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Hufflepuffs and Harmony

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Hufflepuffs and Harmony (10,000 words)

A Harry Potter fanfiction by Andrew yclept Aelfwine
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The characters and situations of the Harry Potter series are copyright J.K. Rowling. They may not be used or reproduced commercially without permission. The use of these characters and situations is not to be construed as challenge to said copyright. They are merely borrowed for this work of non-commercial fanfiction, from which the author derives no financial benefit.
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Warnings: Hufflepuffs, AU, younger!Tonks, early arrival at King's Cross, Harry/Hermione, cuddling, friendship, Middle English, lack of explicit content, yours truly

Loosely based on Rorschach Blot's Odd Idea "Different Compartment," the second part of Pet Compartment.

***

It was half past nine in the morning on the first day of September, and Nymphadora Tonks, Third Year, known to all but her parents as Tonks, was already in King's Cross Station. Her father, Ted Tonks, was pushing her trunk, and her mother, Andromeda Tonks, was walking beside her, giving the usual well-intentioned last minute advice.

"Yes, Mum, I understand. I'll not let any older boys talk me into broom closets."

"Nor younger ones, either, please, Dora? Not until you're at least thirty, and thirty-five would be better." her father said, and was soundly ignored.

Tonks was sorely tempted to morph into a boy for a second, perhaps a young Johnny Rotten or a glam-rocker with the face of a poodle, but they were in front of Muggles, and some things just wouldn't do, even if the ones who noticed at all would only think it was a trick of the light. As they neared Platform Nine and Three Quarters, she noticed something. Or someone, rather. A young, dark-haired someone, dressed in faded, oversized clothes, pushing a trolley with a trunk and a caged snowy owl. "Mum, Dad, look at that boy. Don't you think he's a lost Firstie?"

"Probably," her mother said quietly. "Let's help him."

"Hello, young man," her father said. "First year, eh? And somebody forgot to tell you how to get to the platform?"

The boy started, almost like a wild animal, and hid a cringe as best he could. Tonks was reminded of one boy from her class at primary school. She'd found out, much later, that his father had beaten him. "Wotcher," she said. "I reckon we're looking for the same platform, aren't we? Nine and three quarters, am I right?"

"Yes."

"Well, we'll get you there. The entrance is hidden. It's a little scary, the first time, but you'll be fine. I'm Tonks. Just Tonks, please. Good to meet you."

"Some day, Nymphadora," her mother said, "you'll learn to appreciate the name I gave you. Hullo, young man, I'm Andromeda Tonks, and this is my husband Ted."

"I'm Harry," the boy said. "Harry Potter."

"Goodness," Tonks said, "we're cousins." That sounded a bit stupid, didn't it? But what else am I supposed to say to the Boy Who Lived?

"Oh." The boy's face developed a sudden wariness. Tonks couldn't help but think that a "cousin" hadn't been good to him. Well, I've got a few years to teach him what a cousin is meant to be like. Or at least what his cousin Tonks is like. "Not very close ones, though. I think we're second cousins once removed, or something like that."

"Oh." The boy took her hand at last. There was something endearing about him. She wanted to hug him, but it didn't seem a good idea at the moment. Even if the hug itself didn't panic him, Dad's protective father act probably would.

"So, young Harry," Andromeda said, "all you have to do is push your cart through the wall right there. It's not really a wall, only an illusion to cover up the door to our platform. Would you like Nymphadora to go first?"

"Umm... would you mind, Tonks?"

"Of course not, Harry."

"We'll go after you, Harry," Andromeda said, "just to be sure you've got through all right."

"Okay. Thanks, Mrs. Tonks."

Tonks went through, and then stepped swiftly to the right. First Years, especially boys, tended to take the portal at a near run, to keep their courage up or something like that; the first time Tonks had come here, she'd seen Morris Bulstrode and his trunk bounce back nearly three yards after running into the wards that prevented folk falling off the platform and onto the tracks. Of course, Bulstrode was one of those cousins who treated her like something they scraped off their boots, so she'd regretted the existence of the wards. Harry, on the other hand, came through at a surprisingly gentle pace. "Good man, Cousin Harry," she said.

He was looking all about, wide-eyed. "Thanks, Tonks."

"All right, Dora," her father said. "Here's your trunk. Can you take it from here?"

"Yes, Dad," she said.

"Have a good trip, love. And send us an owl sometime soon, right?"

"Yes, Dad."

He hugged her, and turned to Harry. Very slowly, he held out his hand. "Good to meet you, young man. Have a good trip, and a good year. And don't hesitate to ask my daughter for help if you need it. She's a good person to know."

"Thank you, sir."

Andromeda, done with hugging her daughter, turned to Harry as well. "It's good to have finally met you, Cousin Harry, although I'm sorry it wasn't sooner. Good luck and Godspeed."

"Come along, Harry," Tonks said. "Let's get our trunks aboard. And would you like to share a compartment? I understand I'm kind of old and all of that, but..."

"Really? I mean, would you mind?"

"Of course not," Tonks said. "Come on. We're early enough that we can probably get a good one."

#

Ted and Andromeda Tonks watched as their daughter and Harry Potter disappeared into the carriage. "I can't believe you're encouraging a boy to get to know our daughter," she said, looping her arm round his waist. The Blacks were not a demonstrative family, and every time Andromeda held her husband's hand or hugged him in a public place she felt a tiny thrill of victory.

"Well, he seems a good lad, doesn't he?" Ted said after a moment. "I've always wondered who ended up raising him. I know we were on the list, somewhere after Frank and Alice, and... him." Sirius Black, his wife's favourite cousin, a good man with whom to go down the pub for a pint and a game of darts or snooker, hadn't been mentioned by name in their house since the day Peter Pettigrew and twelve Muggles died in a London street.

"I have to confess I'm wondering, myself," Andromeda said. "Dumbledore said they were good people who'd protect him, and we needn't know more for the sake of Harry's own safety, but..."

"You saw it as well, then?"

"How could I not? I'm thinking there was a grown man who hit him. And did you see his face when Nymphadora said they were cousins? It was as if he thought a cousin would automatically try to hurt him. I find it hard to believe any of Lily's family would be so cruel, but didn't she once say something about not being best pleased with her sister's choice of husband?"

"Damnation. I was hoping it was only my suspicious mind. Think there's any chance he's dressed that way because he grew up with Purebloods and thinks badly-mended cast-offs from somebody twice his size are Muggle fashion, like your cousin Athelstane walking about in a frilly dress with spats and an old tin hat?" Ted hugged his wife a little closer.

