Harry Potter, Squatter

By Enterprise1701_d

Chapter 53

Harry emerged from the fire, dragging his wheelie bag behind him. Nemmy, being the lazy sort, had draped himself on top of said bag and was now riding it as if it were an old-fashioned open sedan chair.

Promethea alighted from his shoulder the moment he had stepped through, and perched herself on top of one of the light posts, looking partly offended at the mode of travel.

Platform nine and three quarters was calm, but not deserted. Despite it being 45 minutes until departure time, there were already people present. He looked to one side, where a wrought-iron gateway stood adjacent to a solid brick wall, inscribed with the words 'Platform Nine and Three-quarters'.

He stepped onto the platform proper, still dragging his wheeled suitcase, and stopped.

The famed 'Hogwarts Express', the train that his mother had described in her letters and his father had talked about yesterday evening… was a steam train.

A fact neither saw fit to mention, apparently.

He ignored the train carriages and instead went to the engine. It was painted bright red, had lots of complex engineering that was on complete display, and belched clouds of steam.

In other words, it made the little boy in Harry jump up and down and go 'it's a steam train! It's a steam train!'.

"That is not something one sees every day," a boy said, stopping next to Harry to admire the engine.

"Brilliant, isn't it?" Harry said, before turning to the newcomer and sticking his hand out. "I'm Harry."

The boy grinned, and shook the hand. "Justin Finch-Fletchly, at your service," he said with a tiny smile, as if he were playing up being posh.

Harry grinned back. "Nice to meet you," he said.

"Here now, a steam train?" a third boy asked, stopping to admire the engine along with Harry and Justin.

"Isn't it cool?" Harry asked, sticking his hand out again. "I'm Harry, this is Justin."

"Dean," the boy introduced himself as they all shook hands. "Why is it just us looking at this thing? The others just ignore it."

"They're philistines, obviously," Justin said with a grin.

"Too right," Harry agreed while Dean with which a chuckle.

"Whoa, never thought I'd see one of these still in use," a boy said as he stepped up to the group, unable to hide his Irish brogue. "Seamus Finnigan," he said, immediately sticking his hand out.

They all shook and introduced themselves, and for a moment stood there admiring the engine. "I heard about the express from me ma, but she neglected ta tell me it's a bloody steam train," Seamus finally said.

The three other boys shook their heads at so much stupidity. For them, the fact it was a steam train was the most important fact about the express so far.

A fifth boy stepped over, and stood, quietly, admiring the train.

"She's a beauty, isn't she?" Seamus asked the boy. The newcomer nodded, somewhat shyly.

Harry, understanding that crowds were intimidating, and never being that good at making friends and introducing himself, decided on helping the poor boy out. He stepped over and stuck his hand out. "I'm Harry. These are Dean, Justin, and Seamus."

"Michael," the boy said, taking the hand. "Michael Corner."

"Nice to meet you, Michael," Harry said with a grin as hands were shaken and introductions were made; boys performing the age-old ritual of bonding over a large, heavy, and noisy piece of equipment.

"Whoa," yet another boy said as he stepped up to the group, yet looking at the engine. "That one's been maintained well!"

"Isn't it?" Justin agreed. "I didn't know there were trains like this outside of a museum!"

Harry snorted, and in his best Indiana Jones voice, declared, "It belongs in a museum!"

The five other boys laughed.

"You're all alright," the newcomer stated. "Anyone who enjoys a good Indiana Jones movie is alright in my books. I'm Anthony. Goldstein."

More hands were shaken, more introductions were made, and six boys chatted about the train, other famous trains, trains in movies, movies in general, and basically got to know each other.

As more and more people started filling the platform, Harry looked at his new friends, and said, "We'd better get inside and find a compartment, before all the good ones are taken."

"I wonder if there are good ones and bad ones," Dean mused.

"I don't know, but I'm not willing to take the chance," Harry joked. Five grins and nods later, they were all trooping aboard the train, looking for an empty compartment.

The first ones were filled up, and the next couple after that were already well-underway to being filled, but they soon came across a completely empty one where they all bunched inside.

After Harry dragged his wheeled suitcase in, Nemmy, realizing what was about to happen, jumped off of it. The young demigod flicked his fingers to send the suitcase up to the luggage rack.

"Whoa," a couple of the boys breathed at the sight. Grinning, Harry 'flicked' their trunks to the luggage rack as well.

Justin, still playing up the posh angle, dug some spare change out of his pockets and handed it to Harry. "You should always tip your porter," he explained at Harry's incredulous look.

They shared a good laugh over that one, and Harry was now officially 'Harry Porter' instead of 'Harry Potter'.

