Dumbledore, up in his office sucking a lemon drop and contemplating the coming school year, started when a silvery seagull patronus flew in through the window.
"We arrived at King's Cross at 10:30 and waited until the last possible minute to cross through so that my brood could board the train," the seagull said in Molly Weasley's grating voice. "I saw no sign of Harry Potter."
No sign of Harry Potter? What could possibly have happened? Dumbledore got to his feet and called for Fawkes. "I fear something may have happened to young Harry," he said to the bird. "Will you bring me to his home, so that I can make sure nothing kept him from the train?"
Fawkes gave a trill and presented his tail feathers. Dumbledore grabbed hold and they flamed out. Ten minutes later, they returned, a worried look on the headmaster's face.
Severus Snape was waiting in his office when he returned. "Is something wrong, Headmaster?" he asked.
"I, ah, asked a friend to keep an eye out for young Harry at the station, just to be sure he made it onto the platform, you know," Dumbledore said. "I received a message that they never saw him – but when I checked, his house was empty."
Severus managed to avoid rolling his eyes. "Sir, Petunia Evans is a muggle. It is barely 11:30 now, and whilst my knowledge of the muggle world is limited at best, even I am aware that it takes a muggle far longer than half an hour to drive from King's Cross in London to Little Whinging, Surrey. And that assumes she doesn't take time to run errands in London as long as she's there anyway. She may have dropped the brat off early, or perhaps if she somehow learned how well-known he is, she may have disguised him in some way, to allow him onto the platform without undue fuss."
"Oh… you're right, my boy, I neglected to account for the time necessary for muggle transportation," Dumbledore admitted. "Perhaps I'm worrying over nothing."
"Personally, I'd not worry until he didn't appear for his Sorting," Severus said carefully. "However, if you are that concerned, I can pay a visit to Petunia in a few hours. Even if she does have business in London, she still ought to be home well before the train arrives here."
"Yes, well, as I said, perhaps I'm merely worrying at shadows," Dumbledore said. "Petunia did, after all, remember enough from Lily's Hogwarts days to bring the lad to Diagon Alley, after all. I suppose I should simply wait for him to arrive at the Sorting Feast with the rest of the incoming First Years." He shook his head and then asked, "Was there something you needed, Severus, since you were up here waiting for me?"
"Minerva merely asked me to pass along that Quirinus finished getting his contribution to your little obstacle course into place this morning, as she had some last-moment correspondence to handle," Severus told the old man. "Nothing more. The gargoyle had been left open, so I naturally assumed you were here and welcoming company."
"I see," Dumbledore said. "That was rather careless of me, wasn't it? Fortunately, none of the students are here yet. I wouldn't have wanted one of them to wander in while I wasn't here."
"Indeed," Severus said dryly. "Well, if you'll excuse me, Headmaster, I was on my way to check with Poppy that she has all the calming draughts and stomach soothers she thinks she'll need for after the feast tonight."
"Of course, of course, my boy," Dumbledore said with a twinkle. "I'll see you at the feast, then."
Severus inclined his head respectfully and swept out of the office, robes billowing behind him.
As the potions master left, Dumbledore looked at Fawkes and commented, "I always wonder how he gets his robes to do that!" As an afterthought, he conjured his own patronus with a message for Molly Weasley. "It's been pointed out that since young Harry's aunt remembered enough to get him to Diagon Alley, she may have also been able to tell the boy how to get to the platform. I'm sure young Ronald will make friends with him aboard the train." The silvery goat galloped off and Dumbledore popped another lemon drop into his mouth.
Harry made his way into the compartment with Dean, Draco, Hermione, and Sophie to gasps from the two girls and Dean.
"Harry… your hair… how… what?" Hermione stammered.
He grinned. "Well, you know I'm not muggleborn, even if I was muggle raised. I'm what's known as a metamorphmagus, I can change aspects of my looks. Unfortunately, the talent is kind of… emotion affects it, and sometimes like today, when I'm really excited for something, it gets a little out of control and my hair changes colours all on its own. The brown hair and eyes you've seen me with before, that's not how I really look. Stephen kept a glamour spell on me, so that my hair wouldn't visibly change in the middle of school or something."
"What do you really look like, then?" Hermione asked.
"Black hair and green eyes," Harry said. "Otherwise, this is me, size and shape and all that. But I can do some silly things if I want. Like Dumbo ears." He concentrated for a moment, and his ears grew to nearly the size of his head and flapped. Everyone cracked up laughing as Harry shrunk his ears back to normal again.
