UPDATE: Added in the requisite disclaimer.
Disclaimer: As noted by the website on which this story is posted, this is a work of fanfiction. By definition, this means that licensing writes, ownership, and therefore profitable application do not belong to me, but rather to the original creator of the foundation story from which this tale is drawn, specifically, Ms. J. .
No profit is made from this story, and any implication otherwise is silly. Litigation will result in wasted time and no money, being as I don't have any. Read this story in the recreational intent and tribute to the original that it is intended.
Timing is everything. What if Harry hadn't had such a dim view of Slytherins when he went under the sorting cap? What if he'd missed any real interaction with Malfoy in Diagon Alley?
Unbeknownst to an eleven year old Harry Potter, blinking in the sunlight outside of Gringott's bank, the sack which he'd been given to carry the galleons with which he'd purchase his materials for his first term in Hogwarts was wearing thin. It was one of Hagrid's, after all, and while the burly gamekeeper was noble of heart and loyal as a beagle, every once in a while his attention to detail was less than perfect. Not fifteen feet from the cart to Gringotts, the weak point in the sack chose to give way, and about four hundred fifty galleons spilled across the hard packed dirt.
"Blimey! I'm sorry, Harry! Reckon I should've paid more care to that sack," he muttered.
"It's alright, Hagrid. I appreciate everything you've done for me so far, and I wouldn't have had even this much without you."
"Well, least I can do is ter help yeh pick it up," Hagrid temporized, as with a subtle gesture- or as subtle as one can be waving an umbrella- he mended the rip in the bottom of the all but empty sack. It took the pair of them several minutes to collect the scattered gold coins, a few of which had rolled rather far. Harry walked over to one last glint in the dust, only to stop as he realized it was next to the felt shoe of someone standing next to it. Looking up, Harry noticed a pale skinned boy with narrow, almost pointed features eyeing him with interest. "Dropped something, did you?" the boy asked with a cool, almost mocking air.
Harry blinked at him. "Ah, yes. Didn't realize there was a weak spot in my money bag- think I might have overloaded it a bit."
The boy gave a slight glance at the bag in Harry's hands, eyes flicking then to Hagrid which stood behind him a few feet, before finally focusing on Harry again. "Yes, that can be a bit of a problem when out shopping, Hmm?" the boy commented airily. "Of course, I tend to-"
"Draco," a woman said reprovingly from nearby. Her figure were slender, but rather elegant, her features pretty, despite the slight lines that began to make way on her face. Her hair was a pale blonde, almost wintery, and well in keeping with her equally pale skin. Her voice was cool and her tone aloof, but affection for the boy crept in around the edges all the same. "I think it's high time that we moved on, yes? I believe there are a few more books on your list of required texts for the upcoming school year."
"Yes, Mother." The boy turned his head back to Harry for a second before the shadow of a smile- or was it a smirk?- ghosted across his mouth. "Suppose that I'll see you in school, then."
Harry watched after the pair in puzzlement, not noticing Hagrid's clear disapproving gaze. "Eh, er, well then, Harry, bein' as we're 'ere an all, may as well get yer robes then, eh?"
Harry looked over at the nearest building, the one in which the boy named Draco had emerged from, and took note of the placard that read, "Madam Malkin's Robes for All Occasions."
Twenty minutes later, Hagrid had nipped off somewhere, saying something about needing something from the Leaky Cauldron to settle himself after that cart ride from Gringotts, and left him to get fitted for his robes. The process had been rather different from what he'd expected, although it'd started out much the same as any tailor or seamstress in the Muggle world, standing on a stool as the artisan in question pinned hems and tucked seams. Once the correct proportions had been made, however, it was several elaborate waves of a long tapered wand from the zaftig woman, and spooled thread wove its way into neat, almost ornate hemstitches. Bare minutes later, a final wave of the wand knotted the thread flush in the inner lining of the last robe, and a tap from the end separated the hemstitch from the spooled thread remaining with a tiny wisp of smoke. Harry stepped down, and paid the requisite amount inexpertly before packing away the robes into his bag. Almost as an afterthought, he selected a wide brimmed, pointed black hat that Madam Malkin assured him was both stylish and fit into the stated dress code put forth by Hogwarts. Stepping out back into the street, he almost ran up short against Hagrid, who was clutching two ice cream cups, chocolate and raspberry as he would discover, and sprinkled with crushed nuts. A stray splatter of raspberry hit Harry's shirt.
"Eh, we'd best get that cleaned up early 'fore it 'as a chance ter stain," Hagrid said, before a light hit behind his eyes. "Oh, right! Dumbledore'd tol' me I'd need ter remind yeh ter be at the station early on the first o' September."
"Station? First of September?" Harry asked, at a loss.
"Right!" Hagrid reached into his pocket and pulled out an envelope, handing it to Harry. "I'd meant to give yeh this later on, but almost fergot about it til yeh reminded me. Best I give you this now while it's on me mind."
"Oh. Uh, what is it?" Harry asked, opening the envelope and peering inside.
