Heirs of the Founders

Obligatory blah blah blah:

I do not now, nor have I ever and only will if I'm the last person on Earth (at which point the whole concept of rights, royalties and responsibility, etc. . . becomes moot, to say the least) own Harry Potter or the characters therein, they belong to J. K. Rowling; I'm just playing with them.

Chapter Two

Harry gazed at the girl standing by the door; she was wholly entranced by Hedwig and not really aware—to the point of ignoring—the boy who shared the owl's compartment. Her nut-brown eyes, like ripened hazels, gleamed intelligently behind bushy brown hair, which she casually brushed from her face to afford an unimpeded gaze at the young wizard's snowy-feathered friend. For the briefest of seconds, his and the girl's eyes met and in that moment Harry felt something squirm behind his breastbone and a flash of kinship—doing more in introduction than words could muster—was ignited by the sad and lonely eyes they shared. The sudden warmth in his cheeks rose in tangent with the gentle pink that tinted hers and neither youngster understood what passed between them; then the girl's gaze returned to Hedwig and the spell was broken. Unbidden, a word rose from Harry's addled feelings as he studied the girl who studied his feathered-friend; the word was beautiful.

"Would you please stop that," Harry said with a touch of humor that belied his thoughts. "Hedwig's ego is big enough already; I'd hate to see it grow anymore and find myself unworthy of my friend's affection."

"Oh, I'm sorry I didn't mean to stare," she replied without taking her eyes from Hedwig. "He's a beautiful owl; I've never seen one this close before."

"HOOT!" Hedwig exclaimed rather indignantly; startling the girl. She flinched but didn't shift her eyes.

"He's a she," Harry corrected with a friendly chuckle.

"Oh dear, I'm very sorry girl I didn't know." The young witchling said to the owl.

"hoot," Hedwig replied in a forgiving yet understanding manner but the girl thought it was a well-timed coincident.

"Um . . . would you mind if I shared your compartment or are you waiting for friends?" She asked cautiously although her eyes remained fixated on Hedwig.

"Are you asking me or Hedwig?" Harry asked with a touch of protective irreverence. I can't imagine a beautiful girl really wants to sit with me, Harry thought self-effacingly, she's just interested in Hedwig I'm sure. "I don't have any friends—other than Hedwig—so I'm sure it's okay but what about you; will your friends mind sitting with me?"

The bushy-haired witch heard and felt the plaintive sting in Harry's words; she answered unexpectedly quickly and without thought in little more than a whisper, "I don't have any friends either."

Again, a moment of empathy passed between them as words fell to the overwhelming silence of understanding from whence Harry replied; trying to lighten the heavy air upon them, "I'm fine with it but it's up to Hedwig."

The brown eyed, bushy haired witch welcomed Harry's levity and smiled.

"So, what do you say girl," Harry smiled as he spoke to his owl, "may Miss . . . I'm sorry I don't know your name."

"Granger, Hermione Granger."

"May Miss Granger join us, Hedwig?"

"Hoot," the owl replied in what sounded like a positive response, which Hermione thought was another well-timed happenstance.

"Thank you . . . Hedwig was it? I appreciate your invitation," she said with a smile and polite little nod to the owl as stepped into the compartment; sliding the door closed behind her.

"Hoot."

Hermione entered the compartment only to find she was feeling oddly self-conscious. After a quick brush through her hair with her fingers—in hopes of taming that wild beast—she found herself smoothing nonexistent wrinkles from her blouse and skirt before sitting opposite of Harry. She noticed the book in his lap and felt a sense of relief in seeing that they had at least a little common ground from which a conversation could arise.

"What are you reading?" She asked hoping that she didn't sound nosey.

"This," Harry replied, shyly, as he lifted the book to show the pretty girl—in his opinion anyways—who had asked to share the compartment. "It's a book about physics. It's a muggle thing."

Hermione smiled and said, "I know what physics is, I'm muggle-born. I guess you are too."

"Not exactly," Harry replied cautiously. "My mom was a witch and my dad was a wizard but I've spent most of my life in the muggle world."

"Was?" Hermione asked and immediately regretted it as a brief shadow fell across Harry's mien.

"Yeah, they both died when I was really young; I grew up with my aunt and uncle and cousin: they're muggles you see."

"I'm sorry," she said earnestly in response but in her head, she reprimanded herself. Good going, Hermione, you've only just met him and already you've stumbled into a sensitive topic.

Harry was not the most astute student when it came to people skills but it was obvious to him that the girl was being unnecessarily hard on herself for something she shouldn't be expected to know; he found himself drawn to comfort her.

"It's okay, Hermione," Harry began but was shocked by the way she responded to her name—Harry liked how it felt as he had said it, though—and found himself needing to apologize. "I'm sorry, we just met; I shouldn't be so informal with a pretty girl I've just met."

It was Harry who felt self-conscious, now. Did I just call her pretty out loud; he thought furiously, how can I be so careless? Even if it's true, I'm sure she must think I'm really shallow, now.