"No, unfortunately. Well, he's at Hogwarts now. And I think Nymphadora's taken an interest."

"So she has."

"I'm surprised you're not doing the protective father thing, Ted."

"He's eleven years old, Andromeda. And undersized even for that. Besides, our Dora's not been raised to think second cousins once removed make good husband material."

"True. If my mother had been a part of her life, then you might have some cause for concern."

#

Tonks led her new-found cousin through the train. "Here, this one's open," she said. "Let's sit down."

"Umm... you don't have to put up with me. I mean, I'm sure you must have friends, or... a boyfriend, and you wouldn't want a First Year tagging along."

"Do you not want to sit with me, Harry? Have a secret girlfriend who's joining you, maybe?"

He blushed. "No. I just... I can't believe you'd want to sit with me."

"Harry. You're the only cousin on my mother's side whom I actually like. That's huge. Mum was disowned for marrying Dad, and most everyone else of her family think I'm lower than dirt. I haven't all that many friends, and I certainly haven't got a boyfriend."

"Oh."

"We're lucky, actually. If Mum's mother were alive, and if she'd somehow got over hating both of us cos my dad and your mum were Muggleborns, she'd be trying to get us engaged to each other."

She'd hoped that might get an amusing reaction out of an eleven-year-old boy, but all Harry said was "Oh. You really don't mind sitting with me?"

"Of course not. Long as you don't mind sitting with me. Now let's get our trunks stowed."

They sat together on one of the benches. "So, Harry, that's a lovely owl. What's her name?"

"Hedwig. Hagrid got her for me, as a birthday present, cos he said he'd missed so many of them."

"That's nice. Hagrid's a good man. Hedwig... that sounds a little bit familiar. Was she already named when you got her?"

"I was reading A History of Magic, and there was something about a person named Hedwig of Saxony. I liked the name, and somehow it just seemed to fit. I... well, I asked her if she liked it, and she sort of nodded and nibbled on my fingers, so I thought that was a yes." He suddenly got very red-faced. "Umm, I suppose that's a little silly."

"No, Harry, it isn't silly at all. She's obviously a very intelligent owl, as well as a pretty one." Hedwig preened, and seemed to pose. Tonks wished she had a camera.

"Umm, thanks." There was another little silence.

"Harry," Tonks said at last, "if you ever need to talk to me, about anything, you're welcome to. Any time of day or night. Well, unless we're in class. And boys aren't usually allowed in the girls' dorms, so maybe you couldn't reach me at night after curfew. But, other than that..."

"Okay."

She was wondering at what point she ought to simply stick her neck out and ask him. The Tonks family lived in a Muggle neighbourhood, read the Guardian and the Times, and sometimes even watched television, so she knew full well that Harry's crudely repaired, borderline-ragged clothes, obviously hand-me-downs from someone twice his weight, weren't that way because of fashion. And she didn't think he'd been Wizard-raised, either--if he had been, he would've known how to get to the platform.

At very least, her cousin had been grossly neglected during the better part of his childhood. Tonks hadn't had the traditional Black raising, of course, the instruction in minor dark curses starting at seven years of age, the endless stories about bestial Muggles who would torture and very possibly eat them if they should fall into their hands and Mudbloods who were even worse, being nearly as intelligent as true Wizards but having all the savage instincts and foul desires of Muggles. But she was half a Black, all the same, and she had the instinctive Black loyalty to family. Harry was her cousin. The first cousin on her mother's side who would acknowledge her existence, or at least the first one she could remember meeting. She would find out who had harmed him, and, at the very least, she would make certain they never got another opportunity to do so.

The door to their compartment slid open. "Umm... sorry. I thought this might be an empty compartment. I'll find another." The brown-haired girl who stood in the doorway, an obvious Firstie dressed in Muggle clothes, a knee-length skirt and a neat blazer, was positively adorable. She'll make a perfect friend for Harry. Maybe even a girlfriend, in a couple of years. I wonder if I can get them both into Hufflepuff?

"Oh, wait, please," Tonks said. "You're very welcome to share with us. It's only me and my cousin in here now. And he's a First Year as well."

"Really? Are you sure you'll not mind?"

"Of course not," Tonks said. There's room for at least four in here."

"Okay." She pulled her trunk inside, and Harry helped her put it in the luggage rack.

"So," Tonks said, "I'm Tonks--just Tonks, I don't tell people my given name cos they might use it, and then I'd have to think of something truly terrible and embarrassing to call them, and this is Harry Potter. And you are...?"

"Oh. Sorry. I'm Hermione. Hermione Granger. Very pleased to meet you."

There was a bark from the cage. "And that's Hedwig," Harry said.

"Oh my! She's beautiful. A Snowy Owl?"

"Yes. Hagrid--he's the gamekeeper at Hogwarts, and he's brilliant--gave her me for a birthday present."

"That's really nice. I wanted to get a cat, but Mum and Dad said I should wait till I'd been at Hogwarts for a year or two and be sure I was able to do all my school work and take care of a pet at the same time. And... wait. You're Harry Potter?"

"Yes."

"Goodness. I've read all about you. I don't think I've ever met anybody people wrote books about before. I mean, the closest I ever got was meeting Auntie Agatha's--she's my Mum's best friend from university--grandfather, who'd gone to school with Rupert Brooke, but that's not really the same thing at all..."

"There are books about me?"

"Of course there are! You're famous! You're in The History of Magic in Modern Times, and The Rise and Fall of the Dark Arts, and Great Wizarding Events of the Twentieth Century. And I'm sure you'll be in the next edition of Hogwarts: a History."

"Oh."

Tonks could see her cousin shutting down in the face of Hermione's barrage of words. The worst thing was that the girl clearly meant to be friendly; if anything, Tonks suspected Hermione was already crushing on the heroic Harry Potter she'd been reading about ever since her Hogwarts letter. "Goodness," she said, "look at the time. The Express is just about to leave the station. You'll not want to miss this, either of you."

"Oh," Hermione said, looking a bit guilty. Tonks gave her a small smile. They sat quietly as they watched the train burst out of Platform Nine and Three-Quarters. For an instant, they seemed to be travelling through the Muggle part of the station, bare inches from oblivious commuters and tourists and an old man playing an accordion, and then they were on the track, running straight and true towards Scotland.

