Notes: This story is a What If? AU, one that takes the established world of Harry Potter and, in changing one little detail, turns it sharply on its head. In this case, the alteration takes place when Harry arrived at Platform Nine and Three-Quarters. Thus, the beginning starts out identically to the published version of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's/Sorcerer's Stone. Rather than transcribe the first ninety pages of the book, which would be both silly and plagiaristic, I have begun with the section relevant to the point of divergence; anyone wishing to get the "full flavor" of reading this alternate take on the world of Potter may, of course, start by opening their copy of Stone to the first page, and reading until they reach the point where Harry sets out for King's Cross Station, which is where things begin to change.

Since I want to, as much as possible, keep this story directly entrenched in Rowling's Potter-verse, at many times I will quote directly from the book (the American version, I'm afraid, as that's the one I have access to). At other times I may jump ahead or gloss over parts, leaving you all to incorporate what you know happened rather than retelling large sections that would be pretty much identical to the original text. After all, I don't want to change anything that wouldn't be changed by Harry's new, different life. As such, things will become more divergent as time passes, and the ripples from this change spread out through the world. Other things will, of course, happen exactly as they did originally, since Harry would have had no direct effect upon them occurring.

I am not trying to steal Jo's words and pass them off as my own; I'm sure you'll all be easily capable of recognizing the original wording when it shows up. It should be rather familiar. I have chosen not to mark the quoted sections as doing so disrupts the flow of the story. Know, however, that there will be times when I copy directly from the book; I am not doing this to steal, but rather to maintain the original flavor and feel of Potter. I'm certainly not doing it to be lazy; I assure you, it was much more time-consuming to find all the relevant passages, and much more difficult for me to try and write in a way that would (hopefully) seamlessly integrate Jo's words rather than to simply let loose in my usual tone. But I thought it was important to incorporate these sections. I think the story is somewhat more disturbing when it feels like you're reading the original Harry Potter…just with a strange, greenish twist.

Thank you. I hope you enjoy.


THE JOURNEY FROM PLATFORM NINE AND THREE-QUARTERS

Harry woke at five o'clock and was too excited and nervous to go back to sleep. He got up and pulled on his jeans because he didn't want to walk into the station in his wizard's robes—he'd change on the train. He checked his Hogwarts list yet again to make sure he had everything he needed, saw that Hedwig was shut safely in her cage, and then paced the room, waiting for the Dursleys to get up. Two hours later, Harry's huge, heavy trunk had been loaded into the Dursleys' car, Aunt Petunia had talked Dudley into sitting next to Harry, and they had set off.

They reached King's Cross at half past ten. Uncle Vernon dumped Harry's trunk onto a cart and wheeled it into the station for him. Harry thought this was strangely kind until Uncle Vernon stopped dead, facing the platforms with a nasty grin on his face.

"Well, there you are, boy. Platform nine—platform ten. Your platform should be somewhere in the middle, but they don't seem to have built it yet, do they?"

He was quite right, of course. There was a big plastic number nine over one platform and a big plastic number ten over the one next to it, and in the middle, nothing at all.

"Have a good term," said Uncle Vernon with an even nastier smile. He left without another word. Harry turned and saw the Dursleys drive away. All three of them were laughing. Harry's mouth went rather dry. What on earth was he going to do? He was starting to attract a lot of funny looks, because of Hedwig. He'd have to ask someone.

He stopped a passing guard, but didn't dare mention platform nine and three-quarters. The guard had never heard of Hogwarts and when Harry couldn't even tell him what part of the country it was in, he started to get annoyed, as though Harry was being stupid on purpose. Getting desperate, Harry asked for the train that left at eleven o'clock, but the guard said there wasn't one. In the end the guard strode away, muttering about time wasters. Harry was now trying hard not to panic. According to the large clock over the arrivals board, he had ten minutes left to get on the train to Hogwarts and he had no idea how to do it; he was stranded in the middle of a station with a trunk he could hardly lift, a pocket full of wizard money, and a large owl.

Hagrid must have forgotten to tell him something you had to do, like tapping the third brick on the left to get into Diagon Alley. He wondered if he should get out his wand and start tapping the ticket inspector's stand between platforms nine and ten. He looked around to see if anyone was watching him and that's when he spotted possible salvation.

Those three have to be wizards, Harry thought. The people in question—a tall man, a thin woman, and a boy who looked to be around Harry's age—weren't even making much of an effort to hide it. Like Harry, they had an owl-filled-cage and a large trunk perched in their cart, but even without their luggage he would have pegged them as magical. Not only were the adults dressed in long, flapping cloaks, but the tall man seemed to keep forgetting that he should keep a hold of the handle of his trolley. His negligence didn't stop it from rolling along obediently at his side.

Harry shoved at his own heavy cart and pushed his way towards them.

