Making New Friends
Harry was so excited about going off to school that he woke up at five o'clock in the morning and couldn't go back to sleep. The big day was finally here.
The Dursleys reluctantly allowed him to be in the car and dropped him off at King's Cross station at half past ten. Uncle Vernon dumped Harry's trunk out onto the curb and got back into the car without saying a word. Harry pulled a cart over and was about to ask for help when the Dursleys drove off, giving him a face full of exhaust.
Choking and coughing, Harry somehow muscled his trunk onto the cart and wheeled it inside. He pulled out his ticket to see what platform he was leaving from and stared at it in amazement.
It read Platform 9 & ¾. Was this some kind of test? Was it a foolish joke? Seeing no alternative, he pushed his cart down to where platforms nine and ten were and stared up at the big plastic numbers. There was only a 9 and a 10.
A passing guard was no help. Harry tried not to panic as the last ten minutes ticked away. He was stranded in the middle of a train station with a trunk he could hardly lift. His pockets were full of wizard money. He had no idea what to do.
Hagrid must have forgotten to tell him something you had to do, like tapping the third brick on the left to get into Diagon Alley. Should he get out his wand and start tapping the ticket inspector's stand between platforms nine and ten?
Worry gnawed at him. Why did he have to be here alone? Why couldn't someone have helped him out on this critical day? Hagrid had said all the information was on his ticket. It told him the date, the time, the platform number, and the station, but it didn't say anything about actually finding the platform.
At that moment a group of people passed just behind him, and he caught a few words of what they were saying.
"-packed with Muggles, of course-"
Harry's head snapped around sharply. The speaker was a plump woman who was talking to four boys, all with flaming red hair. Each of them was pushing a trunk like Harry's in front of him, and they had an owl.
Heart hammering, Harry pushed his cart after them. They stopped, and so did he, just near enough to hear what they were saying.
"Now, what's the platform number?" said the boys' mother.
"Nine and three-quarters!" piped a small girl, also red-headed, who was holding her mother's hand. "Mum, can't I go too?"
"Next year, Ginny, next year. All right, Percy, you first."
What looked like the oldest boy marched toward platforms nine and ten. Harry watched, careful not to blink in case he missed it -- but just as the boy reached the dividing barrier between the two platforms, a large crowd of tourists came swarming in front of him and by the time the last backpack had cleared away, the boy had vanished.
"Fred, your turn," the plump woman said.
"He's not Fred, I am!" protested one of the twins.
The other looked very hurt and cast his mother a reproachful glance. "Honestly, woman, you call yourself our mother?"
"Sorry, George, dear."
George lined up his cart with the divider and flashed her a grin. "Only joshing. I am Fred really," he said, and off he went. His twin called after him to hurry up, and he must have done so, because a second later, he had gone -- but how had he done it?
Now the third brother was walking briskly towards the barrier - he was almost there - and then, quite suddenly, he wasn't anywhere.
There was nothing else for it. Simply watching wasn't going to help him figure out the trick.
"Excuse me," Harry said to the plump woman.
"Hello, dear," she said. "First time at Hogwarts? Ron's new, too."
She pointed at the last and youngest of her sons. He was tall, thin, and gangling, with freckles, big hands and feet, and a long nose.
"Yes. The thing is," said Harry hesitantly, "the thing is, I don't know how to-"
"How to get onto the platform?" she asked kindly, and Harry nodded.
"Not to worry," she said. "All you have to do is walk straight at the barrier there. Don't stop and don't worry about crashing into it, otherwise you will. Best to do it at a bit of a run, if you're nervous. Go on, go now before Ron."
"Thank you," he said, very nervous now.
He pushed his trolley around and stared at the barrier. It looked very solid.
He started to walk toward it. People jostled him on their way to platforms nine and ten. Harry walked more quickly. He was going to smash right into that barrier, and then he'd be in trouble. Leaning forward on his cart, he broke into a heavy run. The barrier was coming nearer and nearer. He wouldn't be able to stop. The cart had too much momentum built up. He was a metre away. He closed his eyes, ready for the crash.
