Can't decide, H/Hr or R/Hr? Oh well. Unexpected surprises lurk in the future. Oooh, that sounded cool and creepy. R&R, let me know what you think. Who knows how long this will last.

DISCLAIMERS: I disclaim it all.


Harry smiled as he entered Diagon Alley to buy his school supplies for the fifth time. Only twice more would he be doing this, then he would be a full-fledged wizard. That is, unless Voldemort got his way first.

He shoved this thought aside for the moment as he spotted one of his best friends in the Apothecary.

"Hermione!" She turned and smiled, waving at him. She quickly paid for her new potion supplies, then ushered her parents out with her. They seemed so out of place here, but that was only because Harry new they were Muggles.

"'Lo Harry!" she hugged him, and he felt a little awkward in front of her parents. However, they were too busy eyeing a group of goblins that were grumbling by. "I was made prefect! What about you?"

"Yeah, of course. How could the Boy Who Lived not be a prefect?" He sighed. "How was your summer?" He knew something was different about her, but he could not pinpoint it.

"Fine, until last week. Crookshanks was hit by a car, and he died." Her face seemed to drop after that, and Harry immediately regretted even asking.

"Oh, I'm sorry 'Mione. You must feel terrible." He wanted to hug her again, but resisted the urge; her parents were now paying attention. (A/N: I have no idea where all this mushiness is coming from, really..)

She shrugged, and pointed to her father, who was holding a young tawny owl in a cage. "I got Emma a couple of minutes ago. Have you seen Ron?"

Harry smiled at Emma, and she hooted playfully. This awoke Hedwig, who was still asleep in her cage on Harry's cart. She hooted back, as if in competition for Harry's attention. Harry reached a finger through the wires to show that she had won.

"No, not yet. But he and his family can't be hard to spot," he joked. He glanced at the Grangers, who were looking around for the Weasleys as well; they needed to see a familiar face soon or they were going to crack.

"Can you believe that Fred and George are going into their final year? I thought they'd never make it."

Harry chuckled, "If Snape and Filch had gotten their way they wouldn't have."

"That's for sure. Hey, there they are!" She waved violently, and Mrs. Weasley smiled and guided her herd over to them.

Ginny had grown up a lot over the summer. She was now almost as tall as her mother was and her red hair was long and flowing down her back. But there was someone else with the Weasleys.

"Colin! Colin Creevey!" Harry recognized the younger Gryffindor at once. This boy had followed him around all of his second year taking photos of him and asking for his autograph. However, he was no longer the scrawny boy that annoyed him. He had filled out, and had a good chance at being a Chaser this year, as Angelina graduated.

"Hi Harry, how are you today?" He was a lot more polite and introverted than he usually was, but Harry suddenly knew why. His girlfriend's parents were with him.

"When?" He asked the question, knowing the answer.

"Last year, just after the third task. When the Portkey took you, Ginny was so scared. So, I hugged her. I guess it grew from there."

Harry knew there was more to the story than that, but he also knew Colin didn't want to go into it with Mrs. Weasley there.

"Where's your brother?"

"Mom got his stuff earlier this week. He's at home resting. They went on vacation this summer, but I was staying with Mr. and Mrs. Weasley." Suddenly, Harry was thankful that he hadn't gone to the Burrow this summer. That would have driven him mad. He had gotten an urgent summons from Dumbledore to return to Hogwarts, and the Dursleys were only too happy to drop him off at the train station. He was in Diagon Alley under strict supervision.

He smiled at Ron, unquestionably his best friend. He had suffered so much because of it. He, being one of the youngest in his family, was never paid much attention. Now that he had befriended Harry, he was still in the shadows.

"Lo Ron!" Harry yelled, breaking his friend from his reverie.

"Oh, lo Harry! How was your summer at Hogwarts?"

"Boring. You think there's nothing to do during the school year, try spending most of the summer there. It was better than the Dursleys though."