The three of them were clearly family, being all of them thin and pale and blond and almost identical. They looked so alike that Harry wasn't sure if the man and woman were husband and wife or siblings. Either way, they were both clearly related to the boy with them; he had the same sharp nose as the woman and the same cold gray eyes as the man.

The woman was complaining about something as Harry approached but he didn't catch the words, just her unhappy tone.

"Draco wanted to see the Muggle carriages," the man with the trolley said. His voice was cold and bored but the small boy walking between them seemed unabashed at the possible criticism. He was staring around in a sort of disgusted fascination as if he couldn't quite believe what he was seeing and he wasn't sure that he wanted to. When he turned back around to stare after a Muggle businessman, Harry recognized his face at once: it was the pale boy from Madame Malkin's robe shop.

"What is that?" the boy asked.

"I've no idea, Draco, don't point," the man scolded distractedly.

Harry hesitated. He wasn't sure about asking the apparently anti-Muggle boy for help figuring out something that was probably obvious to anyone familiar with the wizarding world but he didn't see any other option. He doubted he'd have much luck just waiting around until some other, friendlier-looking wizarding family came along.

"Ex-excuse me?" Harry asked. They stopped and turned around and gave him three identically icy, supercilious glares.

"Ye-es?" the man said coldly in the same bored, drawling tone the boy had used earlier. He was quite tall and imposing and he stared down his nose at Harry as if weighing his potential and finding him wanting. Harry missed the intimidating but comfortable bulk of Hagrid.

He swallowed. "Um, I just, ah—I wanted to know, I mean, you are going to Hogwarts, aren't you?" he asked quickly before he lost his nerve. He had to get to the train. "Only, well, I was looking for the platform, and…and I don't know where it is, you see, and no one can tell me, and I thought…" His voice trailed off and he ended with a shrug and a pleading smile.

The tall man raised an eyebrow and the corner of his mouth lifted in a smirk. The three of them exchanged an amused glance. "Honestly," the woman murmured, studying him like he was a particularly nasty variety of bug.

"What's wrong," asked the boy, "can't your big, hairy friend figure out how to count past nine?" He laughed and the adults with him smiled indulgently.

"Hagrid's not with me," Harry muttered, looking down at his feet.

"The gamekeeper at Hogwarts?" the woman asked, surprised. Her nose wrinkled in disgust. "Why on earth would he be here?"

"He hasn't got any parents," the boy offered, but before he could continue the man's gray eyes narrowed and seemed to fasten on Harry's face like crosshairs.

"Be quiet, Draco," he commanded softly. "Of course he hasn't. After all, this is Harry Potter."

The boy gaped and the woman's eyebrows shot up towards her pale hairline. The man's sneer became a smile, something halfway between encouraging and curious, although his eyes were still cold.

Harry shifted uncomfortably. "Er…yeah," he muttered.

"Do show some compassion, Draco," the man ordered. "It's hardly Harry Potter's fault if he's new to all of…this, now is it?"

Harry shuffled his feet awkwardly. They were all staring at him as if trying to memorize every detail of his person and Harry knew for a fact that his face wasn't interesting enough to justify that kind of scrutiny. This was worse than the crowd in the Leaky Cauldron; at least there he had only been embarrassed and befuddled at the outpouring of recognition and good cheer from complete strangers. He really wasn't sure how to feel about the attention these three wizards were paying to him now, and if he'd looked up he would have noticed that they didn't seem altogether certain of what sort of reaction they ought to have, either. There was naked curiosity on all their faces, and the woman and boy both seemed to be looking to the tall man for some sort of clue as to how they should handle this unexpected revelation.

"Well, well, Harry Potter." The man suddenly held his hand out and Harry jumped slightly. "What a pleasure to meet you at last," he said smoothly. His grip on Harry's hand was tight and chill. "I am Lucius Malfoy," he said. "This is my wife, Narcissa, and our son, Draco."

Harry shook hands all around, feeling very out-of-place. "Er, hello," he said. "Nice to meet you all."

"Indeed," murmured Lucius Malfoy. His eyes were very bright.

"The time, Lucius," Narcissa hissed, her eyes fixed on Harry with an unfathomable glint in them. "Draco will miss the train if we don't hurry along."

"Right," said Lucius. He glanced at the large clock on the far wall and swore mildly. "Oh blast. Very well, Harry Potter, you come along with us and we'll see to it you make it to Platform Nine and Three-Quarters." He smiled at Harry and seemed unaware of the sharp look his wife shot him.

"Oh, uh, thank you," Harry stammered, hurrying to keep up with the Malfoys. Lucius flicked his wrist and suddenly Harry's trolley was rolling along of its own accord. Harry almost tripped and quickly trotted to keep up with it. "Wow," he said quietly.

Harry looked up as they approached the barrier between platforms nine and ten. Lucius slowed down and so did Harry, tugging hard on his cart to restrain it. Narcissa and Draco moved out in front and Narcissa took Draco's hand. He rolled his eyes at Harry but allowed his mother to pull him forward and they sauntered through the solid metal barrier between platforms nine and ten as if it were open air.