It didn't come. He kept on running and opened his eyes.
A scarlet steam engine was waiting next to a platform packed with people. A sign overhead said Hogwarts Express, eleven o'clock. Harry looked behind him and saw a wrought-iron archway where the barrier had been, with the words Platform Nine and Three-Quarters on it. He'd made it.
The platform was the most chaotic place Harry had ever seen, and that included fire drills at school. Animals, children, and parents milled together. He pushed his cart down the platform in search of Draco, the only person he knew. It seemed impossible that he should find one person in the mob.
He passed a round-faced boy who was saying, "Gran, I've lost my toad again."
"Oh, Neville," he heard the old woman sigh.
A boy with dreadlocks was surrounded by a small crowd. The twins from that nice family were standing with him.
"Give us a look, Lee, go on."
The boy lifted the lid of the box in his arms, and the people around him shrieked and yelled as something inside poked out a long, hairy leg.
"Harry!" shouted a familiar voice.
Harry turned round and saw Draco rushing his way. Then he was there, and Harry thought his friend might shake his arm off.
"You made it!" he said breathlessly. "I was starting to worry."
"I couldn't figure out how to get onto the platform," Harry replied. "I guess Hagrid forgot to tell me."
Draco's upper lip curled back in a sneer, but he didn't say anything nasty. "I would have said something myself, if I'd thought of it. Terribly sorry. So how'd you do it?"
"Asked some people with an owl," Harry said with a casual shrug. He'd seen Draco act nonchalant and consciously imitated him.
Draco laughed and put his hands on the cart. "C'mon, we're back here," he said, guiding the cart to a compartment towards the middle of the train. Working together, they easily got the trunk off the trolley and loaded into the train.
Harry wiped the sweat off his forehead. "That trunk is heavy."
"Father already left, but he sends his respects. Mum was meeting a friend for lunch, so she couldn't come with us. She sent you a tin of biscuits."
"I'll write her a thank you note immediately," Harry promised.
Before Draco could answer, several other children came piling into the compartment.
"It was a tarantula," one boy was saying. He was a little bit taller than Harry, with light brown hair that was cut short. He was already dressed in his school robes.
"And how do you know that, Theo?" asked a girl who almost looked like more of a boy than the boy did. She was of medium height and skinny, a tomboy if there ever was one; her plain brown hair was straight and limp, reaching to her jawline.
"I asked him, Millie."
"You were talking with a Gryffindor?" spat another girl, disgust written across her face. Her black hair was shiny, though, and neatly pulled into two braids.
"Shut up, Parkinson."
"Make me, Nott."
"Puddle of troll vomit."
"I'm going to hex you."
Theo Nott smiled in a wicked, inviting sort of manner. "Any time, love." He bowed to her and sat down. "Oi, Draco, is this the chap you said we all had to meet?"
Draco nodded, practically bursting with pride. "I'd like you all to meet my friend, Harry Potter."
Other than a gasp from Parkinson, the entire compartment went dead silent. Nott was staring at him, while the two girls weren't much better.
"Blimey," breathed Nott, clearly overwhelmed. "I'm going to hex you, Draco, for keeping that a secret."
"You must be joking," Draco snapped. "Keeping it a secret? Isn't a chap entitled to surprise his mates every now and then?"
"Of course you are, Draco," said Parkinson, "but this is a pretty big shock. What if one of us had a weak heart?"
"You're eleven years old, Pansy," Nott pointed out.
"Shut up, Nott."
Nott began turning red. "You'll regret that."
"Not more than I regret knowing you."
Harry was a little uneasy at the casual exchange of insults. Draco must have noticed this, because he nudged Harry with his elbow.
"Ignore them. They've been at each other like this since they learned how to talk."
"Oh," said Harry. "All right."
"Are those two at it again?" asked a new voice, this one belonging to a pretty girl with a tumbled mane of blonde hair. She was about Harry's height, with bright blue eyes that were shining in utter amusement. Obviously she knew the pair and their natures.
