however, managed to teach Edgar enough to follow a conversation at a basic level, as though it were a foreign language.

The snake lifted its head, and around them in the other tanks, snakes were appearing from their hiding places. "You speak?" the python hissed back, his tongue flickering out, drawing out his 's'.

Edgar shifted on his heels. "We both speak."

The snake reared back quickly, coiling tightly into a ball, although its head was still visible—he was curious. "Have you come for us, Master?"

Harry grimaced at the title. "I will try." He opened his mouth to say more, but the snake immediately coiled tight into a ball and hid its head in the middle of the coil. Both boys looked up at the magical creatures' professor.

Kettleburn smiled down at the two. "I see you've found the snake section," he began, looking into the tanks. "Most avoid this area because of You-Know-Who. He was rumoured to have a black mamba."

Edgar rose to his feet and shuffled the owl's items to a more comfortable position. "Harry?" he asked, "Are you coming?"

"Mmm?" replied the elder Potter, still gazing at the snake.

Kettleburn watched silently, glancing between the two Potters as Edgar tried again. "Henry, we've to go."

Harry responded to his birth name, sighing as he rose and gently touching the glass of the tank in goodbye and apology. As he passed Kettleburn, the man stopped him with a hand on the shoulder.

"What do you know about pythons, Harry?" the man asked.

"Nothing I can't learn from a book," replied the young wizard, cheekily.

Kettleburn's mouth twitched into a smile as he glanced back at the snake, which was now uncoiling as he felt the danger had passed. "The python regius is a non-venomous snake from Africa. Likes grasslands, savannahs and wooded areas, and eats small rodents while juveniles feed sometimes on birds."

Edgar gave a startled squeak here, and clutched the owl's items closer. Kettleburn gave a tiny chuckle. "Your owl is too large to be of interest to a young python, young Mr. Potter."

Edgar sighed and Harry turned back to the tank, a small smile on his face. "May I?" he asked.

Kettleburn hesitated a moment before nodding. "You'll have to prove to me you can handle him, Mr. Potter. For the first year at Hogwarts I will want to see you at my office every Friday evening telling me everything you've learnt about your snake. While the python regius is a popular pet, due to their docile nature around humans, they can refuse to eat and end up with parasitic infections if you don't take care of them."

"I can do it," Harry stubbornly insisted. "I can take care of him."

Kettleburn nodded, once, and then motioned for a Magical Menagerie sales assistant to gather the necessary items for Harry's purchase. He turned to the front of the store, with Edgar following him to purchase the owl and snake together.

"I'm taking you home," said Harry to the snake, which was hidden behind some branches. "Are you okay with that?"

The snakes' head appeared, briefly, from behind the bark. "For you? Yes."

Harry smiled.

*

Kettleburn gave Harry explicit instructions on how to gain entrance to Platform 9¾ and then told both boys to owl him with any questions on the care of their pets. He also left them with the instructions of their shrunken packages, and that a single tap from Harry's wand would enlarge them without bringing down the Ministry or break the underage restriction of magic.

"Also start reading into some of your classes," the wizard said. "Particularly potions." Kettleburn looked as though he was going to say more but then changed his mind.

The two Potters went to their room, upon returning to Privet Drive, while Kettleburn remained a moment longer to speak with the Dursleys. After a moment, they heard the front door open and from their window saw Kettleburn walk slowly down the pavement.

Edgar had already started tapping some of their packages with Harry's wand, specifically the books. Several were on their bookshelf along with the non-magical classics, and Edgar already had one put aside on the desk for future reading.

Harry was working on the perch for their owl, and the glass tank for his snake. The perch was moved directly beside the window, in a tiny space where the bookshelf failed to meet the wall, and the water tray was clipped to the perch.

Unsure of where to place the tank for his python, Harry finally turned to the snake himself, curled loosely on the lower bunk of the bed and asked. "Where would you like your tank to be?"

The snake looked up and Edgar glanced only briefly over before turning to Harry's school trunk to unshrink it and shove it at the foot of their bunk bed. He then began piling Harry's first year texts and potions kit in the trunk.

"Near the window, I think. By the light."

Harry looked around and bit his lip. "Is the top of the bookshelf okay?"

Both Harry and the snake looked in the direction, while Edgar's owl from beside the bookshelf looked back at them warily. The bookshelf wasn't too high—Harry could easily lift the tank on the thick, flat top of it while standing on the chair the Dursleys provided for the desk—but the proximity to Edgar's owl worried the eldest Potter.