Did . . . Did he just call me pretty? Hermione's heart managed a spate of unfamiliar acrobatics as Harry's words wove through her mind. I know daddy always calls me pretty but . . . well . . . he's daddy.

"I'm sorry . . .," they said in unison and snickered when they heard each other.

"It's okay to be informal," Hermione said, being the first to recover, "but I am sorry about your parents."

"Don't worry, Hermione . . ." Harry waited and this time she smiled; it gave him a gentle push. "I never really knew my parents. I mean, I was barely a toddler when it happened; it was that long ago."

"At least you had an aunt and uncle to take you in," Hermione casually commented.

"I guess . . ."

Once again, Hermione realized she had stepped into unwelcome territory and quickly opened a thought file marked: 'Things Left Unspoken'; the boy's family became entry number one but bore the stamp 'for future consideration' Hermione concluded.

Quickly changing gears, Hermione said with a friendly smile, "Are you always this rude or did my pretty face make you forget your manners? After all, you know my name but I don't know yours; that's a little unfair, don't you know?"

"I wasn't thinking, sorry," Harry began, aghast by his lack of manners. "I'm not really used to people not knowing who I am—which is sorta weird because only a little while ago no one knew or cared who I was. Unfortunately, these days, I've found my name brings me unwelcome attention."

"You make it sound like you're famous or something . . ." she said and felt as if he was mocking her.

". . . or something. Yeah, that sounds about right," Harry said darkly, "but I guess I can't avoid it: very well Miss Granger, I'm Harry Potter it's a pleasure to meet you; please call me Harry."

The young witch looked stunned and stared at the young wizard who had just claimed to be, perhaps, the second most famous wizard alive in England—Albus Dumbledore was first. Hermione Granger, surprisingly for all who knew her, was speechless.

"The Harry Potter . . .?" She finally managed.

Harry tried to smile but he had grown to hate the fame, the way it interfered with his life and how it now colored the start of his want-to-be friendship with the pretty witch.

"I'd prefer 'a Harry Potter' over 'the Harry Potter' any day but if you mean the whole 'Boy-Who-Lived' thing, yeah, it's true; not that it really means anything."

"But you're the Boy-Who-Lived!" Hermione exclaimed and immediately regretted it.

Harry smiled sadly.

"I've read about you . . . in books," her words echoed, emptily, in her head and the compartment as she said it.

"Hopefully not in a 'Harry Potter and an Alarming Alliteration' book," he said with a wry smile.

Hermione blushed but quickly recovered and said in her defense, "I'm talking non-fiction books."

"Non-fiction books, eh?" Harry replied; hoping his smile and tone were taken as the harmless tease he intended it to be.

"Um . . . Well, I might've sorta—you know—kinda glanced at those but I swear I didn't read them . . . all; I mostly stuck to history books."

Unable to contain himself, Harry Potter erupted into laughter to the consternation of the young witch sitting across from him. His sudden outburst startled Hedwig, she had gone back to snoozing and she didn't appreciate being woken so rudely; she voiced her displeasure.

"HOOT!"

Hedwig's sudden interjection made Harry consider his behavior towards this girl and he didn't like what he saw: Harry really wanted a friend and his laughter would not endear Miss Granger to him. In this epiphany, he saw the shadow of loneliness, which had dogged his life, reflected in her hazel eyes. Obviously not the same but felt as acutely, Harry began to wonder how Hermione had been brought to the same place that he had reached; prior to his birthday. Once again, the unfamiliar squirming was felt in his chest as he recognized a kindred spirit and Harry knew that, in one form or another, the young witch's fate had been tied to his: in that, Harry felt she had been—somehow—cheated.

"Hermione," Harry began his tone as gentle as he could muster. "Everything you've read and everything people think they know about me is as factual as 'Harry Potter and the Fantastic Phantasm' or any of the so called 'Harry Potter Adventures'. Only one person alive was there that night and he ain't talking, never has; never will. If I don't know what happened, how could anyone else? Sure, there have been countless theories and well-meaning speculation but that's all it is and where it's likely to remain. I hate the hero worship I get from ignorant sheep, which seem to embody so much of the magical community I've met and whenever one of them says 'The-Boy-Who-Lived', I hear 'The-Boy-Whose-Parents-Were-Murdered-by-Voldemort': it is a distinction I could live without—thank you very much. It's one of the reasons that I prefer the company of goblins instead of my so-called peers: at least I neither fear a knife in my back nor a pedestal to stand upon with them. All that aside, I'd really like to have a friend who sees Harry Potter; not The-Boy-Who-Lived: I'd like you to be that friend, Hermione."

Hermione Granger stared at the boy—no, young man, she mentally corrected as she considered his words—who had once more done something unexpected: he had left her speechless, again. She thought about what he had said and the arguments he had put forth and found it impossible to connect them to a boy barely a month past his eleventh birthday. His manner was thoughtful and firm and for all it had been an obvious rant; he hadn't descended into sarcasm or belittlement or into the lecturing tone of a know-it-all, which Hermione often became whenever she felt certain of something. Considering all he had said, the witchling realized; Harry Potter was frighteningly mature and far smarter than she had expected and from her budding adolescence came an unfamiliar skip in her heart.

