Draco Malfoy had known before he ever set foot on the Hogwarts Express that the Sorting Hat would sing before the actual Sorting began, but he hadn't been told how trite the song was going to be. He felt a sneer of contempt creep across his face, and didn't bother to school his expression—why should he? Glancing around, he saw that his soon-to-be Slytherin housemates looked just as skeptical and disgusted as he did. When the Hat's song ended, and the rest of the Great Hall's occupants began to applaud, Draco folded his arms over his chest. He wasn't going to clap for that.

Professor McGonagall stepped forward holding a long roll of parchment. "When I call your name, you will put on the Hat and sit on the stool to be sorted," she said. "Abbott, Hannah!"

A pink-faced girl with blonde pigtails stumbled out of line, put on the Hat, which fell right down over her eyes, and sat down. A moment's pause-

"HUFFLEPUFF!" shouted the Hat. Draco's lip curled. Hufflepuff, honestly.

Bones, Susan also went to Hufflepuff, and Boot, Terry to Ravenclaw, as did Brocklehurst, Mandy, and then Draco smiled as Bulstrode, Millicent went to Slytherin—Millie wasn't exactly his best friend, but their parents liked each other well enough, which was all that mattered, really—but Draco would probably marry Pansy Parkinson, which tended to put a damper on most of his friendships with other girls, who knew that they would need to cultivate other, more important relationships with potential husbands.

While he'd been thinking, McGonagall had called several more names, and the next to be called was the annoying, know-it-all, bushy-haired girl from the train named Hermione. Draco waited for the Hat to call out Ravenclaw, but it didn't. His eyebrows rose when she was sorted into Gryffindor, but then, he supposed it made sense; after Slytherin, Ravenclaw was the most respectable house, and so it was no wonder that house hadn't taken the likes of her; he thought his theory confirmed when Neville Longbottom, the snivelling, chubby boy who'd lost his toad earlier, was also sorted into Gryffindor.

Finally, Morag MacDougal was sorted, and it was Draco's turn.

He strode confidently towards the stool, sat, and then placed the Hat on his head. For a moment, he heard nothing, and waited impatiently for the Hat to call Slytherin.

"Slytherin, hmm?" said a voice. "That's where all Malfoys want to be." At that last, the Hat sounded somehow weary.

"Of course," retorted Draco. "It's the only honorable house in the school." The Hat chuckled at him, but it was laughter more of mocking than of amusement.

"The only honorable house?" said the Hat, sounding dryly skeptical. "Perhaps you didn't pay close enough attention to my explanation of the houses, Draco Malfoy."

"I already know all about the houses," he snapped back at the Hat in his mind, "so just put me in Slytherin and have done with it."

"No," said the Hat, "not until you tell me what you think you know." Draco mentally sighed, and physically felt his jaw clench.

"Slytherin takes after the honorable Salazar, and holds the purest of mind and blood; Ravenclaw is almost as good as Slytherin, where the knowledgeable go—but they've less ambition, less drive than Slytherins; Gryffindor is for the foolhardy and reckless; and Hufflepuff—Hufflepuff is perhaps worse, even, than Gryffindor, for that's where all of the cowards go," said Draco. There was complete silence for a very, very long moment. "Well? Get on with it."

"I think, Draco Malfoy," said the Hat slowly, "that you are so very, very wrong. Slytherin would not be best for you."

"What do you know?" said Draco. "You're just a stupid old Hat!"

"I was fashioned by Godric Gryffindor himself for this purpose, and you will abide by my decision, boy," replied the Hat, sounding calm, but warning at the same time. "Slytherin would lead you to ruin, and Ravenclaw would probably do the same. Gryffindor would kill you—perhaps literally, but..."

"No," said Draco, and he felt the blood drain from his face—had he been able to see himself, he would have seen a boy who looked comically pale with wide, wide eyes, looking perfectly horrified while wearing a too-large hat. "You can not be thinking what I think that you are."