Edgar joined the conversation as he began placing their new wizard robes in the wardrobe. "You won't eat her, will you?"

The snake hissed in annoyance. "No."

Edgar shrugged. "I don't see a problem, Harry."

"Fine," replied Harry, dragging the desk chair over the bookshelf and lifting the tank carefully on top. He then added the items Kettleburn said would be best for the snake's environment and tapped a small rune on the tank which would replicate the right amount of heat for the snake to enjoy.

Slowly the purchases from Diagon Alley were sorted and stored. Harry's trunk was by the door and at the end of the bed for easy access once he left for Hogwarts, while Edgar's was under the desk.

Edgar finally decided on naming their shared owl Iris, after the Greek goddess who was a messenger to the Gods (despite Harry bemoaning that everyone will tell him that it's wrong, and it should be Mercury or Hermes), and Harry decided on Caesar as the name for his snake.

"Why?" asked Edgar, that evening as Harry settled into the bottom bunk and Edgar the top.

"Because legend has it that Cleopatra wore a python regius around her wrist, and she was Julius Caesar's consort before Antony," explained Harry.

Edgar was sceptical. "Well, tell him to avoid any Brutus's you come across then."

*

Harry and Edgar spent the month leading up to September the 1st by going over Harry's textbooks, and quizzing each other. Edgar, thought Harry, was going to be spectacular in his first year thanks to all the prep Harry was giving him.

On that September morning, Harry and Edgar woke early to pack Harry's things in his trunk. Several textbooks had been moved from the bookshelf to the desk to the floor, and the room was rather messy in comparison to the spotless condition it had been when they first moved into the room.

The two developed a single phrase for Edgar to send to Harry if there were any problems at the Dursleys, which Harry didn't believe there would be with the threat of magic hanging over them. Finally, they decided that Iris would stay with Edgar at the Dursleys, and Harry would use a school owl to send his first letter to his brother, about which house he was sorted into.

Harry decided to wear his uniform of black trousers, white vest, button-up shirt and tie to King's Cross, with Caesar hidden between his button-up Oxford and vest, enjoying his human's body heat. Below the tie, a button was left undone for Caesar if he wanted to peak out of Harry's shirt.

"Are you ready?" asked Edgar, standing in front of his brother and fixing his tie. Harry looked over Edgar's shoulder into the wardrobe mirror, hung on the back of one of the wooden doors that they had left open while he was getting ready.

"I don't have a choice," smiled Harry.

Edgar frowned. "You don't have to go."

"I couldn't stay, either, though."

Edgar sighed. "I'm going to miss you, Harry."

Harry smiled at his brother, gently, and hugged him tightly. "I'll miss you too, Eddy."

"Write as soon as you can," the younger Potter demanded, sternly. "I want to know everything about Hogwarts."

Harry laughed and stepped back, smoothing a nervous hand down the front of his Oxford in an attempt to hide the fidget. "How do I look?"

Edgar smiled. "Like gold." Edgar walked a few steps over to the writing desk, and picked up the single chessman. He fingered the smooth, cool plastic king for a moment, before turning back to his brother and offering the piece. "Kings to you, Henry."

Harry took the piece solemnly. "Tell me everything that happens back here, Edgar. I'll want to know of your conquests."

"Oh, of course," grinned Edgar, his dark brown eyes turning a shade darker with an emotion Harry could easily recognise. "You can't be king forever, Harry. And this dark knight will be waiting for his turn."

*

Platform 9¾ was the stupidest thing Harry ever heard of in his life. Kettleburn had been very exact in where it was, but Harry spent at least ten minutes staring at the brick wall in disbelief and steadily increasing incredibility.

"You must be joking," he unconsciously hissed, and Caesar, barely poking out from behind his Hogwarts issued tie, chimed in.

"Are you sure you want to go to this Hogwarts, Henry?"

Harry heaved a silent sigh. He had managed to get Caesar to stop calling him 'master,' but it seemed that his snake was very particular about names and after learning the history behind his. He decided that calling Harry by his diminutive name while he had such a "regal" name, such as Caesar's own, was ludicrous. Since then, Caesar preferred calling both Potters by their proper names: Henry and Edgar, despite their bandying about of 'Harry' and 'Eddy.'