"Hi, Tracy," the girl named Millie greeted her. "Yes, of course they're at it, but what do you mean 'again'? They've never stopped, have they?"
"I think when they sleep. Hello," she said, reaching a hand out to Harry. "Tracy Davis."
Harry shook hands. "Harry Potter."
Eyes wide, she shook hands enthusiastically. Then she turned to glare around the compartment. "Who's been keeping secrets?"
Millie pointed at Draco.
"Malfoy?" she said, her tone threatening.
"What?" he asked innocently.
"How could you?"
"I said I'd made a friend you ought to meet."
"Yes, but you didn't say it was Harry Potter!"
"So?" Draco said, putting a load of contempt into his voice. "Better you know about him and want to meet him without that."
"Point," she conceded, "but I'll have my revenge."
"I'm sure you will," he said with an oily smirk. "But anyways, since you cads are being so uncivilized, I guess I'll have to make the introductions. Harry, I'd like you to meet my friends. That there's Theo Nott, Pansy Parkinson, Millie Bulstrode, and you've met Tracy."
"Pleasure to meet you all," Harry said sincerely.
A knock on the door of their compartment interrupted them. A tall older boy who looked eerily like Draco stuck his head in. He had the same pale blond hair, the same grey eyes. Even his chin was pointed and his posture very proper.
"Everything going well, my lads and ladies?"
"Hi, Elan," Draco greeted his older brother.
"I'm just looking in on everyone before I go up to the front of the train. The prefects have two compartments to themselves." Sure enough, a shiny silver badge pinned to his billowing black Hogwarts robes had the letter P on it.
"Oh, are you a prefect?" Theo asked with total innocence.
"Quiet, you," Elan bantered back. "I know I showed you the badge when you were up at the Manor."
"I think we're all right, Elan. Thanks," Draco said.
"Very good," he said poshly. "If anything comes up, you know where to find me."
"Yes, you'll be snogging my sister," said Tracy.
Elan turned a most interesting shade of scarlet. He fled without another word as the children laughed. Clearly this group had long experience in pushing his buttons.
The whistle sounded. Everyone settled into a seat. Six people fit in the compartment quite comfortably. Everyone had space to stretch their legs out, and three people could stand without getting in each others' way.
"Later on, I'll introduce you to Crabbe and Goyle. They're one compartment down playing Exploding Snap."
"Are those the two idiots from a couple of months ago?" Theo asked. "I'd forgotten their names. I tried to forget them entirely."
"Yes, that's them."
"I was less than impressed with their combined intellect. I shall have nothing to do with them."
"Why should we suffer the presence of fools?" Tracy said.
"They know their place. Brute muscle has its place at times."
"Rent an ogre."
"Have you seen Terry or Mandy yet?" Theo asked.
"Terry's sitting two compartments up with some boys I don't know."
"Muggleborns?" was Theo's suspicious reply.
Tracy frowned in concentration. "I'm not sure. I wasn't really paying attention to them. I think one of them was wearing Muggle brand trainers."
Draco waved his hand. "That doesn't necessarily mean anything," he said. "They make footwear better than any wizard."
"Your father would have you gutted and hung on a fence if he heard you talking like that," Pansy jabbed at him.
"He said it himself," Draco defended. "Think about it. Wizards have brooms, Floo, and Apparition. Why do we need to walk anywhere? We certainly have no real need to run, except when we're young and can't Apparate. Plus we're not allowed brooms as first years and have no reason to Floo anywhere."
"What about Mandy?" Theo pressed. "Has anyone seen her yet?"
Pansy grinned wickedly. "Does our ickle Teddikins have a cwush on pwitty wittle Mandy?"
"She's my friend, twit," snarled Theo.
Tracy shook her head, sending her blonde hair whipping around. "I haven't seen her. I can't find the Patil twins either."
The train began to move. Harry glanced out the window and saw the platform disappear as the train picked up speed. It rounded the corner and the station was gone. Houses flashed by the window. Harry felt a great leap of excitement. He didn't know what he was headed toward, but it had to be better than what he was leaving behind.