"If you're thinking that I'm not going to put you in Slytherin, then you're quite right," sniffed the Hat, sounding somewhat vindictively gleeful. "The house which actually suits you best is—HUFFLEPUFF!"

There was dead silence in the Great Hall. No one moved, and there was certainly no applause.

"Now wait just a moment-" said Draco, and this time, he spoke out loud; the Hat had finished its examination of him, leaving him speaking to everyone. The sound of his voice spurred McGonagall to action, stepping towards him and clearing her throat politely as she held out her hand for the Hat. Draco glanced at her and glared. "I'm not through—the Hat's made a mistake. I need it to change-"

"Mister Malfoy," said Professor McGonagall, "please join your housemates at the Hufflepuff table." She, like the Hat, seemed to be on the verge of laughter. Still glaring at her, he was about to retort when someone at the Hufflepuff table started clapping. He whipped his head around, trying to find the culprit, and saw an older boy smiling benignly at him as he applauded, nudging his friends into doing the same. Gradually, it caught on, and the whole table was clapping; the Hufflepuffs looked confused, but not hostile.

And then the Hat was snatched from his head, and so was any hope for making Slytherin.

He sat across from the boy who had begun the clapping, and glared at him through the rest of the Sorting Ceremony, stopping only to watch Harry Potter be, very predictably, sorted into Gryffindor. The boy, for his part, glanced at him only occasionally and when he did gave him a rather bemused, somewhat indulgent smile. Draco wanted to scream at him, because that was most certainly not the proper response to the Malfoy Glare of Certain Death, and Slytherins, at least, would have known that.

The Headmaster stood after Blaise Zabini was sorted into Slytherin—Draco felt a stab of anger; he knew Blaise, and knew that the other boy wasn't even very ambitious, and if he could be put in Slytherin, why not Draco?-and the Great Hall was silent as they waited for the Headmaster to speak.

"Welcome!" called Dumbledore. "Welcome to a new year at Hogwarts! Before we begin our banquet, I would like to say a few words. And here they are: Nitwit! Blubber! Oddment! Tweak!

"Thank you!"

He sat back down, and again as everyone else clapped, Draco simply scowled and gave a haughty huff of breath. The boy across from him looked to him, openly amused.

"Are you alright?" the boy asked Draco, though he was still smiling.

"No, I am most certainly not alright," snapped Draco. "I'm not 'alright'-I am a sodding Hufflepuff." The boy nodded, and now looked sympathetic, although the amusement persisted.

"I've heard about the Malfoy family—my father works for the Ministry, so he's met your father a couple of times—and I can see how you would be upset about not being in Slytherin," the boy said calmly, "but Hufflepuff's a good house, too. I'm sure you'll make lots of friends. Oh! I didn't even introduce myself." He reached a hand across the table. "I'm Cedric Diggory." Still scowling, Draco shook his hand—he didn't want to, but his mother had drilled etiquette into him long ago, and he could not so grossly neglect it. The boy—Cedric-looked pleased, and smiled as he drew his hand back.

"Would you care for some potatoes, Draco?"

Draco barely listened to the few other first-years around him during the Feast; instead, he had been looking at the staff table, desperately trying to catch Professor Snape's eye. Not only was Snape the head of Slytherin, Draco knew, but he was also a friend of Lucius Malfoy, and together, they could fix the mistake the Hat made. Instead of Professor Snape, however, a rather chubby, cheerful looking woman caught his eye and grinned widely, giving him a little wave. Draco nodded curtly, again not wanting to neglect his etiquette, but far from giving the impression that he was in any way, shape, or form alright with the current state of things.

"Oh, I see Professor Sprout's noticed you," said Cedric after a moment, following Draco's line of sight to the staff table. "She's our head of house, you know, and the Herbology professor."

"Your head of house," said Draco loftily, sounding calm even as he stabbed a piece of his meat with undue force. "I may be forced to spend the night in the Hufflepuff dormitory, but once my father hears about this, we'll correct this mistake straight away." He nodded firmly, having no doubt that the error would indeed be fixed. Around him, instead of looking offended as those of any other house might have, the Hufflepuffs looked just as Cedric first had: confused, but also very amused.

