The Hogwarts Express
Harry turned to face the round-faced boy he was sharing a compartment with. "Sorry," he said apologetically. "What was your name again? Neville?"
Neville nodded. "Neville Longbottom, and I'm going to be a first-year. I don't think that you introduced yourself, though."
"Sorry," Harry said again. "I didn't want to be mobbed. Harry Potter."
Neville gaped for a moment before he managed to shut his mouth. "Are you really?" he asked.
"Well, I'm not the Prime Minister," Harry joked, "so I must be Harry Potter." Neville continued staring for a minute or so before turning red and looking away.
The door to the compartment slid open and the younger pair of twins, Ron and Ginny, entered. "Hi," said Ginny. "is there anyone else sitting here? Everywhere else is full."
Neville and Harry shook their heads and helped the twins put their trunks away. "So," Harry said conversationally, "I met your brothers earlier. Does your family always have twins?"
Ron snorted. "No, Mum was surprised by Fred and George and when we turned up together sort of went 'all right, I'm done'. Did you meet Percy too?"
Harry nodded, and Ginny took up the thread of conversation. "He's not the oldest. We've got two even older brothers; not twins, but one was born early September and the other late June, so they both went to Hogwarts the same year as well."
Neville appeared to be nearly as impressed by this as by Harry. "Big family," he commented.
Ron shrugged. "What're your names, anyway? I'm Ron and this is my twin sister Ginny. She's a bookworm."
Ginny punched his arm playfully. "Better a bookworm than a Quidditch-obsessed sloth. But yeah, what're your names?"
"Neville Longbottom," Neville introduced himself. "And this is–"
"Harry," Harry interrupted. "Just Harry."
Ron cocked his head to the side, eyes scanning up and down Harry's body. After a moment, they seemed to latch onto his half-obscured scar, and his eyes narrowed. "Harry Potter, you mean."
Harry flushed red at exactly the same time as Ginny, who squeaked and turned away. "Yeah, but I'm just Harry, really. I'm not some big hero."
Ron nodded. "That's what Dad always says whenever people start to go on about you. He says that it was probably chance and you deserve the chance to be normal. Was he right about where you grew up?"
Harry furrowed his brows. "Where does he think I grew up?"
Ginny, still looking away, spoke up again. "Dad thinks that you grew up with your Mum's parents."
Harry shook his head. "As far as I know, Mum's parents are dead. I grew up with her sister's family."
Ron nodded, still observing him coolly. After a moment, he seemed to realize that he should change the subject. "So obviously we all have the same school supplies, but did anyone bring anything extra?"
Neville grinned broadly, reaching into his pocket, and brought out a small, reddish-brown puppy. It lazily opened its eyes, glancing around the room, before curling up back into sleep. Its most distinctive feature was that it had two heads. "This is Kamno. Mum bought him for me when I got my Hogwarts letter," he said proudly, scratching it at the base of its necks. "I never did accidental magic, you see, so she was relieved when I got in. Gran wanted to get me a toad, but Mum was afraid it would try to run away from me."
Ginny, who seemed to have recovered, bent to rub Kamno's heads, but retreated when the little beast growled in his sleep. "Cute. Aren't orthrusi very rare, though?"
Neville nodded as Harry asked "Orthrusi?"
"The plural of orthrus," Ginny told him. "Named after the first two-headed dog, Orthrus, from Greek mythology."
"Oh." Harry fell silent for a moment. "Wasn't that Cerberus, though?"
Ginny shook her head. "Cerberus guarded the gates to the Underworld and had three heads. Orthrus had two, and herded the sun cows for Geryon, the giant with three bodies."
"Didn't the sun cows belong to what's-his-name, the sun god?"
"Apollo? Yeah, they do, but even a god can't do everything."
Ron smirked. "Ginny loves that stuff. She's a master at magical creatures and old myths."
"Whereas Ron can name every single winner of the Quidditch World Cup, in order," Ginny said dryly. "We agreed, Ron, you don't complain about my interests and I don't complain about yours."
"Who's complaining?" Ron asked with an eyebrow raised. "I was just pointing it out."
"I’ve got a book about magical abilities," Harry said, trying to get them back on topic. "How about you two?"