There was silence for a while. I can't very well say: "All right, Cousin Harry, your foster parents were Muggles who abused you, weren't they? Now won't you please tell me and this cute Firstie all about it? That way Mum and I will know whether simply killing them is enough or if we need to go all Black on them first."

"This is fantastic," Harry said quietly. "I've never been on a train before, except for when Hagrid sent me back to Little Whinging after we got my school things in Diagon Alley, and that was only a commuter train."

"Really?" Hermione said. "What was it like, growing up in a Wizarding household? I've always thought it must be so interesting. Not that I don't love Mum and Dad, of course--I wouldn't give them up for the world! But there were so many days when I'd lie on my bed, reading Diana Wynne Jones books and wishing I had magic lessons at school, and ever since I got my Hogwarts letter I've been really curious..."

"I don't know, actually," Harry said. "I grew up with my Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon. Neither of them has got a single atom of magic, and they'd be horrified if anyone thought they might."

"But..."

"They never took me on a train. Or much of anywhere else, except when the owls started showing up with my Hogwarts letter and they were trying to stop me answering."

"Oh." Hermione's face got very serious for a moment. Merlin, Tonks thought. She's going to launch into a checklist of questions about meals and sleep and work and inappropriate touching, like an adorable pocket-sized social worker. She means well, very much so, but it's not going to work.

"Well," she said hastily, "now we're all going to Hogwarts. And we'll have to see if you can't visit some other places, besides. First Years can't go to Hogsmeade at the weekends, unfortunately, but I'm sure my parents would love for you to come and stay with us at the holidays."

"I wouldn't want to be any trouble," Harry said.

"You wouldn't be. You're family. And we probably should have grown up together."

"Really?"

"Of course. Mum's your second cousin, and I'm sure she and Dad would've been happy to take you in. And it certainly doesn't sound as if your aunt and uncle wanted you to live with them. Did they?"

"I don't think so. They never acted like it."

Tonks laid her hand on his shoulder. After a moment, he relaxed and, very slowly, she put her arm round him. He didn't stiffen, so she left it there. Another minute went on, and at last he laid his head on her shoulder. He didn't make a sound, but she could feel him sobbing.

Hermione sat frozen, wide-eyed. She moved her lips a couple of times, apparently unable to get a word out. At last she mouthed "Should I go?"

Tonks shook her head and mouthed "Stay." He's been abandoned all his life. The last thing he needs is to lose anyone, even a tentative might-be friend.

Hermione laid her own hand on Harry's shoulder. Tonks half expected him to panic, but he didn't. After a moment, Hermione hugged Harry round the shoulders. Within minutes, they were clinging to each other like best friends.

When Lucy Brocklehurst opened the compartment door, Tonks had two cried-out Firsties in her lap; she'd made herself six foot two in order to hold them more comfortably. They were done with sharing her handkerchief, and seemed almost asleep. "Merlin's smelly socks, Tonks, why couldn't you have cast a Colloportus before--oh, I'm sorry. Thought you were... doing something else." Lucy was blushing bright pink. Nearly as bright as Tonks herself was, although in her case it was only her face and not her hair and eyes as well. She dared a glance down at Harry and Hermione. I think it went right past their heads. Good.

"Hey, Lucy. My cousin and his friend were just a little... overwhelmed with everything."

"Right. Had a bit of a crying jag on the Express myself, the first time. Well, I'll be back..."

"It's okay," Harry said. "I don't want to keep you from your friends, Tonks. That is, if Hermione..."

She raised up her head, with a small smile on her face. "Sure."

After a moment, the two Firsties sat down beside Tonks, and Lucy took the opposite bench. "Lucy," Tonks said, "these are my cousin Harry and his friend Hermione Granger. Harry and Hermione, this is Lucy Brocklehurst. She's my year-mate in Hufflepuff and a very good friend."

They shook hands. "Harry..." Lucy said. "Am I correct in inferring your family name starts with a P?"

"Yes."

"I understand your caution. There's too bloody many would be asking to see your scar and all that rubbish. Even some of us Hufflepuffs might, I'm sad to say, although I hope we'll be better than the other houses."

"Thank you."

Hermione smiled. "I'm starting to re-think which House I'd like sorted into."

"Oh?"

"Well, this morning I was convinced I wanted to be in Gryffindor, because of Professor McGonagall, and because Headmaster Dumbledore was there as a boy. But now I've met Hufflepuffs, and... you're both so kind. I've hardly had friends at all before, and... well, I hope we're friends."

"Of course we are!" Tonks said. "Surely you don't think I'd let just any First Year girl share my lap with my favourite cousin?"

Harry's shy little smile expanded into a grin that might have lit the compartment. "Yes. I've never really had friends before, either."

"And any friend of Tonks is a friend of mine. I'm looking forward to seeing both of you in Hufflepuff tonight, but, whatever House you go in, we're friends."

Eventually Harry and Hermione, neither of whom had likely slept much the night before, drifted off beside Tonks, leaning together as if they'd known each other all their lives. She gave them a fond glance and leant forward, careful not to disturb them with her motion. Lucy leant forward as well, her ear almost against Tonks' lips.

"I'm thinking those two need to be in Hufflepuff," she whispered. "But they're both smart, both brave, and I'd say there's more than a whit of ambition there as well."

"They'd never go to Slytherin. Hasn't been a half-blood there in years, and I'm told the last Muggleborn Slytherins died of old age round the time our grandparents were born."

"Still, my point remains. They need the Badgers, and... I think we need them. So... do you think you could go and find a couple of First Year girls from Hufflepuff families? Ones with surnames that come before Granger?"

"Are you plotting what I think you are, Tonks?"

"Of course."

"Well, I'll see what I can do. I do believe we've a Bones and an Abbott on the train. My gran was an Abbott, and Cousin Peg is married to a Bones. I reckon they'll help us out."

#

As they left the Express, Harry's mind was fairly abuzz with the novelty of it all. Not only was he going to a castle in Scotland to learn magic, he had a cousin who could change her height between four foot one and six foot five in an instant and make herself look like anyone she'd ever seen. And the most remarkable thing was that she actually liked him and his new best friend, and wanted to spend time with them, despite being two years older. Speaking of his friend... "Err, would you like to share a boat, Hermione?"

"Of course, Harry. Here, let's take this one."

