Joe's Note: If anyone's noticing that there's a lot of train content in this story, guilty as charged.. Trains have been a special interest of mine since I was old enough to sit in front of the television and watch Shining Time Station and so it was really fun to be able to flex my mind a little and integrate the knowledge that I've collected over the years into a story in a vaguely appropriate manner. If you're not the type to trawl fandom Wikis the way I do, Bem - getting his second mention in this chapter - might be unfamiliar to you. He's the larger, distinctly not Dean black boy that pops up in the Prisoner of Azkaban movie before promptly disappearing. Gave an explanation for that in this chapter. Also, eagle-eyed readers might catch a change in a certain character's surname. In the case of Clan MacDougall, it should have two Ls. I debated on it because Rowling's character only has one… but given that I'm explicitly highlighting her Scottish heritage, I thought I should at least do poor Morag the favor of spelling her name right. Especially considering that the current clan chief is Morag Morley MacDougall of MacDougall.
Dedications & Thanks: To Nicholas, Howard, Cyle, Tibor, Burgesse, Daniel, ReaperCB919, WildMartin, Sam, LazyG3nius22, Arkantos59, Glenn, mpotato, Gerald, Adrien, Roofcrawler, PbookR, Charles, Crygon20, Fablesrogue, Morgan, Joseph, Ziryo, enygma, MJ, William, Wil, Reinhold, fungame2, Beeknees, UncreativeName01, Zordmon, Darrell, HaunzGruber, David, TheTenthAncestor, bloodylord, Lookshy, James, Wesley, Roman, and Warren for sponsoring me on , and making it easier for me to spend more of my time writing.

June 26, 1996
The Hogwarts Express
Somewhere Between Hogsmeade and London

Much to Harry's disbelief - because the Dursleys didn't particularly have the best manners but they had raised him to follow some semblance of proper behavior - being out of his normal private compartment seemed to mean that he was fair game for people to approach. Even though he was actively participating in a conversation with Tracey and her siblings to try and seem too occupied for people to bother. Granted he didn't particularly begrudge Susan or Hannah for butting in on things, given that he'd promised them autographs and all, but after the fourth random student approached their booth in search of an autograph all her own, Harry decided it might be time to move on. "Tracey, is there... I don't know, any more of the train that you might want to show me? The Pear is definitely neat, but it's starting to lose its luster."

From her spot next to him, Tracey thought for a few seconds before nodding in the direction of the opposite end of the car. "There's more train to see in that direction. Open carriages, so more people to mingle with than if we went back toward the section with more private compartments. I haven't been that way yet this ride but there's usually clumps of Gryffindors sitting in them. You could say hello to your housemates."

That didn't sound like a terrible way to burn more of the trip back to London in Harry's opinion. He made to slide out of the seat before blinking owlishly as his hip bumped up against someone else's. Turning, he stared at Susan in consternation. "Have you been sitting there the entire time since I signed your scarf?"

Susan just nodded, a faint smirk on her lips. "Your situation awareness is shit, Harry."

"Evidently." Gesturing for her to get up, Harry rolled his eyes before accepting a hand up to his feet, turning to do the same for Tracey who accepted his hand in turn. She still seemed incline to stay in contact with him, which boded well for his chances of getting her to owl him and accompany him to Diagon Alley as per his agreement with Illyria. Leaning against him, she stared up at him with curious eyes until he started to squirm in place a bit. "What?"

Tracey grinned impishly before nodding in Susan's direction. "Your Old One has you pondering juggling multiple women... here's your first test. Which one of us is prettier?"

Looking from Tracey to the intensely curious-looking Susan and back, Harry debated his options for a few seconds before deciding that there was only one right answer to a question like this. "You're both gorgeous in your own individual ways but if you really want to know who's the prettiest out of the two of you, I'd have to say... Parkinson."