"Yer ticket, o' course! Fer the Hogwart's Express!" Hagrid said. "King's Cross Station, platform nine an' three quarters, eleven o'clock, all o' that's on the ticket as yer can see. As I said b'fore, though, yeh'll want ter get there early. Always best ter be early, in case yeh run late."
Axenome Presents: Slytherin
Book One: Harry Potter and the Sorceror's Stone
Chapter One: "The (Early) Journey to and from Platform Nine and Three-Quarters" or "Timing is Everything"
On the last day of August, Harry thought he'd better speak to his aunt and uncle about how he was getting to King's Cross station the next day, so he went downstairs to where they were watching television. He cleared his throat to let them know he was there; Dudley caught sight of him, screamed, and ran from the room, his curled piggy tail poking out comically from the back of his shorts.
"Er- Uncle Vernon?"
Uncle Vernon grunted to show he was listening.
"Er- I need to be at King's Cross tomorrow to- to go to Hogwarts."
Uncle Vernon grunted a second time.
"Would it be alright if you- er, gave me a lift?"
Grunt. Harry supposed that meant yes.
He was about to go back upstairs when Vernon spoke up. "Funny way to get to a wizard's school, the train. Magic carpets all got punctures, have they?"
Harry didn't say anything.
"Where is this so called school, anyway?"
"I don't know," Harry answered, puzzled for a moment, still thinking on the magic carpets bit. "But if they do use magic carpets, I suppose this is what I have to do to learn to ride them, or something."
"What? What's that got to do with where the school is?" Vernon asked, looking away from the telly for the first time since Harry had come down.
"Uh- no, I meant about your first question, uncle." Harry felt like the conversation was getting more bizarre by the second- not that this whole issue hadn't been bizarre since it all began. "I don't really know where it is, I just take the train on platform nine and three quarters at e- er, ten." Harry caught himself before saying "eleven o'clock," remembering Hagrid's admonishment a month ago to get there early.
Aunt Petunia's incredulous stare joined Vernon's. After a moment, Vernon said, "Platform what?"
"Nine and three-quarters."
"Don't talk rubbish," Uncle Vernon said. "There is no platform nine and three-quarters."
"That's what it says on my ticket."
"Barking," said Uncle Vernon, "howling mad, the lot of them. You'll see. You just wait. Alright, we'll take you to King's Cross. We're going up to London tomorrow anyway, or I wouldn't bother."
"Why are you going to London?" Harry asked, trying to keep things friendly.
"Taking Dudley to the hospital," growled Uncle Vernon. "Got to get that ruddy tail removed before he goes to Smeltings."
Harry woke at five the next morning, too excited and nervous to go back to sleep. He got up and pulled on his jeans because he didn't want to go the the train station in his wizarding robes- he'd change on the train. He checked his Hogwarts list again to make sure he had everything he needed, checked to make sure Hedwig's cage was secure, then paced his room, waiting for the Dursleys to get up. He hadn't long to wait; Aunt Petunia had convinced Uncle Vernon that getting him to the station "on time" would get him out of their hair all the sooner, and barely an hour later they'd packed Harry's trunk into the Dursley's car, and set off.
Uncle Vernon had spent much of the car trip singing softly to himself that "We're shut of him til next summer" or, when not actively saying the words, humming the identical tune. They reached King's Cross at nine fifteen; Harry noted in passing that morning traffic was picking up behind them, and the going would likely have been slower had they set out later. Uncle Vernon even went so far as to dump Harry's trunk onto a cart for him and wheel it into the station; Harry thought this uncharacteristically kind of him 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, hmm?"
Harry looked over at the platforms with dismay- a plastic sign reading "9" next to one platform, then at the next platform, one reading "10," and between them, nothing at all but a blank wall.
"Ah well, I suppose they have another forty five minutes to construct it before you need to use it, hmm? Have a nice term!" Uncle Vernon delivered as a parting shot, before strolling off jauntily without another word. Harry watched them all drive away- from where he stood, it suspiciously appeared they were laughing at him as they left. He was about to ask a guard when he noticed a boy lugging a wheeled trunk behind him with- of all things- a toad in a small wire cage. The boy, the cage, and the trunk all seemed to be completely ignored by the people passing by as he calmly walked straight into the empty wall between platforms nine and ten- and then vanished.
Harry looked around furtively, but it appeared nobody seemed to have noticed the boy or his odd pet.
Glancing down at the cage holding Hedwig, who was starting to get restless, Harry suddenly reached into his pocket and pulled out the creased and wrinkled list from Hogwarts. His eyes skimmed the list until they found, at the end, the passage he was looking for: "Students may also bring an owl OR a cat OR a toad."
For the next fifteen minutes he kept a sharp eye out, and spotted two more passenger groups who were clearly bound for Hogwarts- and as surreptitiously as possible followed along behind the second cluster, a pair of aristocratic looking young teens carrying caged owls who for some reason were attracting no attention despite the odd animals. Bracing himself, he followed along behind them, staying exactly three feet back, as they walked straight into the wall. Then suddenly, past the pair in front of him, he saw a platform, with a grey steam engine sitting at it, plain passenger cars trailing behind it, and a sign reading "Durmstrang Eilbeförderung, 9:45"
"Eye-ul... Ailfer..." Harry stumbled, trying to sound out the word, although he was sure even if he'd pronounced it correctly, he had no idea what it meant.