"Yeah—it gets Eddy and I out of the Dursleys, Caesar."

Although, now that Harry was thinking about it, it might not be worth the effort. He was not running straight into a seemingly brick wall.

"Are you alright, love?"

Harry jumped, startled and cursing himself for not being more aware of his surroundings. A glance over his shoulder though had him turn fully to face the tall, stately woman in a summer print dress. Beside her was a slightly shorter man, more ruddy-faced with a jovial expression and muddy-coloured hair. A young boy, probably thirteen, was standing just slightly behind them and struggling with the strap to his owl's cage.

Harry's stomach swooped. They were magical.

"I'm, er," Harry paused, trying to regain his speech without stuttering. "I've been told how to get onto the Platform but I'm…" he trailed off, with a meaningful glance at the brick wall.

"Oh, don't worry about it, love," the woman reassured with a gentle smile. "Cedric will help you, won't you dear?" the final bit was directed at the teen, who looked up automatically.

The boy, Harry could already tell, was going to be one of those popular rugby players when he was older. He had his father's shorter, broader build but his mother's sandy-blond hair and her silver eyes. Harry was reminded of the other very blond haired boy he met at Madam Malkins.

"Sure," the boy grinned, sticking a hand out for Harry to shake. "Cedric Diggory."

Harry reached out, shaking the hand. "Henry. But everyone calls me Harry."

"Nice to meet you, Harry. Are you Muggleborn? Has anyone explained about the train and the houses?" Cedric continued speaking, lining his trolley up beside Harry's, and motioning for the boy to walk beside him towards the brick wall.

Although nervous, Harry trusted Cedric's actions and followed the older boy. "I'm not Muggleborn, but I grew up in the non-magical world. Professor Kettleburn showed my brother and me around Diagon Alley and he explained the houses."

"Your brother?" asked Cedric, pleasantly. "Is he joining you this year?"

"No," said Harry, tensing as the wall appeared closer, despite the slow walk the two were taking. "Eddy's a year younger."

Cedric grinned, leaning forward and Harry shut his eyes, ignoring Caesar's hiss of "wall Henry!" Cedric did not stop, though, and even found the time to ask, "Eddy?"

"Edgar," answered Harry absently, opening his eyes and then pausing in shock. He was on the other side of the Platform, staring at a large, old fashioned, red steam engine train. "Bloody hell."

Cedric grinned over his shoulder at Harry, and tugged him gently by his Oxford's sleeve. "Best not stand there, Harry—you'll never know who'll come up behind you and give you a good scare!"

"Right," answered the black-haired boy, nodding in surprise and following Cedric toward the train.

Cedric pointed out a free compartment and helped Harry store his trunk. "Did you want company? I can stay with you if you'd like."

Harry smiled genuinely at the offer. Cedric Diggory seemed like a good sort, and Harry didn't want to lose a budding friendship after his name was announced at the sorting. It was the first thing he and Edgar had searched for after Kettleburn's numerous attempts to keep them hidden from the general public at Diagon Alley. Harry being labelled 'the Boy Who Lived', thanks to their parents' deaths, made the eldest Potter brother leery of stating anything more than his name. However, the majority of the texts only wrote about "Harry Potter", and left off his true birth name of Henry. There was also very little mention of Edgar.

"Sure," said Harry, finally. "But if you want to find your friends at any time, don't let me stop you."

"That's fine," agreed Cedric, settling across from Harry on the plush seat. "They'll find me, or I'll see them later anyway in Hufflepuff."

A smile drew across Harry's face. "Hufflepuff! What's it like then?"

Cedric playfully scowled. "We're not duffers like everyone else says, first off," he began, waggling a finger at Harry. "We work hard and have fun and take care of each other. Hufflepuffs tend to stay out of things, avoiding confrontation. It's not because we're scared, but because we don't get involved. Most of the school just pitches the Gryffindors against the Slytherins and the Ravenclaws think they're above them. It's nice staying hidden."

Harry sighed. "Somehow I doubt I'll be given that luxury in whatever house I'm in."

"Why?" asked Cedric, settling back. The two ignored the shrill whistle as the train signalled its final call, and the noises of parents shouting their goodbyes.

Harry tilted his head. "I didn't give you my last name, did I?" he said, hedging.

Cedric nodded slowly.

"It's Potter," said Harry, finally.