"I'd like that too, Harry," she said shyly as a faintly pink hue blossomed on her cheeks.

Harry felt his heart thump as Hermione said his name for what amounted to the first time and in conjunction with the young witch felt warmth upon his face as their eyes locked upon the other's. Harry felt himself falling into hazel pools, which had been captured by the glimmering depths of emerald green gems.

"Harry," Hermione began with hesitant curiosity, "you seem very mature for an eleven year old . . . oh dear . . . I'm so sorry, that was so unbelievably rude of me—I don't know what I was thinking."

Hermione cast her gaze to the floor. Hermione Jean Granger, she mentally berated herself, what are you thinking, or are you? You've just met him and you go and say such an incredibly nosey thing; he must think I'm making fun of him.

"Hermione," he began and welcomed the return of her eyes at his prompt, "it's kinda hard to explain but I'm older than my age; I should hope that I'm at least a little more mature than my eleven years would warrant. Besides, I never really had much of a chance to be a kid."

"What do you mean?"

Harry winked at the witch and said, "A man should be allowed a secret or two, shouldn't he?"

"I suppose," she found herself retorting in uncommon humor for one who usually holds herself—guardedly—at arm's length from others, "but what does a man have to do with you?"

Harry laughed just as The Hogwarts Express' whistle blew its departure warning; it was now five minutes before the hour.

"Five minutes!" Harry exclaimed, this time sounding like the child he still was; Hermione shared his enthusiasm and had to fight the urge to do a happy dance: it would've ruined the mature façade she was trying to wear.

The final whistle blew and a shudder rippled through the train as it departed King's Cross station and as the wheels turned ever faster the compartment's door slid open; a boy—apparently another first year—stepped inside and looked around.

"Mind if I sit here, mate?" the boy asked and, before being invited, made for the space beside Harry. Rude much, both Harry and Hermione thought—unknowingly at the same time—and considered the boy before them. He was tallish and his hair was a bright and unflattering shade of orangey red. Panting and as ruddy as the numerous freckles scattered across his face, he sat next to Harry. At least he doesn't stink, Harry thought with uncharitable relief as he glanced at Hermione; she sported a little smile that suggested scorn rather than the welcome the newcomer thought it meant.

"Hi, I'm Ron . . . Ron Weasley," the boy said once he had caught his breath; he leaned forward and extended his hand to Hermione.

The young witch looked from the hand to his face; she smiled coolly, limply took the hand and, in an overly polite tone, said, "Charmed."

Harry casually observed the two and noted the witch's less than ecstatic welcome for the boy named Ron Weasley and was a little surprised; she hadn't been like that with him. Why is she so snobby? Harry thought, puzzled by her manner. She wasn't so stuck up a minute ago, I guess she was only interested in Hedwig after all—I should've known no pretty girl would want to sit with me. He mused and was about to withdraw to his usual melancholy self when he caught Hermione's hazel glance, he understood: she was hiding behind the aloof mask of a girl who had extended a hand in friendship only to find it brushed aside or held in the hollow grip of being used too many times. Another thing Harry noticed, which also surprised him was that he felt uncomfortable with the sight of this Ron guy holding Hermione's hand: he had to fight an urge to growl and was relieved when the witch released the hand. The boy settled back on the bench and looked out the window; he hadn't noticed the subtle shadow of distaste on the girl's face: Harry did and he was acutely aware of the flutter he felt when the witchling's hazel orbs turned back to him.

"Going to Hogwarts?" Ron asked redundantly; it looked like he was asking his reflection. "Which house will you be in? I'm certain I'll be in Gryffindor. You two aren't snakes are you?"

"Snakes?" Harry questioned. What's with this guy, he hasn't even bothered to ask for our names and now he's talking about houses and reptiles. Harry thought as he gave Hermione a puzzled glance.

"Slytherin, I suppose," Hermione answered. "Salazar Slytherin's house animal is a snake—I read about it in Hogwarts: A History. Every house has its own animal: Hufflepuff's is a badger, Ravenclaw's is an eagle, Gryffindor's is a lion and—like I said—Slytherin's is a snake. I doubt I'll be in Slytherin, though."

"Why not Slytherin?" Harry asked and he was beginning to wish he had at least glanced his copy of Hogwarts: A History languishing lonely and ignored in his trunk since his first and superficial read through.

"Are you barmy, mate?" Ron snapped. "Snakes are bad, everyone knows that."

"Slytherins are not bad," Hermione retorted sharply, "they're ambitious and cunning; everyone knows that."

"Spoken like a snake, if you ask me," Ron said reproachfully as he eyed Hermione suspiciously; she glowered back.

An uneasy silence oozed into the compartment as Ron crossed his arms and sunk into the bench's padding. He sullenly stared out the window, watching the rapidly passing landscape, and began ignoring Hermione and, by extension, Harry as well. The ignored passengers exchanged glances of unmitigated dislike for the now unwelcome intruder; each could see the other's wish, hoping Ron Weasley would just go away: their hope died when the red head began snoring. Lifting the book from his lap, Harry stood and smiled; Hermione returned the smile, it was warmly inviting. Joining the bushy haired witch on her side of the compartment, the young wizard sat beside her and opened his book; beside him, Hermione rummage through her bag and pulled out a book, together they settled into some quiet reading time.