"Eilbeförderung." Said a voice to his left. Looking towards it, Harry saw a young man in official looking robes- or if not official, at least appearing to be a uniform of some sort. "It's German- means something along the lines of a system for rapidly transiting persons or parcels. May I see your ticket?" Harry noted in passing that the pair he'd been trailing had broken into a run, apparently concerned that they would miss their train.
"Ah..." Harry began awkwardly, handing his ticket to the man, "I thought the Hogwarts Express was at this platform?"
"It will be, in about twenty five minutes," the man absently answered, looking at the ticket cursorily before handing it back to him. "Here a bit early, aren't you?"
"Well, I figured it was better to be early than late. No accounting for what might happen, right?" Harry said hopefully.
The young man cocked his head slightly to the side, before responding, "Planning ahead is always a good idea. And you're quite right, because you never know what might happen. But since you're so early, why aren't your parents here waiting with you?"
Harry looked to the side, slightly embaressed. "My, ah, parents are dead."
"Ah. That's rather unfortunate." There was a pause, then, "Were they wizarding folk or Muggles?"
"What? Uh, wizards, I'm told."
The man gave a slightly satisfied nod. "I see. This all seems very new to you, all the same- muggle raised?"
Harry started to feel slightly uncomfortable. "Uh, yes. By my aunt and uncle, the Dursleys."
"Hmmm. Must've been difficult. A lot of Muggle families don't do well with wizarding relatives, especially raising a wizard or witch when they've no powers of their own. Strange situation, but it happens from time to time, regardless of what some of the older families might think of it. What's your name?"
Harry winced a little, remembering the reaction his name had gotten back in the Leaky Cauldron in Diagon Alley. "H-Harry. Um, Harry Potter."
The young man's eyebrows lifted slightly in recognition of the name. "Really? The-Boy-Who-Lived? That Harry Potter?"
Harry frowned slightly. "Um, yeah. That one."
"You're a bit of a celebrity here. But if you don't mind my mentioning it, you might want to keep quiet about your aunt and uncle while you're among wizarding folk." Behind him, two sharp blasts of steam accompanied a low whistle from the "Durmstrang Eilbeförderung." Doors slid shut with the clacking noise of securing bolts, and barely a half minute later the pace of the puffing steam and chugging pistons accelerated as the grey engine slowly picked up speed, departing the station. Harry hadn't noticed how much background noise the engine had been making until it started to fade away into the distance. In the relative quiet, the young man said in a lower voice, "You-know-who may be gone, but that doesn't mean everyone that was under him actually walked to the other side of the quidditch pitch."
"Er, what?" Harry asked, confused by the unfamiliar analogy.
"Yes, definitely Muggle raised. Look, why don't you come and have a cup of tea with me?" Harry's stomach chose this moment to growl audibly. The young man almost smiled, and said, "and perhaps a bit of toast as well."
"Sure, I suppose." Harry paused, then asked, "Uh, what's your name?"
"Albany, Albany Nott."
Albany Nott was hard for Harry to define. He was friendly, as evidenced by purchasing a very light breakfast for Harry, not merely the tea and toast he'd suggested, but had a great many questions. He was clearly quite clever, and his questions seemed to dig uncomfortably close at times. In exchange, Albany spoke about himself a bit, being an alumni of Hogwarts and had stopped training as an auror- whatever that was- after barely a year, instead contenting himself with working as a security guard here at the train station. In his family's eyes it was something of a step down, he noted, but he himself thought of it as a step up in importance. An auror, he explained, was tasked with the whole of magical Britain, but here at station nine and three-quarters, his job was very specific: the security of magical Britain's future, the children going away to school. "Besides," he added as almost an afterthought, "if I'd been an auror, I imagine I'd never have had the chance to meet you here today, eh?"
Harry had to admit that he was probably right- although, Albany would know more about that sort of thing than he himself would.
"So, Harry, have you given any thought as to what house you hope to be sorted into?" He asked, biting off a bit of the biscuits he'd bought for himself rather than an actual breakfast.
"House?" Harry asked.
"Haven't read up the information on the school yet, have you?" Albany's expression shifted slightly, still friendly, but now with an undertone of disapproval. "One of the most important parts of planning ahead is basing your plans off of what information is available. Not much good to you if you don't bother to find out what that information is."
"Well, alright then, can you at least tell me what the houses are?"
"The houses are a lot, actually." Albany sipped the last bit of tea from his mug, then refilled it from the pot on the table. A twist of lemon and a spoon of honey followed the darker tea from the bottom of the pot; the clinking of the spoon was a light and cheery sound. "You see, the four houses are named after Hogwarts'founding wizards and witches- Godric Gryffindor, Salazar Slytherin, Rowena Ravenclaw, and Helga Hufflepuff. It's a bit of a simplification but the houses tend to be divided according to traits that those founders were best known for- the Ravenclaws for their studious natures and quick minds, Slytherins for their cleverness, caution and aspiration to greatness, Gryffindors for their bravery and boldness, and Hufflepuffs for their loyalty and self discipline. Of course, that doesn't mean that those traits are the only things that define the people in those houses, but those traits tend to stand out most. Typically, the houses are represented by animals as well that are thought to exemplify their personalities- Gryffindor lion, Slytherin snake, and so on."