Ginny seemed to be struggling not to laugh as Ron pulled a fat grey rat out of his pocket. "His name's Scabbers and he's useless, he hardly ever wakes up," Ron complained. "Percy got an owl for being made a prefect, but they couldn't aff – I mean, I got Scabbers instead."
Ron's ears went pink. He seemed to think he'd said too much, because he went back to staring out of the window. Ginny sighed. "Dad could easily do whatever he wants in the Ministry," she told Harry, "but he likes to work in the Department for Misuse of Muggle Artifacts. It has an incredibly tiny budget, so we don't have much money for extra things. We get along, but…"
Harry didn't think there was anything wrong with not being able to afford an owl. After all, he'd never had any money in his life until a month ago, and he told them so, all about having to wear Dudley's old clothes and never getting proper birthday presents. This seemed to cheer Ron up. "... and until Professor Flitwick told me, I didn't know anything about being a wizard or about my parents or Voldemort." Neville gasped. "What?" said Harry.
"You said You-Know-Who's name!" said the blonde boy, sounding both shocked and impressed. "I'd have thought you, of all people -"
"I'm not trying to be brave or anything, saying the name," said Harry, "I just never knew you shouldn't. See what I mean? I've got loads to learn... I bet," he added, voicing for the first time something that had been worrying him a lot lately, "I bet I'm the worst in the class."
"You won't be." Ginny assured him. "There's loads of people who come from Muggle families and they learn quick enough."
While they had been talking, the train had carried them out of London. Now they were speeding past fields full of cows and sheep. They were quiet for a time, watching the fields and lanes flick past. Before long, a middle-aged witch came by with a tray of sweets, and Harry bought some for everyone. They had lots of fun eating them, and Neville, Ron, and Ginny happily dazzled Harry by showing him all of the wizarding treats, like Bertie Bott's Every Flavor Beans and Chocolate Frogs. When Harry discovered that the Frogs came with collectible cards (who's Albus Dumbledore?) he was quickly foisted with doubles from his new friends' collections.
After a while, Ron and Ginny started telling Neville and Harry what they had heard about Hogwarts from their older brothers. Harry was fascinated by the idea of the Houses, and Neville, who already knew about them, declared that he wanted to be in Hufflepuff like his mum. Ginny sighed, saying that she was probably going to be in Ravenclaw, as Ron began to look sad.
"What's wrong, Ron?" Neville asked.
"All of my brothers were in Gryffindor," he said gloomily. "Mom and Dad were in it, too. I don't know what they'll say if I'm not. I don't suppose Ravenclaw would be too bad, but imagine if they put me in Slytherin."
"That's the house Vol-, I mean, You-Know-Who was in?"
"Yeah," said Ron. He flopped back into his seat, looking depressed.
"So what do your oldest brothers do now that they've left, anyway?" said Harry, trying to take Ron's mind off houses. Harry was wondering what a wizard did once he'd finished school.
"Charlie's in Romania studying dragons, and Bill's in Egypt curse-breaking for Gringotts," said Ginny. "Did you hear about Gringotts? It's been all over the Daily Prophet, but I don't suppose you get that with the Muggles - someone tried to rob a high security vault."
Harry stared. "Really? What happened to them?"
"Nothing, that's why it's such big news. They haven't been caught. My dad says it must've been a powerful Dark wizard to get into Gringotts, but they don't think they took anything, that's what's odd. 'Course, everyone gets scared when something like this happens in case You-Know-Who's behind it."
Harry turned this news over in his mind. He was starting to get a prickle of fear every time You- Know-Who was mentioned. He supposed this was all part of entering the magical world, but it had been a lot more comfortable saying "Voldemort" without worrying.
"What's your Quidditch team?" Ron asked.
"Er - I don't know any," Harry confessed.
"What!" Ron looked dumbfounded. "Oh, you wait, it's the best game in the world -" And he was off, explaining all about the four balls and the positions of the seven players, describing famous games he'd been to with his brothers and the broomstick he'd like to get if he had the money, while Ginny and Neville began to doze off. He was just taking Harry through the finer points of the game when the compartment door slid open.
Three boys entered, and Harry recognized the middle one at once; it was the pale boy from the robe shop, Draco. "Hallo, Draco," Harry said brightly.
"Hey Harry," he said. "This is Crabbe and Goyle." The boy gestured to the tree trunks – to the boys, Harry mentally corrected himself – on either side of him. Draco glared at Ron and Ginny. "No need to ask who you two are, though. My father told me that all the Weasley's have red hair, freckles, and more children than they can afford." The twins both turned as red as their hair and seemed to lose their voices.