The Hufflepuff went, "ah," and settled back in the seat, gazing at Harry for a moment. Finally, he said, "Well… best of luck then, Harry. This years' sorting will be squiffy then."

Harry groaned and slid down his seat. "You reckon?"

Cedric grinned at the younger boy. "Oh, quite."

The two settled into a friendly conversation about Hogwarts for several hours until the trolley lady came by with some snacks. Cedric said he was off to find his friends, and told Harry to come and find him if there were any problems.

Left alone, Harry idly stroked his shirt where Caesar rested underneath, and pulled out a book to read. Only a few pages in, however, his compartment door opened and Harry was greeted by the silver-eyed blond from Madam Malkins.

"They're saying Harry Potter's on the train," he began, looking right at Harry. "I suppose that's you?"

Harry paused, placing his book down. "Pardon?"

"I'm Draco Malfoy," he continued, stepping in. "I never got your name at Madam Malkins."

"Ah," said Harry, "you're right. I'm Harry Potter."

Draco smiled and held out his hand for Harry to shake, which, after a moment, Harry took. "You should come back to my compartment and meet some friends of mine."

Harry smiled thinly. "Thank you, but I'm already sitting with someone. He's gone off to find some of his friends."

"Oh?" asked Draco, "What house is he in?"

"Does it matter?" replied Harry, curious. He folded his hands over his book.

Draco nodded. "Of course! What house you're in will define you at Hogwarts. It could make all the difference."

"Hmm," was all Harry offered.

When it was clear that Harry was not going to say anything more, Draco made a few more attempts to draw Harry out of the compartment to explore the Hogwarts Express, but Harry politely turned the offers down without completely disregarding Draco's offers. Finally, the blond left with a polite, "see you later," that Harry echoed.

Harry turned back to his book. He was fairly sure that Cedric wouldn't return before reaching the school. He only got a few more pages in when a boy with stringy sandy, light brown hair poked his head in, his mossy green eyes darting from one end of the compartment to the other. Harry watched him with undisguised amusement.

"May I help you?" he asked, watching as the boy eased his way into the compartment.

"Malfoy's not been by yet, has he?"

Harry smiled. "He has, actually."

The boy sighed in relief and moved fully into the compartment, shutting the door quietly behind him. "Our fathers are friends, and he's been trying to hunt me down and get me to join him in his compartment. I've only barely escaped with my life. I think I lost him by the toilets."

Here, Harry grinned. "Good for you. I doubt he'll be back after I already turned him down, too."

The boy grinned at Harry and settled into the seat across from him. "Merlin, he was driving me spare." He glanced at Harry's book and asked, "How are you finding 1001?"

"It's pretty good, actually. A bit too vague though, only listing the hexes and curses and not really delving into the theory or history behind them as I wanted," explained Harry, relaxing. The boy hadn't even asked his name or introduced himself.

The boy nodded, relaxing into the plush red seats. The two began to discuss the various books they've read, moving on to discuss what they knew of Hogwarts and their experiences with others on the train.

"Diggory? Really?" the boy across from him—he still hadn't given a name—scrunched his nose up a bit in surprise and slight disgust.

Harry nodded, suddenly wary. "He didn't have to explain anything, but he did."

The boy nodded, slowly. "Nice of him, I guess." The boy paused, and suddenly sharp eyes were zeroing in on Harry.

Harry could see the wheels spinning in his brain; wondering just who Harry was, what his background was; was he Pureblood, or Mudblood?

Before anything could be said, the compartment door slid open and Cedric Diggory stumbled into the room, hair askew and cheeks flushed, his mouth in a wide grin. He stilled, slightly, at the tension in the air, and turned to Harry, asking, "All right there, Henry?"

Harry nodded, suddenly very grateful for Cedric using his birth name instead of the one that everyone knew. The boy across from him slowly sank back, as if exhaling a sigh—of relief, or something else, Harry didn't know.

Cedric nodded politely at the other boy. "Nott."

"Diggory."

The two got on well enough, with Cedric sitting next to Harry on his side of the compartment seat. Cedric pulled out his Hufflepuff nature and extended a metaphorical hand of friendship to the other boy and began chatting. "I saw Malfoy up at the front of the train. He's holding court with a few other firsties, and imagine my surprise when I didn't see you or Zabini." Cedric paused. "Well, Zabini's always really been a loner, so it's no surprise he wouldn't consider allying with Malfoy."