Nemmy, after having officially sniffed each boy to determine their suitability of being in his austere presence, decided that he'd rather spend the trip curled up on top of the bags, high up in the luggage rack. From there he had a commanding overview of the compartment.

They talked and joked some more, and the platform outside the train filled up. Finally, the steam whistle sounded, and a red-headed woman bustled three kids onto the train, near the back, before it started moving.

"Whoo!" six boys cheered the way boys always cheered when a big piece of machinery did it's job with lots of smoke and noise – and a machine didn't come much smokier or noisier than a classic steam engine.

They descended into discussion again, each boy telling the others about themselves. It turned out that Justin wasn't just playing at being posh, he had been slated for Eton of all places, so he actually was posh.

Although, other than his accent, he was a nice guy and looking forward to Hogwarts and being a wizard.

Dean's father had died early, and his mother had remarried, giving him several half-siblings; all of whom he loved very much. Harry, having grown up without a mother or a father, commiserated with Dean.

Seamus, on the other hand, joked about how his non-magical father had received 'a nasty shock' when his mother told him she was a witch – after the wedding. The five boys laughed appreciatively at the way Seamus told the story. It sounded like it was one of those family stories that got banded about and rehashed every family get-together.

Michael, being rather shy, just told him about his mother and father and a bit about his family – and even that only came about with everyone's encouragement. They were happy to get even that much from him, and recognizing his shy nature, let him be after that.

Anthony was outgoing enough to regale everyone with his mixed magical-Jewish heritage, which was novel and unfamiliar enough to go over well with everyone.

The train had left London and its suburbs by now, and was carrying them through lush green fields filled with livestock.

Around twelve, someone was clattering down in the corridor, before their door slid open and a broadly smiling woman stuck her head in, asking, "Anything off the cart, dears?"

Harry suddenly remembered breakfast had been a long time ago, and smiled broadly as he stood up. He was almost shoved to one side as the other five boys obviously had the same idea.

By the time the smiling cart-lady left, Harry's pockets were lightened by more than a few silver pieces, but he had a huge haul of Bertie Bott's Every Flavor beans, Drooble's Blowing Gum, Chocolate Frogs, pastries made from pumpkins, Cauldron Cakes, wands made from licorice, Ice Mice, and a number of other confections he had never heard of but was looking forward to trying out.

The boys with some magical heritage were obviously more familiar with the sweets in question, and were more than willing to share their expertise. Of course, tastes differing, this almost started a food fight as Bertie Bott's Every-Flavor beans were also excellent ammunition.

When he opened his first ever Chocolate Frog, he gave a surprised yell when the confection jumped out of the package, hopping around like a real frog. Justin and Dean, not having expected it, yelped as well. The other three, being more than slightly familiar with the magical world, started laughing.

"I sometimes hunt for food, but I never expected I would be hunting chocolate," Harry joked as he 'caught' the 'escaped' frog.

"Nifty, aren't they?" Seamus asked. "They come with collection cards of famous wizards and witches, so you might want to check it out."

"Oh, who'd you get? Anthony asked. "I've been trying for ages to get Euclid."

"Circe!" Harry said with a wide smile, remembering the woman who, at one point, had been slated to be his magic teacher. It was a good picture of her, too, and she waved at him. He waved back politely.

The card also had some information on Circe, and most of it was strangely accurate as long as one removed all traces of Divine Greek heritage from the biography.

"Nice one, that's one of the rarer ones," Michael said, slowly coming out of his shell.

Harry grinned, keeping the fact that he'd met Circe in person to himself. "Lucky break," he said, wondering what his luck-abilities would make of this when he reached for the next frog, catching it the moment he opened the packaging and ruthlessly biting its head off.

"Whoa, brutal," Justin said, laughing. "Careful guys, we've got ourselves a sociopath."

Seamus, quick on the uptake, nodded. "That's how it starts. Killing chocolate animals. Before you know it, he's evolved into killing gingerbread people."

They all laughed, Harry included. "Yup, that's me. Don't leave your confectionary pets around me, I'll eat them!" he threatened.

"Not if I eat them first!" Seamus replied with another laugh.

"Cornelius Agrippa," Harry read the card after the chocolate frog's legs disappeared between his lips. "Apparently, he wrote a bunch of books," he added for Justin and Dean, who obviously had never heard of the man.

"Another rare one, you're on a roll," Anthony said. "You've got the devil's luck, Harry."

"Yup," Harry said, grinning widely. Thanks, Mom. I like this a lot better than getting in trouble.

Having had enough chocolate for now, he opened his bag of Bertie Bott's beans.

"Just a note of warning," Anthony said. "They mean it when they say every flavor. Some of them really shouldn't be in there, as far as I'm concerned."

