For the Speed of Lightning Competition, Round Three.

Prompt: Must be AU.

Summary: When a single instant changes Harry's entire childhood, the Wizarding World doesn't quite know what to do with the Boy-Who-Lived who shows up at Platform 9 3/4 – because he isn't what they expected.

McGonagall's speech was taken directly from PS, as well as some dialogue. I don't own it or HP.

If I ever do get time, I might wind up continuing this, but it's more than likely complete.

"Defying Expectations"

"I can do it myself, you know," Harry says, but there's a laugh buried under his words.

"I know, I know," she frets. "It's just… You've all year to be independent. Just let me help you this time."

Grinning, he sighs. "All right. But just onto the platform, okay? I don't need people thinking I'm helpless."

The corners of her mouth turn up slightly, softening her face considerably. "They'd never think that, if they knew you."

He shrugs. "But they don't."

"They will, Harry."

He meets her eyes for only an instant before looking at his lap. "Let's just go, okay?"

She purses her lips, unhappy with his response, but she only answers softly, "Okay." She takes the handles of his wheelchair and guides him through the barrier onto Platform 9 3/4. When she lets go, he swivels the chair around with practiced motions.

"Thanks, Aunt Petunia."

She pulls her lips in tightly in response, but Harry knows by now that this isn't by any means a disapproving motion. "Just… Be careful, Harry."

"Of course." He grins at her saucily. "When am I ever not?"

She shakes her head, but she's almost smiling, much as she tries to hide it. "You, child, have an uncanny knack for throwing yourself in harm's way if it'll help someone else."

Harry shrugs. "Well, that's not entirely my fault…" he protests.

"Mmhmm. You're just a born trouble magnet, that's all."

"Exactly! I'm glad you agree!"

She shakes her head, ruffling his hair even as he tries to move away. "It's going to be so quiet without you, and with Dudley going off to Smelting's just next week. It seems like our family's getting small. But of course you'll write, won't you dear?"

The word family – our family – jars a memory in Harry of the Dark Years. The years before the accident, when all he wanted was to be a part of a family that didn't want a freak as a member. Of course, that all changed when his 'freakishness' saved Dudley's life – though Harry lost the use of his legs in the process. After that, Aunt Petunia changed her tune and dragged the rest with her on her mad crusade to make up for lost time.

He shakes the memory off. Harry tries not to think about the Dark Years. He traded his legs for a family – accidentally, but he did – and he'd do it again in a heartbeat. But those years are over now.

He smiles at his Aunt – with his mouth and not his eyes – and murmurs, "Of course I will, Aunt Petunia. Every week."

"Good boy." A momentary pause, and then, suddenly, her arms are around him as best as they can go when she's leaning over awkwardly. "Stay safe," she whispers in his ear, and then she's gone.

Harry blinks. His aunt isn't usually so overtly affectionate. Writing it off as an odd bout of sentimentality, Harry turns his chair back around, facing the masses of people populating the train platform. Practiced eyes scan the crowds, and there's a method to it. He supposes it's probably due to what his aunt calls his 'saving-people-thing.' Harry knows he's always had a penchant for finding the person who looks least likely to help – because he likes to bring out the good in people. He likes to find the good in people who don't even know it's there themselves.

Emerald eyes alight on a painted-on sneer. Perfect.

He weaves through the crowd, more nimbly than it looks like he should be able to manage. Having been in a wheelchair nearly half his life, though – since age six – means that navigating in it is second nature to Harry.

"Hello," he says cheerfully as he nears the blond boy. The boy looks around as though he can't believe Harry's talking to him, before sighing and looking down his nose at Harry.

"Hello," he says shortly in reply.

Harry smiles despite this. "Could you help me?" he asks. "Only, I didn't think the train would have steps, see, and I can't really…" He gestures helplessly at his legs, still smiling.

The blond arcs an eyebrow elegantly. "Why don't you just get up, then? You've legs. Use them."

Harry can't help himself – he snickers. His aunt mentioned that there were some things Wizards didn't know, but this was too amusing.

"Never seen a wheelchair before, have you?" He's sure his amusement is quite clear in his voice.

"No," the boy says absently. "But it's really a new length to go for laziness, isn't it? Honestly, some people."

Harry outright laughs at this, shaking his head. "Wheelchairs aren't for people that won't walk. They're for those that can't."

The boy blinks. "Can't?" he repeats.

"Can't," Harry affirms. "I was in a car accident when I was a kid – it damaged my spinal cord near the base."

"Well, why didn't they just mend it, then?"

This time it's Harry that's blinking. "Can they?"

"Well, yes. Of course."

Harry squeezes his lips together, considering. "Hmm. Muggles can't, though."