Nott nodded—Harry wondered at his first name—and answered Cedric's comments. "I ducked in here to avoid him."

As Cedric's head turned to Harry, he jumped in: "He'd already been by, Cedric. I met him at Madam Malkin's in Diagon Alley when I was getting my books and robes."

Cedric grinned. "And his impression on you…?"

Harry just smirked in reply.

"So which House do you think you'll be sorted into?" asked Cedric, relaxing.

"Not sure yet," answered Harry, while Nott said, "Probably Ravenclaw or Slytherin."

Cedric nodded, at both young teens. He then jerked his chin at Nott and then the window. "You'd best get into your uniform, Nott—we'll be there soon."

Both boys glanced out the window, startled at the darkened skies and elongated shadows as the train continued to steam through a thick forest and empty pastures.

Nott nodded, and mumbled a quick 'excuse me' while he left to the toilets to change. Cedric immediately turned Harry and nearly demanded, "Did he ask your name yet?"

Harry shook his head. "I think he was about to, when you came in. What do I need to know?"

Cedric smirked; it was a look that startled Harry because he didn't think he'd ever see such a dark look on the handsome boy's face. Harry knew Cedric was intelligent enough, as he didn't comment on Harry's name other than to comment on the sorting, and then carefully steered conversation away from the Boy-Who-Lived title and myth.

"His name is Theodore Nott, only child to Theodore Nott, senior. He's a junior, but I wouldn't ever call him that if you can avoid it," said Cedric, his words clipped and fast, low and meant to be spoken in confidence. "There are a lot of rumours around the family; his mother hung herself from the family estate's ballroom when Nott was five and his father was thought to be a Death Eater, a servant of You-Know-Who's. Gossip seems to lean towards Mrs. Nott having a lot of bruises and a very timid personality—you can figure out the rest. Nott senior remarried barely a year later, but the woman's a shrew and my mother tends to avoid the society events when the new Mrs. Nott is out. The woman's a bitch, frankly, but don't go around repeating it. With two strong, dominant personalities, I'm not sure where Nott'll fall—if he leans more towards the Pureblood traditions his father favours, or elsewhere, especially once he learns your real name."

Harry nodded thoughtfully. He and Edgar had done quite a bit of reading about Voldemort and his Death Eaters, and Harry was sure that any friends he'd make at Hogwarts—and he used the term 'friends' loosely at the moment—would either be very true friends or those who sought to use him for other purposes. At the moment, Harry couldn't reason out why Cedric would help him—he was older, intelligent, and popular, what would he need Harry for?—and thus firmly settled the Diggory heir into a "true friend" category.

Nott, however, Harry could see him falling either way. If he truly disliked his home life, the two could easily form a bond over it; life at the Dursley's was hardly chocolate cake, either. But if the boy was raised to be like his father, a Death Eater, Harry would probably have to go against him one day and he wasn't keen on making enemies just yet.

"Sickle for them?" asked Cedric, nudging Harry in the side.

"Just wondering if I should tell him my name, or not," answered Harry.

"Everyone'll know soon enough," the older boy replied, pragmatically. "Your choice though." He hesitated, as if wondering to suggest something.

Harry noticed. "Say it. I trust your judgement, Cedric."

Cedric smiled at Harry. "He's not sitting with Malfoy—that's a good sign, Harry."

Harry nodded thoughtfully.

"Our fathers are friends, and he's been trying to hunt me down and get me to join him in his compartment. I've only barely escaped with my life."

"He didn't want to sit with him. I doubt Nott knew who I was when he walked in, too," said Harry slowly.

Cedric stretched and yawned a bit. "Your choice then." He closed his eyes and lazily looked out from underneath them.

Harry nodded, distracted, and while doing so the compartment door slid open and Nott stumbled in, cursing under his breath as the robe's bottom hem caught in the door while he slid it shut.

Harry grinned. "Bit of trouble there?"

Nott mock-glared at him. "I'd ask for help, but somehow I think you'd just gloat."

"Quite right!"

Nott settled opposite of Harry, nodding to Cedric who dipped his chin in greeting. Harry saw him fidget, and then finally said, "I never caught your name or introduce myself. I'm," here he licked his lips in a blatant nervous manner, "Theo… Theodore Nott." A distasteful, bitter smile crept onto his face for a moment as he finished. "Junior."