"The Slytherin house mascot is a snake?" Harry prompted, thinking back to the boa constrictor in the zoo. "I met a snake once. He seemed fairly nice."
"Met a snake?" Albany seemed suddenly more alert, more interested. "That's an interesting way to put it. Where did you, ah, meet him?"
"At the zoo. He was a brazilian boa constrictor, the sign said, but he'd never been home because he was born in the zoo. He wasn't very talkative but he thanked me when he got out- I guess he thought I was trying to set him free. I suppose I would have if I'd known I could..." Harry murmured thoughtfully. "But I guess I kind of did. Don't know if he ever made it home, but at least he got a chance."
Albany took a bite from his last biscuit, chewed it thoughtfully, then popped the last bit of it in his mouth as well. "Mister Potter, you are certainly full of unexpected surprises. I wonder how well you'd fit into Slytherin- probably better than most would expect."
Something about the way Albany said that caught Harry's curiosity. "What do you mean?"
"Well, Slytherins often have a bad reputation from folks on the outside of the house- understandable in some cases; a few of them make us look like outright gits. But Slytherin house has a tendency to close ranks when folks from other houses start in on us- wasn't always that way, but Professor Snape started teaching us in my second year about that sort of thing. Even when you're at odds with someone in the house, you HAVE to make at least a show of solidarity- any squabbles get settled in private, or else you show the other houses where you're weakest. Grifs are especially keen on that, you know- think the lot of us are cowardly sots just because we're smart enough to pick our battles instead of locking horns with every opposer right when they show up."
"Grifs?" Harry asked.
"Gryffindors. Like all the houses, they have their good folk and their rotters, but they don't tend to get along with Slytherins." Albany smiled a satisfied smile and shared a conspiratorial wink with Harry. "Course, I can understand their resentment, considering we've been trouncing them good and solid in points the last six years straight. Don't hate us because we're beautiful- hate us because we kick your arse at everything."
Harry laughed at this.
Albany looked up at the wall clock a moment, then back at Harry. "I'd like you to do me a favor: keep an eye out for my little brother- his name is Theodore. He's a wiry, skinny sort- looks a bit like me, although I look more like my father, he takes after- after Mum." Albany swallowed hard at this. "Like as not he'll get sorted into Slytherin, like most of our family does. Even if you end up in different houses, try to at least keep an open mind about him, will you?"
Harry nodded. "I guess I wouldn't mind seeing if we could be friends."
"Good on you, mate." Albany said, smiling. "And it looks like they're opening up the Hogwarts Express, now. Remember what you said about being early- still plenty of time to get a good seat. It was a pleasure to meet you, Harry."
As Harry walked away, getting into the short but growing line for entrance to the red engined train, Albany stood up. He glanced at the wall clock, then towards the wrought iron gate whose placard read "Nine and three-quarters." Much as he'd expected, an older man, severe and stern faced was walking through the gate, accompanied by a weedy young boy who looked both uncomfortable and eager.
Albany walked up to them, looking over at the boy, before tousling his hair in a gesture teasing to his little brother and mildly antagonistic to his father. "Hey squirt. You could use a few more bites at dinner." Albany then directed his attention to the senior Nott, trying to buy enough time for Harry to get aboard the Express without the older man spotting him. "Hello, Father."
Getting his trunk aboard the train was an interesting experience, albeit one made slightly less onerous by the presence of a taller boy in wizarding robes. After lifting the beastly weight aboard the train, the teen introduced himself as "Cedric Diggory, Hufflepuff fourth year. I take it you're a firstie?"
Harry blinked, before nodding. "Ah, yes, I'm a first year."
"Well, suppose I'll take mercy on you and give you a quick pre-orientation orientation." Ignoring Harry's puzzled look as he tried to figure that one out, Cedric continued, "First off, the absolute best house to belong to is Hufflepuff. Without question. A lot of the other houses think we're a pack of duffers, but you'll never find a more solid lot to stand at your back than the badgers. First, last, and each ranking in between is loyalty to your mates and dedication to your chosen work."
"Uh, okay..." Harry said. Hedwig fluttered a bit in her cage, and Harry had to readjust his hold on it so she wouldn't slip out of his grasp.
"Don't be nervous, Hogwarts is a great school. If you apply yourself and follow your talents, you'll do fine. Say, did you want to share a compartment with us?"
"Us?" Harry asked, looking around. He realized that there were indeed two other students there in the hall where they'd stopped to talk, both of whom boys that were taller than he was. Harry realized uncomfortably that, already a little on the small side for his age, he was clearly the stand out- or perhaps the short straw, as it were.
