"May I join you?"

Darcy Lewis looked up from her sketchpad to see another first year girl standing at the door of the compartment. "Yeah, sure," she shrugged.

"I didn't want to disturb you," the new girl explained, "but everywhere else was full."

The girl's bright blue eyes and deep chestnut locks combined with her pale skin and pointed chin to give her an impish, almost elfish look that Darcy itched to sketch. "I'm Darcy," she stated instead. "Darcy Lewis."

"Betty Ross," the other girl smiled. The smile slipped away as Betty bit her lip. She looked like something was ready to burst out of her. "Did you know about magic before?"

Darcy blinked in surprise, but then tilted her head in consideration. "You're Muggle-born, aren't you?"

"What?" Betty asked in confusion.

"Your parents are not magical, right?"

"Dad's not, for sure," Betty confirmed. She frowned. "I don't think Mom was. Dad was too shocked at the letter."

Darcy winced. "Sorry?"

"Oh, it's alright," Betty hurriedly assured her. "She's been gone awhile."

"Right," Darcy nodded, but quickly turned the subject around. "Anyway, Muggle-borns are witches and wizards who had Muggles, non-magic folks, as parents."

"I see," Betty accepted. "In that case, yes, I'm Muggle-born. What about you?"

"Pure blood," Darcy rolled her eyes. "Which doesn't mean much."

"I beg to differ." A new voice entered the conversation.

Both girls looked up to find a tall, dark haired boy standing in the entrance. His sharp green eyes glared at Darcy. "Blood is all that counts to many in the Wizarding world."

"Yeah," Darcy snipped. "To stuck up jerks."

His eyes went cold. "You might want to be more careful with your tone, little girl." With that he spun away and stalked off.

"Who was that?" Betty asked, eyes wide.

"Don't know, don't care," Darcy scoffed. She turned back and saw a slight tremor in Betty's hands. "Hey, you okay?"

"Sure," Betty agreed quickly, too quickly.

"Right," Darcy drew the word out, not believing her, but not willing to push. She decided to change the subject. "Can I draw you?"

Betty tore her eyes away from the entrance and stared at her in surprise. "Okay."

"Great!" Darcy flipped to a fresh page.

"Do I need to do anything?" Betty asked.

"Nope," Darcy replied with a grin. "You can read, watch the scenery, even sleep." She pointed at Betty. "Just don't leave."

Betty smiled before digging out a book and settling into the corner of the compartment. Her focus split between Darcy and the book for less than five minutes before she became completely absorbed in her reading. Darcy bit back a laugh; Betty looked just like her mother when she worked on her spell crafting.

The time passed quickly and quietly. Darcy hand flew across the sketchpad, trying desperately to capture the intensity of Betty's reading. She looked like a little girl trying to figure out how letters made words, but her eyes told the full story. Betty not only understood what she was reading, but she seemed to be internalizing it, memorizing it even.

Darcy shook her head. "I'll bet you make Ravenclaw."

"Huh?" Betty's eyes struggled to focus for a minute. "What's Ravenclaw?"

"Oh, right, you wouldn't know," Darcy noted. She began explaining even as her sketched continued to take form. "There are four Houses in Hogwarts and the students are divided among them. There's Gryffindor, Hufflepuff, Ravenclaw, and Slytherin."

"Why is it divided like that?"

"No idea," Darcy answered breezily. "Probably because it's always been that way. The founders started it, and there's a whole other story there. So," she continued, "the Houses. Well, Gryffindor is where the brave students go, Hufflepuff takes the hard workers, Slytherin gets the ambitious ones, and Ravenclaw has the smart ones." She pointed at Betty's book. "With the way you're going? You're a Ravenclaw for sure."

"What about you?" Betty asked.

Darcy lifted one shoulder. "No clue," she admitted. "I don't think I'd fit any of them."

"Considering how you told that boy off, you might be Gryffindor," Betty pointed out.

"Nothing brave about that," Darcy answered. "He wouldn't try anything on the Express."

"Can…" Betty's voice trailed off. There was a pause and then she took a deep breath. "Even if we're in different Houses, can we be friends?" Something fearful peeked out of her eyes.