"Please don't insult my friends, Draco," Harry requested. "After all, I'm not insulting your friends, and I can think of some choice ones."
"I don't see any reason not to," Neville said lazily. "Let's see… ignorant tree trunks, heads full of rocks, couldn't pour water out of a boot with instructions on the heel…"
"Yeah," said Ron, still red, "now go away, Malfoy."
"I'm not going to force him to leave, Ron," Harry said.
"WHAT?" Ron blurted, as Draco watched with amusement. "Don't you know who this is?"
"Yes Ron," Harry said dryly. "In case you didn't notice, I called him by his name without being introduced."
Ginny sighed. "We're going to have to deal with him for the next seven years, Ron," she pointed out. "There's no point in trying to get into a fight. Even if we do have a blood feud with him."
Malfoy reentered the conversation. "As fascinating as this may be, Weasley," he drawled, "I need to speak to Lord Potter." He stepped outside, clearly expecting Harry to follow. After he did, Draco continued. "You'll soon find out that some families are much better than others. I can help you there." He held out his hand to shake Harry's.
Harry considered this quickly. He didn't want to alienate Ron, who seemed like a decent fellow, and if he took Draco's offer than he would almost certainly lose the possibility of Ron's friendship. But he also wanted to be friends with Draco, and rejecting the offer would also be unwise. Draco did seem to be a bit more mature than Ron, though; maybe he would take it better? No, on reflection, the best choice would be some sort of middle ground. If only there was one… ah!
"Don't take this the wrong way, Draco," Harry said politely, "but I think I can tell the wrong sort for myself. I wouldn't say no to some lessons on the noble houses, though; you know, the whole Lord thing and that stuff."
Draco shrugged. "Suit yourself. I'll see you at school and we can work out a time for me to tell you about that then, okay?" Harry nodded, and Draco turned to go.
"How can you stand that git!" Ron complained the moment the door closes. He had clearly heard everything.
"I don't know which house I'll be in yet and I'm rather not be mortal enemies with someone I'll be sleeping in the same room as for seven years, like Ginny said," Harry said reasonably. "Besides, it's always better to be polite."
"I suppose," Ron said uncertainly. "But be warned that there's no hope for me being friends with a Malfoy, our families have a blood feud with each other." Ginny nodded in agreement.
Before Harry could respond, though, a voice echoed through the train. "We will be reaching Hogwarts in five minutes time. Please leave your luggage on the train, it will be taken to the school separately."
"We'd better get changed!" Ginny cried, leaping to her feet. "I'll step outside and see if the girls in the compartment next door mind me changing in there."
Neville looked at her oddly as he opened his trunk and pulled out a set of robes. "Ginny, the uniform is a set of robes. We can just pull them on over our normal clothes."
Ginny colored bright red and began to copy Neville. Harry tried to do the same, but couldn't work out the relatively complicated clothes.
"Oh, for Merlin's sake," Ron said, already finished. "Come over here, Harry, let me see what the problem is." Ron glanced up and down Harry for a moment, then said "You've got the lower layer caught on one of the buttons."
Harry snatched it up and unsnagged it, finally settling the robes properly. "Thanks," he said, blushing a little.
Ron shrugged. "Don't mention it. Really, don't. Ever."
The robes were surprisingly complicated. They had two layers; an under-robe, which was plain white and only came down to the knees, and an over-robe that was plain black and came down to the ankles. The over-robe split down the back (starting at the waist) and overlapped so that you could walk without showing the under-robe, which split down the front in the same way. The over-robe had an open collar, showing the tie that was already attached to the under-robe, also plain white. The whole thing was apparently charmed to move freely together, so that it didn’t bind, and a plain white belt wrapped around the waist.
The train slowed to a stop as Harry zipped his trunk closed once more. When they stepped outside of the train, Harry glanced around and saw the castle. It was… perfect. That was the only word, Harry thought, that he would ever be able to use to describe the wondrous castle; the architecture, the stonework, the warm pressure, greater than in Ollivander's shop, that he felt all over him; it all seemed to cry out to him, welcome home. Harry knew, looking upon the great school of magic, that this was where he wanted to spend his life. It–
"First years! First years, over here!"