"The firs' years Professor McGonagall."
"Thank you, Hagrid." So that was the large man's name.
Hagrid nodded and walked past the newly introduced Professor McGonagall and made his way towards the rumbling noise that was the rest of the school. Noting that the other students had to have come a different and quicker way, Harry decided to file that under his questions to ask later. Following Professor McGonagall, she led them through the large entrance hall that could easily have fit a large house inside, and into a side room off what he deduced was the main hall.
"Welcome to Hogwarts," started Professor McGonagall. "The start-of-term feast will begin shortly, but before you take your seats in the Great Hall, you will be sorted into your houses. The Sorting is a very important ceremony because, while you are here, your house will be something like your family within Hogwarts. You will have classes with the rest of your house, sleep in your house dormitory, and spend free time in your house common room. The four houses are called Gryffindor, Hufflepuff, Ravenclaw, and Slytherin. Each house has its own noble history and each has produced outstanding witches and wizards.
"While you are at Hogwarts, your triumphs will earn your house points, while any rule breaking will lose house points. At the end of the year, the house with the most points is awarded the house cup, a great honour. I hope each of you will be a credit to whichever house becomes yours. The Sorting Ceremony will take place in a few minutes in front of the rest of the school. I suggest you all smarten yourselves up as much as you can while you are waiting."
Her eyes lingered for a moment on Harry's hair, on Neville's outer robe, which was fastened under his left ear, and the red haired boy from the platform who still had a black smudge on his nose. Harry knowing it wouldn't do any good didn't even try and flatten his hair, it would just end up messier. Maybe he could find some magic fix, as no muggle spray, lotion or grooming tactic had ever done anything to help.
"I shall return when we are ready for you," said Professor McGonagall. "Please wait quietly." She then left the chamber, closing the door firmly behind her, the sound echoed in the relatively small room. Slowly a buzz of conversation started.
Standing together in a group, the majority of the first years were looking around in wide eyed wonder. Determined not to make a spectacle of himself Harry focused on the nervous looking Neville and the slightly hyper form of Hermione. Focusing on his friends made him realise that no matter what happened nothing could be as bad as going back to the Dursleys. Turning to Neville who had become rather ruffled after a slip on the stone path, Harry adjusted Neville's robe and tried to smooth his friends' nerves at the same time. But the talk around him wasn't helping any, it even seemed to get to the confident Hermione.
As if they would have to fight trolls. It clearly stated in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them and The Dark Forces: A Guide to Self-Protection that trolls were extremely resilient to magic and rather tough to injure. Hard enough for a fully grown wizard to deal with, let alone new first years that even hadn't had a single lesson. Repeating his thoughts out loud he got a small nod from Neville with a subtle straitening of the back and shoulders. Hermione looked at him, stopped in the middle of repeating spell incantations and stared.
"I didn't think of that, it would be kind of silly to put us in such a situation."
"Yeah, it wouldn't be much of a school if they didn't have any students now would it?" Harry joked, rather lamely he thought, but he got a few nervous smiles from the students around him. One such student, a boy with white blond hair, was scrutinising him just a little too closely for comfort. Luckily something happened then to distract them all.
"What the —?" someone gasped. And even Harry who had expected it, had even thought himself ready to experience such things in the magical world was momentarily shocked. About twenty or so ghosts had just streamed through the back wall.
Pearly-white and slightly transparent, they glided across the room talking to one another and hardly glancing at the first years. They seemed to be arguing. A rather kind looking ghost in a Franciscan habit seemed to be the peace keeper.
"Forgive and forget, I say, we ought to give him a second chance —"
"My dear Friar, haven't we given Peeves all the chances he deserves? He gives us all a bad name and you know, he's not really even a ghost — I say, what are you all doing here?" A ghost wearing a ruff and tights had suddenly noticed the first years. Nobody answered.
"New students!" said the Friar, smiling around at them. "About to be Sorted, I suppose?" A few people nodded mutely.
"Hope to see you in Hufflepuff!" said the Friar. "My old house, you know."
"Please move along now," said a sharp voice. "The Sorting Ceremony's about to start."
Professor McGonagall had returned. One by one, the ghosts floated away through the opposite wall.
"Now, form a line," Professor McGonagall told the first years, "and then follow me."
Fighting the rising feeling of panic he let both Neville and Hermione pass in front of him before following after them. Following one by one they walked out of the chamber, back across the entrance hall, and through a pair of double doors into the Great Hall.
