A/N: I hope everyone had a wonderful holiday. This is the last chapter that is finished for the rest of 2016. I really hope you enjoy it. I'll see you all in 2017!


Chapter Twenty-Three
"Missing Left Socks"


September 1st, 1991
Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry

When the Sorting Hat was put on her head, she tried to think of which House she wanted to be in, just like Harry had suggested, but her mind went blank. And, as if magic were not brilliant enough, the hat actually spoke into her mind:

"Eager for knowledge, and loyal . . . Yes, very loyal. You have a strong mind, Miss Granger. Brightest I've looked into in quite some years. Ah . . . What's that? You believe you have a choice?"

Don't I? Hermione thought.

"And what is it, exactly, that you want?"

She had barely paused for a single moment before thinking, I want to learn everything there is to know about magic. She felt, rather than heard, the amused chuckle coming from the hat before it whispered, "Ambitious of you," and then sorted her into her new House.

The Slytherins ate mostly in small groups. The older years caught up with friends they had not seen since the end of the previous term, and the first years gathered together in what looked like pre-determined social circles. Draco sat beside Theo Nott, a boy who had been speaking with Harry while they waited in line. The girl sorted after Hermione, Daphne Greengrass, was whispering with Pansy Parkinson, giggling; Hermione figured that they had been best friends prior to arriving at Hogwarts. When Blaise Zabini was finally sorted, finishing the ceremony, he sat down between Draco and Vincent Crabbe—much to Draco's obvious relief.

She had been just a bit hurt when Harry, Neville, and Dean were sorted into Gryffindor. However, the look of pure shock on Harry's face indicated that he was just as surprised as she was, so she figured she would not hold it against him. Instead, she decided she would do what her mother had advised and make new friends.

"I read in Hogwarts, a History that the Slytherin common room has an underwater view of the lake. Is that true?" she eagerly asked, looking down the table at some of the older students who would know.

The second years gave her an incredulous look before returning to their conversation, and some of the even older students outright glared at her. She cleared her throat and looked at Draco desperately, but he was deep in conversation about Quidditch with Theo.

When no one bothered answering her, she cleared her throat, undeterred, and said, "I do hope they start right away, there's so much to learn. I'm particularly interested in Transfiguration; you know, turning something into something else. It's supposed to very difficult."

Pansy and Daphne stared at her like she was an animal at an exhibit before schooling their expressions into something more polite before they continued on with their own conversation.

"They won't talk to you, y'know," the brunette seated beside one of the boys across from Hermione said. "Don't take offence. They probably don't have anything worthwhile to say." When the other two girls glared at her, the brunette grinned. She shifted her attention back to Hermione. "I'm Tracey. This is Millie," she said, elbowing the girl sitting to her left.

Millie jolted a bit, looking up from her book, and glared at Tracey. "What?" When her friend gestured to Hermione, Millie sighed and closed her book. "Millicent Bulstrode. Call me Millie."

Hermione smiled, very briefly trying to get a look at the book Millie had been so invested in. She would hate to think that she had missed something off of her list. "I'm Hermione. So . . . How come they won't talk to me, but you will?"

"Because we're half-bloods," Tracey answered, looking dauntless when a few of the other students gaped at her as though announcing her unfortunate blood status was uncouth. "And it would be pretty hypocritical for us to judge you on something like blood status, wouldn't you say? My grandmum was a Muggle-born. Dad's side. Millie's great-grand something married a Muggle."

"Mum still doesn't like them," Millie said, picking through some of the vegetables on her plate, separating them by colour. "Dad says she needs to get over it, and that it's attitudes like hers that will get us on the bad side of the Black Coven."

Hermione had many questions—especially about the coven that she had learned very little about other than the fact that their High Witch, Dorea Potter, helped to fund the Muggle-born Overview Program. Before she had a chance to ask any of them, Tracey leant forward.

"I saw you standing next to Potter. Are you friends with him?"

"I think so," Hermione said with a smile.