As the food disappeared at last, Professor Dumbledore stood again. The Hall fell silent, and Draco hoped that the Headmaster would say something a little more coherent in this speech.

"Ahem—just a few more words now that we are all fed and watered. I have a few start-of-term notices to give you.

"First years should note that the forest on the grounds is forbidden to all pupils. And a few of our older students would do well to remember that as well." Dumbledore's twinkling eyes flashed in the direction of two red-headed boys at the Gryffindor table—the Weasley twins, Draco identified. "I have also been asked by Mr. Filch, the caretaker, to remind you all that no magic should be used between classes in the corridors.

"Quidditch trials will be held in the second week of the term. Anyone interested in playing for their house teams should contact Madame Hooch." Draco felt his stomach lurch—he had been making plans with his father to circumnavigate the first-year broom-ban and get him on the Quidditch team—the Slytherin Quidditch team.

"And finally, I must tell you that this year, the third-floor corridor on the right-hand side is out of bounds to everyone who does not wish to die a very painful death." Several people laughed, and Draco saw out of the corner of his eye that Harry Potter was one of the ones who did—of course the bloody Boy-Who-Lived wouldn't fear death.

"And now, before we go to bed, let us sing the school song!" cried Dumbledore. At the staff table, the teachers were still smiling, but now rather woodenly; Draco glanced at the Hufflepuffs, and saw that most of the older students had that same indulgent smile Cedric had worn.

Dumbledore gave his wand a little flick, and a long golden ribbon flew out of it, which rose high above the tables and twisted itself, snakelike, into words. "Everyone pick their favorite tune," said Dumbledore, "and off we go!"

Draco resolutely did not sing, even as, all around him, students burst into song. He squeezed his eyes shut, trying to block out the absolute racket—because no one was even singing the same tune, or at the same pace—and thought that maybe he shouldn't even try to get into Slytherin, maybe he should write his father and ask to be sent to Durmstrang.

Beneath the table, someone nudged his foot, and he opened his eyes. Cedric and a few of the other, older students were gesturing to the banner—Draco shook his head frantically. They shrugged, and continued bellowing the horrible, horrible song.

"Ah, music," said Dumbledore when it had finally ended, after conducting the Weasley twins in their funeral march selection for a short time. "A magic beyond all we do here! And now, bedtime. Off you trot!"

The students rose, as did the staff, and at each table, older students were calling out "follow me," and leading the younger ones out of the Hall towards their house dormitories. Draco, instead of following Cedric, went against the flow of students, trying to fight his way through the sea of people towards the staff table.

"What are you doing?" asked Professor Sprout, and Draco froze. Her voice had been kind, but bewildered and amused, just like the rest of the Hufflepuffs. He wondered if any of the sodding folk every stopped being so cheerful.

"It's rather imperative that I speak to Professor Snape," he said, trying to keep his voice level and polite instead of desperate. Professor Sprout smiled at him.

"Oh, I suppose that your father was friendly with him, wasn't he? It does help to see familiar faces on your first day away from home, I agree, but right now Professor Snape needs to see his own students to their common room and make the necessary introductions," said the professor. "I'm sure that you'll have a chance to speak with him after Potions class on Wednesday—Gryffindors and Slytherins have Potions tomorrow, but you'll know all of that in the morning when you get your timetable—and if that won't do, then perhaps we can arrange for a meeting in the morning."

"No!" cried Draco, and then cleared his throat, realizing that he had been rude. "I mean that, it's just..." Professor Sprout looked concerned, and laid a hand on his shoulder. Normally Draco found such gestures to be exceedingly rude and presumptuous, but just this once, he didn't mind; he blamed it on the almost total emptiness of the Hall and his current emotionally distraught state.

"What is it, dear boy?"

"I'm not supposed to be a Hufflepuff!" he exclaimed finally. The witch's eyebrows shot up, and she gave him a sympathetic smile.