Harry gaped. Lucius Malfoy smiled. "Just walk forward, Potter," he said jovially. "Don't flinch, now, that's important."

"That's, that's it?" Harry asked nervously. "There's no spell or, or thing with a wand, or—?"

"Just walk," replied Lucius, seemingly amused. "I'll wait and make sure you get through, all right?" The smile he directed at Harry was probably supposed to be warm and friendly but it didn't offer a lot of reassurance.

Harry grinned back nervously. "Right," he said.

He looked at the barrier, swallowed hard, and then looked back up at Malfoy. The wizard nodded at him and gave an impatient little wave. Harry looked back at the barrier. He took a deep breath, got a firm grip on his eager cart, and shoved forward. The barrier drew nearer quickly and Harry knew that he was going to crash into it. He couldn't stop, though; the trolley was still moving and it was too heavy for him to halt it now that it had its momentum up. He closed his eyes and waited for the shock of impact and Lucius Malfoy's laughter as he sprawled across the station floor.

It didn't come…he kept on running…he opened his eyes.

A steam engine was waiting next to a platform packed with people. A sign overhead said Hogwarts Express, eleven o'clock. Harry looked behind him and saw a wrought-iron archway where the barrier had been, with the words Platform Nine and Three-Quarters on it. He had done it.

Smoke from the engine drifted over the heads of the chattering crowd, while cats of every color wound here and there between their legs. Owls hooted to one another in a disgruntled sort of way over the babble and the scraping of heavy trunks.

The first few carriages were already packed with students, some hanging out of the window to talk to their families, some fighting over seats. Behind Harry, Lucius Malfoy and his cart emerged from the archway. He glanced around imperiously, seemingly unflustered by the noise and bustle of the platform.

"Close your mouth, Potter," Draco said with a laugh. "You look like a Muggle."

His father shot him a look and the pale boy fell silent. "Draco, why don't you look after Potter here and make sure he gets to Hogwarts all right? You can help him settle in properly." Malfoy smiled. "I really think it's the least we can do after everything that Harry Potter has done for us…don't you?"

Harry glanced down, embarrassed. He hadn't actually done anything and it made him really uncomfortable that everyone acted like he had.

Draco appeared confused but his father raised an eyebrow and the boy shrugged. "All right," he said. "Come on, Potter, let's see if we can find a decent seat on the train."

Before either of them could move Draco was enveloped in his mother's arms. He rolled his eyes again but endured her tearful hug. Harry looked away, feeling funny and alone. He concentrated on the chaos swimming around them and ignored the family's farewells. He watched a veritable tribe of red-haired wizards trundle past in a loud parade, followed by a round-faced boy frantically searching for his toad. There were shrieks and squeals somewhere nearby but when Harry craned his neck to look he couldn't distinguish which part of the platform they were coming from; nothing stuck out as particularly noteworthy above all the fascinating activity and stranger people that were milling about.

Only when the train whistled demandingly did Narcissa at last release her son. Lucius sent both Draco's and Harry's trunks floating smoothly onto the train with a wave of his wand then he grabbed Draco for a quick embrace of his own. The train started to move and Harry had to help tug the other boy aboard as his parents at last let go. The Malfoys stood waving on the platform, Narcissa looking tearful and clinging tightly to her husband's arm; Lucius seemed deep in thought, almost distracted. Harry watched until a thick cloud of steam obscured them from view but Draco had already turned to examine the interior of the Hogwarts Express.

"Hurry up, Potter," Draco said. "All the compartments are going to be full before we've found anywhere to sit." The pale boy's trunk floated along obediently at his side just like the cart had at his father's but Harry had to drag his heavy luggage down the narrow corridor one-handed, Hedwig's cage grasped awkwardly with the other. He tried to keep up with his impromptu guide while simultaneously staring into every compartment they passed. Most of the other kids there looked pretty normal as far as Harry could tell (although some of them had very odd notions of what passed for ordinary clothes, and one or two were already in their school robes) but a few bore distinct signs of a magical nature.

Suddenly all the students in the corridor still searching for a place to sit were scattered. Harry tripped into his trunk and slammed against the train wall. By the time he'd righted his glasses the source of the disturbance had already vanished past him towards the front of the train. Either it had been two identical red-haired boys or he was seeing double from hitting his head. The one in the lead had been holding something that had looked a lot like a huge, glowing tarantula putting off bright blue sparks. Harry blinked the afterimage from his eyes and looked around. Everyone else struggled back to their feet, some of them shouting curses after the retreating twins and others laughing good-humouredly. Hedwig screeched unhappily.

Draco's face was curled into a sneer that held no amusement. "You have to watch yourself," he said to Harry. "There are some wizards that it's best not to associate with, and I do believe we've just seen two of them." He brushed invisible dust from his robes and resumed his saunter down the corridor.