Even after reading Hogwarts: A History Harry had never even imagined such a strange and splendid place, truly an example of words not being able to do justice to some things. The huge hall in front of them was huge, reminding Harry of the inside of a church it was lit by thousands and thousands of candles that were floating in midair over four long tables. The rest of the students were sitting here with their houses, the house identities much more obvious en masse than it was on the train.
These tables were laid with glittering golden plates and goblets. At the top of the hall was another long table where the teachers were sitting. Professor McGonagall led the first years up there, so that they came to a halt in a line facing the other students, with the teachers behind them. The ghosts shone misty silver, interspersed among the black robed students as they were.
Mainly to avoid all the staring eyes, both dead and alive, Harry looked upward and saw a velvety black ceiling dotted with stars. Bewitched to look like the sky outside, it would be hard to believe there was a ceiling there at all, and that the Great Hall didn't simply open on to the heavens, if not for the tingle of magic that he sensed. The feeling started small but then grew until it almost overwhelmed him. Once he had started 'sensing' magic it seemed as if his head might just overload what with the ceiling, enchanted candles and the presence of that many magic users in one place.
Hoping he would get acclimatised as time went on; Harry turned his attention to Professor McGonagall as she silently placed a four-legged stool in front of them. On top of the stool she put a pointed wizard's hat. This hat was patched and frayed, extremely dirty and had a strong magical aura surrounding it.
For a few seconds, there was complete silence. Then the hat twitched. A rip near the brim opened wide like a mouth — and the hat began to sing:
"Oh, you may not think I'm pretty, but don't judge on what you see, I'll eat myself if you can find a smarter hat than me. You can keep your bowlers black, your top hats sleek and tall, for I'm the Hogwarts Sorting Hat and I can cap them all. There's nothing hidden in your head The Sorting Hat can't see, so try me on and I will tell you where you ought to be. You might belong in Gryffindor, where dwell the brave at heart, their daring, nerve, and chivalry set Gryffindors apart; you might belong in Hufflepuff, where they are just and loyal, those patient Hufflepuffs are true and unafraid of toil; or yet in wise old Ravenclaw, if you've a ready mind, where those of wit and learning, will always find their kind; or perhaps in Slytherin you'll make your real friends, those cunning folk use any means to achieve their ends. So put me on! Don't be afraid! And don't get in a flap! You're in safe hands (though I have none) for I'm a Thinking Cap!"
The whole hall burst into applause as the hat finished its song. It bowed to each of the four tables and then became quite still again, Professor McGonagall then stepped forward holding a long roll of parchment.
"When I call your name, you will put on the hat and sit on the stool to be sorted," she said. "Abbott, Hannah!"
Thinking that this would be as good an opportunity as any to learn his year mates names he concentrated on putting faces to names and once sorted, their house. In doing so Harry noticed, that the hat sometimes shouted out the house straight away but with others it took time to make a decision. "Finnigan, Seamus," the sandy-haired boy behind Harry in the line, sat on the stool for almost a whole minute before the hat declared him a Gryffindor.
"Granger, Hermione!" Hermione calmly walked up to the stool and with a deep breath placed the hat on her head. A short while later a smile blossomed on her face followed by the hat announcing its decision.
"RAVENCLAW" Hermione handed the hat to the next student and waved at Harry and Neville before joining the table seated under the eagle banner.
Neville was finally called and the hat took quite a long time with him. Wondering what was going on Harry observed Neville's face and body language hoping for some clue. It started out nervous, like all the others which was then followed by a rather sad expression, a frown, a wry smile, a slight nod and straightening of the posture before the hat shouting
Grinning and mouthing "Good luck" Neville went and joined Hermione at the Ravenclaw table.
The boy who had been staring at Harry before the sorting was identified as "Malfoy, Draco". The swagger and the fact that the hat had barely touched his head when it screamed, "SLYTHERIN!" made Harry uneasy. Trying not to let prejudices stand in his way, he nevertheless resolved to be on his guard around the offspring of one of Voldemort's Death Eaters.
And then, at last "Potter, Harry!"
As Harry stepped forward, whispers suddenly broke out all over the hall. Trying not to sigh or roll his eyes, Harry controlled his expression while trying to block out the whispers that were getting loader and louder.
"Potter, did she say?"
"The Harry Potter?"
Noticing Professor Flitwick at the staff table for the first time he offered the man a small smile which was returned before he sat down and let the hat close off his view of the hall.