Time passed and the young witch and wizard found the quiet camaraderie both welcome and rewarding but the continuing presence of their snoring and uninvited companion dampened their opportunity to learn more about each other. In silence, they would exchange discrete smiles, the occasional brush against the other would tint their cheeks with a warm pink and beneath all of it; their magic quietly wove them together

"What are you reading?" Harry whispered to the young witch totally engrossed in the fat tome upon her lap.

With a little embarrassed smile, she held up Hogwarts: A History.

"I've got a copy of that in my trunk," Harry whispered to Hermione.

"Isn't it the bestest book ever?" Hermione replied quietly.

"Bestest?"

Hermione blushed prettily as the young wizard called her on the misuse of the Queen's English.

"I'm sorry," she whispered with embarrassment. "I know 'bestest' isn't a proper word, it's just that . . ."

"Just what?" Harry asked softly in a tone he hoped the witchling would hear as a playful tease.

Good going, Granger, Hermione thought bitterly displeased with herself. I've barely just met Harry and already I've reached confession time and he's way too astute for me to casually change the topic; he'd catch it for sure.

Hermione Granger cleared her throat and whispered, "I was kinda hoping to change how people—you know—see me . . ."

"Why?" Harry was puzzled.

The young witch looked like she was fighting tears but managed to continue, "Back in my old school I was the bushy-haired bucktoothed bookworm know-it-all. No one seemed to like me—except when they wanted to copy my homework or something like that—and they went out of their way to avoid me. Even my teachers didn't like me—even though I could always answer their questions—and even seemed to resent me a little because I didn't need them to teach me. I've been able to read pretty much since I was four and since I loved to read, I'd have already read all my textbooks before school would commence. I was so lonely, my parents were my only friends but that's s not the same—is it? I was so glad when I got my Hogwarts letter and could escape all that but then I got worried that the same thing would happen all over again so I figured I should change. I don't want to be alone anymore, I can't stand it—why can't people just like me for me?"

The last was said so poignantly that Harry felt the tears she refused to cry in his own eyes and so compelled by Hermione's sorrow he did something so out of character that he didn't recognize himself; he put his arms around the girl and awkwardly hugged her. The young witch stiffened in surprise but soon melted into the boy who held her.

"Sssh . . ." Harry whispered, his warm breath intimate against the girl's ear, "it's okay Hermione, I understand—really I do."

"How?" She softly replied and her unshed tears were obvious in her voice. "You're Harry Potter—everybody loves you."

Harry found himself fighting anger that threatened lash out at the young witch in his arms. He pulled back from his uncharacteristic affection but left his hands gently holding her shoulders.

"Hermione Granger look at me and listen," Harry regretted his ire tone but forged on. "I mean it; I understand what it's like when no one likes you."

Hermione lifted her head to look at Harry but her hazel eyes were hidden behind bushy brown hair; hooking his thumb into the concealing tresses, he gently brushed her hair to the side so he could see her face. He smiled in a way he hoped was gentle and reassuring; she seemed receptive and returned a weak smile of her own.

"My aunt, uncle and cousin hate me," Harry forced himself to say. "They call me boy or freak and until my Hogwarts letter arrived, I slept on an old thin mattress in the cupboard under the stairs; my first Hogwarts letter was even addressed 'Harry Potter, the cupboard under the stairs' at my aunt and uncle's house."

The witch gasped in a combination of horror and disbelief; she said, "But that's. . ."

"Let me finish," Harry interrupted, perhaps a little too forcefully by the look on the girl's face but he continued. "When I was in school my cousin and his merry band of idiots enjoyed a sport called 'Harry Hunting' and if another student began to get friendly with me, they shared my fate. Needless to say, it didn't take long before I was treated like the school leper and you know what was even worse: Dudley—that's my cousin—and the Dummies were able to do this with impunity."

Impunity? Hermione thought, briefly trying to distract herself from understanding what the wizardling was telling her. Not a word I'd expect from an eleven year old.

Harry took a deep breath before continuing, "Now, I could've lived with that—after all it wasn't any worse than what happened where I lived—but what really bothered me was the schoolwork. You see, I love to learn and once I could read I did so voraciously and, lucky for me, my cousin and his buddies were allergic to learning and books—or so you might think, anyways—so the school's library was my one safe refuge but even that was bittersweet."

"But what about your schoolwork?" Hermione whispered.

Harry chuckled darkly before beginning anew, "Do you know what it's like to write a test; knowing that you know the answers but having to figure out the most creative way of getting most of them wrong . . . believably?"

What Harry said stunned the witch. Intentionally giving wrong answers? She thought, scandalized and wholly affronted by the very idea. Hermione shook her head.

"That is what school has been like for me so far," Harry stated in tonal absolute.

"But. . . why?"