Harry hurried to keep up. "What do you mean?" he asked Draco nervously.

"Weasleys," the other boy replied, his voice thick with derision. "Those two had to be, I'm sure of it. They're a disgrace to the name of wizards, the whole family."

Harry gulped. He barely understood what wizards were at this point, but he knew he certainly didn't want to be a disgrace. His parents had been brilliant ones, after all, and for the first time in his life, Harry Potter was worried about disappointing those two terribly important people he couldn't remember. He couldn't even figure out how to get onto the platform without help. How was he ever going to live up to Lily and James Potter, magical heroes?

Then something occurred to him, and he paused. He remembered what Draco had said in the robes shop about certain kinds of wizards, and how they shouldn't be allowed into Hogwarts because of their birth. If that was all he meant by "disgrace," then Harry wasn't interested. "So, um, Weasleys," he said, "are they, um, Muggles' kids, or…?"

Draco glanced back. "What? Oh, no," he said, lip curled with disgust. "The Weasleys are Pure-bloods…although you wouldn't know it to look at them, and how they carry on. Their father's the big culprit. Works for the Ministry, always trying to bring down other, decent wizards; my father thinks Weasley won't let anyone live in peace until we've all been reduced to the level of Muggles. I mean, honestly…who would want to live like that?" Draco made a noise of horrified disbelief and kept walking.

Harry followed quietly. He certainly didn't want to go back and stay with his Muggles, that was a fact. But why would the Ministry of Magic want to make wizards live like Muggles? That didn't seem to make sense, but of course, he didn't really know anything about the Ministry, or the wizarding world, or magic at all, actually. Draco sounded like he knew what he was talking about. Harry decided to wait until he knew more to ask any questions…but he did know that whatever it was all really about, the last thing he wanted to be was a wizarding disgrace.

"Ah," said Draco, "this will do." He led Harry into a compartment where two heavyset, brutish looking boys were already sitting. They weren't the sort of people whose company Harry would have willingly intruded on; in fact, they reminded him a lot of Dudley and his gang. The reason they had the compartment to themselves, Harry figured, had to be because they had chased out whoever had been sitting there before them. They looked up at the two intruders and Harry braced himself for a pummeling.

But they seemed to know Malfoy. They both jumped up and one of them helped Draco put his floating trunk into the luggage rack over the seats; at an imperious nod from Draco, the other helped Harry wrestle his own heavy luggage up to join the rest of the trunks. Their owls were tucked out of the way at the end of one long bench, Hedwig hunching up and glaring suspiciously at Draco's larger owl, who ignored her.

The two thickset boys sat down on one side of the compartment and Harry on the other. Draco didn't sit yet, but swept his arm floridly for introductions.

"This is Gregory Goyle and Vincent Crabbe," he told Harry. "Our fathers are…associates." All three boys smirked. Draco paused as if savoring his next words and his expression turned smug. "And this," he said, gesturing grandly behind him, "is Harry Potter."

Draco waited a beat until Crabbe and Goyle's mouths gaped open then dropped onto the seat next to Harry. He sprawled languidly on the wide cushion, grinning. Harry shrugged under the gawking attention. "Uh…hi," he muttered. He wasn't sure quite what was going on. It seemed as if Draco was showing off the fact that he knew Harry, as if Harry were someone cool.

Harry had never been cool in his life and he wasn't sure how to deal with it. He'd always been the person no one really paid any attention to for fear of angering Dudley's gang, the person picked last for anything, the person you didn't want around unless you needed a punching bag. He had been quite literally the least popular person in the school.

But now here he was in the wizarding world, and Draco Malfoy—who was probably one of the cool kids; he acted like all the ones Harry had ever met and Crabbe and Goyle, at least, seemed to think he was—here was Draco, showing off to his friends because he knew Harry Potter. Because Harry Potter was somebody cool.

Harry grinned and slouched back comfortably on the seat. The wizarding world just kept getting better. He watched as houses flashed past the window. Harry felt a great leap of excitement. He didn't know what he was going to—but it already beat what he was leaving behind.

He turned to look back into the compartment and saw that Crabbe and Goyle were still staring at him in blank-faced awe. He glanced to the side where Draco sat, watching him with a smug smirk. Harry grinned back. He still wasn't comfortable with being idolized for something he couldn't even remember doing, but this being cool thing was…well, it was pretty cool.

"So," Draco said, breaking the silence. Crabbe and Goyle's attention snapped back to the pale boy. Draco was looking at Harry. "Where do you reckon you'll end up, Potter?" he asked.

"I'm sorry?" said Harry, confused. "Uh…you mean, Hogwarts?"

Draco smirked and Crabbe and Goyle snickered. He held up a hand and they abruptly shut up. "No," he said, "I mean within Hogwarts. What house do you fancy?"