"Is there something the matter, Pomona?" Both turned at the sound of the Headmaster's voice, and Draco stared at the man. He wondered how it was possible for someone to project so much light—the man was twinkling, and, rather surprisingly, it had little to do with his garish robes.

"Mr. Malfoy is concerned about his sorting," explained Professor Sprout, dropping her hand from his shoulder. Dumbledore "ah"d and turned to Draco, who shifted uncomfortably under the intense gaze of the blue eyes.

"Your father was in Slytherin—and your mother, too," said Dumbledore, "that much is true. However, and I doubt that Narcissa might have told you this, her sister Andromeda had a daughter—your cousin—named Nymphadora. The girl—no longer a girl, of course, but a woman—has graduated with excellent NEWT scores, and was accepted to Auror training."

"What does that have to do with this mistake?" asked Draco. After a slight pause, he shifted again, and added a contrite "sir." Dumbledore twinkled at him with the same sort of glee people apparently just wouldn't stop feeling around him.

"Your cousin Nymphadora was sorted into Hufflepuff as well," said Dumbledore. Draco blinked at the man. He had known that his mother had a sister named Andromeda, and through thinly-veiled contemptuous references, had gathered that she'd married a Mudblood, but he hadn't known that someone related to him—however weakly—had ever been put anywhere but Slytherin.

"Perhaps," continued Dumbledore, "that will be food for thought. Now, off to bed with you! You have Herbology first thing in the morning, and it wouldn't do for either of you to be tired. Goodnight, Pomona; good luck, Draco." He moved off, and Draco stood rooted to the spot for a moment.

"Come then, dear," said Sprout happily, "let's get to the common room."

Draco followed Professor Sprout through a painting which was down one floor from the Great Hall, but nowhere near the actual dungeons, and grimaced the instant he saw the common room. It was blindingly yellow, with black accents, and Draco was very strongly reminded of a bumblebee.

There were students milling about, and all of the first-years were still in the common room, apparently waiting for Professor Sprout. She gestured for everyone to sit, either in the armchairs or on the couches or floor around her, and waited until they'd all done so—including Draco, although he sat somewhat removed from the rest of the group—before beginning to speak.

"Well, hello Hufflepuffs!" she said excitedly. "I just wanted to give you the basics tonight, because I know that you're all probably very tired.

"Boys' and girls' dormitories are separated, and there are two of each: one for first through third year and one fourth through seventh year. I do not mind mingling between the years, that separation is simply to keep from over-crowding, but please do not try entering the opposite gender's dormitories!" There were giggles, and Sprout tried and failed to look stern until they tapered off.

"You'll be receiving your timetables tomorrow at breakfast. Please obey Professor Dumbledore's instructions regarding the off-limits areas. If you get lost, which I'm sure many of you will, don't hesitate to ask a prefect or a portrait—they're quite used to giving directions, and the majority quite enjoy interacting with students.

"Beyond that, I've only two things to say: as your head of house, I hope that you will feel free to come to me with any problems you should encounter, be it homesickness or bullying or a lost familiar. I am here not only to keep you in line, but to keep you happy and productive!" Draco rolled his eyes to himself. "Now, my final message for the evening." The older students sat back as though they knew what was coming, although they paid just as much attention to their head of house as the first-years did.

"Hufflepuff is often marginalized as a house, but we have an advantage few realize exists. It is true that Hufflepuff 'took the rest,' as the Sorting Hat says, but that does not mean that Hufflepuff consists of mediocre witches and wizards—instead, it means that here in this house, we combine the traits of all the other three." Draco's eyebrows rose, and he found himself leaning forward slightly, interested despite himself.

"Helga Hufflepuff took the hard-working who can relate to Ravenclaw's studious nature, and she took the loyal, who can relate to Gryffindor's chivalry, and-" Here she pointedly glanced at Draco, but there was still a smile on her face instead of a stern look. "-dear Helga Hufflepuff took the patient and intelligent, who can relate to the cunning of Slytherins.