"It's because of my cousin," the young wizard quantified bitterly. "If I even did as little as to do as well as Dudley dearest—whose brain is the size of a flea's just as his girth is the size of a hippo's—my aunt and uncle would accuse me of copying li'l Dudykins hard efforts and punish me. It didn't matter that our desks were never near the other's—my aunt and uncle knew that too, by the way—there was no way that the 'boy' or 'freak' could be as smart as their most exceptional and socially gifted son; let alone smarter—as was displayed the few times when I failed to fail as spectacularly as my cousin was apt to do."

"How could you stand that?" Hermione exclaimed loud enough to disturb sleeping beauty, whose drool was streaking the window.

"Wha . . .?" The redhead woke with a start and looked around in confusion before saying, accusingly—as if Hermione and Harry had intruded upon him. "You guys still here?"

"Where else would we be?" Hermione answered coolly.

Ron seemed taken aback by the young witch's tone and by the looks he was receiving from the other side of the compartment. Have they been making out? He asked himself as he noticed how close the two were sitting together. She's kinda cute, I guess. He silently added as an afterthought and felt a little jealous of the green-eyed boy.

"Umm . . . sorry about earlier," he said, hopefully sounding sincere. "I didn't get much sleep last night . . . kinda nervous y'know . . . I wasn't thinking right, I guess. How long have I been asleep?"

"A couple hours maybe," Harry answered as Ron casually wiped the drool from the corner of his mouth. Ugh . . . Harry thought with distaste; a glance at Hermione showed that she shared his opinion.

"What's your favorite quidditch team, mate?" The redhead asked Harry, out of the blue.

"I don't follow quidditch," he replied.

"Blimey mate, what do you mean you don't follow quidditch?" Ron exclaimed incredulously. "I mean it's like the bestest sport ever invented."

Harry glanced at Hermione and rolled his eyes; the hazel-eyed witch fought back a snicker. The Weasley boy was oblivious to the exchange and remained enraptured by his feelings for the sport.

"Muggle raised, mate," Harry stated simply.

"Oh," Ron began, "you're muggle born; of course you wouldn't know noth'n 'bout quidditch but let me tell you, mate, there's no betterer sport in the whole world. It's played on brooms, you see . . ."

"I said muggle raised, not born; I know what quidditch is," Harry said, interrupting what promised to be a rambling, long-winded obsessive fan-boy bit of verbiage. "I'm just not interested; I have better things to do with my time."

"Better things . . .?" Ron began, obviously boggled by the boy's disinterest; he switched his sights to Hermione, "What about you? I mean I can't wait till second year and get to play on the Gryffindor House team with my brothers; are you going to try out for your house team next year?"

"I think that's highly improbable and, like Harry; I have more important things to do at school than play some silly sport on a broomstick. Besides, it sounds rather uncomfortable —you know—flying around with a broom wedged between my legs, no thanks, mate, I'll pass," Hermione said with certainty.

Just my luck, I would have to find the one bloody compartment with a pair of quidditch haters inside, Ron thought sourly. Did she call him Harry?

"I'm sorry, I didn't catch your names; did she call you Harry?" Ron asked; looking at the green-eyed boy as a semblance of social grace reared its unfamiliar head—at least for the redhead.

"Yeah, I'm Harry; she's Hermione," the young wizard replied with a nod to the accompanying witch.

"That's great, mate, I'm Ron; how do you . . . oh yeah that's right, I've already told you my name," Ron said, correcting himself. "My li'l sis' friend Loony—I mean Luna—would probably say I'm suffering wrackenspurtz, or something like that, because of my nerves and lack of sleep."

"It's okay, Ron, don't worry about it," Harry soothed.

"What's a wrakenspurtz?" Hermione asked, curiously.

"How the hell should I know, Luna's a touch odd so I usually ignore her," Ron replied with a sardonically amused smile; he noticed the book in Harry's lap and asked, "Whatcha read'n, you two?"

"You mean this?" Harry replied glancing at his book. "It's about physics."

"What's a fizzix?"

"It's an advanced muggle science, Ron, don't you know that?" Hermione replied and instantly regretted her exasperated know-it-all tone; she quickly apologized. "Sorry about my tone; I'm kinda nervous and tired too, I guess. I'm reading Hogwarts: A History."

"Why?" Ron asked.

"Why 'Hogwarts: A History' or why 'reading'?"

"Umm . . . both I guess."

"Well Hogwarts: A History is like the bestest book ever," she glanced at Harry; he rolled his eyes in amusement: Ron didn't notice. "Besides, I like to read; still, speaking of whys: Harry, why are you reading a book about physics when you're wizard about to start his magical education?"

"Science and math were my favorite subjects in my old school—not that I could do well enough for anyone to notice, you know," Harry replied, "but it's because I'm about to start my magical education that I'm reading the physics book."

"How come?" Hermione asked, truly curious; Ron's face was blank.

"I was doing some reading on various magical theories—you know: what magic is and/or why it does what it does—and I didn't like what I read," Harry answered, carefully choosing his words.

"Magical Theory is pretty heady stuff, mate—way beyond NEWT level," Ron said; his tone suggested there was something obviously wrong with Harry. "Why would you want to that to yourself? Hey, do you know how to play Exploding Snap?"