"His dad is so fit. My mum took a fancy to the Black brothers when they were at Hogwarts. We didn't see them at King's Cross, but there was a photo in the Daily Prophet a few months back when Sirius Black was shopping in Diagon Alley." When Millie rolled her eyes, Tracey laughed. "What? He is! You can't disagree."

"I can," Millie said matter-of-factly as she speared a piece of carrot on her fork. "And I will because we're eleven. My Mum said that it's silly to think about boys at our age."

Tracey rolled her eyes, completely indifferent to her friend's opinion. She turned her attention back to Hermione. "Do you know the family very well?"

Hermione shook her head. "I was introduced to Harry on the train. The only people I met before going to King's Cross were the teachers of the Muggle-born Overview Programme. Is that why not liking Muggles would get your family on the bad side of the Black Coven?" she asked, turning her focus back to Millie. "Because Dorea Potter funds it?"

"The programme was created by the Black Coven," Millie said. "If you've met any adult witches already, they're likely members of the coven. Professor McGonagall is the only one in the castle," she said with a sigh. "I knew I would end up in Slytherin, but a part of me wishes that I had better access to her."

"Why?

Millicent turned and gaped at Hermione. "So she'll sponsor me, of course. Every three years, the Black Coven accepts three new members: someone connected to the Black family by blood or bond, a half-blood or pureblood witch, and a Muggle-born. It's to keep everything balanced. You might end up on their list if Potter over there writes home and mentions you by name."

Hermione sat up straight, wide-eyed, processing this new information even as Millie went on. "I'm related to Madam Potter because we share a great-great-something grandmother on the Bulstrode side. I'm one of very few witches in Hogwarts that can say that. If I don't get in, I'll be devastated," she said, looking crestfallen. "Last year was when they announced their official plans to take on new witches in ritual, but you have to have a wand to participate, so anyone younger than eleven was out. I have two years to prepare for the next time they open the coven."

"Do you want me to whistle really loud and get Professor McGonagall's attention?" Tracey asked with a wry grin that had Hermione quietly chuckling.

Millie pinned her with a look. "Don't you dare."

"I could wave my arms," Tracey said. "It wouldn't be very difficult to get her to look this way."

"How did you ever get into Slytherin?" Millie asked, eyes narrowed.

Tracey smirked. "Green brings out my eyes."

"What about you, Tracey?" Hermione asked, intrigued to know more about her new Housemates. "Are you going to try and join the Black Coven since they allow in half-bloods?"

"Not for me," Tracey replied with a shrug, spilling a bit of pumpkin juice as she refilled her cup. "Remember what I said about my mum fancying the Black brothers? Grandfather says that when mum was little, they tried to set up an arranged marriage with the Black family, but the younger brother refused and then died like a month later."

Furrowing her brow as she eagerly listened, Hermione picked at the food on her plate, too caught up in the conversation to really pay attention to what she was eating. "Does that matter? Do they think your mother had something to do with—?"

"Oh no," Tracey said with a small laugh. "But to join a family coven, you technically have to be of the same family."

"Joining a coven is a blood bonding ritual," Millie said quietly, trying not to draw attention of the other students, though Draco, Theo, and Gregory Goyle were casually glancing in her direction as she spoke. "It would be considered . . . improper for Tracey to join a coven and share in the blood of the family that her mother tried to marry into."

Tracey nodded in agreement. "My dad works at the Ministry, and there are gits there who would treat him really badly if I did something like that. Besides, I just plan on being best friends with you two since you're so well connected," she said with an amused grin, "and I'll get coven perks by association."

Hermione's cheeks coloured. "I don't think . . . I mean if they only pick three . . ." She frowned, wondering if people would assume that she had befriended Harry with dubious intentions.


None of the Slytherins said a word when their Head of House led them out of the Great Hall in the middle of the headmaster's speech. Once they were through the doors, however, some of the older years began to quietly snicker about the "barmy old codger" that was Albus Dumbledore. Despite it feeling disrespectful, as Hermione had always been taught to respect her elders, this event paired with her conversation with her Gryffindor friends on the train did not paint a very good picture of the old wizard.