"Sure. Let me introduce my mates- This is Sasha Banachek." Cedric gestured towards the first, a boy with piercing eyes, straight brown hair, and a sharp face. He wasn't fat or anything, just large. His build set Harry in mind of a bear.
"Uh... Sasha?" Harry asked, uncertain.
"Sasha is boy's name in Ukraine." Sasha's accent was pronounced- not incomprehensible, but still definitely hard to mistake for anything but Soviet. It also was laced with the same sort of tired resignation of a person who has explained something far too many times to far too many people.
"How long have you been going to Hogwarts?" Harry asked uncertainly- the Soviet Union wasn't exactly well known in the Muggle world for getting on well with the West.
"Sasha is a fourth year, like me." Cedric said. "And this is Alex Pestler." The other boy had less defined features, but icy blue eyes, and a shock of shoulder length blonde hair. He was carrying a bag slung over one shoulder and a cage with an irritable looking cat in the opposite hand.
Alex added, "And as Sasha will tell you, in Ukraine Alexis is a girl's name. But we're not in Ukraine, so we can leave that tired joke behind, right?" The three boys shared a chuckle and a smirk that indicated this was old hat for them.
"So I never got your name- can't just keep calling you firstie," Cedric said, opening the door to the compartment.
"Oh- it's Harry. Um, Harry... Potter." Harry winced, knowing what came next.
"What? Really?" Exclaimed Alex, stopped in the door. "Can I see the scar?"
Harry lifted his bangs, and the three boys leaned in slightly closer to get a better look at it, and Alex's cat cage bumped the doorway slightly. The animal directed a dirty look at him for this, but otherwise ignored it.
Sasha was the first to comment. "I never expected you wear glasses."
Harry stared at him a moment, before laughing. "Well, I guess I could have left them off if you think the scar would look better without them. Don't expect me to recognize you guys if I take them off, though."
The boys shared a laugh at that. "Hey, I think I like this one. He's not so bad as most firsties, always looking like a bunch of puppies at all the new things," Alex remarked.
"What do you expect from Boy Who Lived?" asked Sasha.
Harry followed them into the train compartment- for Harry, it was a first. He'd never taken a train before, much less alone, and he'd expected it to be a larger version of the average bus in Surrey. Instead, the compartment had a pair of cushioned benches, almost couches, each facing one another. The window in the compartment faced the platform where they could see people turning in tickets and boarding the train. With a slight sigh of relief he set Hedwig's cage down on the seat.
Harry felt the need to answer Sasha's remark as he sat down. "I, uh, don't much like that title. The Boy Who Lived, I mean. I'd really just prefer Harry."
"Living through the Killing Curse, though, that's a big deal," Cedric said. "But you don't really want to be known for that, just for being you. You'd probably make a good Hufflepuff, I think."
"You think so?" Harry asked.
"Sure. Don't see why not." Cedric shrugged. "You're not really wanting to blow your own horn about things, that's definitely a Hufflepuff quality. Down to earth, you know."
Harry shrugged. Looking out the window, his eyes caught sight of a cluster of red heads, all busily and energetically interacting. Harry couldn't make out what they were saying as they were too far away.
"Ah. Weasleys." Alex scratched at his cheek. "Nice enough lot, I suppose. Not so well off or anything, though. Lot of pride in that lot, reckless too. Any bets the newest one- what's his name, Ron?- is gonna be a Grif like all the others?"
"Alex, mate, you know I don't take sucker bets," answered Cedric.
Harry turned his head away from the window, ready to ask another question, when he saw movement on the floor out of the corner of his eye. Down on the floor, next to the closed door, was a toad. "Someone lost a pet?" He asked.
"Eh?" Cedric looked over where Harry was looking. "Wow, looks like it. Wonder who?"
"Don't know, but if we let him out sure as anything he'll get stepped on," Alex added. "Anyone got a box or something to put him in? at least til we find out who he belongs to?"
Sasha picked the animal up, looked around, then handed it to Harry. "You don't mind holding him, do you?"
Harry didn't answer, just looking at the small animal curiously. He'd never been much of a frog catcher as a boy- Dudley wasn't much of an outdoors type, and it wasn't like Harry got a great deal of free time to himself anyways- and the odd shape of the amphibian was fascinating to him. In the back of his mind, he found himself wondering if he had to worry about warts.
The whistle sounded- Harry expected the two hissings of the steam, this time, and wasn't disappointed. "We must be getting ready to go," he said.
"Oh, hey, that reminds me," Alex interjected suddenly, reaching over to the bag he'd slung next to the cage with his cat in it. "Sasha, you have any trouble with McGonagall's assignment over the summer?"
The train lurched slightly, and Harry looked out the window again. Further down the train, on the platform, a small red headed girl was waving at someone at the other end of the train. As the train began to move away, she did her best to keep pace with it, until it was moving too fast for her to keep up, at which point she stopped running and settled for waving frantically. The train began to take a turn, and soon both the girl and the platform were out of sight around the bend in the tracks.
Conversation was sparse, mostly dealing with homework, classes, and a young witch that had caught Sasha's eye last year, and Harry settled for watching the countryside slide by. About twelve twenty five, a smiling, dimpled woman opened the door to their compartment a bit. "Would you like anything from the cart, dears?"