Harry looked blank.

"Myself, I'm sure I'll be in Slytherin," Malfoy drawled when it became apparent that Harry didn't have anything to say. "My whole family has been for simply ages. It's the best house, really. Almost everyone of any consequence was in Slytherin." Crabbe and Goyle nodded, but whether they were agreeing with Draco's assessment of the house or affirming their own likelihood of being placed there, Harry couldn't tell.

"Right," said Harry. "You said something about that before, in the robe shop? Um, Hagrid…he told me that Volde—sorry—that You-Know-Who, he was in Slytherin?"

All three boys jumped when Harry almost said the dark wizard's name. Draco wore the same slack-jawed expression that had settled on Crabee and Goyle's faces. The pale boy slowly nodded, voice muted.

Harry squirmed. "Well I…I'm not sure that I…"

"Don't want to be in the same house as the Dark Lord?" Draco asked, shaking off his momentary stupor with a twitch.

Harry shook his head.

"Well, I can't say I blame you," Draco drawled idly, "but it seems to me you'd only be hurting yourself. It was years and years ago that the Dark Lord was at Hogwarts, I doubt anyone there even remembers when he was a student." Draco made a face. "Except probably the headmaster. He's old enough—too old, really. Probably losing his touch."

"Who's that?" Harry asked.

"Dumbledore. Father says he's the worst thing to ever happen to Hogwarts, and I must say, I agree." Crabbe and Goyle nodded fervently. Harry was beginning to notice that Draco seemed to always agree with his father, and it looked like Crabbe and Goyle would always agree with Draco.

"Well," said Harry, not wanting to start a fight with the only familiar faces he could count on finding at Hogwarts, "I don't know anything about Dumbledore, but Vol—sorry, You-Know-Who, he killed my mum and dad and I reckon he was pretty horrible in general, and I certainly don't want anything to do with the likes of him."

"Have it your way," Draco said. "Personally, I think that if I were you, I'd want to be sure of doing important things with my life to sort of prove I was worthy of being this great hero everybody's always going on about, but I suppose you've done pretty much the most important thing already, haven't you? So I guess you needn't bother reaching for the greatness you could find with Slytherin." He shrugged. "And it's not like you'll disappoint your parents if you end up in Hufflepuff or something, so it's not a big deal, is it?"

Harry stared at the pale, languid boy, then he glared. "Shows what you know," he snapped. "Nobody's going to put me in Hufflepuff, I'll be just as great as everybody says, just you wait." Harry sat back, blinking. He couldn't believe he'd just said that; what was wrong with him? He couldn't even walk through a magic wall without help, what was he doing talking about greatness? He sounded like the most magnificent prat that had ever lived. He wondered if there was any magic that could let you go back in time and shut yourself up before you said something incredibly stupid.

The other three boys didn't seem annoyed, though. On the contrary, Draco looked impressed. He nodded respectfully and the other two followed suit without a cue. Goyle's jaw was hanging open again, or maybe that was Crabbe. Harry wasn't sure anymore which one of them was which. He thought Goyle was the taller one, but he wasn't certain. They were pretty much of the same mold, although one of them had a bowl cut and the other's hair was short and bristly. Whichever one he was, both he and the stout boy sitting next to him seemed to like what Harry had just said. Draco actually clapped a few times. "Very nice!" he said with a grin.

Harry shrugged, still feeling stupid. He hoped that eating your words was a tastier process in the wizarding world than it was for Muggles. If one landed in Slytherin because they were destined to achieve greatness, then Harry was pretty much certain he'd be heading to Hufflepuff. Maybe Hogwarts would have a giant sea monster that could devour him before he reached the school. Then no one would ever learn that their great hero was a big, pratful fraud.

"Ooh," said Crabbe suddenly, "look."

He and Goyle were on their feet, jostling to be the first to the door. Harry frowned and looked out the window; the train was still moving, so they certainly weren't at Hogwarts. They'd left London behind, and now they were speeding past fields full of cows and sheep. He looked back to see what had the two other boys so excited. Draco stood up and sauntered over; Crabbe and Goyle stepped back to let him pass then resumed their shoving match behind him.

Draco beckoned and Harry followed, curiously. He dodged one of Goyle's fists and sidled past the two boys who looked a lot more resentful about letting Harry through than they had Draco, but they permitted it. Harry peeked over Draco's shoulder and saw a smiling, dimpled woman with a large cart in the corridor. She looked in at them kindly and asked, "anything off the cart, dears?"

Harry grinned, understanding everyone's excitement. His stomach rumbled in anticipation of all the Mars Bars he could eat and Draco grinned. "Go on, Potter," he said. "Got a favorite?" Harry didn't notice the slight emphasis Draco put on his name, or the way the lady pushing the cart glanced at his forehead, her eyes wide, or the way Draco looked over to make sure she'd heard him. He was too enraptured by the contents of the cart. There were Bertie Bott's Every Flavor Beans, Drooble's Best Blowing Gum, Chocolate Frogs, Pumpkin Pasties, Cauldron Cakes, Licorice Wands, and a number of other strange things Harry had never seen in his life. Not wanting to miss anything, he got some of everything and paid the woman eleven silver Sickles and seven bronze Knuts.