A sneer grows across the pale face. "Your parents are Muggles?" he asks disdainfully.

"No," Harry says softly. "My parents are dead. My aunt and uncle are Muggles – I was raised by them."

"Really? Was it awful?" The blond seems curious, now. He seems to have skimmed the dead parents bit entirely.

Harry shrugs. "At first." He winces at the unwanted memory. "But not so much, anymore."

Blond eyebrows furrow. "Why the change?"

"Don't you think we ought to board the train?" Harry asks, both to change the subject and because it really is nearly time.

Silver eyes survey his face, sensing both reasons intuitively. "All right then." He turns to board. Harry coughs. Slowly, the boy turns back around, and Harry kindly pretends not to notice the pink tinge to his pale cheeks.

"Right, well." He clears his throat, and then frowns. "What am I supposed to do?"

Now it's Harry arcing an eyebrow. "There's really only one way to get a person and a chair onto a train, isn't there?"

The pink tinge deepens. The blond boy walks around the wheelchair as though contemplating how, exactly, to pick it up.

Harry can't help the smirk from crossing his face, but he does, at least, contain it's size. "It's lighter than it looks, don't worry."

"I wasn't worried," the boy says dryly, as though offended by the mere implication.

"Of course not," Harry agrees amicably, and the blond scowls. He's still frowning at the chair as though it's intricacy is a personal insult.

"It's generally easier to carry the person and the chair separately," Harry suggests, faux-helpfully.

The boy sighs. "Oh, all right then. But you owe me. Big."

Harry feels the corners of his mouth twitch, but he keeps a straight face. "If you say so." It's neither an agreement nor a disagreement.

Finally, the blond reluctantly hoists Harry out of the chair, seemingly surprised by how little Harry weighs – though Harry supposes that atrophied leg muscles do tend to take a bit off the total weight, and Harry was always rather scrawny to begin with.

The blond sets him down on the top step and then travels back down the few stairs to get the chair with Harry's trunk rigged up to the back of it, placing it in the aisle before heaving Harry back in to a seated position. He seems incredibly grateful that the aisles between compartments are plenty wide enough that Harry can maneuver himself.

The boy leads the way through, checking the windows for an empty compartment. Behind him, Harry can't help his smile. There's something immensely satisfying to him about being helped by someone who doesn't want to assist.

When he finally finds an empty compartment, though, the pair run into another dilemma. Harry's chair won't fit between the seats.

"Of course," the boy mutters under his breath. Harry's not sure he was supposed to hear it, but he does, and he can't help but grin at it. It's not exactly the normal reaction, he knows, but that's always how he's been.

"The chair folds up. You just have to take the trunk off first. And me."

The boy grimaces, and then he sighs. Without even a word of protest, he resignedly picks Harry up and deposits him on the bench, where Harry situates himself with his arms. Unrigging the trunk, the blond puts both the trunk and the collapsed chair on the shelf above, as well as his own trunk.

"The castle had better be more equipped to handle you," he half-snarls.

"I certainly hope so," Harry agrees cheerfully. The blond scowls again. "I'm Harry, by the way," Harry says after a pause. The boy blinks, taking Harry in in his entirety for the first time. His eyes linger at Harry's forehead. "Not Harry Potter, surely."

Harry frowns. "How did you know my name?"

"Everyone knows your name! You're famous!"

"I am?"

"You defeated the Dark Lord. As a baby!"

"I did?"

The blond frowns. "Supposedly," he says slowly. "But, I don't know… I suppose I expected you to be rather more…"

"Impressive?" Harry finishes.

"Well, yes."

Harry shrugs. "I live to defy expectations, I guess."

Still staring, the blond shakes his head in amazement. "I guess so. Draco Malfoy," he finally says. He sticks out a hand, and Harry shakes it firmly.

"Nice to meet you, Draco."

The blond sighs. "You as well, I suppose."

Harry grins. "No need to sound so enthusiastic," Harry teases gently.

Fire dances in grey eyes. "Maybe I'd be more enthusiastic if you weren't so much work," he fires back.

Harry knows he could be offended by this. Maybe he should be. Most anyone else would have, in his position. But Harry doesn't see that it's really worth getting angry over – he knows that it's at least partly true. He is more work than most people are. Still, at the same time, he knows, deep somewhere inside of him, that that doesn't make him less, in any way.

He remembers asking his aunt once, years ago, why she helped him, and he knows he'll never forget her answer. "Harry, you are one of the most selfless people I have ever met. You're clever and good, and you see the best in everyone, no matter what. You're worth it."

And ever since then, Harry has done everything in his power to live up to the way she sees him. To live up to the image she formed when he saved Dudley's life in that car accident – when his 'freakishness' took over and switch their places just before impact. When the doctor said that they were lucky, comparatively – if Dudley had been where Harry was, he'd have died on impact, because of the way he was sitting.

