Disclaimer: I still do not own Harry Potter.

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Harry sat staring into space as name after name was announced and the Sorting continued, but his thoughts were now far from what was going on around him. He felt as though everything was spinning out of his control, and he kept making decisions that he never would have even thought possible five minutes earlier. Sitting beside him was someone who, on instinct, he had instantly developed an intolerance for, but yet, in a moment when he had felt truly desperate and vulnerable, he had gone and done the last thing he would have ever expected to do: he had shaken Draco Malfoy's hand.

What had made him do it? he pondered as McGonagall's voice rang through the Great Hall. "Weasley, Ronald!" She called out, and Harry felt a jolt go through his body as Ron walked up to the stool and placed the hat on his head. It seemed like only seconds passed before the hat's decision echoed through the hall, "GRYFFINDOR!" As the red-and-gold table erupted in cheers, Harry felt a spike of envy shoot through him. God, he wished his own life were that easy.

Oh, stop your pity party, Harry thought to himself, and his inner voice sounded like that of Aunt Petunia. Life isn't fair, and you'd better get used to it, you stupid boy. With an effort of Herculean proportions, he brought his focus back to his previous train of thought as he saw Draco still smirking at him.

Indeed, what had brought him to shake the hand of a boy who reminded him so much of his spoiled, pampered cousin? Within the past ten years, Harry had absolutely no positive memories of Dudley. He had caused him nothing but torment and misery, and had always gotten his own way no matter how outlandish his temper tantrums were. From the moment Harry had met Draco, his attitude rubbed him entirely the wrong way, especially when he had made the comment about "bullying" his father into buying him a broomstick. Lines like that had come out of Dudley's mouth more times than Harry could count, and they were burned into his memory.

As "Zabini, Blaise!" was Sorted into Slytherin and walked over to the table, Harry drew the only conclusion he could possibly come to, and he was disgusted with himself for it. Without conscious thought, his eyes wandered to the Gryffindor table where Ron Weasley was being greeted heartily by his three brothers, and with a heavy heart, he knew that was partly the reason. It went back to the thoughts that had flooded his mind during his Sorting: he was sick of being snubbed, sick of the jibes and taunts, sick of no one wanting to be his friend. As much as Malfoy's smirk grated on every last nerve, he was at least interested in him. And even though Harry suspected it wasn't for the right reasons that Draco wanted to befriend him, at least it was something. Harry wanted to be seen as strong, for a change, and it had been pure desperation that drove Harry to shake Malfoy's hand.

But he was already regretting that decision, because the look of triumph would not leave Draco's face. Harry's gaze fell to the tabletop, because he couldn't stand looking into that arrogant, aristocratic face any longer. He tried to pay attention to the activity around him. Headmaster Dumbledore was up at the front of the room, speaking to the entirety of Hogwarts.

"Nitwit, blubber, oddment, tweak!" he ended with a flourish, and with that, platters of every kind of food imaginable suddenly appeared on the tables. At this display of pure magic, Harry's eyes widened, and temporarily, all the negative emotion he was feeling vanished, to be replaced by awe and wonder.

"Goodness, Potter, it's only magic," sneered a girl who was sitting across from him. "You're really making a spectacle of yourself. Close your mouth, and eat your food like a proper wizard."

"Lay off him, Pansy," another girl snapped from next to her. Harry looked over at her, and he noticed that this girl's expression looked a lot more welcoming. She had brown hair and blue eyes, and was looking at him with true curiosity. "Sorry about her," she said, smiling. "My name's Daphne Greengrass. Nice to meet you."

Harry's spirits seemed to lighten a little more as he smiled a true smile for the first time since Professor McGonagall had called his name to be Sorted. "Nice to meet you too, Daphne," he said.

Harry then began piling food onto his plate, doing the best he could to ignore Pansy as she and Daphne exchanged snide remarks with each other. His stomach grumbled, and as he tucked in, the awe he felt only increased. This was truly the best meal he'd ever eaten in his entire life, sumptuous and full of flavor. Students chattered around him, and some attempted to involve him in a conversation.

As questions were asked of him, he tried to put his observation skills into action. When some students asked questions, they had a speculative gleam in their eyes which made alarm bells go off in his head, but some others seemed very genuine in their curiosity about him. Tracey Davis, a girl who had been engrossed in a discussion with Daphne, appeared to be very friendly, too.

"So, Potter," she said brightly, her brown eyes shining as she gazed at him. "When the food arrived, it looked like you hadn't seen much magic before. Who did you grow up with after ... after, well, you know," she concluded lamely, seeming to be uncomfortable finishing the statement.

It was then that many separate discussions stopped, and to Harry, it felt like he was surrounded by a sea of hungry eyes, all desiring to know the answer to this question like it was a puzzle they wanted to solve. The tension thickened around him, and his stomach knotted. Visions of the Dursleys ran through his mind, and he didn't want to answer the question. But it had been Tracey who had asked, Tracey who hadn't done it in a rude manner; she was genuinely curious.

Making another decision he knew he might regret later, but vowing not to say too much, he answered simply, "I live with my aunt and uncle. They're my mum's sister and brother-in-law, and they're Muggles." He still found the word odd to say, no matter how many times he saw it in his wizarding textbooks.