"This is all so fantastic," he marvelled. "Tell me this is really happening."
"It's real, mate," Draco said. "You really have been rescued from that place. Tell us that story. I want to hear how Hagrid rescued you."
"Hagrid?" Tracy asked. "The groundskeeper? He rescued you? From where?"
"From the Muggle world," Draco said. "Harry's been living with Muggles for the last ten years. Can you believe that? Father's looking in to it, but Harry just found out about magic a month ago."
"That's so horrible. What a travesty of justice."
"Inhuman," Theo declared. "No wizard should be subjected to Muggles, least of all one born to a magical family, but tell us how you came back to your right world."
"Well, it all started with the letters."
Harry told the story of how the first letter had been taken away from him. The following day, two letters. On the third day, three, and so on. On the twelfth day, the letters appears inside a dozen eggs. They'd been chased from their home by all the letters, winding up in a fishing hut on a rock island in the middle of nowhere.
"And then Hagrid came. He knocked down the door, put Uncle Vernon in his place, and finally gave me my letter. He told me who I was, what had really happened to my parents. The Dursleys lied to me my whole life. They told me my parents were killed in a car crash."
"Muggles," Pansy said, wrinkling her nose. "I still have trouble believing it. No wizard should be raised by Muggles. It's bad enough with all the Muggleborns."
"What was it like?" Tracy asked. "Did you ever do accidental magic? I once turned my sister's hair red as a rose while she was babysitting me. She wouldn't let me listen to the wireless."
Harry grinned. "I guess I must have. It's nice to finally know what it meant. I guess my uncle was right when he said it was my fault."
"Your fault? They got angry with you?"
"Yeah. Pretty often, actually."
Tracy covered her mouth. "Did they ever get violent?"
"Er- sometimes. He yelled a lot. Called me a freak. I never understood why."
"Muggles are violent," Pansy said. "My father says so."
"Uncle Vernon was. He took a swipe at me every so often."
"Muggles," Draco snarled with contempt.
"Dudley was worse."
"Your cousin?" Tracy said.
"Yeah. He liked to beat me up. He's got a lot of tough kids that he hangs around with, and they liked to beat me up too."
"Everyone in school was afraid of Dudley's gang. Nobody wanted to be my friend. One time, Scott Allenson invited me to play over at his house. That afternoon, they stuffed him in a trashcan and rolled it down the hill. He almost got hit by a car and eventually crashed into a tree. Now he runs in the other direction if he sees me coming."
"Just one more in a long list of nasty things Muggles do to each other," Theo pronounced. "It's why we can never reveal ourselves to them."
"It was rather horrible," Harry said. "They had a letter that Dumbledore had written to tell me all about my parents and being a wizard and all, but they kept it from me. Until Hagrid told me, I didn't know anything about being a wizard or my parents or Voldemort-"
Tracy and Millicent gasped. Draco and Theo looked impressed. Pansy fell back in a faint.
"You said You-Know-Who's name!" Theo whispered loudly, clearly over-awed.
"I'm not trying to be brave or anything, you know," 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."
"Worthless Muggles," Draco spat. "Not telling him he's a wizard! Keeping his heritage from him!"
"Agreed," said Tracy. "That's a sin that's unpardonable. Not to worry, Harry, we'll help you out. You're not going to be at a disadvantage just because of some stupid Muggles. We're going to take care of you. You'll be the brother we never had."
Harry blushed. He wasn't used to people doing nice things for him. "Thanks. Wish I had a wizard brother or sister."
"Hah!" Draco said. "It's not that special. Primarily it just means someone to annoy on a regular basis."
"Jamie's my best friend," Tracy retorted, "but yes, sometimes we get on each other's nerves.
"Plus he's nosy," said Draco. "Can't stand the idea of something going on that he doesn't know everything about. Forever poking in where he's not wanted."
"Jamie's just as bad. Forever asking me stupid questions. Honestly, those two deserve each other."