A tall red-headed boy dashed in front of them, and very nearly sent the boat to the bottom when he leapt in. They'd met briefly this afternoon; a boy named Neville Longbottom had been looking for his pet toad, and they'd left their compartment to help him. Ron, that was the ginger's name, Ron Weasley. He'd tried to console Neville by telling him toads were boring and he would have done better to get a rat. Fortunately, a pair of Asian twins named Patil and their blonde friend, Lavender something, had found the toad. They'd invited Neville to sit in their cabin, since one of them had an empty cauldron that would make a perfect temporary home for a toad, given a splash of water from the tap and a bit of grass that Lucy conjured.

A few seconds later, Ron turned about, as if he'd remembered something. "Oi, aren't you Harry Potter? I'm sure we're going to be best mates in Gryffindor together. Come in the boat, mate. You can even bring the bird, if you really want to." Harry looked about, wondering when Hedwig had joined them; then Hermione's expression made him realise what the redhead meant.

"That's all right, thanks," Harry said.

"Yes. They were just about to join Hannah and me, weren't you, my dears?" said a round-faced girl with strawberry-coloured plaits. She was one of the numerous people they'd met in the course of the toad hunt; Harry thought she might be a relation of Lucy's. Susan Bones, that was her name, and her friend was Hannah Abbott.

"Of course we were, Susan. It's so lovely to see you here." Hermione took his hand and they followed the round-faced girl and her blonde friend to an empty boat three places away. Harry helped the girls lower themselves in before he climbed in after them. Hermione let the other two go ahead of her, which showed what a polite person she was.

"Thought you might could use a hand there, and us Hufflepuffs stick together."

"Thank you very much." Harry thought he should probably say something else, but he couldn't think what it should be.

"Thank you," Hermione said. "Umm... you seem awfully sure that we're all going to be Hufflepuffs, but, well, how do you know?"

"Hannah and I both come from old Hufflepuff families, and, as for you two, let's just say I've got this intuition. We've a saying that one badger knows another. Isn't that right, Hannah?"

"All right," Hagrid bellowed. "E'rybody in a boat? Good. Cast off!" Harry looked about for a moment, wondering if there was anything he was meant to do. Then the boats began to move--presumably there were spells to make them respond to Hagrid's voice.

"Oi! Wait! Lemme find another boat! They're Dark! Help! They'll have me sacrificed before we reach the other side, I know they will!" Harry and the girls looked over to the right and saw Ron clinging to the dock, one foot still in the boat and the other flailing about, as if he thought he might find a stepping stone somewhere in the water.

"Oh, for f--Fudge's sake," Hagrid bellowed. "Stand easy!" That must have been another command to the boats, because they all stopped moving.

There were two girls in the boat Ron had taken. One was tall, with black hair and a strong jaw, and the other was small and blonde. Harry thought they looked nice people, even if they weren't quite as pretty as Hermione or Cousin Tonks. "What's the matter with him?"

Susan shrugged. "Search me. I don't know the blonde, but I think the tall one's Millie Bulstrode. I met her at my cousin Earnest's wedding, and she didn't seem particularly Dark to me. I'm told her family usually go Slytherin, but that doesn't mean anything. Mr. Flourish the bookseller was a Slytherin, and so was Mr. Fortescue, for Heaven's sake."

"Easy," the tall girl said. "Just step back in the boat, and we'll all be fine. Here, I'll help to brace you, so you don't lose your balance."

"No! You're probably going to cut out my liver and eat it."

"For Merlin's sweet sake, I'm a vegetarian."

"What's that? Some new kind of Dark witch?" Ron pushed himself clear and clung to the dock for a moment before falling in with an almighty splash.

"Looks like the boats are charmed not to tip, and good on whoever thought to do it," Hannah said. "I do wonder what his problem is."

A black kitten climbed up on the tall girl's shoulder and peered down at Ron in the water. "Perhaps he's deathly afraid of cats?" Hermione said.

"Could be," Susan said, grinning. "If he hadn't been so mean to Neville about his toad, I'd feel sorry for him."

Hagrid directed his boat over and collected Ron. The boy perched in the prow, the only bit of free space there was, even though Hagrid's boat was half again as long as the others. Hagrid handed him a flask from his coat pocket, and Ron took a drink. Steam shot from his ears, and for a few moments his face was so red that his hair looked colourless by comparison. "Cast off!" Hagrid shouted, and the boats started moving again.

A few boats away, Neville waved at them. He was sharing with the twins and their friend. They looked to be very happy together.

#

"So," Tonks said to Lucy, "is all in order?"

"It surely is. Our two little future lovebirds are sure to be Badgers. Susan and Hannah said they'd take care of it. They seemed most enthused at the prospect of being Housemates with Harry Potter. And his best friend as well, of course."

Tonks amused herself by growing talons for a moment, then shrinking them back to her usual plain short square-cut nails. "Do you think there's going to be trouble there, in a few years?"

"I don't reckon it's likely. They seemed just as taken with Hermione. Truth to tell, I'd not be surprised to see those two girls pairing off, sometime in the next seven years."

#

"Well," the Hat said in Harry's head, "you've a fine mind, might do well in Ravenclaw. And you've got stones, as well, lad, perfect for a Gryffindor. For that matter, I know Slytherin would help you to do great things..."

"Please, sir. I've got to be in Hufflepuff. With Cousin Tonks and my Her--I mean, with my friend Hermione."

"Really?"

"Yes. They're my best friends."

The Hat chuckled. Harry thought there was something odd about that, but, then again, a hat that could read minds and talk was a fairly odd thing to begin with. "So. Loyalty. Prized in all Houses, of course, but, taking into account both the very interesting bribe Miss Bones offered and Miss Abbott's threat to obliterate me with a unique flame spell from her family grimoire, not to mention that charming Miss Granger's attachment, I suppose it will have to be..." The Hat's voice rose to a shout, and Harry realised it was speaking aloud, not only inside his head anymore--"Hufflepuff Girls' Dormitory!"

"What?" cried a score of scandalised voices.

"Exactly what I said. The boy's going to bunk in the Hufflepuff Girls' Dormitory. Too loyal to put him any other place, you see. Now, would you please stop wasting all our time and give me the next pupil?"

Hardly knowing what to think, Harry went to the Hufflepuff table. The Girls' Dormitory? Hermione would be there. That sounded wonderful. But surely boys and girls weren't meant to sleep in the same room, and change clothes there, and maybe even use the same bathroom. Would Hermione hate him for violating her privacy? As he approached the bench, she scooted over, making a space between her and Tonks. Her grin was radiant.