The reaction was instantaneous, and Harry was not at all surprised that the first response was from Draco. His face twisted in disgust as comprehension dawned in his gray eyes, and Harry thought the expression on his face was truly ugly. "NO WONDER you didn't know anything when we talked in Madam Malkin's," he sneered, his voice loud and venomous. Crabbe and Goyle, two goons who appeared to agree with everything Draco said, cracked their knuckles and grunted in agreement, another uncanny resemblance to the bullies who followed Dudley. "Merlin help us all, you live with FILTHY MUGGLES? That's .. that's ..."

"Diabolical?" Piped up Blaise Zabini, looking as though the universe had spun off of its axis and the sun rose in the west and set in the east. "You'll have a lot to learn."

"Yeah, Muggles know nothing," Pansy said, a scowl marring her face. "I'm so sorry you had to grow up like that." Harry stared at her; she truly sounded genuine when saying that, and it sent a jolt of alarm through him. Pansy actually felt sorry for him, and looking at the faces of others at the table, Harry's stomach flipped over. He should have never said anything; the reaction was worse than he had expected. As much as he hated the Dursleys, some of his peers were acting like Muggles were a waste of space, which was exactly how the Dursleys treated him.

"Muggles know lots of things," Harry said impulsively, unable to stand the scrutiny of those around him any longer. "Why are you talking about them like that?"

"Are you serious?" Draco gaped at him, his voice incredulous. His face cycled through several emotions before settling on complete derision. "Blaise is right," he said with the air of someone who possessed an infinite amount of wisdom and was kind enough to share it with someone much lower down on the food chain than himself. "You have an awful, awful lot to learn. And don't worry," he added, his smirk returning full-force. "I'll teach you."

"Me too," chimed Pansy, giving Draco an encouraging smile. Harry's stomach turned at this display, and he went back to his food, vowing to ignore any more discussion and questions about him.

The rest of the meal passed slowly, and true to his word, Harry didn't partake in any more talk, not even to Daphne and Tracey, who hadn't joined in with any of the derisive and derogatory comments about Muggles. Neither had Millicent Bulstrode or Theodore Nott, for that matter; neither one said much of anything. But despite the fact that they didn't participate in all of that, all Harry wanted was to finish his dinner in peace. Finally, the others stopped trying to talk to him, and focused on their own meals, but they kept shooting him looks, which Harry did his best to pretend weren't leveled at him.

Finally, after what seemed like an age, Albus Dumbledore got up to speak again. By this time, Harry was pleasantly full; the treacle tart he'd eaten for dessert was truly delightful. He was also starting to feel exhausted; the events of the day were catching up to him, and he wanted nothing more than to slip into blissful oblivion and switch his mind off.

He tried to focus on Dumbledore's speech as it echoed around him, and as he listened, one phrase snapped him to attention. "I must tell you that this year, the third-floor corridor on the right-hand side is out of bounds to anyone who does not wish to die a very painful death," he said, with gravity in his voice.

Harry's eyes widened again at this very offhand statement, and they swiveled around the hall, extremely curious as to the school's reactions. Many, like himself, were gawking at the Headmaster, and some, especially at his table, were scowling and looking at him like he was stark raving bonkers. However, at the Gryffindor table, some were grinning like it was a joke, most notably the Weasley twins. Harry then turned his attention to the staff table, and saw some of the teachers giving Dumbledore reproachful looks as to say, why are you treating this like it's funny? One of them, who was dressed in black, was glowering at the Headmaster. He then moved his gaze to Harry, as if he had known the boy was looking at him, and his face seemed to tighten. Harry's heart jumped as the man's black eyes met his own, and his expression showed pure hate as their gazes locked. It reminded Harry of the way Uncle Vernon looked at him, and he couldn't bear it. He had no idea why, but this man truly hated him.

Violently shoving the thought out of his mind, Harry continued his perusal of the staff table. A man with an absurd turban on his head sat next to the one all in black. Harry almost met his gaze, but at the last second, the man looked away, unable to meet his eyes. A flame of annoyance erupted inside him; why couldn't people act normal around him? His stomach lurched when his eyes fell upon Hagrid, who was listening avidly to every word Dumbledore said, and unable to think about his reaction to Harry's Sorting without feeling hurt, he quickly looked away.

As Dumbledore's speech finally drew to a close and he wished everyone good night, Harry's thoughts still revolved around the incredibly strange statement about the third-floor corridor, and he didn't like the conclusion he drew. It's like he's daring us to go there, he realized as chairs scraped along the floor, signaling that his classmates were getting up. He remembered the Weasley twins' reaction, and knew that many children his age thrived on adventure. Dumbledore had phrased it in such a way as to make the students curious, and Harry, never having had much of that in his life, was not immune to the niggling curiosity. But as he recalled the looks many of the staff had given Dumbledore, he vowed that he wouldn't be tempted. He wouldn't give in and land himself in trouble. He would not jeopardize his place in this new world.

"First years! First year Slytherins, follow me!" bellowed a tall, burly boy who looked extremely intimidating. "Slytherin common room, this way! No dawdling!"

At this, Harry and his peers straightened, and hurried to fall into step with the boy. He had a badge on his robes with a large P on it, and so did the girl who walked next to him.

"They're called Prefects, Potter," Draco sneered at him as he caught him staring. "My, my, you are slow."

Harry scowled back at him, struggling not to make his own snide comment as the group began to walk away from the Great Hall.

And as Harry, along with his new pseudo-family, were frog-marched away, the most prevalent thought floating through Harry's mind was this: What on Earth have I gotten myself into? !