The other two boys with knowledge of the magical world nodded. Dean, Justin, and Harry shared a look.

"They're really only good for throwing at people," Michael muttered, sounding as if he had personal experience of being the target.

Harry shared another look with Dean and Justin, then held his bag out. "Test of bravery?" he suggested.

"I'm game," Anthony said, sidling up to the trio. "Five Knuts says you pull something disgusting."

"I'm good for that," Justin agreed. Dean and Harry shrugged and nodded.

"Hey, for five Knuts, I'm playin' too," Seamus said, excitedly, as Harry shifted the bag so it was being held in the middle. "Michael? You playing too?" the Irish boy asked.

Michael shrugged. "Sure, why not? Five Knuts is chump change, but it'll be worth it to see everyone's faces."

"Ready?" Harry asked, second hand out. They all nodded, and held up their own hands.

One by one, they took a bean. Harry mm-ed when he got coconut. Dean looked confused, apparently having gotten a grass-flavored bean. Justin got coffee, which he rather liked as well. Seamus got a sardine-flavored one, which he ate despite not liking fish, just so he wouldn't have to pay five Knuts. Anthony spat his out; apparently it was pepper. He was gracious in paying up.

Michael's face twisted as he chewed, then twisted further when he swallowed. Apparently, it had tasted of raw liver, but Michael had been determined not to lose to some bad taste.

"Another round?" Anthony asked. "Allow a bloke to win his money back?"

There was a knock on the sliding door, and it slid open without waiting for a response. A girl, already wearing her Hogwarts robes, stepped in. She was accompanied by a tearful, round-faced boy.

"Has anyone seen a toad? Neville's lost one," she said. She sounded rather bossy, had lots of bushy brown hair, and rather large front teeth.

"Nope." "No." "Sorry, can't say that I have."

Harry felt for the boy, he would be devastated if he couldn't find Nemmy. Then again, Nemmy could take care of himself, while a toad more than likely couldn't; not so easily, anyway.

"Have you tried the lavatories?" he asked. "Toads are amphibians, they like the cool and the damp, so he may have gone for a soak."

"That's a good idea," the bushy brunette spoke, grabbing Neville's hand as if he weren't the same age as her. "You had better change," she spoke over her shoulder. "I expect we'll be there, soon."

The door slid closed without a chance for reply.

"Bossy, that one," Anthony said, vocalizing everyone's thoughts. Harry nodded softly, wondering how he should feel about the girl; her attitude had been off-putting, but maybe it was just a first impression going wrong. She was helping someone find their pet, that showed good intentions, so maybe the girl wasn't as bad as she had appeared.

Outside, the country was becoming decidedly more untamed. The fields were gone, replaced with dark woods, fast-flowing rivers, and dark green hills that seemed to have walked straight out of Lord of the Rings.

Just as Harry started studying the new scenery, the door slid open again. This time, it wasn't a nice lady selling sweets, or a bossy girl looking for some unfortunate boy's toad. Instead, it was a pale boy with platinum-blonde hair and light grey eyes, followed by two larger boys who seemed to be shadowing the first boy like bodyguards.

For a moment, Harry thought him to be a Son of Athena, but then realized that his hair was too white and his eyes were too light for him to be related to the Goddess of Wisdom.

"Is it true?" the blonde boy asked. "They say Harry Potter's in this compartment."

For a moment, he was indecisive, then realized that the Lovegoods were right when they said he was a celebrity; obviously, these were fans.

Pulling on every lesson Hestia had ever given him on being a good host, Harry stood up, and grinned.

"That's me!" he said, cheerfully. He looked over the blond's shoulder to the two other boys; they were heavyset and looked rather thuggish. A bit like Ares' kids, Harry thought.

"Oh, this is Crabbe, and that's Goyle," the blond boy said, waving a hand over each other in a rather thoughtless manner. Before he could say anything else, Harry interrupted and stuck his hand out.

"Hi, I'm Harry," Harry said to the boy on the left, who looked completely flat-footed.

"Greg," Goyle said as he shook Harry's hand.

"Nice to meet you, Greg," Harry said amicably, before shifting his hand to Crabbe.

"Vin," Crabbe said, quick on the uptake now that he'd seen his friend shake hands with Harry.

"Good to meet you, Vin," Harry said cheerfully, then stuck his hand in the direction of the blond boy, who still hadn't introduced himself.

"I'm Draco, Malfoy," the boy said, apparently dumbfounded by Harry's insistence on properly introducing himself to Vin and Greg.

"Nice to meet you, Draco," Harry said, shaking the blond's hand.

"Likewise," Draco replied, a smile forming.

"I'd invite you to hang out for a bit, but the compartment's rather full," Harry said. "Plus, a bossy girl said we should get changed."

