I walked dejectedly after Professor McGonagall, contemplating the complete social suicide I'd just committed. And everything had been going so well, too. So much for my "new life." Things were looking worse than before - instead of merely being invisible, I'd be a public laughingstock. Lovely.

Professor McGonagall led me through some hallways and stopped in front of a large oak door, muttering something that sounded like "fizzing whizbees" under her breath. "You can go up there and wait in the office. One of the house-elves should have left a meal there for you. Headmaster Dumbledore will be along in a little while - we just didn't want to make you go up and be sorted with the first-years, since you're so much older." With that, she rushed off, presumably down to the Great Hall where the opening feast was being held.

I stretched, and sighed. "Well, isn't this great," I muttered to myself, and opened the door. There was a set of stairs, and then another door - I let myself in, assuming I should, and entered the Headmaster's office.

The first thing I noticed were the various objects and devices scattered around the room, sitting on shelves and tables. All of them were things like I had never seen before, and I decided I probably shouldn't touch any of them - Albus Dumbledore was rumored to be an extremely powerful wizard, so these things might even be dangerous to anyone of lesser power.

There was a chair and table set out in an empty part of the room, and a number of dishes were set out on it. I took a seat, remembering McGonagall's words, and carefully picked up a fork and began to shovel some of the food onto the empty plate on the table, and ate gratefully - I hadn't had anything to eat on the train besides a sandwich, and I was utterly famished. Besides, I hadn't seen such a spread in my lifetime - our family of three could have eaten from what I was given and still had leftovers for the next day.

I had just finished eating and was about to put down my fork when I heard a rustle behind me. Turning around, I saw something I hadn't noticed on my way in, and what I saw made me drop my fork. It clattered to the ground as I stared, eyes wide. There was a phoenix in Dumbledore's office. And here I had been pretending to have seen one... for one thing, it was even more beautiful than I had imagined. But what was one doing in the Headmaster's office? I took a step closer.

"I see you've met Fawkes, Miss Smith."

I whirled around to see the Headmaster standing not too far behind me. I hadn't even heard him open the door. "Oh. Er. Fawkes?" I managed, a little spooked.

"The phoenix," Dumbledore said, gesturing to the magnificent bird.

I nodded quickly. "Er, thank you for admitting me. I didn't really know where else to go," I muttered, biting my lip slightly.

He only smiled mysteriously. "Now, shall we sort you?" he said, pulling a rather old and worn-looking wizard's cap from under his arm. I sat back down at the table, glancing just once more at Fawkes, and he placed the hat on my head.

Well, well, what have we here? I haven't had to sort a student your age for hundreds of years.

Who is that? I wondered, worried. Was I hearing voices, now?

I'm the Hogwarts Sorting Hat. Now, let's see. You have plenty of ambition - you want to prove yourself, get people to like you, a mark of Slytherin. Not particularly thirsty for knowledge, rather just mildly interested in it... and not particularly brave and daring, not enough for Gryffindor...

No! I cried, mentally. But I want to be in Gryffindor! Harry...

...and you also want to make real friends, friends that will stay by your side, so you will never feel lonely again - something you will find in Hufflepuff house. It seems you have a choice: you could try Slytherin, where you could achieve your greatest desires, or be in Hufflepuff, and have true friends. There are no second chances, so choose wisely.

I'd have to say it was probably the most difficult decision of my life, although the answers seem like they should be clear-cut. I desperately wanted to be liked by everyone, and the most powerful witch in the universe, and all the things that little girls want but can never have - but I also wanted to be sure of having friends, and thinking back over what the Hat said... I made my decision.