"Our house's founder strove for unity, and I wish you all to remember that, and to do the same. Strive every day to embody the qualities of all the houses of Hogwarts, and it will make the best witch or wizard out of you that you can possibly be. Strive every day to be a credit to Helga Hufflepuff's house."

Draco did not owl his father immediately that night, for he found that he did not know what to say. He blanched when he saw the yellow scarves and ties left next to the bed which was obviously his, but suddenly, he thought that just maybe Hufflepuff wouldn't be quite as bad as he'd first assumed.

The following morning, Professor Sprout arrived to lead the first-years to the Great Hall, not wanting them to be lost on their first day. She greeted each first-year with a nod, their name, and a smile as they passed her to go through the portrait. Draco was last.

"Mr. Malfoy," said Professor Sprout, frowning at the boy, "why aren't you wearing your tie?"

"I'm afraid yellow doesn't suit my complexion, Professor," he said very seriously, and immediately her frown became a smile.

"You're a very strapping young boy, Mr. Malfoy, and I'm sure you'll stay that way in Hufflepuff colors." He blinked at her, and was still too busy being confused to protest when Cedric pushed a glaringly yellow tie into his hand and shoved him out the portrait hole.

It wasn't until Transfigurations that day that he actually donned the tie, telling himself that he looked rather stupid wearing an incomplete uniform and that it had nothing whatsoever to do with Professor McGonagall's admittedly intimidating glare.

After Transfigurations was a whole free hour before lunch, and Draco immediately headed for the dungeons. He had just managed to find the potions classroom when he heard his name called, and turned only to have a loudly squeaking female launch herself at him.

"Draco!" It was Pansy, and he patted her shoulders awkwardly—they might have been slated to marry, but that didn't mean that Draco liked physical contact with her, exactly. "Draco, it's just awful what happened with the Hat! Did you owl your father? Are you going to see Snape? Is he going to fix it?"

"Pansy, please, have some decorum," he said, feeling very snobbish indeed, as he usually did with Pansy, disentangling himself from the hug, and noticing for the first time that Crabbe and Goyle were standing a few feet behind her. "I am going to see Professor Snape, yes."

"Oh, good," sighed Pansy. "He has this hour free, too, so you won't be bothering him." She grabbed his hand and squeezed it in a way she must have thought was comforting and bestowed a smile on him. "Good luck, Draco."

"Thank you." He waited until they had passed, and then knocked on the door.

"Come," barked an angry voice, and Draco hesitated for a second before obeying. The classroom looked much as he had expected it would, and Snape was sitting at his desk at the front of the classroom, glaring down at a piece of parchment. He looked up as Draco shut the door and nodded to the boy. "I've been expecting you. Before you ask, there is no way to change houses once the Sorting Hat has chosen." Draco nodded, not bothering to tell the professor that he had actually been contemplating the benefits of staying in Hufflepuff. He had not yet decided firmly enough not to seek Snape's help, though, so there he was. He saw Snape staring at his tie, and then the Potions Master's lips twisted into a small rueful smile. "A Malfoy in Hufflepuff. I never thought I would see that." He shook his head. "Have you heard from your father?"

Just as he had at the Sorting Ceremony, Draco felt the blood drain from his face. "Does... does he already know?" His voice came out rather smaller than he'd meant it to, and he sounded just as fearful as he felt.

Snape nodded. "He does. I received an owl this morning from him, asking whether it would help to take the matter to the Headmaster. I assured him it would not. I fully expect him to do so anyway." Draco found it rather hard to meet the professor's eyes at this point. "He will have to face the fact that you are in Hufflepuff at some point, Draco, as will you." Draco shook his head.

"I... that isn't it, Professor," he said in the same timid voice. "I'm... well, Hufflepuff doesn't seem horrible, exactly, but... I know that Father won't be pleased. At all. In fact, he'll probably be very angry." He sounded very afraid, then, and Snape frowned and stood, going around his desk to Draco.