Draco nodded thoughtfully. "True," he said, for a moment sounding as if he wanted to say more. "I just wanted to introduce myself," he said, a bit lamely.

Harry smiled and nodded. "Draco, Vin, Greg, these are my friends, Justin, Dean, Seamus, Michael, and Anthony."

The three newcomers had the good manners to nod to the other boys and exchange 'good to meet yous' before Harry, politely and amicably, managed to get them out the door.

"I know people said I'm a celebrity, but I hope I won't have to suffer too many fans like that," Harry said with a chuckle as he sat down.

Justin laughed. "That was absolutely brilliant! The guy obviously wanted more, but you twisted him in such a way that he couldn't do it without coming off as a boor!"

The other boys laughed and agreed. Harry grinned, rather pleased with himself. Even Hestia would have approved, he thought. He'd been polite, friendly, and welcoming, and managed to get the fans away without once being rude.

"We better get changed," he said when he threw another look outside. It was getting dark, and mountains and lakes dotted the landscape under the waning sun. "The bossy girl could be right and I wouldn't want to get caught with my pants down. Literally."

They shared another chuckle, and changed quickly. Nemmy looked annoyed at them for disturbing his rest as they pulled down their luggage to dig for their long, black, Hogwarts robes.

"Sheesh, Harry," Justin said after they had all changed and the posh boy got a good look at Harry's robes. "What are those made of?"

Harry looked at the long, black, flowing robes Arachne had made for him. They really were nice robes, he thought. And, despite everyone else having obviously new ones, ones that were very nice, his really stood out in quality and depth of color. "Spider-silk," he replied honestly, because what other material would Arachne possibly make clothes out of?

Justin whistled. "Those look like genuine Arachne clothes, but she has a four month waiting list!"

Five boys stared at Justin at that declaration.

A bit self-consciously, Justin chuckled weakly. "My mom's a fashionista, some of it stuck," he defended himself.

"I say we mount a rescue operation to save this poor soul," Anthony said, solemnly. Justin gave him a look, but the others nodded.

"We need an intervention to save him," Seamus agreed.

"Bugger off," Justin said with a grin and without any heat to it. "Seriously, Harry, who made those?"

"Miss Arachne's great," Harry said. "I saved her a while back, and ever since then she sends me a big box of clothes for my birthday. Someone sneakily told her I was going to Hogwarts so she included Hogwarts uniforms and robes and such in this year's box."

"I have a feeling that those 'Adventures of Harry Potter' books aren't as exaggerated as I first thought," Michael said, looking at Harry.

The demigod shrugged. "I haven't gotten a chance to read all of them, but some of them have the details wrong. I mean, yeah, Mel can be considered a princess, but I rescued her from a cave, not a castle, and whoever wrote that book made it sound far more heroic than it was."

Three boys with knowledge of the magical world stared at Harry. Two boys who didn't know the magical world stared for entirely different reasons.

"They're written books about you?" Justin asked.

"It's creepy," Harry said in agreement. "And I wish they'd stop."

A voice interrupted the conversation. "We will be reaching Hogwarts in five minutes' time. Please leave your luggage on the train, it will be taken to the school separately."

The train really was slowing down, and Harry shifted his gaze from the window to his new friends. "Come on, I'm still the same Harry. Just because some people insist I'm famous don't mean that I'm going to put on airs or something."

"No, you just rescue princesses from caves," Anthony joked.

"Just the one princess," Harry protested.

"And whatever you did for Arachne to get free clothes for life from one of the most promising up-and-coming fashion designers of the age," Justin said.

Harry shuffled uncomfortably. "I just saved her from a bad spot, that's all," he protested. "And gave her the idea to get into fashion, now that I think about it. But that's IT!"

Five boys stared at him long enough to make him uncomfortable, before they started laughing.

"We will want those stories, you hear?" Seamus said, throwing an arm around Harry's shoulders. "But, as long as your head can fit through the door, you're still our Harry."

"Your Harry?" Harry asked, playing at being incredulous, yet inwardly very touched. It was so rare that people actually told him that theywanted him.

"Yup," Justin said. "Harry Porter, who helps us with our suitcases."

Harry chuckled as they all laughed. The train was noticeably slowing down now, and eventually came to a complete stop.

Students of all ages and sizes drummed and pushed, scrambling to get off the train, and eventually Harry and Friends made it to a tiny and practically unlit platform. The night air was cold compared to the muggy heat of the train, and it made Harry's skin pucker up into gooseflesh.

A lamp bopped up and down over the heads of even the oldest students, and in the gloomy light it threw, Harry could see a giant of a man carrying it. He had long and shaggy dark hair and a wild and tangled beard. His eyes were covered by his long hair, but visible through the mane nonetheless.