"Of course!" Darcy insisted. "Who cares what House we get into?" She blew a light raspberry. "We'll definitely be friends."

A bright smile spread over Betty's face. "Thank you," she said softly.

"Plus, if you do make Ravenclaw, I'll introduce you to my cousin Jane. She's the smart one of the family…crazy smart." Darcy grinned before making one final flourish on her paper. "And….there!" She turned it around. "What do you think?"

"Wow," Betty breathed. "That's not me!"

"It is, too!" Darcy replied turning it back to look once more. "That's how I saw you while you were reading."

"Good sketch," a new voice commented.

A short blond boy in Gryffindor colors stepped into the compartment followed by a taller brunette of the same House. The two older boys smiled, but the blond moved to peer at Darcy's drawing. "You're really good with the play of light and shadow."

"You draw?" Darcy demanded excitedly.

The brunette rolled his eyes. "Only every other minute."

"Shut it, Bucky," the blond protested. He shook his head as he turned back to the girls. "Steve Rogers," he introduced himself with a smile before tilting his head at his friend. "This is Bucky Barnes."

Darcy introduced herself and Betty before refocusing on Steve once more. "You really think it's good?" she asked, tilting the drawing towards him.

"Definitely," he grinned as he sat next to her. "See here? And here?" He pointed at the sketch. "You can really see the intensity of her eyes and the movement of her hair. It's had to get that in a sketch."

Bucky shook his head as he leaned on the entrance. "You got him started," he mockingly complained. "It couldn't be Quidditch?"

"What's Quidditch?" Betty spoke for the first time.

All three looked at her, causing her to pull back just a bit.

Bucky put on a charming smile and slid into the seat next to the shy girl. "Quidditch is a Wizarding Sport, and you'll love it," he asserted.

He began explaining the game to her, but she seemed lost until Steve borrowed Darcy's sketchpad and made a quick, rough drawing to so she could see the various things Bucky was describing. The two boys got into an argument over teams and Darcy just laughed.

She looked at Betty. "Quidditch nutters," she pronounced loftily.

"Hey!" Both boys turned to her with identical injured expressions. The girls broke into peals of laughter. It was contagious, so it wasn't long before the boys started chuckling as well.

"I hope you two are in Gryffindor," Bucky told them after the merriment died down. "We could use more girls with humor."

Steve gave a soft huff. "We could use more of anybody with humor."

"True," Bucky acknowledged. "How'd we end up in the year with all the stuffy Gryffs?"

"They were warned you were coming?" Darcy asked, widening her eyes and blinking innocently at him.

Steve almost fell over laughing as Bucky gaped at the younger girl. "She's got you there, Buck," he managed to get out between chortles.

"Yeah, yeah." Bucky reached across the aisle to aim a smack at his friend. Darcy noted how carefully he pulled his swing. "Punk."

"Jerk," Steve shot back, dodging the smack.

"You sound like you've known each other for a while," Betty commented.

"Pretty much," Steve nodded as he started coughing.

"Since we were little kids," Bucky agreed distractedly. His attention zeroed in on his friend, but Steve waved him off. Bucky sat back, the smile sliding back over his lips, but Darcy noted how the frown line stayed between his eyes and his gaze would return to Steve more often even after the coughing fit stopped.

Darcy met his gaze and gave a quick wink. "So," she turned to Steve, "want to see some more of my stuff? And are you any good with drawing water?"

"Sure," Steve enthused. He began flipping through her sketches, murmuring or commenting over each one.

Bucky gave her a grateful smile and something in Darcy relaxed. As he turned to keep Betty company while the two artists talked, Darcy realized her relief came from knowing two older students who would be friendly right off the bat. That was no small feat for a pair of first years.

The boys walked them off the train when it finally stopped, and escorted them to a fierce looking man waiting nearby. "Hey, Professor Howlett," Steve called out.

"Rogers," Howlett growled. He stared down at the two girls. "First years?"

"Yep," Bucky agreed with a grin. "And these are actually funny."

"Should I worry?" The professor gave him a sarcastic look. "Considering your idea of funny…?"