"Where did you get books on Magical Theory, Harry?" Hermione inquired; feeling academically shortchanged. "I couldn't find any in Flourish and Blotts when I was there; I looked all over the store, too."

"I got them from the Gringotts Library," Harry answered.

"Gringotts, as in goblins?" Ron interjected.

"I suppose, anyways . . ." Harry resumed but was interrupted.

". . . I'm going to have to go there next time I'm in Diagon Alley," Hermione enthused before saying, "sorry, I didn't mean to interrupt—that was rude of me."

"Umm . . . unfortunately 'mione . . ."

"Did you just call me Mione?"

"Hmm . . . I guess I just did. Sorry 'bout that; won't happen again."

"It's . . . It's okay Harry, I guess; I don't really mind, it just sorta surprised me, that's all." Hermione said feeling the unfamiliar touch of affection from someone other than family. "You were saying something about Gringotts."

Harry and Hermione briefly gazed at one another, rather intently surprisingly unbeknownst to the young wizard sharing their compartment.

"Oh yeah," Harry resumed, "it won't do you any good Mione; only wizards and goblins employed by Gringotts can use it and even then it highly restrictive. Um . . . I kinda got special dispensation . . ."

". . . Dispenwhatzit?" Ron felt like he was being left out of the conversation even though the young witch and wizard remained inclusive.

". . . Special permission, oh never mind, Ron," Hermione wanted to hear what Harry had to say and was losing patience with the redhead's futile interruptions.

"Like I was saying," Harry resumed; the envious waves, radiating from the witchling, were almost palatable, "I didn't like what I was reading and it made me think."

"What didn't you like, Harry?" Hermione asked.

"Everything I read—and I mean EVERYTHING—was contradictory, subjective, unsubstantiated, un-provable, conjecture and/or anecdotal at best or—more commonly than not—a bizarre combination of them all," Harry replied with obvious frustration. "It was too metaphysical for my liking, too but the occasional abstract references to things like fields, magical packets, waves and what sounded a lot like something Heisenberg would say led me back to muggle science and an odd branch of physics."

"You're talking quantum mechanics aren't you?" Hermione asked, obviously fascinated; Ron was adrift—Mid-Pacific no less—when it came to this conversation.

Harry nodded.

"What are you saying?" Hermione asked; she had an idea based on what the green-eyed wizard had posited but wanted to compare their ideas before saying anything, one way or another.

"That there's no such thing as magic," Harry concluded, he had found this rather ironic after living with the Dursleys for so long: kind of amusing as well. This was not what Hermione had had in mind; it showed on her face.

"Say what!" Ron exclaimed; he might not have understood much of what the barmy witch and wizard had been saying but the last part was as clear as a bell. "How can you say that, mate; you're on a train to a school that teaches what you say doesn't exist and you're a student too."

"Let me explain," Harry replied.

"Please do," Hermione almost begged.

"What we commonly assume to be magic, at least as muggles define it in books and movies and on the tely, is nothing more than the manipulation of the wave mechanics associated with energy strings, fields and states through the use of a control device, which happens to be a wizard's mind and wand," Harry stated.

"I can understand that but does it matter what we call it, the results are the same either way," Hermione countered successfully.

"That's true but my real point is that 'magic' isn't some mystical, supernatural or divinely granted power; it's science—pure and simple, well maybe not simple." Harry clarified. "There exists a real and measurable force that appears to follow specific laws; we just don't know how to measure it yet and the reason so little is known about it is because—from my observations, anyways—witches and wizards have never heard of Aristotle or the scientific method: they assume and don't question the status quo: the how and why are unasked, only results are seen."

"This fascinating and all, mate, but wh'd ya bother?" Ron asked and actually surprised Hermione: it was, after all, a rather lucid question.

"I got sidetracked while reading about The Pureblood Hypothesis and the Greater Good by Grindelwald in a history of magic book I read," Harry replied; Hermione and Ron suddenly paled.

"That's some dark history there, mate, I'd keep it to myself if I were you unless you want people to think you're one of You-Know-Who's followers." Ron almost whispered and thought it was a very good time to look out the window again.

"Did I say something wrong?" Harry asked, feeling the heavy atmosphere now filling the compartment; Ron's attention remained on the rapidly passing landscape and Hermione had become quietly pensive.

Time slowed and silence reigned until the three heard the door sliding open. Their eyes snapped to the intrusion; standing at the threshold was a boy with blonde—almost white—hair and a pale pointy face. Two rather burly boys with small shallow eyes and low foreheads flanked the blonde; prime examples of the meaning of atavistic and seemed to exude an unhealthy devotion to the pallid boy they accompanied.

"I'm looking for Potter," the pale boy pronounced imperiously.

I think I've heard this whiny narcissistic voice somewhere before, Harry thought before snapping his figurative fingers. Madam Malkin's, that's it; he was there the first time I was. Harry took a calculating regard for boy before unkindly thinking: skinny Dudley.