And yet, despite the mane and the beard and the fact that he must have had some giant in his ancestry somewhere, since he was over two and a half meters tall, he had a caring and gentle smile.

"Firs' years! Firs' years over here!" the giant man bellowed.

"We better go over there," Harry said to the others, who stood transfixed at the sight of the huge man. They nodded carefully and followed, just as the man bellowed again.

"C'mon, follow me! Any more firs' years? Mind yer step now! Firs' years, follow me!"

The giant man carried the only lantern and the darkness made the steep and narrow path almost treacherous. Lifting his hand, Harry conjured a ball of light.

"Whoa," some of the other students breathed. Even his friends gaped, but they played it off as being 'used to it' – despite not looking 'used to it' for a bit.

"Here," Harry said, pretending not to notice how everyone was staring at him, and he handed the ball of light off to Seamus. "Just set it somewhere and it'll follow you."

Seamus, doing his best to play this off as being perfectly normal, hung the ball of light in front of his forehead, then carefully let it go. The ball stayed where it was relative to the boy, literally preceding him.

Whistles came from the students who saw this, and Harry conjured half a dozen more float-lights and handed them off to students.

"Thanks, Potter," Draco said as he received a light as well.

"You're welcome, Draco," Harry answered. "Please, call me Harry. 'Potter' makes me think I'm in trouble."

The platinum blonde developed a grin, then immediately wiped it from his face as if he wasn't supposed to. "Harry," he said.

With the float-lights now lighting the way, they could see the narrow path descending through a forest of some kind, thick trees on either side blocking all sight.

"Ye' all get yer firs' sight o' Hogwarts in a sec," their huge guide called over his shoulder, eyes still pointing forward and therefore not noticing Harry's float-lights helping the first years find their ground.

They came around a bend, and everyone stopped and gaped. A collective "oooh!" sounded from each of them; the narrow path had opened suddenly onto a huge lake, its waters black in the darkness.

On the other side of the lake, on top of a tall mountain, stood a vast castle with turrets and towers and battlements – as if someone had opened a book on medieval castles and cribbed notes from all the best designs and put them together. It looked incredibly impressive, and Harry wondered what Annabeth, architecture buff that she was, would make of it. He promised himself he'd try and get her to see it one day.

"No more'n four to a boat!" their guide called, pointing to a… a fleet was too great a word. So was a flotilla. A collection – yes, a collection of dinky little boats sitting on the water near the shore.

Harry and Anthony decided to take one for the team when they realized their six really wouldn't fit in the dinky little craft; even four of them seemed like a stretch.

The duo watched their friends climb into one of the boats, then climbed into the next one themselves. They were followed by the boy who lost his toad and the bossy girl who had helped him.

"Everybody in?" their guide called, having a boat to himself. Harry thought that was probably for the best. "Right then! FORWARD!"

At the command, the small craft started moving, all at once, across the perfectly smooth waters of the lake.

"Thanks for the help," the toad-boy said. "We found Trevor right where you said."

"You're welcome," Harry said with a grin. "I'm Harry, this is Anthony."

"I'm Neville, and this is Hermione," Neville said. Hermione looked like she was bursting at the seams.

"Nicetomeetyou," the bossy girl said in one word, as if trying to get courtesy out of the way as quickly as possible. "How did you do that, with the lights?" she then asked, and before he could answer, rattled on with a single breath. "I've tried a few simple spells, you know, just for practice, and they worked for me, but they all required wands to work. Nobody in my family's magic at all, and it was ever such a surprise when I got my letter, but I had nobody to ask for help. Of course, I've learned all the course books by heart, and none of them said anything about not using wands, so now I just hope it'll be enough."

Harry blinked at the slight rudeness of the girl, and the diatribe that followed, and then come across a problem. Just like Marduk had said, it was incredibly difficult to explain in words what exactly he did. He didn't want to go Marduk's route, though, so tried his best. "I focused my energy into a ball of light – light, not heat – then attached a relative locator and a tracking principle to it so it could determine its relative position and keep it."

Hermione gaped at him. Neville looked like he wanted to be anywhere but here, and Anthony grinned widely, obviously not having understood a word, but thankful that he was looking better due to his mere association with Harry.

"That… that's not in any of the books!" she said, as if knowledge not being in books was a personal offense.

Harry shrugged. "I had a very good tutor," he explained without giving up Marduk's name or privacy. "I'm sure they'll get around to it eventually."

"HEADS DOWN!" their huge guide shouted as the boats reached the cliff on which the castle stood; they all bent their heads so the small vessels could bring through a curtain of ivy that hid a cave in the cliff's face.