"That's brilliant," Dean said. "Could I learn to do it?"
Draco shook his head. "Afraid not, Dean, that's something that either you're born with the talent or you're not. There are a few other talents like that, the Sight, for example, that you either have or you don't. It's just that metamorphmagus talent is a really obvious one. And it's got its downsides, too. A cousin of mine is one, and she's about given up on finding someone who wants to date her for herself, because pretty much everyone she's ever dated has asked her to look like someone else, a film star they fancy or something like that."
"I don't blame her for getting discouraged," Harry said. "I certainly wouldn't want to be out on a date and have her ask me to make myself look like the singer from Duran Duran or something."
"Could you really do that?" Sophie asked. "I'm not asking you to do it," she added hastily. "I just can't imagine that someone could really do that, you know?"
Harry smiled. "I'm still learning, but in theory I could. Well, I'd be a me-sized version, everything I've read up on concerning the talent says that while I can eventually learn to change my size as well as looks, it could screw up my growth if I try to do so before I'm at least sixteen if not eighteen." He grinned and said, "Tell you what, if you've a picture of someone, I can try to match it, just to see how well I do."
Sophie blushed but pulled out a teen music magazine and flipped to an article about Def Leppard. "I always admired how Rick Allen figured out how to drum with his left foot after he lost his arm back when we were little sprogs," she said. "I'm definitely not asking you to make your arm vanish, but would you do him from the neck up?"
"I'll give it a try," Harry said, studying the picture of the drummer's face. His eyes turned hazel, then his hair curled and slowly turned to that shade between dark blond and light brown. Then his face changed shape, growing broader and his chin more round, then a dimple appeared in his cheek. "What do you think?" he asked.
"That's… wow," Sophie said. "It's not quite a perfect match, but for a first try and working off a picture, it's brilliant!"
Harry relaxed his concentration, and his features went back to normal, including his black hair. "Let's see how long my hair stays this way," he laughed.
Draco grinned. "Dean, Harry, will you come meet Vince Crabbe and Greg Goyle? Their fathers work for mine, so I asked them to sit next door and hold that compartment for us as well. We can make five more friends and still have space for us all between the two compartments. Then I can bring them here to meet you ladies, while Dean and Harry hold that compartment."
Everyone agreed and the three boys made their way over for the introductions, then Draco brought Vince and Greg over to meet the girls. Harry peeked out into the corridor and spotted someone he recognised from a photograph he'd seen. "Excuse me, Miss Bones?" he called.
The strawberry blond girl and her golden blond companion paused. "Erm, have we met?" Susan Bones asked, looking puzzled.
Harry smiled and gave her a bow. "We have not, but I've spoken with your aunt at the Ministry and I saw your picture on her desk. We've got a couple of compartments here, and so far, there's five boys but only two girls. Would you and your friend care to join us, so that Sophie and Hermione aren't so outnumbered?"
The two girls giggled and looked at each other. "All right, but I promised Auntie that I'd look for Neville Longbottom, as his grandmother hasn't let him meet too many people and he's a bit shy," Susan said. "How about we come in and meet everyone, then I can go look for Neville and bring him here too?"
"That sounds brilliant, actually, I've wanted to meet Neville myself," Harry said. "If you'll come inside, ladies?" He held the door open with an exaggerated bow and sweeping gesture of his arm.
Dean stood up and bowed awkwardly as two unfamiliar girls stepped in. "Um, hi, I, uh, I'm Dean Thomas," he said with a nervous smile.
The girls curtsied in return. "It's a pleasure meeting you, Mister Thomas," Susan said. "I'm Susan Bones, and this is Hannah Abbott.
"And I'm Harry Potter," Harry said casually, causing both girls to whip around to stare at him.
"You… but… I thought… you don't… where's your scar?" they babbled.
"Gone," Harry said. "The Unspeakables cleansed it of dark magic, and then Healer Jason Abbott got rid of it."
Hannah's jaw dropped. "Jason healed you? Oooh, I'm going to kill him! He told me I'd get a big surprise when I met my yearmates, but he never even hinted…" She shook her head, muttering unflattering things about Jason's habits and intelligence, to giggles from Susan.
"Auntie said something similar to me," the strawberry blond girl confessed. "A pleasure meeting you as well, Mister Potter.
"The pleasure is all mine, Miss Bones and Miss Abbott," Harry said. "And please, call me Harry." He grinned and added, "The less I can use my last name, at least until the sorting, the happier I'll be."