"Hmm," said a small voice in his ear. "Difficult. Very difficult. Plenty of courage, I see. Not a bad mind either. There's talent, oh yes — and a nice thirst to prove yourself, now that's interesting… So where shall I put you?"
Harry, rather startled at the voice projected into his mind took a wild guess and decided to speak back in his mind as well. Goodness knows that the other students were rather too interested in his sorting, and he didn't want t give them more to talk about.
"Um well, I'd like Ravenclaw, I love learning and my friends are there, but I didn't think we actually got a choice?"
"Oh yes, yes you always have a choice Mr Potter never forget that. Hmm, not Gryffindor? For that is where you're expected to go. Ah, but I see your distaste for placating strangers expectations. Or perhaps Slytherin, you could be great, you know, it's all here in your head, and Slytherin will help you on the way to greatness, no doubt about that — no? Hmm, yes I suppose you would have a hard time due to your history. How about Hufflepuff, that'll shock them all out of their socks? Ah, but then you dislike the spotlight don't you? No, you're probably right, best for you to be in … RAVENCLAW!"
The hat shouted the last word to the whole hall. He took off the hat and walked shakily toward the Ravenclaw table. He was so relieved to have had his wishes consulted for once, especially in a decision so life altering as his place in the school for the next seven years, that he almost missed the reaction his sorting had garnered.
There was a second of silence filled with confused looks. Then the Ravenclaws started clapping and cheering, slow at first but gathering in speed and noise. Trying to limit the spectacle, he made his way to the seat opposite Hermione and Neville, both who were on their feet clapping loudly. On his way he took in the reaction of the Gryffindor table. Quite a few of them were clapping, admittedly it was half hearted at best, while the rest of them were whispering and sporting confused and in some cases hurt looks. Determined not to let others expectations bother him he was glad to see that the Hufflepuffs were true to their nature and kindly clapping him. The Slytherins, well, most of them had shrewd looks on their faces, probably wondering the significance of Harry Potter: Boy-Who-Lived going against the grain.
Finally gaining his seat he accepted the congratulations of his year mates and a few of the older students before resolutely turning his attention back on to the sorting as if nothing in the world was out of the ordinary. Professor McGonagall looked a little shocked but she hid it after a moment, and carried on.
Once attention had drifted away from him, he glanced up at the teachers table to find a happy Flitwick giving him a small nod. Returning it, he then gazed along the table trying to familiarise himself with the faces. The headmaster, Albus Dumbledore was easy to spot and had a speculative expression on his face, which was quickly masked when he saw he was being watched. A female professor with blonde curly hair and slightly dirtied robes; Professor Flitwick with his chair altered for his small frame; a lady with lots of bangles and shawls staring dreamily at nothing; a male professor with a purple turban out of place even among the differing attire of the professors. Hagrid he noticed was situated at end and a dark haired professor with a large nose sat at the other. This professor, seated as he was in front of the Slytherin table was probably Professor Snape, Potions Master of Hogwarts. And head of Slytherin. As if feeling eyes upon him Snape turned from the ongoing sorting to inspect Harry.
A true Slytherin, no expression showed on his pale face but the eyes held a burning intensity that belied strong emotion. Suddenly, knowing that he was at a turning point, that the next few seconds could change everything, Harry allowed his respect to show and gave a slow head nod towards the Professor. Surprise flickered, and then disappeared. Not completely sure, but Harry thought he may have seen a small incline of the head returned, before being distracted by the Headmaster standing to address the students.
"Welcome," he said beaming, arms wide open. "Welcome to a new year at Hogwarts! Before we begin our banquet, I would like to say a few words. And here they are: Nitwit! Blubber! Oddment! Tweak! Thank you!" He sat back down. Everybody clapped and cheered and Harry wasn't sure whether to laugh or not.
A rush of magic and food appeared on the tables from out of nowhere. Well, somewhere else in the castle probably. Harry wondered how long it would be until he started thinking as a magic user would. Though it would probably be a while, he was determined to find the right sort of balance.
There was no point in dragging a heavy trunk around if you could apply a feather weight charm, or even shrink it and put it in a pocket. But then again, muggle paper and pens seemed a much easier and sensible way of doing things as well. So, balance would be the main aspect of living in this world, if he were to remain true to himself. Promising to continue keeping up with his muggle contemporaries in the summer, Harry helped himself to a large portion of the roast chicken in front of him. His packed lunch and the pasties from the snack trolley had been hours ago.