Harry's float-lights come in handy once again as they sailed through a dark tunnel, eventually arriving at some kind of underground port or harbor. Recognizing their cue without being told, the new Hogwarts student clambered out of their small boats without being prompted.

Their huge guide checked he boats when they clambered out of them, and suddenly held up a toad. "Oy! You there! Is this your toad?" their guide asked, holding the amphibian up.

"Trevor!" Neville cried, happily, holding out his hands.

Once more, they trooped after the giant of a man, glad for Harry's float-lights. Without them, they would only have the single lamp held up by their guide.

They emerged eventually on a smooth grassy patch in the shadow of the castle, and walked up a flight of stone steps to arrive at a huge, oaken, front door.

"Everyone wi' us?" the guide asked. "You there, still got yer toad?"

Neville flushed bright right and tried to shrink into Harry's shadow as everyone stared at him. Harry crossed his arms and did his best to give them all a stern look back.

Meanwhile, their guide had raised a huge meaty fist and pounded the door three times. As if by magic, and it probably was magic, the door flew open immediately, to reveal a black-haired woman dressed in emerald-green robes.

She looked stern, and Harry immediately took a dislike to her. Adults that looked stern were never a good thing in his mind. He liked their guide a lot better – despite his size he was always smiling and had helped Neville with his toad.

"The firs' years, Professor McGonagall," said their guide. Harry stored the name, also storing the fact that this woman even made her colleagues refer to her as 'professor'. Not even the gods made other gods call them 'Lord this' or 'Lady that', and he found it rather pretentious of the woman.

"Thank you, Hagrid," the stern witch said. "I will take them from here." Harry stored the second name, their guide was apparently called 'Hagrid'. He'd have to remember that, the man seemed nice.

Professor McGonagall showed them all inside, and the moment Harry crossed the threshold, he became aware of a… presence. Not a Genius Loci per se, but a presence nonetheless. It was as if the castle wasn't yet self-aware, it definitely wasn't around long enough to develop full consciousness, but there definitely was a something inherent within Hogwarts; a presence that promised safety to those who sheltered within its walls, and to teach and educate all who wanted to learn.

Harry found himself smiling; he could see why both his parents loved Hogwarts. It would be a remarkable school in another thousands years or two, when it aged enough to develop genuine awareness. Right now, it was just a kind of promise, a stated goal inherent in the magic of the building, rather than an actual spirit.

Still, it felt nice.

Harry followed the professor across the flagstone expanse, refusing to shake his head at the sight of torches set in sconces lighting their way. Someone in the magical world had a weird sense of humor, had taken the non-magical idea of wall-sconces, and magicked them into being. Real medieval castles definitely weren't lit with torches that needed to be replaced far too often to be useful.

To their right, they could hear the voices of the other students; obviously they were already there. To Harry's surprise they were shown into a small room.

It was large enough to hold them all, but small enough that they had to crowd together closer than was comfortable. Harry, not liking crowds at the best of times, felt decidedly uncomfortable in this small chamber.

"Welcome to Hogwarts," the professor welcomed them. "The feast shall start shortly, but before you take your seats in the Great Hall, you must first be sorted into your houses. The Sorting is a very important ceremony because, while you are here, your House will be something like your family within Hogwarts. You will have classes with your Housemates, sleep in your House dormitory, and spend free time in your House Common Room."

Harry didn't like the sound of that; he wanted to make friends and it sounded like this system was designed to keep students apart. Immediately, he could see why adults would do this, however – it was the school equivalent of Divide and Conquer. It was a lot easier to manage a number of smaller groups of students, rather than all of them at once.

He refused the urge to pinch his nose and screw his eyes shut. His mother, through her letters, and his father, as spiritual apparition thanks to Mel, had explained the House system to him, but what had sounded like a way to make friends before somehow had never clicked until now.

The professor, completely unaware of Harry's inner turmoil, droned on. "The four Houses are called Gryffindor, Hufflepuff, Ravenclaw, and Slytherin. Each House has its own noble history and each has produced outstanding witches and wizards."

Harry tuned out the rest of the speech, and instead went over what his parents had told him about the houses. Gryffindor was home of the brave and chivalrous. Usually, anyway. Hufflepuff was home to the just and the loyal, those who work hard and make friends. Ravenclaw was home to the intelligent and those willing to learn. Slytherin was home to the cunning and ruthless, willing to do what it took to reach their goals.

Of course, he was well aware that his father was more than just a little biased against Slytherin. His mother had told him of his feud with her childhood friend, a boy she called 'Severus'. Part of Harry wondered what had happened to this 'Severus', he wouldn't mind having a chat with the man about his parents. Or, at least, about his mother, considering the feud his father had with the man.