"Ouch. You wound us. Although that's not as much of an insult as it used to be. I don't know if it was puberty, a potion, or accidental magic gone horribly right, but Pansy's a lot prettier than she used to be. She's still whiny, shrill, and dumb as a stump, but at least she doesn't look like someone was practicing inappropriate charms on a pug anymore." Intertwining her fingers with Harry's again, Tracey leaned in to rest her head on Harry's shoulder. "Your compliments need a little work; you're too generic and imprecise, it makes them seem less sincere. The fact that you're not dumb enough to play favorites is a good sign, though. Who knows, you might actually survive this 'multiple wives' plan of Illyria's…"

Susan let out a squeak at that, looking up from where she'd been smoothing the wrinkles out of her shirt. With her hands immobile, Harry could finally make out what was now scrawled across the Hufflepuff's chest, and he bit his lip to avoid laughing as the gold script reading 'Girls Do It Better' wriggled and shifted into the words 'Holyhead Harpies'. "The what of whose now? You mean earlier when you… I thought you were just… are you seriously… is she seriously..?"

Shrugging, Tracey raised the hand that gripped Harry's. "Supposedly. I haven't gotten all the details yet, but I've agreed to at least hear them out over the summer. I mean, it could be worse. Daphne says that with Sirius Black dead, Narcissa Malfoy is in line to inherit the Noble and Most Ancient House of Black. That means that Draco will be in Harry's situation someday and…" Trailing off, she shuddered. "No. Just… no."

"Agreed. So… uh, where do we go from here?" Susan reached up, pulling her braid forward over her shoulder and playing with the end nervously. "I mean, I just wanted to have a bit of fun and flirt with Harry. Get an autograph. Enjoy spending some time with a boy who could find my face. Not get in line to walk down the aisle or something."

A squeeze on his hand made Harry look over at Tracey, who shot a pointed look down at their joined hands before meeting Harry's gaze again. He furrowed his brow in confusion, and the brunette sighed in exasperation before turning to Susan. "I'm showing Harry around the train. Somehow, he's ridden the Express ten times and never seen anything beyond his own carriage. Do you want to come with us? I mean, you don't seem to be in a big hurry to get back to your friends."

Susan snorted at that. "Get back to what, exactly? Watching Hannah make eyes at Ernie while he stares at my chest? Listening to Zacharias and Justin debate which is better: quidditch or polo? That sounds absolutely enthralling." Harry cringed as he remembered some of Ron and Dean's debates; he had to agree with her on the latter, even if he couldn't exactly sympathize with the former. "So yeah, sounds fun. Am I supposed to grab the other hand or something? Because I'm not sure the aisles are wide enough for us to go three across."

"You don't wander much either, do you? Those aisles aren't even big enough to go two across, at least not at our age." Tracey gave a little tug on Harry's hand, pulling him into motion behind her as she headed for the door at the end of their carriage. "As for you holding his hand too, I'm fine with it. I might as well get in a little practice sharing him while I can, just in case things do work out and I end up with him and Illyria."

Stumbling a bit at that comment, Harry stared at the back of Tracey's head with wide eyes. To be completely honest, he'd never actually thought about how things might work if Illyria got her way. Unless he was missing something, all three of Tracey's parents lived together with their five shared children. Was that what Illyria was planning, or would his wives end out spread over the ancestral seats of the various families? And if they did end up in the same house… would they share a massive master suite, or would each wife get her own room and he'd get passed from room to room on some sort of rotating schedule?

Consumed by his thoughts, Harry was barely aware of Susan slipping her small hand into his as they finally left the Pear behind, or of their transition from one carriage to the next. It wasn't until someone called his name - and Tracey and Susan teamed up to bring him to a halt between them - that he returned to the outside world. Harry shot a glance at one girl and then the other before following their gazes down to a table full of familiar faces. "Hey, guys. Looking forward to your summer hols?"

Dean Thomas nodded before jerking his thumb back over his shoulder. "We figured I should keep my distance for the ride home because Ron's… well, Ron… but I'm hoping I can visit the Burrow this summer. Not sure how I'd get there, mind you, since we're not hooked up to the Floo Network. Could always try the Knight Bus, but I'm a little nervous after what Harry told us about it."

"You have fun with that, mate. Not that you're going to last long. After all, you don't look enough like him." Michael Corner nodded in Harry's direction for emphasis, snorting at Dean's sputtered objections before turning his attention to Harry. "I'm just calling a spade a bloody shovel here. That girl is disturbingly obsessed with you. As soon as I figured out just how bad she was, I started picking fights to try and get her to dump me." Harry raised an eyebrow at that. "You know her brothers better than I do. Would you want to be the boy who dumped their baby sister and broke her heart?" Point. "I tried warning Dean off, but he refused to listen to me. She's his problem now."