"What do you think is on the third floor?" Hermione quietly asked her new friends as they followed the rest of their House out of the Great Hall.

"Dead bodies," Tracey said immediately, giggling. "Or a really impressive collection of missing left socks. Ones with holes in where the big toe should be. All colours. Great big fuzzy ones as well."

Chuckling, Hermione rolled her eyes as they walked past the staircase. She looked back to see the Gryffindors had split off from the rest of the students to ascend to the floors above. When she turned back to ask Millie and Tracey another question, she stumbled when two older girls were on either side of her instead, having moved Hermione's friends out of the way.

"Mudbloods don't belong in Slytherin," one of them hissed at her before hip checking her into the other. The girls laughed as Hermione fell to the ground. A few other students laughed, but even more glared up ahead in shock as the older girls blended back into the crowd.

Despite feeling Tracey already on one side of her, Hermione could not help but wonder if she had made a mistake in her choice of House. Then again, it had not really been a choice. Instead, a conversation with the Sorting Hat before she had essentially acquiesced to being put wherever it deemed appropriate. In that moment, she could not decide if she would have preferred Harry to have come with her to Slytherin, or if she would be embarrassed for him—and everyone else—to see her be bullied so easily. Lifting her chin angrily, she fought away bitter tears, resolutely determined not to let the older students see her weak.

"Come on," an older boy said as he reached down to quickly help Hermione back to her feet. "Don't let them think they actually hurt you."

Once inside the Slytherin common room, Hermione did her best not to cry over the rapidly developing bruise on her knee. Tracey sat on a sofa beside her as a sixth year prefect cast a Numbing Charm on her.

"You'll have to learn to be more careful," the girl said to Hermione even as she glared sideways at the twin sisters who were smirking in the corner of the room. "Best to stay out of the Carrows' way from now on. See if one of your new half-blood friends can explain how things work around here."

Tracey took Hermione's hand as though they were lifelong friends. Both girls smiled as the boy from earlier approached them. "Gemma get you all set?"

Hermione nodded. "Thank you for helping me back there."

"Slytherins look after their own." When both girls turned and glared at the Carrows who were laughing in a corner at something a stupidly tall blond boy was saying, the boy in front of them sighed. "Well, we're supposed to look after our own. Unfortunately, some people are stubbornly stuck with how things used to be. Or how their parents want things to be, I guess."

"Warrington!"

The boy looked up. "Yeah?"

The prefect that had helped Hermione—Gemma Fawley—looked exasperated as she sternly examined a list in her hand. "You seen Malfoy?"

He glanced around the common room in search of the white-blond hair. "I'll go take a look outside and see if he got left behind." He patted Hermione on the shoulder. "Anyone gives you trouble, you let me know, yeah? I'm Cassius. You lot get to your dorms. Big first day tomorrow."

The girls made their way to the dorms, which were down another stretch of hallway and around a corner, turning left, whereas the boys in their year turned right. Hermione smiled, reaching out to run her fingers over the dark green marble of the walls. Tiny flecks of silver in the stone flickered in the torchlight. Having heard that the Slytherins lived in the dungeons, Hermione had assumed the place would be cold and damp, but it was surprisingly warm and beautiful. When they passed by the window that looked out into the Black Lake, she squinted in an attempt to see into the water, but it was too dark.

Gregory Goyle did not pay attention to where he was going, looking down at his feet instead of up as he walked. When he made a sharp left turn, accidentally following the girls, he bounced off an invisible barrier that flung him backward several feet and knocked him on his arse.

All the witches turned, and when Pansy and Daphne began to laugh, Hermione scowled at them and rushed to help the boy to his feet. "Ignore them," she whispered to him. "Slytherins are supposed to look after their own, I'm told."

He smiled, cheeks red with embarrassment. "Thanks. I'm Greg."

"Hermione."

"Where were you?" Theo Nott asked from over Greg's shoulder. Hermione turned to see Draco Malfoy sauntering up the hallway with a smug grin on his face and his hands in the pockets of his trousers as though he had not a care in the world.