"I'm Harry Potter," Harry replied without standing, intentionally, or extending his hand—he didn't like the pinch-faced brat's tone or bearing; although Ron Weasley's classic double take was highly entertaining when the redhead realized whom he had been sharing the compartment with. Another thing Harry noted was Hermione's guarded and contemplative mien: the young witch is a watcher, clever girl, he thought, respectfully.

With etiquette demanding that he ignore the obvious slight, the boy forged onward with an extended hand, "I'm Draco Malfoy . . ."

Ron snickered and found himself on the receiving end of the blonde boy's ire. The boy named Draco reeled upon the redhead and glowered. Wow, that's one well-practiced scowl—beats Dudley's any day, Harry thought in amusement at the blonde's expense.

"No need to hear your boorish voice," Draco virtually hissed; scorn dripping from every word, "I know what you are—red hair, freckles, shabby second hand third rate clothing and a vacant expression: you're Weasley spawn."

Ron was livid but—thankfully—stunned into inaction.

"I don't recognize you, though," the blonde wizard said as he turned and addressed the witch.

"I'm Hermione Granger," she replied without rising, either; her tone and demeanor almost as pretentious as Draco's; Harry found it educational. She isn't easily cowed, that's for sure; Harry reasoned as he watched the exchange: he felt a little surge of pride, too; she seemed to like him.

"Granger?" Draco repeated thoughtfully, "I don't know any Grangers and I don't recognize your family's name or lineage; Pure-blood?"

"Sorry?" Hermione prompted.

The blonde boy's scowl deepened, "Muggle-born or half-blood?"

"My parents are non-magical, if that's what you're asking," the witch answered, dismissive of the boy's posturing and self-inflated ego.

"Listen Malfoy," Harry interceded, bluntly, drawing the Malfoy boy's attention back on himself, "have you got anything actually useful to say or are you just wasting our time."

"You seem to lack the etiquette required when dealing with your betters, Potter; it seems like I will have to educate you about your proper place and the benefits of House Malfoy's favor," Draco blustered; Harry fought laughter. "The first thing you have to do is associate with the right sort and class of people: muggle, muggle-born and dregs without money or status are not our type; well below our place you should know. If you know what's good for you, Potter, you'd drop these—people," he glowered at the witchling as he emphasized 'people' and twisted the word into a disparaging slight before concluding with, "and join me in my compartment, where you belong."

The blonde's derogatory comments had been funny at first but once he decided to include Hermione in his rant, Harry quickly angered. He narrowed his emerald-green eyes to a penetratingly livid glare; a glare that most people would flee for its implicit power and threat that radiated from the young wizard: Draco Malfoy was not most people. The compartment grew noticeably cooler and the hint of ozone scented the air as Harry's anger continued to manifest to its logical and explosive end.

"Push," Harry hissed: an unseen hand shoved Draco Malfoy's silent companions against the wall behind them.

"Pull," he hissed, again: the same invisible hand grabbed the blonde wizard's, as if by his tie, and dragged him harshly into the compartment.

"Close," the emerald-eyed youth commanded in a menacing whisper: the compartment's door slammed shut separating Draco from his menacing looking associates, now pounding on the door they could not open.

Bereft of allies the unpleasant boy found himself facing a very angry Harry Potter; terrified, he almost voided his bladder when he felt strong fingers grip his throat. He felt the door push against his back and himself being lifted to his toes and, once the initial fog of fear cleared, saw cold emerald-eyes, as hard as gemstones, glaring at him and the business end of a wand aimed at his head. Utterly stunned—as were Hermione and Ron, too—Draco had neither seen Harry rise from his seat nor cross the distance between them; effortlessly, he held Malfoy pinned and helpless against the door.

"My betters," Harry didn't yell, he didn't need to, and his quietly menacing tone chilled the boy—whose face was no more than a foot from Harry's—to his very core. "Tell me, Malfoy, are you exceptionally foolish or just plain dumb? Have you got any idea who or what I am? Now take my advice—you brainlessly pretentious wag—forget everything you think you know about me and all that Boy-Who-Lived crap and listen: I'm Harry James—frigging—Potter; I am an emancipated minor and Lord of the Noble and Most Ancient House of Potter. Furthermore, if that doesn't impress or educate you, try this: My betters indeed," Harry scoffed, "I could buy three generations of your family out of vault interest—wouldn't miss the galleons, either—if I thought it would humor me. Now remove yourself from my presence, Draco Malfoy, before I lose what little patience I have left and take your goons with you; they're presence is littering the corridor beyond my door."

With that, Harry released his hold on Draco's throat and the door at the blonde's back; almost instantly, the exit flew open, submitting at last to the efforts of Malfoy's lackeys and the young wizard stumbled into his cronies. Together, they almost fell from the sudden and unexpected impact but they ungracefully stayed on their feet; Malfoy's glare—full of fear and loathing, well mostly fear—remained riveted by the cold flames, dancing in Harry's emerald-green eyes, until he found the strength to finally look away.

"Crabbe, Goyle," Draco turned and addressed his minions, with a sneer, "let's go; me and Potter have an accord. Besides, being so close to rabble and filth has left me feeling unclean."

