AN: Sorry about the delay in posting this chapter, things have been a bit hectic here. I'm a bit uncertain about this chapter but as I'm pretty much posting as I write (to push myself to actually write - I need a little pressure or I'd give up halfway through), there isn't much room for revision and rewriting and what not. Maybe when the whole thing is finished I'll come back and redo it, but for now it will serve.

Two things to address: This will NOT be a Harry/Hermione story (romance is not going to feature much - they're eleven!), and I am not going to do any Ron-bashing. I know he hasn't been around much so far, but patience is a virtue :)

In the end, getting rid of the Slytherins turned out to be a lot easier than Harry had imagined. Keeping Snape's words in mind, Harry made a short announcement in the Slytherin common room on Saturday morning: that while he really appreciated the warm welcome the Slytherins had given him, he would consider it a personal favour if everyone started treating him like everyone else and give him some space, because he didn't want to be treated like a celebrity and their fussing was making him uncomfortable. There was some muttering at that, but most Slytherins accepted the request without too much trouble, a couple actually apologising for having been a bit overbearing.
The permanent Slytherin-cloud that surrounded Harry dispersed, leaving behind only Draco and Theo, who simply did not mentally include themselves in 'everyone'.

"Should've done that a lot earlier, I was getting tired of having to sick Crabbe and Goyle on people just so we can get to class on time," said Draco, sitting down next to Harry on one of the leather couches.

"But Lord Potter, how will people be notified of your Awesomeness without your loyal fans following you around everywhere, tooting your horn?" said Theo, letting himself fall into the couch opposite. "I can't help but feel this hasn't been a smart career move."

"Shove off, Nott," said Harry. "Talking about people following other people around, where are your shadows hanging out today, Malfoy?"

"Crabbe and Goyle like to sleep in on weekends," said Draco, pulling a copy of Quidditch Quarterly out of his robes and starting to leaf through it.

"I have to say, I just can't figure out what exactly about those two charms you so much that you let them trail after you all the time," said Theo. "Can you, Zabini?"

Blaise, who was sitting at one of the tables working on an essay, turned around in his seat. "Can't say that I do, Nott. Malfoy obviously likes something about them, though."

"He does, doesn't he?" said Theo, pretending to stroke an imaginary beard. "Do you reckon he lets them come with him to the loo when he needs to drain the dragon?"

"Oh very funny," said Draco, chucking his magazine on the low table in front of the couch and looking thoroughly annoyed. "Of course I don't like them. They're about the dullest people I've ever met."

"Then why are you friends with them?" said Harry, non-plussed. Granted, Draco had never exactly been friendly with his cronies, as demonstrated by him talking down to Ron and Harry when they'd been impersonating the duo in their third year. There had to be some reason he kept them around.

"I already told you Potter, they're not my friends," said Draco huffily. "My dad just knows their dads."

"So what does that have to do with you?" said Theo, lounging back in his couch.

"The Crabbes and Goyles are vassals of the Malfoy family, as you know very well," replied Draco haughtily. "That means they have to do as we say," he added for Harry's benefit. "Anyway, my father said I should keep them around, just in case."

"Just in case what?" snorted Theo. "In case little lord Malfoy needs a bodyguard? Or if he forgets how to tie his own shoelaces in an acute attack of Posh?" Draco scowled at him.

"Can't you just tell them to get lost?" said Harry. Being in Crabbe's presence made him very uneasy, and because Draco seemed determined to attach himself to Harry's hip at all times, that unfortunately meant he had to endure Crabbe's company as well.

"Yeah, tell them to get lost. Having those two golems following us around all the time is just creepy," Theo chimed in.

"I can't just tell them to get lost, Father said..."

"Who cares what your father says?" said Harry, rolling his eyes. Draco was always going on about what his father thought about this or his opinion on that. He was getting thoroughly sick of it. "You're going to just do what your father says for the rest of your life?"

"But Father says..." started Draco, before being rudely interrupted by a bark of laughter from Theo. "Alright!" he said angrily, glowering at Theo, who was dangling his legs over one of the armrests of his couch, looking highly amused. "I'd get in trouble if I told them to shove off, alright? I don't like it any more than any of you do."