"Making an acquisition," the blond replied. He turned his focus on Hermione and smiled politely. "Are you all right, Hermione? Making friends? No one treating you boorishly?"

She lifted an eyebrow at him. "I'm adjusting."

"Good news," Draco declared. "Well, my job is done for the night."

Greg and Theo followed after him with peculiar expressions. Hermione turned back toward the girls' dormitory to find Tracey waiting for her. "The hell was Malfoy on about?"

Hermione shook her head. "I've no idea."

Pansy and Daphne had been the first in, so they had chosen the beds farthest to one side of the room. It became clear that Hermione would be on the opposite end, with the half-blood witches in the middle. Tracey took the bed between Hermione's and Millie's.

As most of the students brought owls for communication, Hermione was surprised when a furry tail brushed up against her leg as she unpacked her trunk. She looked down and smiled at the long-haired black cat that was rubbing against her ankle. "Hello. Who are you?"

"Brutus," Millie answered, sitting in the middle of her bed, reorganising her bookbag. "I'll teach you a charm that my mum uses to get his hair off of your robes. Little bugger sheds."


Despite being the last through the portrait hole—after saying goodnight to his Aunt Minnie and giving the Fat Lady a proper hello, complete with Sirius Black-style grin and an awkward bow—Harry was the first into the dorm room, having sped past Ron, Neville, Dean, and Seamus. By the time the other boys made it to their shared room, Harry was sticking out from under one of the beds, and the blankets were tangled on another.

"All right, Harry?" Ron asked with a chuckle.

Neville smiled. "He's looking for his dad's bed," he explained. "No one get settled anywhere, because Harry will fight you. His godfather told him that he and his friends carved their names into the posts." Neville's eyes crinkled in amusement as his cousin crawled out from under one four-poster and straight beneath the next. As though trying to help, Max dragged her claws down the low-hanging red curtains of another bed until Neville shooed her away.

Dean approached the bed where his trunk had been deposited. His fingers ran over a scratched name on the back of the post, noting the strangely good penmanship, considering it looked like it had been carved in with a pocket knife. "I found something," he said. "Harry, is your dad named Sirius?"

"Yes!" Harry said, poking his head out from under a bed. "Er . . . I mean, yes and no. I'm looking for one that says James."

Dean and Seamus shared a confused look, but both Ron and Neville shook their heads indicating that now was not the time to get into the family history of Harry Potter. Instead, the other four boys decided to help by looking for the previous four-poster of one James Potter.

"Got it!" Seamus said, high-fiving Harry when he practically collided with him at the foot of the bed nearest the window right beside the one that Dean had claimed. Seamus gladly dragged his trunk across the room so that he and Harry could swap.

"What're you looking for, mate?" Seamus asked Ron as he passed by the bed that the redhead had chosen. "Your dad carve his initials in as well?"

"No," Ron replied, looking concerned as he examined the posts. "Just . . . looking for something else."

"It's the one nearest the loo," Harry said, unpacking his trunk in search of his pyjamas. Looking up, Harry gestured to the bed that Seamus arrived at.

Ron let out a sigh of relief, and Neville awkwardly cleared his throat. Seamus, however, was staring at his new bed as though it might suddenly spring to life and try to eat him. "The hell's wrong with it?" he eventually demanded, aiming his wand at the mattress.

"Nothing," Ron assured him. "I just . . . I don't want to sleep in it."

"It belonged to someone else," Harry answered curtly. Hearing his own words, he sighed and glanced up, making eye contact with Seamus. "It's fine. Not cursed or anything. And we won't hold it against you."

"If you're worried, I'll trade you," Neville offered kindly. "I don't care much where I sleep."

"Nah," Seamus said with a shrug. "I'm good here."

"Hey Nev," Harry said, "are you sending a letter to your gran tonight? You think your owl would be willing to make an extra stop?"

Glancing up from over his trunk, where he was digging out his brand new Remembrall, Neville shrugged. "Don't see why not. If you want, we could just put our letters together seeing that your grandmother and my gran are probably going to be meeting with the aunts. They're likely placing bets on where we all end up." He snorted a bit under his breath and added, "My sorting is going to surprise the hell out of some of them."