"Oh, come on, professor," Bucky smirked.

"Try to wait until after the feast before getting your first detention, okay?" Howlett gave him a bland stare before turning to the girls. "Professor Howlett, Care of Magical Creatures."

Betty gave him a nervous smile, but Darcy tossed out a brilliant one. "Darcy Lewis and Betty Ross," she announced. "What type of creatures, and can I draw them?"

He blinked at her in surprise before laughing. "You're a little spitfire, aren't you?"

She grinned. "Does that mean I can come draw the more advanced creatures if I have time?"

"Sure, darlin'," he patted her on the shoulder. "You come down anytime." He turned to the boys. "You two go on. These two will see you up at the castle."

The boys waved at the two girls as Professor Howlett called for the other first years, keeping them next to him and helping them into a boat. Darcy figured either she'd really managed to get his attention or the professor liked Bucky and Steve more than he let on.

Riding in the lead boat with the professor, the two girls had the best view as Hogwarts came into sight.

"Oh!" Betty gasped and Darcy even had to blink in surprise. Hogwarts stood out beautifully against the moonlit sky at from this angle. Her fingers twitched, desperate for a pencil and paper, even as her mind raced to record every detail. She wanted to sketch this view, to try and capture this moment.

Professor Howlett gave both of them a grin as the boats came to a gentle stop. He helped them from the boat and then growled at the others to follow him. Darcy kept glancing around, ignoring all of the questions and comments being muttered around her. They were trading stories about the Sorting…all of them trying to figure out the truth of how it happened. She gave a mental shrug. It didn't matter to her. Finally they reached the entrance of the castle.

Another professor met them there. The witch looked over the students with a stern, no-nonsense gaze that had even the rowdiest of the boys settling down abruptly. She nodded at Professor Howlett. "I have them," she told him.

"Professor Hill," he nodded, discreetly patting both Darcy and Betty on the back. He left them to her.

"Welcome to Hogwarts," she told them directly. "In a moment we will proceed into the Great Hall. There you will be sorted into your House. Your House is your team, your family as it were for your time here. What you do, how you behave will determine if your House gains or loses points. These points will determine the winner of the House Cup." Her strict gaze moved from one student to another until she managed to meet the eyes of every one of them. She gave a sharp nod. "Follow me."

The students trailed behind her as they entered in the school. A quick trip across the entry ended with the doors to the Great Hall. The first years all gasped as they took in the reflective ceiling showing the starry night sky. Professor Hill never paused. She led them directly to the space in front of the head table. A stool sat there with a raggedy-looking hat perched on top. Darcy looked around, taking it all in. She spotted Bucky and Steve sitting at what must be Gryffindor's table. Steve smiled and Bucky winked. The dark haired boy from the train sat on the opposite side of the room in green and silver.

Slytherin, Darcy thought as she crinkled her nose. I might have guessed.

Jane grinned at her from the table beside Slytherin. She sat beside a cute if rumpled guy with wavy dark hair while across from her was…Merlin. Tony Stark, a pureblood and son of one of the richest wizards in all of Britain, sat across from her cousin. Darcy knew witches and wizards from all levels of society sent their kids to school here – even some from out of the country – but it was weird to see a boy like him sitting across from her cousin.

The mass of first years reached the front of the room and Professor Hill gestured for them to remain still. As silence stretched over the room, Darcy looked at the head table. She spotted Professor Howlett immediately, and he winked at her, the corner of his mouth twitching upwards slightly. Headmaster Fury was well known of course, and she sort of recognized the others, but together they were an odd mix of characters. Young to old, bored, genial, happy, and grumpy – her fingers twitched again. I wonder if I can get them to sit for a sketch.

Before her mind could think through the ramifications of that, the hat on the stool twitched.

Everyone's attention focused on it, Darcy's included. Betty leaned forward slightly, and Darcy could almost see the gears in her head moving and circling trying to determine how the hat worked. If she asked, Darcy would have shrugged and just said "Magic." She had never been interested in why magic worked – just so long as it did.

Suddenly the tear in the hat opened and it began to sing.

Long ages ago, at the start,

Four Founders strong, four friends true,

Made their choice and chose their own,

But what does that mean for you?