Both girls giggled again and said to call them Hannah and Susan. Vince and Greg returned to the compartment and sat with Dean while Harry brought the girls to the next compartment and introduced them to Hermione and Sophie. Hannah, Susan, and Draco had met before but didn't know each other well, as their families didn't usually socialise. Susan left to find Neville Longbottom and soon returned with him and Daphne Greengrass and Tracey Davis as well.
Introductions were made between everyone in the two compartments and then Daphne made everyone laugh when she said to Draco, "I don't know whether to kill you or kiss you… thanks to your mother going to that muggle pregnancy healer, my mother went there as well. As if Astoria wasn't enough to put up with! I don't even know whether to hope the new baby is a girl so I can stay heiress, or to hope it's a boy so I don't have to marry someone willing to take the Greengrass name."
Draco held up his hands. "I'm not the one who sent my mother to the pregnancy healer! Don't blame me!"
Meanwhile Harry tried to set the shy Neville at ease. "Did you know we ought to have grown up together?" he asked. "I found out that my mum was your godmother, and your mum is mine."
"Really?" Neville asked. "I didn't know… Grandmother doesn't talk much about the past, except to tell me that I better work hard so as not to be a disappointment. She wants me to be an auror like my father was."
Harry shook his head a little. "But what if you don't want to be an auror? You shouldn't take on a career you don't like, just to please someone else. You're the one who has to live with your life, after all."
Neville shrugged a little. "I think Grandmother already thinks I'm a disappointment. The family thought I was a squib for the longest time. When I finally did show magic, that's the first time I saw her happy with me. She gave me my father's wand, to help me be more like him, she said. But I haven't been able to do much."
"Mr. Ollivander said you'll never get the best results with someone else's wand," Hermione put in. "The wand chooses the witch or wizard, that's what he told me and Sophie and Dean. Watch." She lifted her wand and incanted, "Lumos!" and the tip of the wand lit with a bright light. "Nox," she said, putting it out once again. "May I use yours, Dean?"
"Sure," he said, passing his wand over.
Hermione lifted Dean's wand and said, "Lumos!" once more. His wand lit, but with a feeble, flickering glow. "Nox," she said once again and the light winked out immediately. She handed Dean his wand back and shook her head. "I had to sort of fight it, to get Dean's wand to work. I could feel it, I had to sort of push my magic to get a result."
"You mean I shouldn't have to push my magic to make it work?" Neville asked. "I haven't got a better result for a lumos than you did with Dean's wand, using my father's wand, and I have to push my magic so hard it sort of hurts my head sometimes."
Daphne looked over and shook her head. "Of course you're not supposed to have to push your magic like that," she said. "If you have to push it hard enough to get a headache, and you still have trouble with a lumos, the wand is a very bad match for you. Here, try it with mine," sh offered, holding her wand out towards Neville, handle first.
Neville took the wand and then took a deep breath. "Lumos!" he said… and blinked spots from his eyes as the wand lit up almost as brightly as Hermione's result with her own wand. "I… wow… nox!" he added hastily, extinguishing the light once again. He stared at Daphne's wand in his hand. "That was… I didn't have to push nearly as hard as with my father's wand, and I did so much better," he said.
Daphne took her wand back. "Obviously, your father's wand isn't a good match for you," she said primly.
Draco nodded his agreement. "Once you're sorted, Neville, tell your head of house about this. You need your own wand, not a legacy wand, if you're going to do your best at Hogwarts. Your grandmother is a, uh, formidable woman and means well, my father says, but if she really thinks you'll be a better wizard using a wand that doesn't fit you just because it's your father's, she's a fool."
"I'll definitely talk to my head of house," Neville said with a nod. He started to say something else when the door to the compartment banged open. "Oi! They said Harry Potter is in here… I'm his best friend, and Death Eater wannabes shouldn't be in his compartment, so bugger off, Malfoy! Make room for me," said a voice belonging to a red-haired boy in mended robes, with a smudge of dirt on his nose.
"And just who might you be?" Hermione asked frostily.
"Huh? Oh, I'm Ron," said the boy, focusing on Harry, whose hair was currently black. "What're you hanging about with Malfoy and girls for anyway? Give 'em the boot, mate, and when the sweets trolley comes, we can have a feast!"
"Why do you assume I'm Harry Potter, anyway?" Harry asked. "I mean, if I was him, and you're really my best friend, don't you think I'd recognise you? I certainly don't have a clue who you are, Mister Ron, so either I'm not Harry Potter, or you're a liar."