Harry looked back and forth between Dean and Michael before sighing. Now that he thought back, Dean had seemed happier near the end of the term than at any other time in the past year… but then again, that could have been due to the absence of Umbridge. Still, even if Ginny did make him happy? His friend had the right to know. "You've got to make your own decisions, Dean; we can't tell you what to do. That being said? I'm gonna have to agree with Michael. According to a very reliable source, she's actually been collecting my hair. And she didn't handle the news of me and Illyria too well, either."

Before Dean could reply, a deep and heavily accented voice cut in. "I wish I could have been there the night she and Ron faced off." Bem Quartey let out a low, rumbling laugh. "Is it true he whined so much that she knocked him out?"

"I guess. He didn't have a chance to whine for too long; Illyria snapped pretty quickly." Harry shook his head at the memory. While Illyria had inherited a none-too-flattering picture of 'Ronald' from a combination of Luna's memories and his own, the redhead had done nothing to help his cause since then. "Speaking of that, though… I kept meaning to ask you but never really found the time. Why aren't you in our dorm anymore?"

His dark skin flushing a shade darker, Bem stared down at the table in front of him. "I… got a bit too caught up in the Triwizard Tournament." Dean let out a snort of laughter at that and Bem shot him an annoyed look before sighing and rolling his eyes. "And one of the Beauxbatons girls. Who I'm looking forward to seeing this summer, so at least something good came out of the whole thing. But not all of us got to skip our exams, and so I ended up pulling a Flint."

Seamus Finnigan laughed and reached over to pat Bem on the back. "If I didn't think me mam would kill me for it, I'd probably try and do the same. Repeating a year is a small price to pay to never hear Ron snore again." As Bem and Dean burst into loud laughter at that, Seamus looked over at Harry. "I'm with Bem, though. Well, not literally with him, because he's going to France and I'm staying in Naas. But I'm looking forward to seeing Kenneth. Owls are nice, but it's not the same."

As Harry racked his brain, trying to remember if Seamus had ever mentioned that name before, Susan made things considerably simpler for him. "Kenneth?"

"My boyfriend."

Irreverent as it was, Harry's first thought was that he ought to introduce his roommate to his uncle. A wizard who was also a 'poofter'? The man would probably have a massive heart attack on the spot, and the world would be far better for it. Then he realized that he should probably say something, before Seamus assumed the worst of him. "I'd ask if you wanted to meet up for a double date, but…"

Seamus considered that for a moment before shuddering. "Yeah, he doesn't even know that I'm a wizard yet. Not sure how I'm going to break it to him, but I'm pretty sure a demon inhabiting the body of one of my dead schoolmates isn't it." Then his eyes dropped to where Harry was still holding hands with Susan and Tracey. "That, and I'm pretty sure that on a double date, four's company and six is a crowd."

"It'd be seven or more if Illyria had her way. She's, uh, a bit keen on untangling the Potter-Boscawen-Rashleigh-Tremayne snarl in my family tree." Or at least that was the story Harry was going to stick to in public for the time being. While Ron was probably the exception rather than the rule when it came to emotional depth and maturity, Harry wasn't keen on finding out what sort of reactions 'my new wife wants me to sleep with lots of other witches' would get. "At any rate, I'm sure you guys want to get back to talking without having half the carriage trying to listen in… and I've got places to go and Old Ones to appease. See you in September."

With his hands occupied, it fell to Tracey to wave goodbye on his behalf and then they set off down the aisle again. Rather than sink back into his previous thoughts, Harry found himself scanning the car for any familiar faces. Parvati, Padma, and Lavender… pass. The rumor mill was likely already running at full speed thanks to Tracey's comments back in the Pear; he had no desire to get interrogated by two of the school's biggest gossips. Thankfully all three had escaped Illyria's notice, meaning she wouldn't be after him to associate with them, although Harry had a suspicion that might change in the near future if puberty got any kinder to Lavender.