They knew, you see, the problem,

And troubles it would bring,

When they were gone and could no more

Be masters of the Sorting.

Gryffindor sought out heroes,

Those who wanted what was right;

Bravery and courage he loved,

Claiming those who protect the light.

Hufflepuff sought out workers,

Those who did not shy from toil;

Honor and honesty she loved,

Claiming those who stayed true and loyal.

Ravenclaw sought out sages,

Those who liked to theorize;

Intelligence and wit she loved,

Claiming those who want to be wise.

Slytherin sought out leaders,

Those who loved to plan and plot;

Ambition and cunning he loved,

Claiming those who prefer forethought.

So how could they keep things right,

When Hogwarts went on alone?

An idea came to them and

Over me spells they did intone.

Now I choose every year

What House you are to be;

So try me on and let me think

And then we all shall see.

Darcy blinked. They were going to try on a hat and it was going to pick their house? She certainly had not expected that. Betty gave a small sigh of relief next to her. It was certainly easier than any of the stories the others had been throwing around. Now if she only felt like she belonged in one of the Houses.

Professor Hill now held a piece of parchment in her hand. "As I call your name, you will take a seat, I will place the hat on your head, and you will be sorted into your Houses." The list went alphabetically by their last names, so Darcy had a bit of time to wait. She started looking around, taking in the Hall itself as well as the other students. Finally she heard her name. "Darcy Lewis."

She walked up and took her seat. Professor Hill placed the hat on her head and suddenly she could hear another voice talking in her mind.

"Now, where to put you?" He…it…he mused. She felt a sense of amusement. "Either 'he' or 'it' will do, Miss Lewis. I sense a great deal of potential within you, but your greatest strengths lie in your ability to reach out to others and your loyalty to those you consider yours. All things considered, better be…HUFFLEPUFF!"

The last word was shouted to the room at large and Professor Hill took the hat off of her head. She gave Betty a quick, supportive smile before going to the applauding Hufflepuff table. She sat down next to a pretty second year who gave her an encouraging smile.

"I'm Virginia Potts," the girl whispered, holding out a hand.

Darcy shook her hand but was unable to speak as the Sorting picked back up once more. Instead she gave the older girl an apologetic grin and turned to watch the rest of her year mates. Finally it was Betty's turn.

"Elizabeth Ross," Professor Hill announced.

The pretty dark-haired girl made her way slowly up to the stool, and her hands were obviously shaking. Someone at the table muttered something about a fraidy-cat Muggle-born and Darcy's head whipped around to pin the offender with a furious stare. The fourth year sneered at her, but flinched as a fist hit his arm none-too-gently.

A burly, red-headed third year scowled at the mouthy guy before turning and giving a smiling nod to Darcy. She grinned back at him and then turned to see Betty's sorting.

The hat took a few moments before announcing, "Ravenclaw!"

Darcy applauded, and when Betty glanced at her, she mouthed, "Told you so." She pointed towards Jane, who, being the fantastic cousin she could be when relaxed, made someone move so Betty could sit beside her. Darcy watched for a couple of minutes until she saw Betty relax before she watched the rest of the Sorting.

Headmaster Fury stood when it finally finished and looked over the crowd of students. "Welcome to Hogwarts," he told them briefly. "Let the feast begin."

"That was quick," Darcy murmured as the tables suddenly filled with food.

"He saves the speech for after the feast," Virginia told her.

"Aye," the burly guy agreed, "he doesn't think we can hear over the rumbling of our stomachs."

"Well you certainly are loud enough when you're hungry," retorted the boy next to him – another third year, but this one lean and blond. He turned to Darcy with a charming smile. "Welcome to Hufflepuff, Darcy. You've met the fair Virginia, and my uncouth friend here is Volstagg. I am Fandral and our silent companion is Hogun." He nodded at a dark-haired third year boy who gave her a small nod as his eyes roved over the group watchfully.

"Hi," Darcy replied, giving them all a smile. "Interesting names."