"Hungry, Potter?" Draco asked with a raised eyebrow. Harry just nodded. In his haste to get away from the Dursleys he hadn't had any breakfast and now he was starving. He sat down on the wide seat and spread his feast out around him. He barely noticed the others coming back in with their snacks; Crabbe and Goyle each carried handfuls even more copious than Harry's, but Draco had only bothered with comparatively few treats. Harry guessed that when you grew up in the wizarding world, the amazing concoctions probably seemed less special, although he couldn't imagine how.

He bit into a pumpkin pasty that was so good he almost swallowed it whole. He might have felt silly about how ravenously he tore into the delectable foods if it weren't for Crabbe and Goyle doing the same thing right across from him. He couldn't remember when he'd eaten anything so tasty and quickly unwrapped another. Draco by contrast was languidly licking icing off his fingers as if he had all the time in the world to enjoy his sweets. Harry figured the other boy had never worried about things like scarfing his food down before Dudley could steal the best parts.

"You have any siblings?" Harry asked the other boys, but it came out more like, "oohumpheeblgs?" Draco looked at him in confused amusement; Crabbe and Goyle didn't pause their own feasting. Harry swallowed his pasty and tried again, managing to approximate English this time.

"No," said Draco, almost scoffing. The other two boys shook their heads, their mouths full. Draco frowned curiously. "Do you?" he asked dubiously.

Harry shook his head. "But I do have a pretty awful cousin," he said.

"He on the train?" Goyle asked, peering around as if expecting a cousin to hop out of the cushions.

"No," snorted Harry, "he's a Muggle." He snickered at the idea of Dudley doing magic.

Draco wrinkled his nose in disgust. "How appalling," he muttered.

Harry nodded. "He really is," he affirmed earnestly. He launched into a story about the Dursleys that had all three boys staring at him with mouths agape, Crabbe frozen in the midst of chewing. Harry did have to stop and explain bits and pieces here and there, especially when he mentioned Muggle schools. Crabbe and Goyle just looked confused but Malfoy grew steadily more and more appalled the longer Harry talked. By the time the stories wound down, Draco was frowning angrily and there was a vaguely reddish tinge to his pale cheeks.

"Dumbledore is mental!" he finally exclaimed. "Dumping you with Muggles? For ten years? What was the man thinking? Father's right, he's completely off his rocker!"

"That's the Headmaster at Hogwarts, right?" Harry asked, although he already knew that name. He was just trying to get Draco to keep talking in hopes of learning more. Besides, watching the pale boy rant on his account made Harry feel a little bit special. It was nice to know that there was someone else who was upset that he'd been trapped with the Dursleys for all those years.

"Yeah," Draco snapped back, "and I can't believe he hasn't been sacked yet. Of course, father says he's got the whole Ministry wrapped around his finger, the old coot. Fudge—that's Cornelius Fudge of course, the Minister, good friend of my father's—but the poor man can hardly tie his shoes without Dumbledore's okay. It's disgusting." Draco made a face; Harry mirrored it, although his grimace was directed at the way Malfoy had glanced around to make sure the other three boys were all looking at him when he name-dropped Minister Fudge.

"Well, Hagrid seems to think he's pretty cool," Harry ventured tentatively.

"Mmm," Draco replied noncommittally. Crabbe and Goyle looked confused. Harry didn't bother to enlighten them; they'd meet Hagrid at Hogwarts soon enough and he felt confident—sort of confident, at least—that they would realize how brilliant Hagrid was immediately. Draco would have to change his mind once he actually got to know the gamekeeper, Harry was sure. It had to be impossible to dislike Hagrid. After all, he'd sort of turned Dudley into a pig. Harry grinned and opened his mouth to share that story with the others. He paused, noting Crabbe and Goyle's physical resemblance to Dudley, and thought better of it. Maybe to be on the safe side he'd save that tale for sometime when there was just Draco around to listen.

The compartment door slid open and a round-faced, plump boy with sloppy blond hair peered in. He looked tearful.

"Sorry," he said, "but have you seen a toad at all?"

Harry shook his head, but Draco smirked. "A toad?" he asked, gray eyes glittering.

"His name's Trevor," the tearful boy said by way of explanation.

"Haven't seen any toad," Draco replied languidly, then pulled a mournful expression that Harry could already tell was fake. "Of course, Goyle has been eating an awful lot of chocolate frogs. It's possible that a toad got into the pile by mistake." He smiled unpleasantly.

Goyle looked up, bewildered, a half-eaten chocolate frog in his hand. It kicked once, feebly, and Harry gaped; were they real frogs?