"I shall return when we are ready for you. Please wait quietly," Professor McGonagall said, her eyes roaming the assorted students and giving some of them a subtle glare just by narrowing said eyes. She spun around, then left the room.

Neither of his parents had informed him of how this 'Sorting' was to be done; apparently it was some kind of tradition to keep the kids uninformed. Harry wasn't amused, he didn't like not knowing something and not getting an answer when he asked.

"How exactly do they Sort us? Does anyone know?" Harry asked, aiming his question at the room at large.

The students started talking over and through each other, and Harry couldn't make out a single answer in the resulting cacophony. He wasn't sure what to do to restore some semblance of order in the chamber, but soon the question became academic.

Several people screamed. For a moment, Harry looked surprised as well, before a wide smile appeared on his lips.

A couple dozen ghosts had just floated through one of the walls! Harry remembered Mel saying there were lots of ghosts at Hogwarts and hinting at visiting, and the apparitions reminded him of that promise.

The ghosts didn't seem to notice them, instead having an argument with each other.

A stout monk was arguing for giving a second chance to a 'him' that wasn't named, but a ghost wearing a ruff and old-time tights was arguing that they'd given plenty of chances to someone called 'Peeves' that was obviously the 'him' that the monk had been arguing for.

The argument cut short when the ghost wearing the ruff noticed them. "I say, what are you all doing here?" he asked.

Harry lifted his hand, because he was raised to be polite that way. "We're waiting to be sorted, Sir."

"New students!" the friar said, excitedly, giving them all a smile. "I hope to see you in Hufflepuff! My old house, you know," he added at the end as if conferring a great secret.

"Come along now," said the sharp voice of Professor McGonagall, who had returned unseen during the distraction. "The ceremony is about to start. Form a line and follow me."

Harry frowned at the casual way this woman stated orders and expected to be obeyed. He was starting to think that coming to Hogwarts may not have been such a good idea… his mother's letters, and his father's chat yesterday, had made it sound like an adventure, a home away from home, the best time of their lives. Instead, he found a woman barking orders.

He stepped into line and followed regardless. Miss Athena would glare at him if he got in trouble on his first day.

Not to mention Hestia's disappointment. That one would cut deeper and last longer.

They left the small chamber, went back across the entrance hallway, and went through a set of double doors into the Great Hall.

The place was, in one word, splendid. It wasn't on the same level as the Great Temples of the gods on Olympus, but it definitely was splendid for a mortal building. Thousands upon thousands of candles floated in the air, providing light to four long tables that went down the length of the room, where the rest of the student body sat.

Said tables were decked out with gold plate settings.

At the end of the Great hall stood a fifth long table, this one perpendicular to the student tables, down the breadth of the room. At this table sat the teachers, staring down at the students.

Harry obediently followed the line following the professor, stepping down the length of the Great Hall until they came to a stop in front of the teacher's table, staring at the four tables holding the entire student body of Hogwarts.

Not comfortable with the stares of the student body, Harry instead studied his surroundings. This room, too, looked like someone had been cribbing notes from medieval fantasy, and when he looked up, he found himself staring at a ceiling that was black yet dotted with stars.

"It's bewitched to look like the sky outside. I read about it in Hogwarts, a History," Hermione was saying to a redheaded boy, who didn't seem to be appreciating the commentary.

The professor placed a four-legged stool in front of the first years; on top of said stool was a pointed wizard's hat. It was frayed and dirty, and looked like it was hundreds of years old and could do with a few heavy-duty cycles of a washing machine.

For a few moments, everything was silent as everyone stared at the raggedy hat. Then, a rip opened up as if it were a mouth, and it started to sing.

Damn, boss. That hat has an ego on him! Godslayer thought to him when the hat proclaimed itself, through song, to be the smartest hat in existence.

Apparently, according to the rest of the song, they would have to wear the hat and it would tell them which House they belonged in. Harry shrugged; that sounded a lot more plausible than the redheaded boy's insistence they'd have to wrestle a troll.

Harry startled when the room burst into applause. Apparently, the hat was done singing. He politely clapped along for a bit.

McGonagall held up a scroll of parchment. "When I call your name, you will put on the hat and sit on the stool to be Sorted," she told the students. "Abbott, Hannah."

The pig-tailed girl stepped forward, put the hat on and sat down. There was a pause of maybe a few seconds.

"Hufflepuff!" the hat sounded.

One of the tables burst into applause and cheers as Hannah went to sit down with them. The ghost of the friar waved at her with a giant smile on his face.

"Bones, Susan," also went to Hufflepuff, amidst more cheers from that table, but "Boot, Terry," went to Ravenclaw, causing that table to explode into applause.