As they continued onward, Harry noticed a few more familiar faces. Here and there were students from the DA, mixed in with classmates who had chosen not to join for whatever reason. And in the last seating bay on the right, he spotted Gryffindor's three chasers deep in discussion with Demelza Robins. Given that Angelina and Alicia had just finished their final year at Hogwarts and he'd spotted Demelza out flying the few times he'd gone down to the pitch just to blow off steam… perhaps they were helping Katie groom a successor? He debated stopping to chat with them, before ultimately deciding that it would be rude given how intent they seemed on their conversation. So instead he merely offered them a nod and a smile as he passed by, continuing on to the gangway at the end of the carriage.

Rather than proceeding through to the next coach, Tracey surprised Harry by opening the door and then stepping out of the way so that Susan could take the lead and pull him through behind her. So evidently they were serious about practicing sharing him. Cute. The next carriage passed largely without incident: they stopped for a few minutes to exchange pleasantries with a trio of older Hufflepuffs that Susan evidently recognized but Harry did not, as well as pausing just long enough for Tracey to trade barbs with a blonde Slytherin with a distinctly American accent. After passing a boy near the end of the carriage who was just as obviously German, Harry waited until they reached the end vestibule before deciding to sate his curiosity. "Since when do we have foreigners at Hogwarts? Did I miss something about exchange students this year?"

"No. They've always been here. After all, Hogwarts is open to any eligible witch or wizard from the British Isles. Eligible being the school's polite way of saying 'able to pay tuition', and the British Isles being the Republic of Ireland, the United Kingdom, the Isle of Man, Guernsey, and Jersey. Although I don't think we have any students from the last three at the moment." Susan nodded her head back in the direction of the seating bays they'd just passed. "Let's use Johann's situation as an example. Say you moved to America and became a citizen. Would passing the citizenship kill your accent and make you any less inherently British overnight?" Harry thought for a moment, wondering if it was a trick question, before shaking his head. "So when foreigners with magical children move to Britain and become citizens, where would their now-British kids end up going to school?"

Hogwarts. And Susan's explanation certainly made more sense than Harry's initial thought, which was that Dumbledore had been stupid enough to invite exchange students into a country he'd been trying to prepare for war. With that settled, he turned to consider the door that led to the next carriage. "So, you've each gotten to lead once. Does that mean it's my turn to walk in front and you'll hold hands behind me?"

While Harry had been joking when he asked the question, the girls appeared to give the matter serious thought before shrugging almost in unison. Tracey pulled her hand out of his as she slipped past Harry, grabbing Susan's hand and interlacing their fingers before shooting a grin back at him. "Or we can lead and hold each other's hand while you bring up the rear. After all, it's kinda hard to be a tour guide in foreign territory, isn't it?"

"I don't know, I think I managed to do a pretty good job of walking down an aisle in a straight line. If I can do it, I'm pretty sure that Harry can too." Susan paused for a moment, glancing back over her shoulder, and then shot Harry a wink. "Then again, with the lovely scenery he'd have, I don't think he'd mind bringing up the rear."

Harry couldn't argue with that one. It didn't even matter which one of the girls ended up at the front of the line and who ended up in the middle near him; while Tracey was definitely the more gifted of the two up top, puberty had been equally generous to both girls' arses. But since Susan had so graciously volunteered… "Sounds like we have a plan then. Tracey, you'll go first because you're having fun playing 'tour guide' for us. Then you, Susan, and I'll bring up the rear so I can… enjoy the scenery."

For a moment, Tracey seemed ready to protest - perhaps she'd rather him enjoy her scenery, Harry mused - before glancing at the gangway door and nodding. "Guess that works. Otherwise I'd need to peek over the top of Susan's head to try and read the Hierophants' mood. If they're in a good mood, we'll stop and talk. If they're not… is it true that you have an invisibility cloak?"

"I do not have to say anything because anything I do say may be entered into evidence." Harry let out a low chuckle as Tracey rolled her eyes before giving a tug on Susan's hand, pulling the redhead along behind her as she opened the gangway door and stepped through. He'd been subjected to a fun little civics lesson upon his return to Little Whinging after first year, learning all sorts of things that a proper juvenile delinquent and student of St. Brutus's Secure Centre for Incurably Criminal Boys would know. The police's caution about the right to silence had been one of those things. The fact that Tracey recognized his butchering of it made him wonder what she did for fun when school was out.