"Draco," he said, tone very delicate, "Lucius doesn't... take out his frustrations on you, does he?" Draco looked up at that, frowning himself in confusion. Suddenly, he understood, and his eyes went wide as he shook his head.

"No!" he protested. "No, there's nothing like that going on. Father would never hurt me. I just... I don't like to disappoint him." Snape held his gaze for a long moment, probably gauging his truthfulness, and Draco felt the uncomfortable sensation that his thoughts were being... taken, or something. Snape nodded.

"Lucius will, as I said, have to reconcile himself to his Hufflepuff son," he said flatly. "If that is all...?" Draco nodded. "Go, then." Draco thanked him cordially, and just before he left, he could have sworn he heard Snape muttering about "that garish yellow." He smirked.

At lunch that day, Draco realized halfway through his meal that not only had he not eaten, but that he was also staring at the Slytherin table, where the friends he'd grown up playing with were talking and laughing without him. He jumped, startled as Cedric sat down next to him.

"Sorry, I didn't mean to startle you," said Cedric casually, grinning at the first-year.

"It's quite alright," answered Draco, frowning—Hufflepuffs apologized and smiled more than anyone he'd ever met before in his life.

"I managed to get to the library this morning," Cedric told him, "though there were already a bunch of Ravenclaws there—and that Gryffindor, Granger." Draco sneered at the mention of the girl, but quickly schooled his expression when Cedric frowned at him. "Anyway, I got something for you." He pulled a library book out of his school bag, setting it next to Draco. He peered at it, and then at Cedric, suspicious.

"What is it?" he asked.

"It's about Helga Hufflepuff," answered Cedric. "It talks about her contributions to the school, and her relationships with the other Founders, and the first students to graduate from Hogwarts as Hufflepuffs. I thought it might help."

"Help what?"

"Well, don't take this the wrong way," Cedric said quickly, "but you didn't exactly seem eager to be a Hufflepuff. I just wanted to expand on what Professor Sprout said about Hufflepuff's good qualities." Draco nodded eventually.

"Thank you," he said awkwardly, not very used to showing gratitude, though there was something about these Hufflepuffs which brought out the strangest emotions in him. He frowned at Cedric suddenly. "Aren't you a fourth-year?" Cedric nodded. "Then what the hell are you doing bothering with a first-year?"

"You shouldn't swear," Cedric scolded, although it seemed an automatic reaction. "You're interesting. Different."

"I'm different."

"Yeah. You're... I'm not sure how to explain it, but I think it's that you didn't grow up like most of us did—any of us, really—and you have an entirely different way of thinking. It's interesting." Draco finally nodded, accepting the explanation. He didn't mind being called different, really; it was the fate of a Malfoy to be exceptional, of course.

Draco hadn't planned to cut short the conversation with Cedric, but the family owl came then, dropping a letter in front of him and giving a stern, even angry, hoot before flying off without waiting for a reply. Draco read it and sighed.


I will be meeting with the Headmaster and Professors Sprout and Snape this afternoon. Don't concern yourself with this problem; I will remedy it.

Lucius A. Malfoy

In the end, the "meeting" between his father, the Headmaster, and Professors Sprout and Snape that afternoon turned into Professor Sprout yelling at his father with righteous indignation while Professor McGonagall, who had come running as soon as she heard that Lucius Malfoy was in her school, glared threateningly at Lucius from behind the other witch, sometimes calling out in support of her fellow head of house. Lucius responded to this with poorly veiled threats, and turned, every now and again, to Snape, imploring him to do something, or to Dumbledore, threatening to use his influence and seat on the Board of Governors to have him removed. Dumbledore, for his part, merely sat calmly behind his desk and twinkled ever more brightly at Draco, who sank down farther and farther in his seat.

"-absolutely ridiculous!" Professor Sprout was yelling when Draco began paying attention again. "This happens to at least one student every single year! Parents need to learn to accept their children, not try to make them replicas of themselves!"