"Why not make a deal with them?" said Harry, an idea taking shape in his mind. "I doubt they're all that happy about having to be your bodyguards either - no offense, Malfoy." Draco grunted, and Harry continued: "Why don't you agree that they'll tell their dads they're still on your tail, and you tell your dad that they are as well, and just go your separate ways and do what you want?"

Draco frowned, clearly at least partially swayed by Harry's argument, but being held back by years of following his father's rule without question.

"You're not a kid anymore, Malfoy. You have to start learning to think for yourself," said Harry, trying to give Draco the push he needed. Draco was very obviously still a kid, but he didn't have to know Harry thought so. Draco puffed out his chest slightly, and Harry knew he'd scored a point with the boy's ego.

"Yeah, you're right. What Father doesn't know doesn't hurt him," said Draco, getting up from the couch. "I'll go and talk with Crabbe and Goyle."

"Nice one, Potter!" said Theo, as soon as Draco had disappeared upstairs. "Good riddance to those lumps. Not having to look at their gorilla-faces is going to make my day a lot brighter."

Harry grinned involuntarily, and noticed that Blaise was still twisted around in his seat, looking vaguely impressed.

"Not bad, Potter," the dark-skinned boy acknowledged, then turned around and went back to his essay.

They had their first Introduction to the Wizarding World session on Saturday evening. It was led by the Slytherin prefects, and Harry sat through the meeting feeling rather uncomfortable. Most of it was pretty boring stuff, to his surprise. He'd half been expecting some sort of Introduction to Being a Death Eater lessons, but while there was a fair amount of pure-blood propaganda, most of it really did boil down to etiquette lessons. They spent a good half hour on listing the most prominent families and their standing in wizarding society, Draco beaming proudly when his family was mentioned and slapping Harry on the back when the Potters were listed, looking around to make sure everyone could see what great buddies they were.

"Told you us pure-bloods should stick together, Potter!" said Draco cheerfully, while Harry tried his best not to roll his eyes.

Harry was surprised to learn that Theo's family was actually every bit as pure-blooded and important as the Malfoys were. Theo just made a face when the Notts were mentioned, shrugging and flashing a toothy grin at Harry.

They were taught how to behave in proper wizarding company, Pansy, Tracy and Daphne giggling their way through the little roleplay scenarios they had to do, miming getting introduced to each other and serving tea. Draco went through all the motions perfectly, having been taught this sort of thing from when he could barely speak, but Theo refused to take any of it seriously, pretending to poison Harry's tea when it was his turn to offer it.

"You'd want to pay attention," murmured Blaise as Harry and Theo whispered about how stupid all of this was. "This sort of thing might look ridiculous, but you're at a real disadvantage if you want to get anywhere if you don't know how to act properly."

"I'm not sure I want to go anywhere they wouldn't let me in if I don't hold up my pinky properly when drinking tea," said Theo, putting on his most pompous face to offer Harry a plate of imaginary biscuits.

"Not interested in a proper career or making any money then?" hissed Blaise. "Not interested in any further studies? All the best jobs and apprenticeships are held by the people that won't let you anywhere near them if you're not one of them. Even you will have to put in some effort if you want to get anywhere, Nott."

"What crawled up your butt and died, Zabini?" said Theo, taken aback at the boy's sudden anger.

"You can make fun of it all you want, but this is how the real world works," snapped Blaise. "So you better start taking this seriously or prepare for being left behind."

Harry mulled over Blaise's words as they moved on to respectable wizard attire, the girls cooing at the pictures of well-dressed witches and wizards the prefects handed out. He couldn't shake the growing feeling that there was something slightly off about Blaise, but he couldn't put his finger on what exactly. From what he'd seen of the greater wizarding world though, the boy's words had at least some truth. The pure-blood families controlled most of society, and held the most sway in the Ministry. Mr. Weasley, a Pureblood who was very competent at his job, was nonetheless left forgotten in the Misuse of Muggle Artifacts office, unwilling to take part in office politics or behave like most pure-bloods did.