He sat down beside her. "Umm, I'm sorry, Hermione. I truly didn't ask the Hat to--"

She seized him in the fiercest hug he could ever have imagined. "You have nothing to be sorry for, Harry Potter. I might not be telling my Dad that we're sleeping in the same dormitory, but you, me, Susan, and Hannah are going to be just fine."

"Really? I mean..."

"Don't worry, Harry. Look, I'll promise not to walk about naked. Unless you do it first, of course."

"Okay."

Tonks hugged both of them. "Be careful, Hermione. I do have to protect my cousin's virtue, you know. And it would be polite for you to let Harry greet the rest of the House. You can hug him all you want to after the feast."

Hermione released him and he began shaking hands. As he greeted Justin Finch-Fletchley, his eye fell on Professor McGonagall, who was standing very still, staring at her roll of parchment as if she couldn't quite think what she was meant to do next.

#

Across the room, Ronald Weasley gasped. "The poor bloke. Is the Sorting Hat trying to do what You Know Who couldn't?"

Lisa Turpin glared. "Excuse me?"

"The Sorting Hat's just put poor Harry Potter in a girl's dormitory. I can't believe Dumbledore's not stepping in to protect him."

"Next pupil!" the Hat shouted. "I may not need to eat, but you lot do, right?"

"Thomas, Dean," McGonagall read, her voice just slightly shaking.

"Well, ginger mon," Dean said, "you can think what you like, but me, I'd not mind being just as lucky as him, not at all." He strolled up to the stool and the hat.

Ron began to pray, or at least to mumble pleadings under his breath at a vaguely deity-shaped image, something best described as a theologically suspect lumping-together of Jehovah, Zeus, and Father Christmas. It wasn't that Ron was particularly, or indeed at all, religious, but prayer was the only thing he could think of, since running out of the Great Hall, stowing away on a freighter bound for Le Havre, and joining the French Foreign Magical Legion wasn't an option. Eleven and a half years of life had taught him that his mother could and would track him down, no matter where he might hide, and even the threat of being made to sleep in a room full of giggling scented girls clad only in tiny fragments of lace, and him with no-one but Scabbers to protect him, wasn't quite as frightening as what she would do when she caught up with him.

Why, if she were angry enough, she might even force him to take dancing lessons!

He was so busy worrying and trying to pray, that Professor McGonagall had to call his name twice. When the Hat said "Gryffindor!" without any terrifying additions, he nearly wept with relief.

He sat down beside the Twins. "Thank God I'm safe!" were the first words that came from his mouth. "I'm going to be at Mass every Sunday from now on. Even if they won't let me bring sandwiches."

"Ron?" George said. "Are you sure you're all right? Did anyone give you anything funny to eat or drink? You'll have to tell us who it was, because we're going to prank them into the next decade."

"Damned straight," said Fred. "Nobody but us gets to prank our little brother."

"I'm fine, and I haven't had anything since those corned beef sandwiches Mum gave me... well, except for the bread rolls I nicked out of the box this morning when she was looking for my extra socks. But look... I prayed, and the Good Lord saved me! I could've gone like Harry Potter, thrown into the hands of the girls, just like the Is-Real-Ice in Edgeworth! Or was it Eccleston? Wherever it was, the place where they had to make bricks out of straw and eat bread that hadn't risen. Although I'm sure all of that would be easy compared to captivity in the girls' dorm. I don't even want to think about what those Hufflepuff girls will do with poor Harry. Especially the one with the bushy hair and the teeth like a beaver's--it looked as if she was about ready to smother him on the spot. I swear, she might have even kissed him. Dear Lord, have myrtle on the fellow we used to call the Boy Who Lived, and thank You for delivering me from the claws of the girls, Am Mint."

Percy frowned. "Ron? Are you certain you're all right? Madam Pomfrey is a very fine Healer. I'm sure she'll have you back to normal in no time."

"I'm fine, Percy. More than that, I'm safe! I'll be sleeping in the boys' dormitory, where the girls can't get at me and torture me in the middle of the night by crawling into my bed and kissing me and making me smell their perfume and demanding I tell them which pair of knickers I like better, as if I cared."

"Really, Ron. The Gryffindor girls are all responsible young witches, and I'm sure they wouldn't do any such thing to any young wizard, at least not without a formal betrothal."

The Twins turned away from their two beloved yet distinctly mad brothers. "I do wonder how young Harry talked the Hat into that one," George said.

Fred shrugged. "I wish we'd thought of it ourselves. You know, brother mine, we're going to have to cultivate a friendship with the dear boy. Anybody who can pull off that prank as a First Year has got to be a valuable ally."

Lee Jordan gestured towards the Hufflepuff table, where Harry Potter, having been temporarily released by the Granger girl and their own yearmate Nymphadora Tonks, was being hugged by a redhead and a blonde. "I wonder if the girls did it?"

The Twins looked at each other for a long moment. "Could be. Okay, all First Year Hufflepuffs are off the target list. Except maybe Finch-Fletchley, assuming he's as much a ponce as he looks."

"Not even him, dear brother Fred. He might be their fashion consultant or something."

"Good point. But wait, I thought I was George today."

#

After the feast, the Prefects led them to the Hufflepuff quarters. Harry and Hermione stayed close together, their hands almost touching, as they walked through the corridors with Susan and Hannah and the First Year boys, downwards and away from the Great Hall. Instead of going ahead with their yearmates, Tonks and Lucy joined them for the walk. "Our dorms and common room are underground," Tonks said softly. "But don't be worried, there's plenty of air and light. I think you'll find it rather cosy."

"Other Houses say we live in the Basement," Lucy added, "But we call it the Den. It's the best place in Hogwarts--warm in winter and cool in summer."

"Of course it's the best place in Hogwarts," Harry said. "It's where my favourite cousin and all my other friends are."

Hermione coloured prettily, Tonks and Lucy beamed, and Hannah and Susan sighed.

They passed a painting of a bowl of fruit. "That's the kitchen," Tonks whispered. "Tickle the pear and it'll let you in. And we're just round the next corner."

Harry was wondering how a painted pear could let anyone in, and where the door to the kitchen was, anyhow, when they came to another painting. This one showed a kind-looking old man in what Harry thought were mediaeval clothes. He was beginning to get used to portraits that moved whenever they felt like it, but somehow he hadn't been expecting this one to stand up from his chair and greet them.