The toadless boy blanched. "Trevor," he moaned.

Crabbe stared at his seatmate in horrified disgust. "You ate a toad?" he asked.

"Don't think so," Goyle replied, looking down at his pile of treats. His eyes were wide and he swallowed hard. Draco laughed and the new boy squeaked and ducked quickly out of the compartment.

"Did you see his face?" Draco asked, still grinning. Then he frowned and rolled his eyes. "Oh for goodness' sake, Goyle, you didn't eat any toad," he snapped. "I'm sure you would have noticed."

Goyle nodded, looking mostly relieved. He was still eyeing his treats with suspicion, though.

"Are those…real frogs?" Harry asked, partly because he wanted to change the subject away from the tearful boy who'd lost his toad, and partly because he was genuinely curious in the horrified, compelled way that one is when one passes a nasty roadside accident and can't help looking.

"Don't be absurd," said Draco. "They're just chocolate. Here, have one." He leaned across the compartment and snatched one from Goyle's pile. He tossed it to Harry casually, seemingly unaware of Goyle's dark expression of outrage.

"Um, that's okay," Harry said quickly, moving to put it back. He probably had one in his own pile, anyway, if he looked…

"Goyle doesn't mind," said Draco, "go ahead." Goyle nodded stiffly in agreement but he was still scowling at Harry. "You're not scared to try it, are you, Potter?" Draco asked, grinning. "It's just candy."

That settled it. Harry ripped open the wrapping and a very lifelike frog looked up at him. It gave a tremendous hop and Harry yelped. The frog hit the floor and skidded under the bench. Draco rolled back on the seat laughing as Crabbe and Goyle both jumped up and tried to catch the runaway candy.

"It—it jumped," said Harry, slightly dazed. Crabbe and Goyle were too busy getting in one another's way to actually retrieve the frog. Draco, chuckling to himself, pulled his legs up onto the bench to keep from getting bumped as the two larger boys rooted around underneath the seats. Harry followed his lead hurriedly.

"Of course it jumped," said Draco, "that's what frogs do. These only really have one good leap in them, though, but I suppose sometimes that's all they need, isn't it?" He smirked.

Harry shrugged, pondering candy that could run away from you and wondering what other marvels of the wizarding world he'd encounter once he got to Hogwarts. Crabbe at last emerged, triumphantly clutching the escaped frog. He grinned at Goyle, who sulked murderously and flung himself roughly back onto the bench, grumpy in defeat. Then Crabbe looked at the frog and his face fell. It was covered in dust and something that might have at one point been a jellybean was stuck to one of its legs.

Draco and Goyle both laughed and this time Harry joined in. Crabbe just looked so devastated that it was hilarious. He frowned, shrugged, and chucked the frog at Goyle. It broke apart into three or four chocolaty pieces, one of which kicked feebly. Harry laughed harder.

Goyle retaliated by grabbing a bag of jellybeans and firing them at Crabbe like they were mortar rounds. Crabbe yelped and ducked under the barrage and the small candies went everywhere. Draco laughed until a reddish bean hit him on the nose, then he sat up sharply. "Hey!" he yelled, but the other two boys were too busy brawling to hear him. Draco sat back with a sniff and a scowl.

Harry chuckled and picked up a brownish bean from his lap. He figured that if Crabbe and Goyle were throwing the candies everywhere like that, they wouldn't mind him eating their misfires. He popped it in his mouth and abruptly gagged at the taste. Harry spat the offending bean on the floor and coughed. That was repulsive! It tasted like… "Dirt?" Harry asked, bewildered.

"Bertie Bott's Every Flavor Beans," Draco offered helpfully, grinning at Harry's disgust. "They mean it," he cautioned, far too late to be helpful.

Harry made a face at him. "Gross," he said. Draco laughed. He watched the other two boys struggling for a few minutes, mild amusement on his pointed face, then stretched languidly. "Time to get dressed, I think," he said, standing up. "Now that most of the food's gone," he added with a smirk.

Harry grinned. He thought that was a very sensible course of action, especially given the food fight they had just witnessed. Definitely a good idea to have left the robes safely packed until the potential for mess had lessened.

"Crabbe! Goyle!" Draco snapped, and they paused in their pummeling of one another to stare at him. Draco raised an eyebrow. "Time for school robes, don't you think?" he suggested imperiously.

They blinked at him, then nodded. Goyle reluctantly released his hold on Crabbe's head and Crabbe visibly fought the urge to give Goyle one more punch in his thick gut. They stepped apart, scowling at one another, then turned around and hauled Draco's and Harry's trunks down from the luggage rack overhead.