And there was much giggling.
"But Elan did tell me about the Sorting," Draco said. The others ooh'd and aah'd in astonishment.
"Jamie wouldn't budge. I even threatened to tell Mum about the time when she snuck out to see a boy, but it was no good. At least Jamie got in trouble."
"Elan told me not to worry at all. The great and mysterious trial is nothing more complex than putting a hat on your head."
"What?" they all asked.
"It's called the Sorting Hat, and it was made by the four Founders long ago. You put it on your head, and then it screams out your house for the whole school to hear."
Theo was agape. "But that's easy! I was certain we'd need spells! I had a whole list of nasty hexes lined up!"
"Waste of time, mate," Draco said with a smirk. "With all that hard work, perhaps you'll wind up in Hufflepuff."
"Absolutely disgusting!" Theo ranted. "I think I'd leave! My dad could teach me everything."
"Then again, you're very smart, so perhaps Ravenclaw is in your future."
"I know what's in your future, Malfoy, if you keep talking like that. My family is just as Slytherin as yours."
"But mine goes back further."
They talked about their pets, something Harry had neglected to get in his hurried rush through Diagon Alley's shops. Draco had his eagle owl, Arlette, of whom Harry was rather fond considering the fright she'd given Aunt Petunia, and he told this story to extremely amused laughter. Tracy had a grey-and-black striped kitten she'd named Argent because his patterns made him look silvery in the right light. Pansy and Millicent had both got owls, a screech owl named Benson and a barn owl named Eccidemas respectively. Nott's familiar, a jet black tabby cat named Onyx, had been with him for years, ever since she'd wandered into his kitchen during a rainstorm. Harry struggled to keep all the names straight, knowing it was probably a futile effort.
While they talked, the train carried them out of London. Now they were speeding past fields full of cows and sheep. They continued their conversations, though Harry spent a great deal of time listening and watching. These children seemed like quite a decent lot. They were friendly, amusing, and very interesting. Draco, Pansy, Theo, Millie, and Tracy had all been friends growing up.
Was this what it was like to be a normal boy? Harry wondered. If these were friends, then how he wished that he'd met them years ago. He too was from an old wizarding family, and surely he would have been friends with them all many years ago if Voldemort hadn't interfered.
Around half past twelve there was a great clattering outside in the corridor, and a smiling, dimpled woman slid back their door and said, "Anything off the cart, dears?"
Harry, who hadn't had any breakfast, leapt to his feet, quickly followed by his new friends. He had never had any money for candy with the Dursleys, and now that he had pockets rattling with gold and silver he was ready to buy as many Mars Bars as he could carry, but the woman didn't have Mars Bars. What she did have were Bertie Bott's Every Flavour Beans, Drooble's Best Blowing Gum, Chocolate Frogs, Pumpkin Pasties, Cauldron Cakes, Licorice Wands, and a number of other strange things Harry had never seen before.
"Wow," he said.
Draco glanced at him out of the corner of his eye. "Right. Gang? It's time for Harry's first lesson. Everybody get something different, and get enough to share."
Before Harry could protest, the five boys and girls had liberally raided the snack trolley. He tried to pay attention as his friends began to tell him all about the various sweets. He stuffed his face quite thoroughly. Theo's offer to give him a whole bunch of Chocolate Frog card doubles struck Harry as extremely generous, and he tucked the Dumbledore card away in his pocket.
The countryside now flying past the window was becoming wilder. The neat fields had gone. Now there were woods, twisting rivers, and dark green hills.
"Want to hear a joke?" Draco asked them.
"Sure," Tracy said for the group.
Theo snickered loudly, and everyone else joined in a few seconds later as it sank in. Harry laughed with them, even though he didn't get the joke. Surely the things they'd been saying about Hufflepuff weren't actually true.
There was a knock on the door of their compartment, and the round-faced boy Harry had passed on platform nine and three-quarters came in. He looked tearful.