It wasn't unlike muggle society, he decided, while trying to wrestle his tie into a complicated knot that apparently was the standard for official dress. The pure-bloods were the upper class, while people from the 'lesser' families or with mixed parentage made up the middle class: accepted, but not part of the little Pureblood inner circle. Muggleborns, deprived of any real knowledge of the do's and don'ts of wizarding society, were still considered the lower class. They might be every bit as good at magic, but they just didn't know how they were expected to behave, so they would never really fit in.
Harry angrily tugged at the knot, snarling it up so tight that one of the prefects had to come over to help him untangle it. It just wasn't fair. Why didn't Hogwarts give this sort of class to everyone? They had Muggle Studies, why couldn't there be Wizarding Studies for the muggleborns? Unless they ended up in Slytherin, they'd leave Hogwarts with a huge disadvantage, like Blaise had said. And everyone knew Slytherin didn't accept muggleborns.

Harry was still in a bad mood when they turned in for the night, Draco retreating to his private suite while the other boys changed into their pyjamas and climbed into their fourposter beds. At least he had something to look forward to now that the Slytherins didn't hover around him anymore 24/7. He could finally try to find his real friends.

Harry escaped the Slytherin common room early on Sunday morning, witnessed only by Blaise, who was apparently a morning person, judging by the times he'd been up before the rest of the Slytherins. He had a hurried and blessedly quiet breakfast, after which he made his way to the library as fast as he could, the thrill of freedom putting a spring in his step. Ron would probably spend most of his time in the Gryffindor common room, but he was positive he could count on Hermione visiting the library at least once on a weekend day, and resolved not to leave until he could meet her.
Hermione did not disappoint, entering the library somewhere around 10, looking slightly harried. She didn't notice Harry sitting at one of the tables working on his Potions essay, but sat down at a table all the way in the back, as if trying to hide, and pulled out her copy of One Thousand Magical Herbs and Fungi.
Harry excitedly put his things in his bag and moved over to her table, sitting down in the chair opposite of her.

To his surprise, Hermione looked up at him and wailed: "Just leave me alone!" in an exasperated voice. When she noticed who he was, she coloured slightly pink, and said: "Sorry, I thought you were someone else."

"Who d'you think I was?" said Harry, taken aback.

"I - oh, never mind," mumbled Hermione, flipping open her textbook and unscrewing her bottle of ink. "If you don't mind, I've got a Potions essay to be getting on with."

"I was just working on that as well," said Harry, smiling. "Want to do it together?"

Hermione looked at him uncertainly. "Why would you want to work with me?"

"Maybe you don't remember, we met on the train. I just thought you were pretty nice," said Harry, floundering slightly. To his relief, his reply earned him a genuine smile.

"Of course I remember you, Harry. I just thought, because you're..." Hermione stopped herself, biting her lip and looking down at her parchment.

"That because I'm a Slytherin I wouldn't want to talk to you?" said Harry.

"Well, yes." said Hermione, looking slightly embarrassed. "I mean, I told the other Ravenclaws that you seemed -"

"Normal?" said Harry, grinning.

"No! Well, yes, but I didn't say it like that. Anyway, they said that if you were a Slytherin, I'd better think twice about wanting to have anything to do with you. Not that I think that," Hermione added hurriedly.

"I'm glad you don't," said Harry, pulling his half-finished essay out of his bag. "Now, how about we get some work done on that assignment? I got a few things already, but I'm a bit stuck..."

Hermione pulled the essay out of his hands and started reading through it, while Harry inwardly cheered. The rest of the morning went well enough, Hermione lecturing Harry on how to get the right resources for his assignments. They finished their Potions essay and went on to their Transfiguration assignment, Harry talking Hermione through the more tricky part of the theory. Her face lit up when she grasped what he was trying to explain, and Harry felt pleased about being able to academically help out Hermione for once, instead of it always being the other way around.
One thing Harry really wanted to talk about with Hermione was his diminished magical power. It had taken him quite a bit of thinking to find a way to bring it up that was only slightly suspicious instead of hugely so.

"I've been wondering something," said Harry after they finished up their Transfiguration work. "Do you have any idea how exactly someone would go about blocking another wizard's magical power?"

Hermione gave him an odd look. "Why do you ask?" she said.

It took Harry a while to explain about the Dursleys and their attitude towards magic, and how his aunt had asked a non-specified someone to stop Dudley from going to Hogwarts at all costs. Hermione was horrified at the thought, but also seemed relieved that Harry wasn't hatching any plans for cursing someone.

"I just thought that magic wasn't something that you could take away," said Harry, as Hermione mulled over the question.

"Oh, you can't really," said Hermione. "Some wizards and witches have tried, on others and themselves, but nobody has ever succeeded with anything permanent."