"Hufflepuffs," Dymphna Drake, the Seventh Year prefect, said, "please allow me to introduce Guildmaster William de Quincey, the guardian of our portal." She looked both ways, as if to be sure there were no non-Hufflepuffs listening. "The password is 'Ayenbite of Inwyt'. Do you commit it to your memories, please. Here, let's try it together."

Harry, along with all the rest, mouthed the strange syllables that weren't Latin or any kind of English he recognised. He wondered if any of them had a better idea of what it meant. Then the wall opened like a door, Guildmaster de Quincey and his portrait swinging aside, and they all trooped into what had to be the most pleasant and comfortable looking room he'd ever seen. It was full of soft leather-covered couches and armchairs, with bright hangings on the walls and a cheerful fire in the grate. Older students were scattered about, some of them reading, but most chatting. Harry was surprised to notice that many were doing handicrafts as they talked; knitting and embroidery seemed to predominate, amongst both boys and girls, but some were painting, or carving bits of wood, and two Sixth or Seventh Year couples might have been making a fishing net together.

Dymphna and the male prefect for her year, Bertram Jones, gathered the First Years together in the centre of the room. As they were gathering, Harry saw Professor Sprout pull Tonks aside. He hoped there wasn't something wrong.

"So," Dymphna said, "Welcome to Hufflepuff, the House of the Badger. Some of you, I know, will have heard we're a lot of duffers. Am I right? Well, I'll tell you something about us. We don't fight for status and we don't fight to make ourselves look brave, but if some fool starts a fight, a Hufflepuff steps up and does whatever's necessary to stop it before the innocents are hurt. We may not spend as much time dreaming up grand philosophies as some of our friends, but when something gets discovered or invented that makes people's lives better, chances are good there's a Hufflepuff behind it all. So, when somebody calls you a duffer, keep in mind that duffers invented the Floo network, duffers came up with the spells for post owls and the Knight Bus and the Hogwarts Express, and it's six out of ten at St. Mungo's and the Auror Department are old duffers as well."

"We're the House that builds things, makes things, and creates things," Bertram continued. "Hufflepuff produces writers, artists, inventors, healers, farmers, and a hundred other trades besides. Without us, Wizarding Britain wouldn't last a fortnight. So, off to my left are the workshops. We've looms and spinning wheels, forges and kilns, lathes, bandsaws, pillar drills, bench grinders, and pretty much every other tool you can imagine, as well as many you've likely never heard of. There's a stock of basic hand tools and supplies--barstock, wire, copper and brass rod, glue, finish, fasteners, and ordinary lumber, not to mention things like yarn and thread--for everyone to use, and we've plenty of owl order catalogues if you've a wish to get yourself something fancy.

"The only thing I ask is that you don't use any of the edge tools or heavy equipment until we prefects have a chance to check you out on it. Shop classes for anyone who's interested will start next week. We'll be teaching knitting, weaving, blacksmithing, toolmaking, glassblowing, ceramics, turning, and cabinet making for sure, and if anybody'd like to try something else, such as sculpture, stained glass, or building musical instruments, we'll see what we can do. I'm sad to say we can't let you make a broom till you've done Third Year Charms, but you're all welcome to attend the luncheon talk Devlin Whitethorn from Nimbus will be giving in October. And if wandcraft's your thing, we're hoping Mr. Ollivander will come in to speak one afternoon. Over to you, Dymphna."

"Has anyone of you an interest in bowyery? We've some fine yew staves just coming seasoned, not to mention some lovely cedar for arrowshafts, and I'd be delighted to have your company at the range once you're done making the gear. So, I think that's just about everything covered. Any questions? No? Excellent. Lovely to meet you all, and I'll see you in the morning. You boys, the most of you, anyhow, can follow Bertram, and you girls, and Harry, do you please come with me."

Tonks was back from talking with Professor Sprout, Harry saw. He flashed her a grateful smile. Her dorm must have been beyond theirs, because she followed them through the round door and along the tunnel with its warm, welcoming gaslights.

"So," Dymphna said, "here we are. First Year girls and Harry Potters." Like the door leading off the common room, this one was perfectly round, built like the head of a barrel, in dark oak with a big brass handle and a knocker in the shape of a grinning face. "Now, I suppose I should give some warning about the temptations of the flesh, but I reckon you lot are a whit too young for that, so all I'll say is please don't do anything would embarrass you if your parents knew you'd done it. I'm sure you'll all be kind to each other, cos you're Hufflepuffs, and I'm sure the Hat wouldn't've put you here if you'd torment the girls, Harry. By the same token, I'd ask you girls not to torment our Harry, either. If anything at all comes up, please don't hesitate to talk with Tonks, with me, or with our Head of House. Speaking of which, Tonks, is all in order?"

"Yes, Dymphna. Professor Sprout already had my gear moved from the Third Year dorm to here. I'm sure my cousin and his friends and I will be just fine together."

"Thanks, Tonks. I suppose I should've taken the job myself, but..."

"Don't be, Dymphna. You'll be busy with NEWTS, and you'll need your rest. Besides that, we're family. It's my pleasure."

"Do you try not to corrupt them, please? I'd be grateful if you didn't give them coffee, say, or Mills and Boon novels." Dymphna grinned broadly; Harry reckoned she was making a joke.

"Never fear, Dymphna."

"Very well, then. Good night, Harry, Hermione, Susan, and Hannah. Good night, Tonks."

They trooped inside. The room was shaped like a circle, as if it were at the base of one of the towers. There were five four-poster beds, each with a trunk at the foot and a desk and chair beside it at the head. Harry was so exhausted that he was tempted to simply take off his glasses and fall face first on his one, but he knew he should change into pyjamas first. The girls weren't meant to change in front of him, of course, and vice versa--surely that wouldn't be different in the Wizarding World. But who was meant to go first? Should he let the girls all have their turn in the bathroom before him, or should he go first and hurry quickly through cleaning his teeth and changing so the girls could all go in, lock the door, and take as long as they'd like doing whatever mysterious things it was that girls wanted or needed to do before they went to bed?

"Come here, everyone, please?" Tonks said. Harry looked up, and saw she was sitting cross-legged on her bed. "Take off your shoes and sit up here with me for a few minutes, please?"