"Sorry to bother you," he said diffidently, "but have you seen a toad anywhere? Trevor keeps running away from me."
They all shook their heads. The boy, Neville, Harry remembered, sniffed a few times, trying hard not to cry. "If you see him..."
"We will," said Harry. It was hard not to feel bad for the boy. Harry didn't own a pet, but if he did, he would probably be very upset to lose it.
Pansy was trying hard not to laugh. "Who brings a toad?" she asked curiously. "I know they were all the fad a few years ago, but honestly."
"Elan brought a toad his first year," Draco commented.
"Yes, himself," she giggled.
"You're just saying that because you fancy him," Draco shot back.
Pansy flushed slightly. "He's handsome," she said.
"It runs in the family," he said smugly, buffing his fingernails on his sweater.
"Hadn't you better change into your robes?" Theo said, looking out the window. "We must be nearly there."
Everyone agreed with this and began to pull off their sweaters. Harry was stunned for a moment, but Draco nudged him.
"It's just- I mean-" he stammered.
Realization dawned in Draco's eyes. "Oh! Oh, that stupid Muggle foolishness about undressing in mixed company?"
Draco sniffed. "Muggles are ever so provincial. We wizards take such things in stride. Come on then, don't be shy."
Harry was very embarrassed. It must have shown, too, because Tracy paused in the act of unbuttoning her trousers.
"Be a little more understanding, Draco. He was raised as a Muggle. There's bound to be a few problems while he adjusts. Ladies," she said, addressing Millicent and Pansy, who were also about to become indecently dressed, "let's go next door. Give Harry some privacy."
Harry flashed her a grateful smile as the three girls picked up their robes and left the compartment. He and Draco quickly stripped out of their casual clothes and donned the uniform shirt and trousers before pulling the robes on over their heads. Theo was already changed.
There was a knocking on the door, and it slid open. The toadless boy was back, but this time he had a girl with him. She was wearing her new Hogwarts robes.
"Has anyone seen a toad? Neville's lost one," she said. She had a bossy sort of voice, lots of bushy brown hair, and rather large front teeth.
"Are you stupid?" Theo asked incredulously. "We already told him we haven't seen it."
"There's no need to be rude," she said with a sniff. Then she caught sight of Harry's forehead.
"You're Harry Potter!" she exclaimed. "I know all about you, of course. I got a few extra books for background reading, and you're in Modern Magical History, and The Rise and Fall of the Dark Arts, and Great Wizarding Events of the Twentieth Century."
"Am I?" said Harry, feeling dazed.
"Goodness, didn't you know? I'd have found out everything I could if it was me," the girl said. "I'm Hermione Granger, by the way. Who are the rest of you?"
Theo froze. "Granger? That's not a family name I know," he said, his voice little more than a whisper.
"My parents are dentists. They have a practice on the outskirts of London."
"You're Muggleborn," Draco said flatly.
"Yes, I'm the first in my family to be magical. It was ever such a surprise when I got my letter, but I was ever so pleased, of course. I mean, it's the very best school of witchcraft there is, I've heard. I've learned all our course books by heart, of course. I just hope it will be enough."
"Oh, I promise you," Theo said softly, "that it will not be enough."
She turned to look at him, missing the dangerous glint in his eyes.
"There are certain disadvantages that Mudbloods like yourself have. One of those is not knowing your place."
"Get out of here, you arrogant little Mudblood," snapped Draco. "We don't want your kind around. Muggles are cruel, stupid, and worthless wastes of oxygen."
Harry started. Where did this venom come from?
"Well really," Granger sputtered, highly indignant, and turned to flounce out of the compartment. Neville had already fled.
"Furnunculus!" Draco hissed, pointing his wand at her. A bunch of red sparks shot out of the tip of his wand, missing Granger entirely. She continued on as if she hadn't noticed.
"Damn!" he said. "It didn't work."
Harry stared at his friend. "Was that a curse?" he asked, unable to really say anything else.
"Hex," Draco answered. "Gives some nasty boils. Very elementary."
"Why'd you try to hex her?"