"Brocklehurst, Mandy," also went to Ravenclaw, but "Brown, Lavender" became the first to join the Gryffindor table. They definitely seemed to be the loudest cheerers.

"Bulstrode, Millicent," a rather portly girl, was the first one to join the Slytherin table. When Harry looked at that table, he wasn't sure what to think. There was applause for Millicent, of course, but there didn't seem to be an excess of emotion from them. Remembering how Slytherin was home to the cunning and ruthless, he definitely could see more than one attempt at a poker face.

"Corner, Michael," was the first of Harry's new clique of friends to be sorted, and Harry could feel Anthony, Dean, Seamus, and Justin tense up alongside him. Their friend went to Ravenclaw. Michael seemed happy with his Sorting, and so they clapped along with the Ravenclaw table.

More people were sorted, but Harry only paid attention again when "Finch-Fletchly, Justin," was called. Harry could see Michael look up from where he was sitting, and paying attention as well.

Justin went to Hufflepuff, something that appeared to please Justin immensely, and Harry was glad to see Michael clap along with the Hufflepuffs.

Seamus was the next one called, and he went to Gryffindor. From the few hours they spent together, Harry thought that really fitted the Irish boy, and Seamus definitely agreed with that as he bounded over to the Gryffindor table.

Harry shared a glance with Anthony and Dean; all three of them were wondering where they would end up. They all recognized that they were being separated and that their new friendship may not last for very long if McGonagall was to be believed about the amount of separation between the Houses.

"Granger, Hermione," raced to the stool and practically jammed the hat on her head. Harry grinned and shook his head, it seemed the girl was just excitable by nature, which would explain her rapid-fire question-and-statement earlier. She also went to Gryffindor.

Anthony Goldstein went into Ravenclaw and smiled widely when he was welcome by Michael and his new House-mates. Harry shared a look with Dean. Just the two of them left, now.

Neville, the poor boy who kept losing his toad, also went to Gryffindor, which surprised Harry a little. The boy didn't seem all that brave or courageous.

But then he realized that it was courageous to act despite of fear, rather than not fearing things at all, and his respect for Neville went up a fair bit. To be so obviously terrified and to still go through with it, that took guts. Neville had a sterner spine than he would appear to have at first glance.

Draco Malfoy was sorted into Slytherin in the background while Harry thought and expanded his thoughts. He loved the magic embedded within this castle, to foster an environment suited for learning, but the dividing people along trait-lines into separate Houses could be a problem.

Harry's mind was elsewhere but still took notice of how Draco shook hands with his two companions, Greg Goyle and Vin Crabbe. When his eyes met Draco's, he gave the boy a grin and a nod. Draco seemed surprised, gratified, then wiped his face of emotion and simply nodded back.

Harry's thoughts drifted away again as names passed he didn't know. He blinked when he noticed two "Patils" in a row, and doubled back on his memory. "Patil, Padma" had gone to Ravenclaw, but "Patil, Parvati," went to Gryffindor.

How curious, twin girls, identical twins at that, being separated along House-lines. He felt bad for them; if he'd had a brother – or a sister for that matter – he'd want to be in the same House as them.

"Perks, Sally-Anne," went into Hufflepuff, and finally it was the turn of "Potter, Harry!"

He drew a breath, pulled his shoulders back to relieve his slouch, straightened his spine and strode to the stool as if he did so every day and this was nothing new or unusual.

He ignored the muttering of the students. "Potter, did she say?" "The Harry Potter?"

Dear gods, he really was famous. A Great Hall full of people seemed to be craning to get a good look at him.

He sat down, and the hat fell over his eyes.

"Well now, aren't you interesting?" a voice spoke in his mind.

Harry blinked at the inside of the hat. "Hello, Mister Hat," Harry said politely, because it didn't matter what shape a person was, they still deserved being treated politely.

The hat's voice chuckled. "No need for that now, lad. Now – where shall I put you? You've got a fair amount of talent and a thirst to explore and learn, and courage. Oh, the courage you have, lad. Not much of a thirst to prove yourself; you're more of a 'support your friends' kind of boy, I see. Nice amount of cynicism, though. Don't trust the establishment or people in authority, yes, I can see that."

Harry blinked again at the dissection of his personality. "You'd do well in either House," the hat said. "So, where should I put you? Among the lions that charge in where angels fear to tread? Among the hard-working friends, loyal to the end? Among the intelligent and witty? Among the cunning and guile?"

Harry shrugged silently, not really having a preference. He knew people in all four Houses now – even if Draco was a bit of a fanboy, he was sure he could learn to get along with him.

"Friends, eh?" the hat asked. "Well, then, better be - "

"HUFFLEPUFF!" was shouted throughout the hall. For a moment, silence reigned, then cheers exploded from the Hufflepuff table.