"We are exchange students," Fandral explained. "Our parents preferred to send us here instead of Durmstang. There are five-" Hogun elbowed him and Fandral rolled his eyes. "Fine, fine, there are six of us here. Thor and Sif were sorted into Gryffindor, while Loki," his voice grew stiff, "was chosen for Slytherin."

"Cool," Darcy replied as she took some extra turkey. "My cousin Jane is in Ravenclaw, and my new friend Betty is the one who was just sorted."

"You are related to Jane Foster?" Virginia asked. "She's one of the three smartest students in my year."

"That's my cousin alright," Darcy grinned. "She thinks rings around most people, and has a bad tendency to forget to eat or sleep when she's on a roll. She's already told me I'm supposed to help dig her out of her studies every so often."

"And will she be able to help your friend?" Hogun asked quietly.

"She'll get her introduced to a couple of people," Darcy explained. "After that, it's kind of in the air depending on what projects Jane is working on." She shrugged. "Doesn't matter. I plan to help Betty, and once she feels comfortable, she'll make friends pretty quick, especially in Ravenclaw."

"She's a different House," a girl down the way muttered.

Darcy frowned at her. "So? I'm not going to stop talking to her just because we were sorted differently. I don't care what House she's in." Her eyes narrowed. "I still plan on talking to the guys we met on the train, too, and they're in Gryffindor."

Hogun and Virginia gave her approving smiles. Volstagg nodded and Fandral questioned her. "Which Gryffindors?"

"Steve and Bucky," she replied before taking a sip of her pumpkin juice. "They introduced themselves and sat with us for most of the trip."

"They're nice," Virginia nodded. "Maybe a bit too much of the prankster in them usually, especially Bucky, but they go out of their way to help people, and they hate bullies with a passion." A small frown crossed her face. "I think there's a story there, but they're not sharing."

"Both of them are capital fellows," Fandral agreed, "though Rogers seems to have some health issue or another. Barnes gets quite protective, and Rogers just waves it off."

"Thor thinks highly of both of them," Volstagg interjected. "So too does Sif. Better recommendations are not to be had."

Virginia smiled at Darcy. "What about you?" she asked. "Tell us something about yourself."

"I like to draw," Darcy replied. "Whenever I have free time, you'll find me in a corner somewhere with a sketchpad and a pencil. I like music and dancing, and I never pass up a chance to go flying."

Fandral laughed. "We shall get along well then," he stated grandly. "I too enjoy music and dancing, and I will be happy to take you flying any time you like."

"He also flirts," Hogun noted dryly. "A lot."

"Really?" Darcy opened her eyes wide in mock astonishment. "I couldn't tell!"

The group laughed, and Fandral took the ribbing good-naturedly. Hogun focused on her once more. "You are a pureblood, are you not?"

She rolled her eyes. "If that's important to you," she sighed. "Yes, I'm a pureblood."

"It matters not," he assured her. "It is impressive that you were so quick to jump to the defense of a Muggle-born girl."

"The whole blood thing is stupid," she scowled. "There are purebloods who can barely light a candle while Muggle-borns are spell crafting, but some of the 'purists' keep insisting the bloodlines remain pure." She shook her head. "Stupid."

Some of the students scoffed at her, but the majority smiled or nodded. The rest of the meal flew by rapidly as they talked and laughed about various things in their lives and as the others told her about Hogwarts. Finally the students wound down, filled to the brim with food and drink, so Headmaster Fury rose to speak.

"As I expect you are half-asleep on full bellies, I shall keep this simple and to the point," he told them. "The Forbidden Forest is exactly that – forbidden. You are not to go there unless escorted by a teacher. Our caretaker has a list of forbidden items, events, pranks, and whatnot posted outside of his office door. Ignorance is not an excuse. All students are to be in their Towers at curfew. The Heads of the Houses will hand out your schedules tomorrow at breakfast. Good night."

"Short and direct," Darcy agreed. An older Hufflepuff began calling for the first years, so she rose to follow her. She glanced at the others. "See you around." They said their own farewells before she turned to wave at Jane and then at Bucky and Steve. The first years paraded back into the entrance, and she had just a moment to smile and nod at Betty before the two Houses split up.

So now I'm at Hogwarts, she thought. Good luck to me.