"We don't like Mudbloods," Theo declared. "They're bad news for decent, pureblooded wizards. She's just what all the rest are like: Arrogant, prissy, and entirely too full of themselves. They think they're special just because they're the first in their families to have magic. They get funny ideas, queer thoughts. It's better to put them in their place as soon as possible."
"I mean, can you believe how rude she was? 'You're Harry Potter!'" mocked Draco. "Not a care in the world for a chap's feelings. I hope we run into her again."
"Run in to whom?" asked Tracy as the three girls came back into the compartment.
"A Mudblood named Granger. Burst in here quite uninvited looking for that bloody toad, then she brings up our mate Harry's famousness without so much as a by-your-leave."
"What?" Tracy was outraged. "What sort of manners do these Muggles teach anyway?"
"Apparently not that much," answered Pansy. "I nominate our first order of business to be retribution."
"Second," chorused Millicent and Tracy.
"The motion passes," Pansy continued, "The floor is open for suggestions as to a course of action."
"Feed her to the squid!" That was Tracy.
"Throw her off the train!" That was Millicent.
"Snap her wand to bits." That was Theo.
"This panel was not open to the idiot opinions of idiot boys," Pansy said cheerfully.
"Hang her by her feet from the top of the Astronomy Tower." That was Draco.
Harry, who had been grinning at the vast indignation on his behalf, was suddenly on the spot. True, it had been very rude of Hermione to have brought up Harry's celebrity status. He'd been made famous for living when his parents had died. Didn't she have an ounce of sensitivity? Apparently not, because she had acted very arrogant and bossy. Suddenly, Harry hoped he wasn't sorted to the same house as her.
"Bribe the Sorting Hat to send her to Hufflepuff?" he suggested diffidently. His friends had all been bashing Hufflepuff a bit, so he figured mimicking them was a safe bet.
His suggestion was greeted with riotous laughter from his five friends. Pansy wiped her eyes, blew her nose, and sat up straight. "All those in favour of Harry's suggestion say 'aye,'" she said officially.
"Aye!" chorused the six of them.
"The motion passes by a vote of five in favour, none opposed, and the idiot opinions of idiot boys do not count."
"Now how do we bribe the Sorting Hat?"
"Who's going to go before her in the Sorting?"
"I will," said Millicent.
"Me too," said Tracy.
"Better make it good," warned Draco.
"Offer it whatever it wants," said Tracy. "We'll figure it out. There is no price too great to pay for the smiting of one's enemies."
"'Smiting'?" Draco asked incredulously. "Did you just say 'smiting'?"
"Yeah, it means to hurt them," Pansy chimed in.
"I know what it means!" he snapped.
"Aren't you going a little overboard, Tracy?" asked Harry.
"Absolutely not," she declared. "Purebloods stick together."
"I think she's sweet on you," Pansy said, jabbing her in the side.
Tracy flushed pink. "I never said that!"
"You didn't have to, sweetie. You didn't have to," smirked Pansy.
A voice echoed through the train: "We will be reaching Hogsmeade station in five minutes' time. Please leave your luggage on the train; it will be taken to the school separately."
Harry's stomach lurched with excitement. He looked around at his friends. They were all grinning hugely. This was it. They were almost there. Everyone packed their sweets away in their trunks, each person giving Harry a package or two.
"Here we go," said Tracy with an up-beat cast to her voice.
They joined the crowd of students thronging in the corridor. The train slowed down as the station came into view. When it finally stopped, people pushed their way toward the door and out on to a tiny, dark platform. Harry shivered in the cold night air. Then a lamp came bobbing over the heads of the students, and Harry heard a familiar voice.
"Firs' years! Firs' years over here! All right there, Harry?"
Hagrid's big hairy face beamed over the sea of heads. Draco and the rest of Harry's new friends grimaced as he came into sight, but out of respect for what he'd done for Harry they said nothing.
"C'mon now, follow me. Any more firs' years? Mind yer step, now! Firs' years follow me! This way down to the boats!"