He did. So did Hermione, and Susan, and Hannah. His foot was almost touching Hermione's, and she smiled sweetly at him. On his other side, Susan moved closer; as if by accident, her toes brushed his heel. Something passed across Hermione's face, and she let her hand rest on Harry's knee. The two girls exchanged a look; Harry wasn't sure what was going on, but after a moment they smiled at each other. On Susan's other side, Hannah sat so closely that their hips were touching.

Tonks looked very pleased--at what, Harry wasn't sure, but if it made his favourite cousin happy it made him happy, also. "All right," she said, "I'm calling this meeting of the... well, whatever we should call ourselves, I'm too tired to think of a name right now... to order. So, girls, we've all got the privilege of living with my bestest cousin Harry Potter. In your cases, it's because of the Sorting Hat, and in my case it's because Professor Sprout asked me to stay with you as a chaperone. That's French for 'the girl who, if Hermione, Susan, or Hannah Vanishes Harry's pyjamas, will Vanish the guilty party's own pyjamas.' Of course, for fairness' sake, I'd have to Vanish all of your pyjamas. It wouldn't be right for all of you to see Harry in the altogether and him to only get a sight of one of you."

"I'd never exploit Harry like that, Tonks. Besides, some of my books had pictures of boys without their clothes on--I don't need to use Harry to satisfy my curiosity. I really don't."

"And of course I wouldn't do that to Harry Potter, or to any other boy, no matter how cute. Would I, Hannah?"

"I don't know, Susan... well, if you do, I think it'll be worth it... I'm only teasing, Harry, truly I am."

"I know you are, Hannah. Thanks." She blushed a soft rose shade. "And Tonks? I'm sorry you had to move out of your dorm with Lucy and everyone..."

She reached out and ruffled his hair. "Don't be sorry, Harry. We're family, and I'm happy to be here."

"Thank you."

"So, it's time for bed. Harry, why don't you go first? That way, we girls can take as long as we like."

"Okay." Harry grabbed his pyjamas, towel, and grooming kit and headed into the bathroom. He'd never seen another quite like it. The floor and walls were tiled. There was a row of sinks and mirrors against one wall and a set of toilet cubicles against the other. There was a massive stave-built wooden tub, nearly big enough to swim in, and more than big enough that five people could sit in it at once, with a wooden tap made of a single log carved in the shape of a dragon's head. Showerheads projected from another wall, with drains in the floor beneath them. There were no curtains, which made him feel sorry for the girls, since they'd have to shower here together with no privacy from each other at all.

Unless they truly didn't care about that? He'd heard boys whisper all sorts of bizarre stories about girls; it wasn't that he had friends at primary school, of course, but he was good at sitting still and not being noticed, and sometimes people didn't realise how well he could actually hear. Piers had once told Dudley his older cousin swore up and down that, in the absence of boys, girls always stripped off and walked about starkers in front of each other. Apparently they also snogged, had pillow fights, and played weird games with fruit. According to Piers, there were videotapes to prove it, and for twenty quid and a bottle of brandy his cousin's best mate's brother would get them one.

Harry had always reckoned Piers was even less trustworthy than Dudley, and that Piers' cousin would be about the same. But maybe there was some truth there, after all. He hoped he wasn't getting in the way of his friends' social life together. Maybe he should arrange to sleep somewhere else occasionally, so they could enjoy their girl time. After all, their bodies were very different to boys' bodies--perhaps they needed to eat more fruit, which might explain why Piers' cousin thought they were playing strange games.

Realising he'd been woolgathering, he hurriedly changed his clothes and cleaned his teeth. He was just about ready to go back out when there came a knock at the door. "Cousin Harry? Would you be a dear and stay a couple of minutes longer in there? We've decided we'll go ahead and put on our pyjamas, and it's a bit too early in your relationship for you to see Hermione's cute little--" he heard a thump, as if a pillow had hit the wall--"err, shoulderblades. What did you think I was going to say, Hermione?"

Interesting. Well, if pillow fighting was important to girls, he was glad they'd taken the chance for a bit of it. He decided to comb his hair. Not that it made much difference, as far as he could tell, but he might as well try.

"My, you're a handsome young fellow, aren't you?" said a feminine voice that reminded him of Madam Malkin, a little bit. He nearly jumped out of his skin. He couldn't see anyone in the mirror, but he turned around, anyhow, looking.

"It's only me, silly boy. The mirror. Haven't you ever talked with one of my kind before?"

"Umm, no, miss, I haven't. I grew up with Muggles, and their mirrors don't talk."

"How fascinatingly odd! Now, why are you here? Last time I checked, I was hung in a girl's dormitory. Oh, did you sneak in for a tryst? I probably should tell a prefect or the Head of House, but really, such a handsome swain, visiting his girl... I'm sure there's a story, dear boy, and if you tell me a bit, why, I just might forget to tell anyone, other than a sister mirror or two. So..."

"Really, miss, there's no story at all. The Hat sorted me into 'Hufflepuff Girls' Dormitory,' and here I am. It's nice to be with my cousin and my best friend, but I hope I'm not stopping them having enough fruit in their diet..."

"Now that, dear boy, has got to be either the most ludicrous lie ever told, or else the most improbable truth. You seem a decent sort, so I'll believe you for now, but the next girl I see had better confirm it. I suppose you are a bit young for trysting, now that I think about it. Speaking of which, that hair of yours is a mess."

"I know. But I don't know how to fix it, miss. I'm sorry."

"Now now, my dear, don't apologise! There are solutions, and I'm here to help you find them. I recommend you grow it out, until it's at least long enough to tie back. At shoulder length or longer, that uncontrollable mess would become very pleasantly wavy, I warrant. Your girls will love it, especially if you let them comb and plait it sometimes."

"They're not--"

The mirror giggled. "Just you wait, young man, just you wait."

Tonks knocked at the door. "Cousin Harry? We're decent now."

Outside, all the girls were dressed in nightclothes. Hermione's pyjamas were cotton, with red and white stripes, much like Harry's, but for having fewer stitches and patches. He felt obscurely glad that these had been bought little more than a year ago, three days before Dudley discovered a new pastry shop and gained two stone in a fortnight. Once he'd shortened the legs and sleeves, and given he'd grown a bit in the intervening time, they almost fit properly.

Hannah and Susan had knee-length nightdresses; Hannah's was pink and Susan's was green. Otherwise, they were identical, and he wondered if they'd gone shopping together.