Harry got up, and so did Sasha, who graciously allowed Harry to go first. Harry noted in the hallway that there wouldn't have been room for him to move past Sasha if he hadn't, so he supposed it was for the best. While he'd hoped to buy as many Mars bars as he could carry, the cart didn't have anything of the sort. Instead, it had a variety of oddities of all types. Not wanting to miss out, he bought some of everything, while Sasha stuck mostly to Chocolate Frogs and Bertie Botts Every Flavor beans.
"Bit hungry there?" Cedric commented, eyeing the pile of purchased goodies speculatively.
"Well, I only had a light breakfast," Harry replied ruefully. "Did you want anything?"
"Hmmm. Well, I suppose as an upper classman it's my duty to see to it that you don't overdose on sugar or anything. I could take one of those Licorice Wands, maybe a pumpkin pasty too."
"Mind if I have a Chocolate Frog while you're at it?" Added Alex. "My galleons are all in my trunk right now, I'll pay you back later."
Harry shared out as requested, and noted vaguely that he'd not made much of a dent in the pile- perhaps he'd gone a bit overboard. Still, he was rather enjoying the unfamiliar sensation of not only having the luxuries, but also people with whom to share. Maybe if he couldn't get into Slytherin, these Hufflepuff folks would take him. Or perhaps the other way around?
"Oh, by the way, Cedric- you know how my uncle works with the Ministry, right? I heard tell that there's some business going on with that Fenrir Greyback fellow up north. He apparently got loose in a class of grammar schoolers, bit a couple of them before Aurors could get there. A full round of obliviations, and those kids listed as killed in a car accident- bad business that."
Cedric frowned, swallowing a mouthful of chocolate. "Really? Why'd they list the kids as killed?"
"Had to move em to a guarded location." Alex sighed. "They're not sure if the kid's got the werewolf thing, or not, but they can't afford to not take action. There's a huge manhunt- wolfhunt?- going on to find him before he could do something like this again."
"Werewolf?" Harry asked, alarmed. "Those are real?"
"Of course they're-" Cedric began, then stopped. "Oh, right. Muggle raised. Yeah, they're real. Terrible thing, that."
"There's no cure for it, you see." Alex was as solemn as Cedric was. "Once you're a werewolf, it'll follow you your entire life."
"Could be worse." Sasha didn't look up from his tome, against which he was checking over something on a curled parchment. "Could become upior."
"Upior?" Harry asked, now totally lost.
"Upior- it's kind of a russian variety of vampire," Alex answered. "You'll learn more about them in DADA classes in like third year or so."
"No way vampire is worse than a werewolf." Cedric said emphatically. "Werewolves become completely crazy, lose control of themselves, once a month."
"Upior cannot come out in daylight. It kills them, and they can only survive by drinking blood of living. Miserable existence," Sasha maintained.
Alex regarded Cedric for a moment. "So you're saying you'd rather be a vampire than a werewolf?"
Cedric snorted. "Not saying either one sounds all that good. Although now that you mention it, if I ever DID become a vampire it'd probably put an end to my career."
"That's true enough," replied Alex.
Cedric glanced over at Harry, who had already worked his way through several Pumpkin pasties, sampled some Bertie Botts, eaten a Cauldron cake, a few Butterscotch Broom Straws, and was now eyeing the chocolate frogs with interest. "Say, Harry, let me know if you get Medea, hey? I'm missing her from my collection."
"Medea?" Harry asked, looking up at Cedric.
"Yeah- the card? Oh right. Muggle raised. In each chocolate frog, you get a card with a famous witch or wizard on it. I'm looking to complete my set of greek witches, and she's the only one I don't have. I've got a few other cards to trade for it, if you want to start a collection of your own."
"Eh..." Harry looked over the card, which had a picture of a tanned man with a down turned nose, wavy dark hair, and regal features. He wore a loose toga and looked towards the camera boldly.
Turning over the card, Harry read:
Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa
Roman defence wizard, statesman, and general. Father in law to Emperor Tiberius.
Best known for his role in putting down the Aquitanian revolt in 38 BC.
Was a well known aesthete and a patron of the arts, sculpture in particular.
"Huh. No, just this Agrippa person." Harry responded, setting the card aside.
"Really? Agrippa's one of the harder ones to get. If you ever start up a collection, he'll be a good one to trade for someone you really want."
Just then the door to the compartment slid open, and a young girl in wizarding robes stood next to a plump, teary eyed boy around Harry's age. "Has anyone seen a toad about? Neville's lost one." She had a bossy sort of voice, bushy hair, and rather large front teeth.
The other boys in the compartment looked at Harry, who belatedly realized that he was, in fact, the last one to have hold on a stray toad. Harry looked next to himself on the seat where Hedwig's cage rested, and found the toad and his owl calmly staring one another down. "Uh, is this him?" Harry asked, lifting the toad from his spot and interrupting the unscheduled staring contest.
"Trevor!" Exclaimed the boy- Neville, Harry presumed- before Harry handed the small animal to him. "Thank you, thank you so much!"