Harry allowed himself a few seconds to admire Susan's swaying hips and round arse, letting the girls open up a gap of a half-dozen steps or so, before giving chase and slipping his hand into the redhead's as they made their way through the coach. As they made their way down the aisle, Susan slowed a bit and gently twisted their joined hands until the back of Harry's brushed against her left arse cheek. Even as Harry blushed faintly at the contact, Susan looked back at him and raised one eyebrow challengingly before releasing his hand. Recognizing the challenge inherent in her move, he reached forward tentatively and pressed his hand against the small of her back. Then something occurred to Harry: if she was inviting his touch - and he certainly wasn't averse to the idea - what was the problem? So after a few seconds, he let his hand drift slowly down the back of her brown skirt until it was resting on the same spot his hand had brushed against at her direction. And then he gave her arse a squeeze, just because.

Jumping slightly, Susan let out a soft squeak of surprise… and then grunted as she ran into Tracey's back. Far more used to analyzing, deciding, and reacting in a split second, Harry let his hand slide up and around the curve of Susan's hip until his arm was wrapped around her waist, pulling back slightly as he came to a stop so that he was hugging her from behind. Not only did that save what little dignity Susan had left, but it allowed poor Tracey to straighten back up. The Slytherin muttered something under her breath as she smoothed her hands down the front of her dress before turning to the seating bay on their left. "Hey, Parkinson. To reuse something hilarious Harry said? He just beat Draco the way Mister Malfoy beats the family's house elves. You might want to go check on him."

Much to Harry's surprise, Pansy looked annoyed rather than upset at the news. "Is he unconscious?" Harry nodded slowly. "Eh, no rush then. It's not like those gorillas he hangs out with will be able to revive him; they can barely figure out which end of a wand to grip." Resting her chin in her hand, Pansy gazed up at Harry contemplatively. "So, word has it that you're collecting potential wives. Got room for one more?" As Harry's mouth opened and closed soundlessly, the brunette let out a giggle. "What? I'd love to put some distance between me and the boy who still thinks that signing up with You-Know-Who is an excellent career move. But you know that Draco's ego means he won't be able to let me go quietly. So I'd need someone to hide behind. Say… someone who just beat him like a disobedient elf?"

"First of all… Tracey, Parkinson, I'm allowed to make that joke because I rescued the house elf that Malfoy was abusing. It just makes you two sound like horrible people. Stop it." Harry paused long enough for Tracey to mutter an apology and Pansy to roll her eyes unrepentantly before continuing on. "Secondly? If there's a part of your core that's not rotten, Parkinson, you've never let me see it. So not for a dowry the size of your family's vault." Harry assumed that would be a significant sum, given that Malfoy found her to be an acceptable match. If not? Well, it got his point across well enough.

Rather than get angry at his words, Pansy simply shrugged them off. "Can't blame a girl for trying." She turned back to the girls she was sharing a table with and sighed. "Duty calls. You know where I'll be if you want to come yell at me some more."

Moving perfectly in sync, Flora and Hestia Carrow leaned forward and narrowed their eyes at Pansy. "We're not yelling at you, Parkinson, we're simply expressing our overwhelming irritation with you in a very direct manner." While Harry had seen the pair around, he'd never actually interacted with them… and so their tendency to speak as one came as a hell of a shock. Listening to 'Gred and Forge' pass a thought back and forth in mid-sentence was bad enough, but the Carrows' perfectly synchronized speech was so much creepier. "We'll owl you this summer with detailed instructions for next year, since you obviously can't be trusted to think for yourself."

"I can too!"

"Two words, Parkinson: Inquisitorial Squad. We told you that Umbridge was bad news. We explicitly forbid you to join and then you took part in her inane grab for power anyway. So now we're shortening your leash." The Carrows waved off Pansy's objection before she could vocalize it. "Stop arguing before we get rid of the leash entirely and just grab you by the collar. Now go see to Malfoy, and remember that you signed up for this. If you don't want to be the Slytherin Princess any more, we can arrange it so that Malfoy has a new girlfriend come September." Conceding the fight, Pansy nodded but continued to mutter under her breath as she slide out of her seat, forcing her way past the trio standing in the aisle as she headed rearward. The twins stared after her for a few seconds before turning their attention to the new arrivals. "Bones, Davis, sit down. Potter, you're dismissed."