After no response from Harry, Draco gets up and walks out of the compartment. Harry pulls a book out of the bag beside him and reads the train ride away. He could be worried, but he's got a gut feeling that, as rough as his outside is, Draco is good enough inside that he'll return to help Harry off the train.

He's right. Only this time, Draco brings muscle. "Vincent Crabbe––" he gestures at the shorter of the two "––and Greg Goyle. Harry Potter."

Greg picks Harry up far more easily than Draco had, and Vincent takes Harry's trunk and chair, reassembling them on the platform.

"Thanks," Harry says sincerely. Greg nods at him. The left corner of Draco's mouth twitches.

"Firs' years!" comes a booming voice. "Firs' years, over here!"

Harry wheels toward the monolithic man, ignoring the stares of the few paying enough attention to notice him.

The large man guides them to boats and explains, "No more'n four to a boat!"

Harry winds up in a boat all of his own, because his chair takes up the entire space. Greg and Vincent together hoist him into it easily, though, without even removing him from the chair.

As the boats round a bend in the lake, Harry gapes. He knew Hogwarts was meant to be magnificent, but he didn't expect this. It's gorgeous.

Vince and Greg lift him back out of the boat when it docks, and then up a short staircase, where Harry is able to wheel himself through a great set of double doors toward a stern looking "Professor McGonagall."

Her eyes hesitate over Harry, but she moves swiftly on. "Welcome to Hogwarts," she says. "The start-of-term banquet will begin shortly, but before you take your seats in the Great Hall, you will be sorted into your houses. The Sorting is a very important ceremony because, while you are here, your house will be something like your family within Hogwarts. You will have classes with the rest of your house, sleep in your house dormitory, and spend free time in your house common room.

"The four houses are called Gryffindor, Hufflepuff, Ravenclaw, and Slytherin. Each house has its own noble history and each has produced outstanding witches and wizards. While you are at Hogwarts, your triumphs will earn your house points, while any rule-breaking will lose house points. At the end of the year, the house with the most points is awarded the house cup, a great honor. I hope each of you will be a credit to whichever house becomes yours.

"The Sorting Ceremony will take place in a few minutes in front of the rest of the school. I suggest you all smarten yourselves up as much as you can while you are waiting." Her eyes linger on a few in particular before she speaks again. "I shall return when we are ready for you. Please wait quietly."

Harry folds his hands in his lap patiently. He knows his mother was a Gryffindor, but other than that, he doesn't know much about the houses.

Draco comes up beside him. "You'll be a Slytherin, of course. You've got the brains for it."

Harry shrugs. "Maybe I do. I guess we'll find out."

Draco glances at him appraisingly. "I suppose we will."

Eventually Professor McGonagall returns. "Form a line," she tells them, "and follow me."

Harry winds up at the back of the line, which suits him well because it gives him a chance to watch everyone else, as well as to go at his own pace without worrying about messing up the line.

He stares in suitable awe at the ceiling, and he's sure his mouth hangs open idiotically when the hat begins to sing. He watches with interest as other kids try on the hat. Glancing around the room, he can tell not many people have really noticed him yet, focused as they are on the Sorting.

"Potter, Harry!" the professor calls eventually. Harry wheels forward, but he's stopped by the steps. Finally, eyes begin to land on him.

"Sorry, Professor," he says. "I can't exactly climb stairs."

"Quite right, Mr. Potter. I'll just…" She waves her wand, and Harry jolts as his chair levitates up the few stairs. It's an odd sensation. Whispers erupt throughout the hall as everyone finally gets a good look at him. SHarry smirks softly before the hat drops over his eyes.

"Hmm," a voice says in his ear. "Interesting. Difficult. Very difficult. Courage, I see, but also a thirst to prove yourself, to prove you're more than what they see. Not a bad mind, either. So where to put you?"

Harry feels his smirk grow. "Isn't that your job?"

"Ahh, and sauce, too! You're an interesting lad, Mr. Potter. It's either Gryffindor or Slytherin for you, then, but which one? You've brave, but you're clever about it. Hmm."

Harry's mind flits from his mother – a Gryffindor – to Draco and Vince and Greg – all Slytherins.

"I see, I see. I think, for you, Mr. Potter, it'd better be SLYTHERIN."

As Harry removes the hat, all he hears is silence. Dead silence. After a moment, Professor McGonagall levitates his chair back to the main floor. Without comment, Harry wheels his chair over to the end of the Slytherin table. Draco stares.

"I said it," he says. "I'm not sure I believed it."

Harry grins. "I did mention that I live to defy expectations."

"You certainly do, Potter. You certainly do."