Harry watched, highly amused by Malfoy's hasty retreat with his buddies—who needed to scurry to keep up with their boss—and thought he heard Draco mumble something sounding like 'wait until my father hears about this' or some other such nonsense. Harry didn't care one way or another; he turned the less than pleasant encounter over a couple of times in contemplation before thinking: Accord? I think that was more impasse than accord but what do I know; Malfoy's my better, after all. Harry mentally smirked as he turned from the door and towards the awkward questions that waited for him in the compartment; the first thing he noticed, as he closed the door behind him, was Ron Weasley's open mouthed gape.

"Blimey mate," the red-head exclaimed once he found his voice, "just 'ow rich are you? Three bloody generations out of interest that's frigging amazing—le'me tell you! And are you really that Potter, y'know the Boy-Who-Lived and all?"

Harry tried not to roll his eyes, when Ron uttered his infamous and unwelcome moniker, but failed; he answered the redhead, "I didn't say how many years of interest, now did I, eh?"

Harry glanced at Hermione and winked; she appeared to be deep in thought and didn't really notice when he return to his former place and sat beside her again.

Hermione caught Harry's wink but her mind was busily spinning questions that defied logic and quantifiable answers; it was highly unsettling for the extremely rational young witch. Did we even see the same thing? Hermione thought as she glanced at Ron before looking back at Harry. Weasley's going on about how rich Harry is—is that all he thinks is important? Is he just ignoring it or is he completely oblivious to that unbelievable display of wandless magic we just witnessed? She silently questioned; then mentally gushed. Oh my god—it felt like Harry's magic filled the compartment, its very essence caressing my body. I felt my own magic eager and hungrily reach for him; wanting only to be enfolded in his arms, embraced and swallowed by his very being. Hermione undeniably reasoned as her magic tugged her towards Harry and her body responded in kind. Flabbergasted and embarrassed, she felt the burgeoning stirrings of what it meant to be a woman and a salacious tingle in her budding maturity; on top of it all, the young Miss Granger had a most unladylike thought: My knickers have gotten really, really uncomfortable.

"Mione, are you feeling okay?" Harry asked with concern; the witch seemed discomforted and distracted.

Hermione flinched a little, peeked at Harry and then looked at the floor before answering, almost breathlessly, "I-I'm okay, just—you know—kind of lost in thought for a moment there; that's all."

Clueless, boy and only eleven; Harry Potter put his concerns to voice and said, "Are you sure, Mione? Your face is flushed and your pupils look dilated: have you got asthma or something, you're breathing kinda funny too."

Hermione intently studied the floor as her cheeks burned and stubbornly refused look at Harry: she shook her head in denial and meekly replied, "No, I don't have asthma or anything; I'm fine, Harry—really I am—don't worry about me, okay."

Harry wasn't convinced but Ron and his not too subtle insensitivity blurted out "Must be a girl thing or something, Harry, my sister's barmy like this sometimes; it'll go away in its own time, trust me mate. Anyways, I'm gonna go find the loo; I haft'ta take a whizz."

"Um . . . thanks mate, like we really needed to hear that," Harry said with appalled and unkind sarcasm.

Ron blanched, remembered Hermione was a girl and stammered, "s-s-sorry 'b-b-out that."

The redhead fled humiliated and hurriedly from the compartment in search of a washroom. Harry and Hermione were, thankfully, alone again.

"I hope Weasley and that Malfoy guy aren't the typical magic kids we'll be meeting at Hogwarts," Harry quipped and Hermione tittered, "their manners and pretensions would drive me batty in no time."

"Tell me about it," Hermione agreed, once again able to look at the handsome young wizard without blushing. I wish those dammed fluttering butterflies would go away now, thank you, she thought before mustering the courage to ask, "Harry, where did you learn the wandless magic you used on Malfoy, it was amazing; kinda scary too."

"Sorry, I didn't mean to frighten you," Harry said soft and reassuringly, "that pinch faced flaxen haired git got me so mad; it wouldn't have happened if he'd just insulted me—I don't care what he, or anyone for that matter, thinks of me, that's their problem not mine—but when he included you in his miserable little bigoted rant: well, I'm not going to cower or idly stand by when someone insults or bullies my friend."

"You consider me your friend?" Hermione said poignantly wishful.

"Um, I guess . . . if that's alright with you," Harry answered similarly poignant and wishful, too. "Do you want to be my friend?"

"I'd like that very much, Harry, thank you," she replied coyly.

"I don't think you have to thank me for that, Hermione; I'm honored to be your friend, but you're welcome, all the same."

The bushy-haired witchling and green-eyed wizardling shared shy smiles and cherry blossom cheeks; a chaste handshake, which began with a static-like shock that leapt between damp pubescent palms, closed the deal.

"Harry," Hermione began as she reluctantly released her new and first friend's hand, "I still want to learn how and where you learned that bit of magic you used on Malfoy."

"I spent a lot of quality time at Gringotts during August, after I found out about my inheritance," Harry answered. "The goblins were very helpful; they taught me lots about stuff I should and must know."