"Y'got black hair and green eyes," Ron said. "And Mum said I'm to be best friends with you, Harry, to keep you from making friends with the wrong sort, like Malfoy there." His eye fell on Neville and he shrugged. "Longbottom can stay, I suppose," he said. "He's a squib, but at least he's from a decent family, even if he is in here with the junior Death Eater. Seriously, Harry, you don't want to hang about with Malfoy and his lot."
Harry concentrated for a moment and his features changed into the close approximation of Rick Allen he'd done for the laughs earlier at Sophie's request. "Do I have black hair and green eyes?" he asked.
"Bloody hell!" Ron said.
"Language!" Hermione snapped.
"It does behoove one to keep a civil tongue while in the presence of ladies," Daphne added.
Ron looked bewildered. "Behoove? I don't have hooves, I'm not a centaur," he said. "What are you on about?"
Harry turned his hair apple green and his eyes silver, reverting to his own features aside from colouring. "They're telling you to be polite," he said, "since you're being awfully rude. I mean, you barged in here without even knocking, and tried to get someone to leave to make room for you as soon as you saw we're full here. Then you declare you're Harry Potter's best friend, while apparently uncertain what he even looks like, and then you use rude language in front of girls."
"But… but…" Ron protested.
"Quite frankly," Harry went on, "whether or not I am Harry Potter is irrelevant, because I am in no way inclined to be friends with you. Now, off you get." He shut the compartment door again, gently enough to not actually smack the redhead with it but using it to nudge the boy fully into the corridor.
"What an idiot!" Hermione said, shaking her head. "Honestly, how could he possibly think anyone would want to be friends with someone who acts like that?"
"I have no idea," Harry said, shaking his own head. "I know some people are likely to try to befriend me just because of my name, but that had to be the most inept attempt I could even imagine."
Dean shrugged. "I wouldn't worry about him. We're all aware now that he's a moron, so we all know to avoid him. And we can warn everyone next door as well, although I bet they already know."
Daphne gave a soft giggle, saying, "Oooh, I like that… moron… MoRon! What a perfect name for him!"
The sweets trolley came by and everyone – even Hermione – bought a few treats. Harry, Hermione, Sophie, and Dean attempted to explain footie to the wizard-raised kids, who returned the favour by attempting to explain quidditch. When Draco said they were about half an hour from Hogsmeade, they split up by gender into their two compartments so they could all change into their school robes.
A voice announced, "Five minutes to Hogsmeade. Please leave your luggage when you exit the train; it will be taken to the castle separately."
The group of twelve stuck together as they exited the train, with Vince and Greg, the two largest of the group, standing at the bottom of the steps to assist the girls off. Daphne, Tracey, Susan, and Hannah seemed to expect this, while Hermione and Sophie blushed and giggled a little even as they thanked the pair.
"Firs' Years, this way," a loud voice called. Turning, they saw a huge man with a wild black beard and hair, dressed in an oddly-patched leather coat, swinging a lantern. They followed several other first year students over to the man, who continued to call until all the other students vanished in a different direction. "Right, then, follow me down ta the boats, an' ye'll get yer first look at Hogwarts in a minnit," he said, holding his lantern high and starting down a rather steep path.
Moving carefully down the path in the near-darkness, Harry couldn't help but wonder why they couldn't have put up some lanterns at intervals, to make the descent marginally safer. They came out at a little beach, with a fleet of small boats half in the water and half on the ground.
"No more'n four in a boat," the giant man told them.
Tracey grinned a bit. "Looks like Daphne and I are the smallest, so we ought to go with Greg and Vince," she suggested. "Keep the weight a bit more even and all that."
The two large boys nodded their agreement and handed the girls into a boat before climbing in behind them. Dean and Neville happened to be next to Susan and Hannah, so they followed suit, then Draco and Harry assisted Sophie and Hermione. Then came a small delay caused by the redhead they all thought of as MoRon, who insisted he was supposed to ride with his mate Harry Potter, but couldn't positively identify his supposed best friend when asked. The giant man, who had a boat all to himself, finally told the boy to just get in whichever boat had room for him. Once everyone got settled, the huge man tapped a pink umbrella on the stern of his boat and shouted, "Forward!"
The little fleet propelled itself out into the lake and around a promontory, and a collective, "Oooh!" arose from the throats of the first years as they got their first glimpse of the castle which would be their home for the next seven years, silhouetted against the fading colours of the sunset, with windows glowing warmly as if to welcome them.