"Dumbledore wanted me to be prefect, but I told him I really didn't want to. I think he passed it on to you." This statement utterly shocked Harry. He couldn't believe his friend would have passed up an opportunity to step out of his shadow.

"Yeah, thanks," he laughed. Ron smiled and clapped his friend on the back.

"Any time pal!"

After several hours of walking, talking, and shopping, the seven children had all their supplies. Ron had to buy a new rat, as he had given Pig to Ginny as a birthday present.

"So what are you going to name him?" Harry asked as they settled down in the Leaky Cauldron for the night. The rat was trying to dig his way into Ron's clothing, hiding himself from view.

"I think I'll name him Dig," Ron said. Harry smiled, knowing that it wasn't just a clever name because of his unusual habit. They settled the rat down in his cage and turned off the lights. As they lay there, Harry started to speak.

"I still see him," he said in an almost-whisper. "I can still feel him."

Ron knew he wasn't talking about You-Know-Who, and could only listen to his friends accounts of nightmares and visions. Finally, he had to say something.

"Look, Harry. I know you still blame yourself for Diggory's death, but you can't. Now both of us know that even if you tell me you won't, you will. But realize that he gave his life willingly. He knew the risks when he put his name in the Goblet." Ron knew it sounded lame, and he heard Harry sigh, agreeing with him.

"I don't think that's exactly what the judges had in mind," he said dryly. He quickly changed the subject and started on about Quidditch. They talked about Ron's summer, Harry carefully avoiding the details of his summer "vacation." Finally, they fell asleep, dreaming of the Sorting Ceremony.

****** The train ride was uneventful, except for the brief visit from Malfoy and his goons. They arrived at Hogwarts and herded toward to the carriages. Hermione, Ron, Harry, and Neville piled into one near the front and soon they were off.

Harry smiled as the castle grew larger, for this was the only place he truly felt safe. As they entered the Great Hall, Harry surveyed the faculty table. Dumbledore was smiling at them as they entered, and he winked at Harry. McGonagall was off greeting the first years, as was Hagrid. Flitwick and Trelawney were deep in conversation, and Madam Hooch was apparently discussing this year's Quidditch chances with Professor Sprout. Harry glanced briefly at the potions master, who was engrossed in the Daily Prophet as the students entered.

He took his seat at the front of the table, with Ron and Hermione on either side of him. Professor McGonagall entered with the most first years he'd ever seen. Hogwarts had apparently increased its acceptance numbers this year.

As the sorting started, Ron's stomach growled. Harry smiled at him, then cheered as Michael Baker joined Gryffindor.

By the end, Gryffindor received 9 first years, Ravenclaw got 8, Hufflepuff 7, and Slytherin gained 11. Snape seemed pleased, and Harry could have sworn he saw the beginnings of a smile. Dumbledore stood, lightly applauding the new students. It quickly got quiet, and he grinned.

"Welcome to everyone. We are all eager to begin this new year. I am pleased to announce that tomorrow at noon, we are all gathering on the Quidditch pitch. I cannot say why, but I assure you it will be a pleasant surprise. I would also like to introduce our newest Defense against the Dark Arts instructor, Ms. Jolin McAdy." A young woman in her late twenties to early thirties entered the hall. She had on deep crimson robes and had a nasty scar running from her left eye down to her chin. She bowed slightly in front of Dumbledore and took her seat between Snape and Hagrid. She gathered her auburn hair into a ponytail and scanned the room with her brown eyes. Harry sighed in relief when she did not linger on him, and she looked to Dumbledore.

"As always, the Forbidden Forest is just that. Hogsmeade will be open to visits by students third year and up on certain weekends. I strongly encourage you to travel in groups wherever you go. With the return of Voldemort, we must be careful. With that said, tuck in!" As soon as the food appeared on the table, Ron dived in. He shrugged at Hermione's "Honestly Ron," and Harry chuckled.

After the feast, everyone retreated to their respective dormitories, throwing around rumors about what was to happen the next day. Harry and the rest of his dorm collapsed onto their beds and fell asleep immediately.