"Why would anyone want to do that to themselves?" said Harry, confused.

"Mostly because they wanted really badly to be muggles, for whatever reason. Or because they did something really bad, regretted it, and wanted to prevent themselves from being able to do it again. There's some really tragic stories about wizards that accidentally harmed someone they loved, and in their grief tried to cut the magic out of them, as it were, but they never succeeded," said Hermione.

"How do you know all that?" said Harry incredulously. He'd always known Hermione was the cleverest witch in their year and a fount of knowledge in general. He'd just forgotten just how much of a sponge for information she'd been even in their first year.

"I just wanted to find out everything I could about magic as soon as I found out I was a witch, didn't you?" said Hermione. "When my parents took me to Diagon Alley, I just got every book on the subject I could find. It's just so fascinating, did you know there's still a lot of disagreement and uncertainty on exactly how magic works, or why some people have magical talent and some don't? I'm fairly sure that's got to do something with genetics, but I don't think that the wizarding world knows much about DNA."

"Then you've got one up on them," said Harry, and Hermione gave him a pleased smile. "So you can't take away magic, but could you suppress it somehow? Maybe make it less strong than it supposed to be?"

"I don't know, my books didn't really talk about that. That sounds like pretty dark stuff," said Hermione, frowning. "There's some ways wizards and witches can lose some of their magical ability, of course - long periods of exertion, magical accidents, certain diseases..."

"Diseases?" said Harry eagerly. Maybe he'd simply contracted a bout of wizard flu?

"Oh yes, your magic is tied up more closely with your physique than a lot of people realise," said Hermione, happy to have such a receptive audience. "You'll never do your strongest magic when you're not feeling well physically. And of course, a child's magical potential grows just like their body does, and doesn't come into its full power until they reach adulthood."

"So even if a kid knew a spell perfectly, it would never be as powerful as one cast by an adult?"

"That's right," said Hermione, and Harry sagged back in his chair, relief flooding over him. That must be it: he knew how to do spells, but his body hadn't caught up with his seventeen-year-old mind yet. They spent the rest of the morning working together and chatting amicably about their first classes and favourite subjects, Hermione gushing about how much she was enjoying Transfiguration.

"How are you enjoying Ravenclaw then?" asked Harry, when Hermione professed her admiration for tiny Professor Flitwick and his skill at Charms. Her face fell slightly when he mentioned her House, and Harry wondered worriedly if she was having as miserable a time in Ravenclaw as she first had in Gryffindor.

"It's... not really like I'd imagined it," said Hermione. "The other girls are really competitive, and I..."

"...beat them all and they're sore losers?" said Harry, having an idea of where this was going.

"I thought Ravenclaw was all about becoming the best you can be," said Hermione, grimacing. "I didn't think people wouldn't... wouldn't like me for knowing a lot." She looked down at the table unhappily, fiddling with the strap of her book bag. "If I'd known it was going to be like this, I wouldn't have asked the Hat to put me in Ravenclaw."

"I thought you'd decided that Gryffindor sounded like the best option?" said Harry, who had been wondering about Hermione's Sorting ever since the Sorting Feast. "Why did you pick Ravenclaw?"

"Well... it was you, really. I thought I was doing really well, but then you did that Summoning charm perfectly, so it was obvious that I wasn't ahead as much as I thought I was. I thought that being in Ravenclaw would be better after all."

Harry said nothing. He wanted to apologise to Hermione for messing up her Sorting, feeling incredibly guilty about her having a hard time in Ravenclaw. She hadn't had the easiest of starts in Gryffindor either, but when she became friends with Ron and Harry she simply hadn't seem to care about Lavender and Parvati's occasional teasing anymore. Hopefully she'd be happier once she befriended Harry and Ron again.

"Well, I think you're brilliant," said Harry after a few moments of uncomfortable silence. "If the Ravenclaws don't like you, that's their loss." Hermione blushed and smiled at him, and Harry continued: "Do you want to start studying together after class? I know I could use some help."

"That'd be nice," said Hermione happily. "I could draw up some timetables for us to plan out our work. I think I need a bit more time for Potions, it seems a bit like cooking and I've never been any good at that..."

Harry and Hermione walked out of the library towards the Great Hall for lunch, Hermione chattering away about study methods and plans, Harry content that Hermione at least still wanted to be his friend.