Harry finished digging through his trunk to find a roll of parchment that his grandmother had given him specifically for letters, saying that there was no reason to avoid writing home, since the monogrammed stationery would not be allowed for school work. "Actually, I need to write to Sirius."

Neville furrowed his brow. "Won't your grandmother just tell him?"

Sighing, Harry ran a hand through his hair. "I doubt he'll be at home. You know my dad, Nev. He's been dreading me going to Hogwarts. My guess is that he'll end up at the Leaky."

"He might've followed you up here," Neville suggested with a laugh. "He could be just down the way in Hogsmeade staying at the Three Broomsticks."

"Didn't he date Rosmerta for a bit last year?" Ron asked, looking up. "Fred and George wrote home whinging about it."

"Who's Rosmerta?" Seamus asked.

"She runs an inn down in the local village," Harry said. "She's nice. Makes a wicked cottage pie. They weren't exclusive, and he started seeing his current boyfriend six months back or so. He thinks he's been keeping it quiet." He chuckled, rolling his eyes. "Parents are idiots."

"Still don't know how your godfather went from Rosmerta to another bloke," Ron said, shaking his head. "Fred and George say she's fit."

Shrugging, Harry closed his trunk, paper and quill in hand. "Maybe he thinks his new boyfriend is fit. I'd rather not think about my dad snogging anyone, thanks."

Seamus smirked, looking over his shoulder from where he was hanging up a Falmouth Falcons poster next to his bed. "I doubt they're just snogging, mate."

Harry cringed, yanked off one of his socks, and hurled it across the room at Seamus. "Shut your gob, Finnegan," he said with a laugh. "And get that poster down unless you want to embarrass yourself. Falcons are almost dead last this year."

Seamus cast a glance toward Ron, who was tugging a faded Chudley Cannon's t-shirt over his head. "Not dead last, though, are they?"

Neville and Dean settled into bed first, though Ron was the first asleep. Seamus stayed up, flipping through a copy of Quidditch Monthly, and Harry did his best to write out two letters as quickly as possible. Once the one to his grandmother was finished, he folded it neatly and set it aside before pulling out a new piece of paper.

Dad,

It's brilliant. Hogwarts is huge! I'm not sure if you'll be at home when you get this, or if Grandmother will have already told you, but I'm in Gryffindor. I know you're happy about that, but don't rub it in anyone's face too much. I honestly didn't know where I wanted to go, but there was this girl on the train. One of Uncle Ted's Muggle-borns. We got to talking about where we would all go, and I know you and Grandmother wanted me to help look after the Muggle-borns. I told Hermione (that's her name, by the way) that if she was really worried, I would go with her to whatever House, even if she got into Slytherin.

She got in. Can you believe it? I don't think Slytherin's ever had a Muggle-born, have they? Anyway, I got to the Sorting Hat and I told it to put me in Slytherin, but it didn't listen. Not sure why. I'm a little worried about Hermione, but I asked Draco to keep an eye on her. Oh, can you do me a favour? I left behind a bunch of my chocolate cards, and I want to keep the collection together. Could you send it to me?

Me and Neville are in Gryffindor Tower now. I found Dad's old bed. It's mine. It feels kind of weird, even though I've technically had his old room back home since forever. Being at Hogwarts though, it's different. Did it feel different to you?

Ron made a fuss about maybe ending up with Pettigrew's bed, but my new friend Seamus took it. Nev's got Remus's, I think. One of the Muggle-borns (his name is Dean) got your old bed.

Please reassure Grandmother that I'm fine. There weren't any problems with Dumbledore, and Hagrid didn't say anything to me, but I did kind of go out of my way to avoid him, just in case. Dumbledore did notice me, though, and I think he was talking about me to one of the teachers. Not Snape. Another one. Aunt Minnie wasn't pleased with Dumbledore for some reason. She and Professor Snape pretty much walked us all out before Dumbledore dismissed us.

I better go. Lots to do tomorrow. I miss you already.

Harry.

PS. Max says hi.