"How dare you presume to challenge my rights as Draco's father!" Lucius hissed back, and Draco sighed and looked away, beginning to gnaw on the inside of his cheek. Dumbledore gave him a measuring look, and then stood. All of the adults immediately fell silent.

"There have been cases in the past where a student has been allowed to try the Hat on once more, but not in a single instance has the Hat changed its decision," said Dumbledore loftily. Lucius made to speak but the Headmaster held up a hand, staying him. "Perhaps we should ask Draco what he wants." Then four pairs of adult eyes were fixed on Draco, who shifted uncomfortably. "Would you care to try the Hat on again?" Dumbledore's voice was gentle, and his tone neutral; unlike Lucius, he wouldn't be disappointed if Draco said no. He glanced at Snape, who merely looked interested, and McGonagall, who was still glaring nastily at his father. He looked at Professor Sprout, who was giving him an encouraging smile, a far cry from the anger she'd displayed only moments before. Finally, he glanced at Lucius, who was staring at him expectantly. He obviously thought Draco's answer would be yes.

Draco thought of Cedric, and he thought of Professor Sprout's speech the night before about the virtues of Hufflepuff, and making Helga proud, and he paused. What would a good Hufflepuff do?

"Er, well," he said, sounding tentative and very small and young, which he was, but generally covered up with enormous amounts of bravado and cheek, "I think that... well, Hufflepuff is a good house, isn't it? I mean, the Hat probably won't change its mind anyway, and I... there are nice people in Hufflepuff." Draco looked at Dumbledore, who was suddenly beaming at him with even more fervor than he had before, pleased by his decision. He glanced at the professors; McGonagall looked shocked, and Snape looked amused and vaguely approving while Sprout looked downright joyful and triumphant. He looked at his father.

To say that Lucius was shocked would have been an understatement. The imposing blond man was standing there practically gaping at his son—the Malfoy equivalent was a release of tension in the jaw and widened eyes—as he tried, and failed, to understand his son's choice. He opened and closed his mouth several times without saying anything, looking for all the world like a fish out of water.

"Draco..." Lucius trailed off. Dumbledore nodded resolutely.

"Wonderful!" cried Dumbledore, and Draco had a feeling that the Headmaster genuinely felt that this was wonderful, although he wasn't sure why. "Draco will make a fine Hufflepuff, I'm sure. You have no reason to fret, Lucius-" Draco saw his father start and almost recover from his shock at Dumbledore's familiar treatment of him. "-for Pomona is an excellent head of house. She's very protective of her bunch." And then he was guiding Lucius past the three gathered professors to the door. "Now, I realize that this must be a shock, but perhaps you should write to your sister-in-law Andromeda? Her daughter was sorted into Hufflepuff, too, you realize. Have a very nice day, Lucius." And then he was shutting the door, Lucius Malfoy standing flabbergasted on the other side of it. Dumbledore turned to the rest of the room's current occupants. "Well then! For remaining firm under pressure and displaying admirable loyalty to your house, Draco, ten points to Hufflepuff." Sprout gave a pleased hum, Snape still looked amused, and McGonagall still looked as though she might fall over if someone so much as blew on her.

"I have a class to teach," said Snape, heading for the door. "Good day." McGonagall hesitated.

"I apologize, Mr. Malfoy," she said to him, the words sounding as though it pained her very mouth to say them, "for I had assumed that you would be just like your father, and readily give into his demands. Well done." And then she too was gone.

"A reluctant Hufflepuff no more," said Sprout happily. "I'm sure you'll go far in this house, Draco. As Minerva said, that was a very fine job you just did." She squeezed his shoulder, and even as Draco idly wondered what was with these Hufflepuff people and their happiness and their touching, he tried to ignore how proud he was currently feeling.

An hour later, waiting for the start of Charms, he couldn't ignore the feeling any longer as he explained to his housemates that he'd gotten them ten points on his first day. The resulting smirk was softer, and could very well be classified as a smile. In his happiness, he was one of the first to float his feather, and the near-smile became a genuine grin as he earned another three points for it.

Draco could definitely get used to this Hufflepuff business.