"We didn't want him wandering about where someone might step on him if they weren't careful," Harry explained.
"That was very considerate of you," the girl replied. "Thank you for taking care of him- Neville's been looking all over for him, and he's been quite worried about him, it's been absolutely awful. I'm Hermione Granger, by the way."
"I'm Alex Pestler."
"Sasha Banachek. It is boy's name-"
"-In the Soviet Union. Yes, I know that," the girl replied. She turned her head to face Harry fully. "And you?"
"Harry Potter." Harry added in last.
"Are you really?" Said Hermione, obviously excited. "I've read all about you- I got a few extra books for background reading. You're in Modern Magical History and The Rise and Fall of the Dark Arts and Great Wizarding Events of the Twentieth Century."
"Am I?" Harry asked dazedly.
"You didn't know? If it was me I'd be trying to find out everything I could. Do you know what house you'll be in? I've been asking around, and I hope I'm in Gryffindor; it sounds by far the best. I hear Dumbledore himself was in it, but I suppose Ravenclaw wouldn't be too bad. Anyway, thank you again for taking care of Neville's toad, it was very nice of you to look out for someone else's animal before you even knew who they were, and don't you think you should change? We're not too far from the castle according to the clock." And with that, the girl turned and left, Neville closing the door behind her before they went.
Harry looked around confused. "What just happened?"
The other three boys burst out laughing. "You may have just gotten yourself a girlfriend, Harry," Alex said between chuckles.
"What?" Harry's confusion only served to make the other boys laugh harder.
Harry was inexpertly securing his belt when the door slid open, this time revealing three boys. Harry immediately recognized the one in the middle- it was the pale boy from in front of Madam Malkin's shop. "I remember you. Draco, wasn't it?"
"Good memory," the boy noting with surprise. Harry could see that Draco found him far more interesting than he had when they'd first met. "I suspected you were a sharp one, a month ago." Harry wasn't paying over much attention to him, though, instead looking at the other two boy's who'd come with him. They'd taken up position on either side of Draco, both of them rather thick looking boys with fairly mean looking faces. Draco noticed Harry's glance. "Ah, this is Crabbe, and he's Goyle. They're saying all down the train that the famous Harry Potter is in this compartment. So it's you, then?"
Crabbe and Goyle's expressions were getting less sure of themselves, and Harry looked at his compartment mates to realize that they were all directing unfriendly looks at the three newcomers. Large though they might be for their age, it was plain to see that they did not have the advantage of size or numbers here.
Cedric looked over at Harry questioningly. "Mister Potter, would you like us to dispose of this lot, then?"
Harry looked back at him, nonplussed. "Uh, no, Cedric, they just wanted to see if I really was here, I think. Besides, now that they know they'll probably go on their way, right?" Harry looked back at the newcomers, who were definitely beginning to look nervous.
"Yes, just wanted to be sure. Pleasure making your acquaintance officially, Mister Potter. Malfoy, by the way- Draco Malfoy."
"Likewise," Harry said.
The three boys left, and the tension in the room eased immediately, as Sasha chuckled and Cedric shot him a grin. "Always gets a laugh from me, seeing the tough guy firsties try to throw their weight around, and learn that weight's measured in ounces instead of stones."
It took a moment for Harry to realize they meant the official measure of weight rather than generic rock like objects, eliciting a belated laugh. "Oh. For a moment there, I was wondering why you'd acted that way."
"No problem, Harry. We stand up for our mates." Sasha and Alex nodded their agreement, and Harry felt a bit of wonder that he'd been called a friend. He'd never really had any before. He found himself rather liking the feeling.
Bare minutes later, the girl from before was back. "I've just been up to see the conductor, and he says we're almost to Hogwarts, so you'll want to hurry and get- oh, you've already changed. That's good, the dress code is mandatory. I suppose I'll see you later, then, I need to put my books back in my trunk, and I don't have much time left to do it in. That's a nice hat, by the way," she said, before sliding the door back shut again.
"Definitely a girlfriend," commented Alex with a grin as Harry tried to make sense of the rambling speech the girl had delivered.
"Yep. He's doomed," replied Cedric.
"I don't even understand what just happened," Harry admitted in a bewildered tone.
A voice echoed through the train. "We will be reaching Hogwarts in five minutes' time. Please leave your luggage on the train, it will be taken to the school separately."
Harry's stomach lurched with nerves, and his eyes shot to the other three occupants of the compartment. They were calm, relaxed, and putting up the last of their things which they'd taken from their effects during the long train ride. Harry tried to steady himself and follow suit, although most of what he had to put away were the various remaining sweets he'd bought from the cart earlier. The pile of emptied wrappers which remained was surprisingly large- he hadn't realized he'd had so many, although admittedly at least part of that pile was Sasha's.
"Steady on, Harry- it's new to you, but it'll be fine," Cedric reassured him.
"Oh, it's not really that," Harry said, although it really was. "I may have had too many sweets; it seems to have unsettled my stomach."