"Oh," said Harry. "Thanks." Goyle grunted and turned around to pull down his own trunk; next to him, Crabbe was doing the same. Harry couldn't resist sneaking a peek at the contents of Draco's trunk which was open on the seat next to him. He didn't see anything miraculous which was disappointing. He'd been hoping for magical contents. He did wonder, though, if someone else had packed Draco's trunk for him, or if the other boy was just that meticulous. From the haphazard way he threw his other clothes in and shut the lid, Harry figured it was probably the former. That thought made him less embarrassed about his own messy packing, at least.

Crabbe and Goyle returned everyone's trunks to the luggage racks. Harry tried to help but the larger boys shrugged him off like a gnat. Draco didn't move at all, just sat fiddling with his hair. Harry tried not to be jealous and resisted the urge to flatten his own; he knew it was a useless battle. Draco's strangely pale hair by contrast looked like it didn't know what the words "out of place" even meant. Harry looked down at his rumpled robes and grimaced. He had the feeling he wouldn't be making much of an impression when he got to the school, at least not the sort he might have hoped for.

Still, it was apparently pretty cool just to be Harry Potter. Draco seemed to think so, at least. Harry would stick close to the pale boy and see how things went. Maybe in the wizarding world people would like him. Everything else was so different from the Muggle world, anyway, and that—that would be a truly miraculous change. He'd always hoped to have friends and now that Dudley wasn't around to scare people off… Harry grinned. He had a really good feeling about Hogwarts. He just knew he was going to like it there.

Harry leaned against the window and watched the countryside go by. He felt very content and pleasantly full of delicious, magical junk food. It was starting to get dark outside. Harry wondered how much longer they had to go.

He must have dozed off because the next thing he knew he was blinking groggily and a loud voice echoed through the train: "We will be reaching Hogwarts in five minutes' time. Please leave your baggage on the train, it will be taken to the school separately."

Harry's stomach lurched with nerves and he tried anxiously to flatten his hair. He looked around and saw Crabbe and Goyle tugging halfheartedly on the last of the Licorice Wands. Draco was curled up on the bench beside Harry and he looked pale and bleary although his hair, Harry noticed grumpily, was still neat. Harry gave up on his own appearance with one last tug at his rumpled robes. At least Aunt Petunia wasn't here to scold him.

The train slowed right down and finally stopped. People pushed their way toward the door and out on to a tiny, dark platform. Crabbe and Goyle went out first as if they were clearing the way for Draco and Harry trailed after the blond boy, trying to ignore the way the two larger boys shouldered people aside. It reminded him a little of Dudley's gang.

Harry shivered in the cold night air. Then a lamp came bobbing over the heads of the students, and Harry heard a familiar voice: "Firs' years! Firs' years over here! All right there, Harry?"

Hagrid's big hairy face beamed over the sea of heads.

"C'mon, follow me—any more firs' years? Mind yer step, now! Firs' years follow me!"

Slipping and stumbling, they followed Hagrid down what seemed to be a steep, narrow path. It was so dark on either side of them that Harry thought there must be thick trees there. Nobody spoke much. Someone behind Harry sniffed once or twice.

"Ye'll get yer firs' sight o' Hogwarts in a sec," Hagrid called over his shoulder, "jus' round this bend here."

There was a loud "Oooooh!"

The narrow path had opened suddenly onto the edge of a great black lake. Perched atop a high mountain on the other side, its windows sparkling in the starry sky, was a vast castle with many turrets and towers.

"No more'n four to a boat!" Hagrid called, pointing to a fleet of little boats sitting in the water by the shore. Harry jumped in right away but Draco eyed the cold water with distaste and motioned for Goyle to precede him. Harry wasn't sure how helpful that had been, because it rocked awfully when the larger boy got in and Draco's pale face went whiter. He quickly stepped in ahead of Crabbe and grabbed the sides tightly when their final companion joined them.

"Everyone in?" shouted Hagrid, who had a boat to himself. "Right then—FORWARD!"

And the fleet of little boats moved off all at once, gliding across the lake, which was as smooth as glass. Everyone was silent, staring up at the great castle overhead. It towered over them as they sailed nearer and nearer to the cliff on which it stood.

"Heads down!" yelled Hagrid as the first boats reached the cliff; they all bent their heads and the little boats carried them through a curtain of ivy that hid a wide opening in the cliff face. They were carried along a dark tunnel, which seemed to be taking them right underneath the castle, until they reached a kind of underground harbor, where they clambered out onto rocks and pebbles.

"Oy, you there! Is this your toad?" said Hagrid, who was checking the boats as people climbed out of them.

"Trevor!" cried the boy blissfully, holding out his hands. Draco rolled his eyes but even Crabbe and Goyle were too busy staring around to pay attention. Then they clambered up a passageway in the rock after Hagrid's lamp, coming out at last onto smooth, damp grass right in the shadow of the castle.

They walked up a flight of stone steps and crowded around the huge, oak front door.

"Everyone here? You there, sill got yer toad?"

Hagrid raised a gigantic fist and knocked three times on the castle door.