Harry nodded and took the offered hand in his, feeling similar calluses on the finger pads and palms. "I'm Henry Potter, or as everyone else calls me, Harry."

Nott paused, briefly, minutely, while shaking Harry's hand, but continued through with the motion. "Pleasure," he said, sounding very grown-up.

"Likewise," answered Harry, curling his lips into a wry smirk.

Theo's eyes slid to Cedric, who was watching the two, silently. "Oh, I already knew, Nott. Not my place to say anything, is it?"

Theo nodded, but Harry's gaze sharpened on the Hufflepuff. Oh, how you lie, Diggory. You did say quite enough while he was out. Aren't you a smart one?

A whistle blew, cutting through the air and an excitable murmur rose from outside the compartment. The train began to slow and Harry glanced out of it.

"Hogsmeade," Cedric said, as both boys gapped in surprise at the dark train station. "You'll be able to visit it in your third year." He rose, and Harry and Theo turned to look at him. "Time for you to get to Hogwarts, and get sorted."

*

Harry and Theo stood side-by-side, near the back of the group of first year students, waiting for Professor McGonagall to return. They had shared their boat ride with a pudgy-faced girl Theo knew as Pansy Parkinson and a silent, moody girl by the name of Lisa Turpin, who avoided Pansy.

Harry spent the silent ride contemplating Cedric's whispered goodbye: "Be careful what you choose, Harry, but know that whichever house you go to, I'm your friend. Yours, and your brothers'."

When McGonagall did return, and began to shuffle the nervous first years into the Great Hall, Harry took a deep breath and reminded himself that the only person who he was interested in pleasing was back in Surrey.

He watched in feigned disinterest who was sorted where, but made a note of each face and their house association.

He clapped politely when everyone was sorted, but made a bit more effort when Mafloy, Draco was declared a Slytherin, and whispered "good luck," to Theo before he took his turn… and was sorted to Slytherin as well.

Finally…

"Potter, Henry!"

"Henry did she say?"

"Do you think she means Harry Potter?"

"THE Harry Potter? Where is he?"

Harry stepped forward, and glanced up at McGonagall as she smiled slightly and dropped the hat on his head. There was silence, and then: "Well, well. You are not what I was expecting."

The voice was coming from everywhere and nowhere, and considering that he hadn't heard any other comments from those being sorted, he assumed it was coming from his head.

"Impressive. Good deduction skills, Mr. Potter. Ahh… now, let's see what we've got here, shall we?" the androgynous voice continued, sounding eager. "Oh, a good mind, no doubt; and a thirst to prove yourself."

Yes, thank you. I do realise I have a large amount of ambition, thought Harry wryly.

"Oh, yes, no false modesty. And certainly no lack of courage and loyalty to those who earn it, even if it just belongs to young Mr. Edgar Potter at the moment." The hat paused, humming and hawing. "Oh, what's this?"

Distantly, Harry could sense a vague, shadowy memory surface: a woman screaming, pain, a flash of green light, and then words, voices—his brothers', a female he knew was that of Petunia, another woman's, a man's: king's to you, Henry… The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want…Not my babies, please, no… ah, who caught the snitch today, but my clever, clever Prongslet? Yes, yes you did…

"You could be great, it's all there, you know, in your head, and heart. And of all the houses, there is only one which will help you, Henry James Potter. You have the courage to fight your way to the top in this house, and you give and inspire the loyalty you will need later in your life. You are intelligent, ambitious, and observant enough."

Harry was mesmerised. The voice was haunting, persuasive and encouraging. Harry didn't really care about being the Boy-Who-Lived, or making other people happy. Edgar was his responsibility and he would go where the hat thought he could protect his brother best—and if it did some ego-stroking in the meantime, who was he to complain?

"Yes, Henry James Potter, this house is for you," it finished, confident. "To the future, Mr. Potter, and to—" the voice went from inside his head to announcing his house choice in the whole Hall—"Slytherin!"

It took a short time, not more than two minutes, for his sorting, and the Slytherin house erupted in cheers, while the others sat dumbfounded. As Harry removed the hat, ready to turn to his new housemates and his friend, Theo Nott, the hat's voice whispered once more in his mind, chilling Harry.

"You have a touch of destiny about you, Henry James Potter. Do not forget it."

*

TBC...

*