Even as Harry bristled at the rather brusque treatment, Tracey turned and interposed herself between him and the twins, preventing him from replying. "Did you really think that Malfoy was the one in charge of Slytherin? When he can't do anything other than repeat what his father tells him? The Carrows are the real power behind our throne, using Pansy as an intermediary." That… actually made a strange sort of sense to Harry. As annoying as Malfoy was, he'd never struck Harry as being particularly competent. Knowing that there was someone there to do his thinking for him when Lucius couldn't be explained a lot. It didn't explain why they were being so rude, though, especially given most of the house was rightfully terrified of his new companion. "I don't know what they want with me, or Susan for that matter, but blowing them off for no reason would be a real quick way to end up with a hippogriff head in my bed."

Harry raised an eyebrow at that. "That's not exactly a good way to convince me to leave you with them."

"I'm kidding, Harry. If they wanted me dead, they wouldn't do it themselves in front of all these witnesses. They'd have blackmailed someone to do it for them before we left school."

"Still not convincing me."

"Good thing I don't have to, then." Tracey took a half-step back as she crossed her arms over her chest. "You're not my father and even if you were my boyfriend or fiancé or husband, you still wouldn't get to tell me what to do. The only two people get a vote here are me and Susan, and I want to hear what they have to say."

She had a point, Harry realized. While he'd come from a home with very distinct gender roles - and seen that replicated when he stayed with Ron - he'd never been particularly enamored by the relationship model that the Dursleys and Weasleys displayed. Partners seemed like a much more agreeable way to work things than having one person who radically overpowered the other… which was probably why he and Hermione weren't compatible, now that he thought about it. And it was something else he'd need to discuss with Illyria soon, at least assuming she was serious about having something that even vaguely resembled a romantic relationship with him. "You're right, Tracey. But does Susan?" The Hufflepuff thought for a moment before nodding slowly. "Okay. In that case, I'm going to keep wandering around. I'll catch up with you two on my way back."

"No you won't." Leaning back in their seat, Flora and Hestia let their arms cross as they both reached up to play with a lock of their twin's hair. Harry's surprise must have shown on his face, because they giggled. "We have very good ears; it's part of what makes us good at what we do. But there's only one carriage after this, and it's only half a coach at that. You can explore it if you really want, but we'll be talking for longer than that'll take you."

"…okay, so I guess I'll just go back to my compartment and wait for those owls then. Tracey. Susan. Carrows." Harry gave Susan's waist a squeeze before releasing her; as she took her seat across from one of the Carrows - he knew not which - Harry reached out and likewise hugged Tracey. Then he turned and began making his way back down the carriage, chuckling lowly as he spotted Pansy sitting with her back against the door in the right rear vestibule. Evidently she really wasn't in that big a hurry to check on Draco.

Save for a few winks from girls and greetings exchanged with fellow Gryffindors and DA members, the return trip passed largely without incident right up until he returned to his own coach. Reaching his compartment, he brought his hand up to rest on the door and then froze.

Unsurprisingly, Ron was still passed out on the floor; even if Hermione had been inclined to revive him, Harry doubted his friend had the raw power necessary to undo Illyria's spell. That left Hermione the sole occupant of her side's bench seat… after a fashion, that was, because Morag was straddling her lap. Given Morag's behavior toward Tracey, comments about Illyria, and how red Hermione's face was? Harry had a pretty good idea what he'd missed out on during his wandering. And while he generally thought of himself as being a bit more virtuous than his dormmates and their smuggled Playwizards - well, except for Neville of course, that boy was as pure as driven snow - he was a bit ashamed to admit that he was upset that he'd missed out on the spectacle.

Although whatever was going on between Morag and Hermione still seemed to be in progress. Maybe he hadn't missed out on all the fun after all. Knocking slightly on the glass, he slid the door open. "Am I interrupting anything?"