Tonks, on the other hand, was wearing a plain t-shirt and a pair of tracksuit bottoms. "Wotcher, Cousin Harry. Thanks for giving us our girl time. I'm thinking you might be asleep when we get out, so what say we tell each other good night right now?"

"Umm, sure. Good night, Tonks, good night, Hermione, good--"

She cut him off with a full-force hug. "This is how we say good night, Cousin Harry. Thanks so much for a wonderful day."

His face was hot. "Thank you, Cousin Tonks. Good night."

Hermione was waiting to hug him. "Good night, Harry. I'm looking forward to seeing you in the morning." Her hair tickled his nose, but he didn't care. It was a nice tickle.

He was a bit nervous about Hannah and Susan. They seemed nice, but he'd not had hours in a train compartment to get to know them in. Still, it seemed appropriate to hug them, and it did feel pleasant. "I'll see you and Hermione in the morning," Susan whispered.

He wasn't sure what that was about, but it was nice that she included his best friend. Maybe it was something Hufflepuffs just did. "And we'll see you and Hannah in the morning," he whispered back. She gave him a sweet little smile, with a gleam in her eye that he didn't quite understand.

Tonks waved her wand, and the chandelier above them went out, leaving the room lit only by the little candles that were burning on each desk. He'd have to ask how to work the chandelier in the morning--she'd already explained the candles, which lit when you turned them in the holder but went out just like Muggle candles when you blew on them, and had multiple spells and charms to stop them starting fires. He watched in the dim light as the girls trooped into the bathroom. Then he put his glasses on the desk, blew out the candle, and laid his head on the pillow. He was asleep almost at once.

#

Hermione followed Tonks into the bathroom, feeling both tired and elated. She'd never felt part of a group of girls before, but Hannah and Susan and Tonks seemed to accept her just as she was. It was just as wonderful as meeting Harry, really. She just hoped living together for the next ten months would work as well as it seemed it might.

She used the facilities, and went to clean her teeth. Everything seemed normal enough, until a voice said "So. Am I correct in thinking that charming young man's your beau, missy?"

She'd read about talking mirrors, of course, but actually meeting one was a surprise. She spluttered a bit, and finally managed to say "We're only First Years, miss. Harry's my friend."

"Ah, well, that's lovely, I'm sure. Just you take good care of your friend. And try to get him to eat a bit more, please? I don't like seeing that many ribs on a boy."

Hermione blushed at the thought of Harry stripped off, and for an instant wondered if she could convince the mirror to show her. But that would be completely irresponsible, even if he were only bare from the waist up, as if she'd met him at the seaside. "Well, I'll try my best..."

"We all will. My cousin Harry is dear to the four of us, isn't that right, girls?"

"So say we all," Hannah and Susan chorused.

"We're Hufflepuffs," Susan added. "We'll all take care of each other."

"My, such lovely children. I'm looking forward to spending the year with you."

"And we with you," Hermione said, not sure if she should be delighted with the mirror's friendliness or unhappy at being called a child.

She was still pondering that when Tonks put an arm round her. She realised that Hannah and Susan had already left. "Are you ready to go, Hermione?"

"Yes. Umm, I was just thinking of something, about the showers. I... well, I hope you won't think badly of me, but... in the Muggle world there would be barriers, or at least some sort of curtains. I suppose witches aren't meant to care, and I'll try hard to get accustomed to it, but I'm not used to being in front of other people and not having any clothes on. It's not about you or Hannah or Susan..."

Tonks hugged her. "It's all right, Hermione. As for the showers, well, it's easier to show you than to explain it. Stay right there, my dear, and watch."

"All right." She hoped Tonks wasn't thinking to get her over her nerves by stripping off and taking a shower in front of her, as if seeing that nothing bad happened would somehow make her feel better. It didn't make sense, but maybe girls who grew up in the Wizarding world simply didn't understand modesty in the same way Hermione did, something like her own cousins who thought nothing of bathing nude in a farm pond and were utterly mystified that she wouldn't join them even when reassured there were no boys within half a mile.

As Tonks stepped beneath the showerhead, a curtain of soft light appeared around her. Hermione could dimly see the outline of a human figure inside, but she couldn't make out any details at all. If she had just come in the room and hadn't known Tonks was there, she wouldn't have been able to tell that she wasn't Hannah or Susan, or even Harry. She didn't know why that last thought made her stomach do a funny little flip-flop.

"See, love? It's just fine, isn't it?" Tonks had stepped away from the shower, and the light was gone.

"Yes. Thank you, Tonks."

"Any time, Hermione." They hugged again, and went to their beds. As soon as she laid her head on the pillow, she was asleep.

#

"So, here's Dora's first owl," Ted said, taking the letter from the school owl's leg.

"Interesting. Is this the first time she's ever remembered to write to us before the third week of term?" Andromeda got an owl treat from the basket by the cooker. The bird flew away, and the Tonkses sat down together to read.

"Well, she likes young Harry," Ted said. "And if he's encouraging her to write letters, I definitely like this cousin of yours."

Andromeda smiled. "Perhaps it's a good thing we put her into stasis when we found I was pregnant. If she'd been born eight months later, instead of five years, she'd be seventeen, and that's far too old for him."

Ted's eyes went wide for a moment. "You're joking, aren't you, Andy?"

"Of course--that's one Black tradition I've no wish to see revived. Besides, this Hermione girl would appear to already be staking her claim. I'm glad that Nymphadora likes her."

 

Here endeþ ðe fic. (At least for now.)

###

Notes:

"Ayenbite of Inwyt" is Middle English, in the Kentish dialect, for "The Remorse of Conscience." (Literally, "the again-bite of in-wit.") It's the title of a text which J.R.R. Tolkien had an interest in, and it somehow seemed like something the Hufflepuffs might go for. Not much worse than "Caput Draconis," it seems to me, since there's not much textual evidence that the Hogwarts students actually learn Latin, beyond memorising spell names.

The characters in this fic are acting a little funny, I suppose. There may be a soul bond, of sorts. It may also be that, being based on a Blot idea, there's a certain amount of Rule of Funny, Rule of Cool, and, most importantly, being my writing, Rule of Cute and Cuddly going on here.

In case you might be wondering, I tend to sort Hufflepuff on the various online Sorting Hat quizzes. That's not why I made Harry and Hermione into Hufflepuffs for this fic, but I must confess it does have something to do with Bertram and Dymphna's speech about the "duffer" stereotype, and what it truly means to be a Hufflepuff.