After several helpings of the main meal and a big slice of treacle tart for desert Harry was feeling rather full and sleepy. He had known when he received his Hogwarts letter that things were going to change, but now he was safe from the Dursleys, had made good friends with Neville and Hermione and gotten to know his other housemates, all of whom were rather nice and welcoming, and he had just had a rather satisfying meal. He was really rather content with his lot.
At last, the desserts too disappeared, and Headmaster Dumbledore got to his feet again, the hall falling silent.
"Ahem — just a few more words now that we are all fed and watered. I have a few start-of-term notices to give you. First years should note that the forest on the grounds is forbidden to all pupils. And a few of our older students would do well to remember that as well." Dumbledore's twinkling eyes flashed in the direction of the Gryffindor table and Harry saw the two red headed twins from the platform grinning at each other.
"I have also been asked by Mr. Filch, the caretaker, to remind you all that no magic should be used between classes in the corridors. Quidditch trials will be held in the second week of the term. Anyone interested in playing for their house teams should contact Madam Hooch. And finally, I must tell you that this year, the third-floor corridor on the right-hand side is out of bounds to everyone who does not wish to die a very painful death." This pronouncement was met with a few nervous chuckles from some of the younger students and confused looks from the older ones.
Once dismissed Harry followed the Ravenclaw prefect, Penelope (call me Penny) Clearwater, out of the Great Hall and down a corridor. Up five flights of the main stairs and along another corridor they approached what must have been an entrance to the West Tower that housed the Ravenclaw students. A tightly winding spiral staircase led up to a wide landing that was bare except for a solid looking wooden door. Still slightly muddled from the feast, it took Harry a while to notice that the door had neither a handle, nor any other method of entry. Its only adornment was a bronze knocker in the shape of an eagle.
Turning towards the eagle Penny reached out and firmly knocked once. The beak of the eagle opened and a soft, musical voice said, "Some try to hide, some try to cheat, but time will show, we will always meet. Try as you might to guess my name, I'll promise you'll know, when you I do claim. Who am I?"
"As you can see, in the tradition of Ravenclaw House and its emphasis on learning, to access the common room you must first answer the riddle posed to you. So, any ideas?"
Harry looked around and found confused and some slightly panicked faces, even Hermione looked puzzled. Looking back to the prefect he saw she had a slightly amused expression on her face. The answer being obvious to him he addressed the eagle.
"Correct. Well done, well done indeed."
The eagle then morphed back into inanimate bronze and the door swung open. A shocked Penny gestured to the first years to pass through the now open door, and then followed behind them.
The common room had a few stragglers of older students catching up with friends. The slow pace they had taken due to short legs had allowed for the rest of the house to precede them. Looking around, Harry saw what was to be his home for the next seven years.
Traditionally decorated in the Ravenclaw's house colours the room was wide, circular, and very airy, with a domed ceiling painted with stars, and walls with graceful arched windows that would provide excellent views of the castle grounds. Blue and bronze silk wall hangings and a midnight-blue carpet, also decorated with stars, added colour and softened the numerous bookcases, tables and chairs all made from matching dark wood. Four fireplaces were evenly spaced around the room to provide heat, with comfortable looking chairs and sofas arranged in semi circles before them. Between these seating areas were tables of differing sizes obviously there for school work, with holes for ink pots and hanging floating candelabras above to provide good light. Opposite the entrance was another door that he presumed led to the dormitories.
"Tomorrow after dinner Professor Flitwick will hold a house meeting for the first years here in the common room. He will tell you what will be expected of you and will address any questions you may have. Breakfast starts at 7:30 and finishes at 9. However you will need to be at breakfast by eight tomorrow to receive your timetables and have time to find your way around the castle. Now I will lead you to your rooms for you to get some sleep."
Saying that, she led them through the door Harry had noticed earlier, and pointed them to the first years dormitories. The girls' room was the first door on the right the boys' a little further down on the left. Saying goodnight to Hermione, Harry and Neville entered their room followed by the two other first year boys.
Roughly triangle shaped, the room was obviously a section of the circular tower. The walls spreading outward from the door to a curved outer wall. Four canopy beds were spaced along the curved wall with their trunks placed at the foot. Between the beds were bedside tables, above which were windows. On their entrance, candles fixed to the wall had ignited, and provided a soft glow by which to see by. Too tired to do more than say goodnight, Harry opened his trunk and changed for bed.
Sinking into the soft mattress he pulled the heavy duvet around him to ward off the chill and fell asleep listening to the sounds of his roommates preparing for bed.