Alex and Sasha laughed at this, although on Sasha's face there was a hint of satisfaction that said quite clearly he thought Harry was a lightweight. As the train slowed then lurched to a stop, Harry and the others joined the throng of students outside in the corridor of the passenger car. Through the milling throng, Harry could see Draco and his two training wheels, none of which would look him in the eyes. Somehow that cheered and relaxed Harry more than Cedric's reassuring words from earlier.
The doors to the passenger cars all opened at once, and the gathered students pushed their ways out onto the tiny, dark platform outside. The night air was chilly, and Harry was glad he'd put on the hat earlier, shivering a little despite it. He'd hate to have come out here without it.
Suddenly, over the heads of the students at the far end of the platform, a bobbing lantern appeared, accompanied by a familiar voice. "Firs' years! Firs'years on over this way!"
Harry began to make his way between the other students, only to be jostled slightly by some of the older returnees making way for other firsties. Harry stumbled, and rather than trip over the offending leg that had placed itself in his path he ended up planting his heel square on the arch of its adjoined foot. A howl of pain rose up, and Harry paused in his apology to see that the attempted trip was made by none other than Draco Malfoy.
"Oh, sorry about that, Draco," Harry said with a good bit less sincerity than he'd planned before he saw who it was. "Didn't see you there."
Malfoy's returned glare promised unpleasantness ahead; Harry felt a vindictive satisfaction at this and mentally tallied a second mark under his own name.
"Harry? You all righ' there?" Asked Hagrid as Harry drew closer to where the other firsties had almost finished gathering. Harry nodded back, and Hagrid called out, "Any more firs' years? Come on, then, follow me! Mind yer steps, now, firs' years follow me!"
Hagrid ushered the group of them, including Malfoy limping along the rear, down a steep, narrow path. It was so dark to either side Harry assumed there must be thick trees lining the path. There was little conversation among the students, so the trip was fairly quiet. Neville, the boy who had lost his toad earlier, sniffed once or twice.
"Yeh'll get yer firs' sight o' Hogwarts in a sec," Hagrid called over his shoulder, the light of the lantern shining strangely through his thick, grizzled beard. "Jus' round this bend, here."
There was a loud, "Ohhhh!" from the students in the front, as the path suddenly opened up into the shoreline of a great black lake. Atop a high mountain rising from the water on the far side, was a vast castle with many turrets and towers, windows bright against the backdrop of the starry night.
"No more'n four to a boat!" Called out Hagrid, pointing to a fleet of little boats in the water by the shore. Harry noticed that while they were near the front of the crowd, Hermione and Neville hung back a bit until he arrived, and got into the same boat he did, along with a second girl with black hair and a pronounced, almost jutting jaw. She had a somewhat square build, and was barely the tallest and heaviest person on the boat.
As the last students boarded boats, Hagrid called out, "Is everyone in? Right then, FORWARD!"
The fleet of boats all moved off at once, gliding across the lake, which was smooth as glass. Everyone was silent, staring up at the castle as it loomed larger and closer. It towered over them as they approached 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, although Harry noticed in passing that the fourth occupant of the boat whose name he didn't yet know took the opportunity to steal a look at him. The boats carried them all through the curtain of ivy at the base of the cliffs, into a more or less hidden tunnel which seemed to be taking them directly under the castle. The boats slowed to a halt in something like a miniature harbor, lined with pebbles and gravel, where they all clambered out.
"Oy, you there!" Hagrid said. "Is this your toad?"
"Trevor!" Neville cried blissfully, holding out his hands. Next to him, Harry heard the stocky girl mumble something about keeping a better eye on one's familiar, which Harry wasn't entirely certain was all that fair to Neville. The students dutifully follow Hagrid's bobbing lantern up a narrow flight of stone stairs, which exited out onto smooth, damp grass in the shadow of the castle. Another flight of stone steps just ahead took them all the way up to the front of the castle next to huge, iron bound oak doors.
"Everyone 'ere? You there, still got yer toad?"
Hagrid raised his huge fist and knocked three times on the castle door.
End Chapter one
AN: Those of you who are die hard fans will notice that this is fairly close to Chapter Six of the first Harry Potter books. You may want to take careful note of the differences, however, because they're all important. Those of you who have followed my writing will also note that much as I often like to do, I start with a few small differences and work my way out. In this case, your triggering event was the rip in the money bag as they left Gringotts in chapter Five (of the book), which simultaneously allowed Harry to avoid the bad impression of Slytherin by abbreviating his encounter with Malfoy, as well as avoiding Hagrid's description of the house as the "source of all dark wizards." Instead, Hagrid remembers the need to urge Harry to be early rather than late for the Hogwarts train, which prompts Harry to arrive at the station much sooner than he originally would have. Make no mistake about it; Albany is indeed a Slytherin- but by no means are all Slytherins bad, or even most of them. I tried to put a Slytherin spin on his conversation with Harry as well as his actions thereafter, being that Theodore Nott's father- and by extension, Albany's- is a known Death Eater. For brevity's sake and the desire NOT to recap the first third of Ms. Rowling's efforts, I simply began the real writing in chapter six. Prior to Gringotts, expect the background to be the same.