Judging The Covers.

Another year, another Sorting.

Professor Minerva McGonagall straightened her hat, which had the temerity to slide, back into position and moved with calm precision to wait in her allotted place. Every year, on this day, she wore this hat, these emerald robes, and waited here.

Hagrid would be leading the first years up from the harbour; some of them wide-eyed, others trying to look as though they'd seen it all before.

Minerva permitted herself a sigh. After all these years of teaching, she could size them up in a few heartbeats; know who the troublemakers would be; the wallflowers, who needed bolstering; the studious ones, who had to be reminded that there was more to life than books and of course, the jokers. She was really hoping there weren't any of those in this intake. The Weasley twins were more than enough for all seven years.

Then there were the others; the ones who were here because they had to be and had no intention of learning; the ones who were here because they had nowhere else to go except an early grave, and the ones who shouldn't be here at all.

Another year, another Sorting.

Now the babble of excited children's voices reached her, the echoes bouncing through the stone corridors and giving the impression that the group had already gained entrance to the castle. Unseen, Minerva smiled; their high-pitched voices, noisy and awed at the same time as they chattered their wonderment, never failed to raise her spirits.

In a fortnight's time, she would be exhorting them to quiet.

Another year, another Sorting.

Fresh young minds, eager for this new experience. Contrary to her strict demeanor, Minerva McGonagall did not teach to produce well-behaved children; she was trying to encourage the emergence of well-adjusted individuals, who would take their place in the wizarding world and improve it for the good of all.

She was only too aware of those who slipped through her fingers, unable or unwilling to even meet her attempt halfway. Standing between two particular graves on the shaded side of the castle, she privately mourned the parade of such faces each August thirty-first.

The noise level increased and individual voices came more clearly to her as they exclaimed over this or that. She was reminded of the sparrows that flocked to the branches outside her office window to chirrup in the same distracting way, especially when she was marking homework.

Hagrid was approaching; she heard his familiar exhortation, "Everyone here? You there –still got yer toad?"

Although her posture was always correct, Minerva straightened imperceptibly. Breathing out down her nose, she raised her lightly clasped hands to the level of her waist, and waited, the image of composure.

Heavy footfalls rang up the worn steps and Minerva imagined Hagrid raising his fist.

Three mighty blows rang out and the great oak door, silvery with age and from enduring the highland weather, opened on her unspoken command.

Hagrid loomed large in the many candles; a fearsome individual, and Minerva knew there would be some of these first years who would initially be terrified of him. They would learn otherwise.

The children crowded round, panting after the ascent up from the underground harbour, surrounding him rather as a pack of happy dogs crowd around their master's feet and nosing eagerly into the light and warmth the Entrance Hall afforded.

"The firs' years, Professor McGonagall."

His eyes were sparkling but, as in all things, Hagrid addressed her as befitted her rank.

"Thank you, Hagrid, I will take them from here."

He nodded and turned away into the night, heading for the Great Hall another way. Minerva opened the door wide allowing the children to flow inside in a sea of black robes; robes flat matt black with newness and still sticking out stiffly over their joints.

Her eyes roved over their upturned faces as they stared at her, equally as curious about her as she was about them.

Some of them would know who she was, having heard about 'Prof Mac' or 'Mackie', from their older siblings. Minerva knew these abbreviations existed but it suited her to pretend ignorance. For the remainder of these children, eyeing her nervously, she would be an unknown quantity, but not for long.

She led them across the vast Entrance Hall, knowing they were stumbling along while gaping at the distant ceiling or the marble staircase. She led them to a small side chamber and watched them crowd in, peering around nervously and huddled together like lost sheep.

"Welcome to Hogwarts."

She scanned them as she began her welcome speech, repeated annually and now spoken by rote, leaving her mind to focus on her personal sorting, searching out the troublemakers first.

They would be the ones not really paying attention to her, their eyes roving furtively around at their new surroundings and peers between dipping back to her to see if they had been caught out yet. Hmm… there – there and there; the ash blonde with the supercilious expression.

Only two minutes inside the place where they would spend the next seven years of their lives and already she had three students she would observe closely, wherever they were Sorted. Names would come later, after the Sorting Hat had performed its duty for another year.

Another year, another Sorting.

Her heart quickened as she spoke. Except this year was not just another Sorting. Now she was scanning their faces with a different intent as she continued speaking

She had no doubt that she would know him the second she laid eyes upon him; Hagrid had come to the castle to inform her of the boy's progress when she had expressed her concerns during the start of year staff meeting.

Her heart tightened in worry when she couldn't spot him; a small child, Hagrid had said, thin but bearing the unmistakable stamp of his lineage in the intense regard.

Minerva knew there had been problems getting his letter to him. She had been privy to Hagrid's tribulations in that respect. Schooling herself to scan the group more carefully, Minerva once again hoped Albus had been right to leave the child with those Muggles.

Movement attracted her eye; a tall redheaded boy shuffled under the torch bracket and Minerva finally understood that descriptor so beloved of romance novelists; her heart leaped. It didn't so much leap as turn over, taking her stomach along in sympathy.

There, in the shadow of the redhead –he had to be another Weasley, the resemblance was too pronounced— was the boy she sought. Staring at her in wide-eyed attention, he resembled his murdered father so strongly that Minerva experienced the same rush of emotion that she had known upon hearing of that young man's death.

He had the same all-over-the-place hair, wore similar narrow-rimmed spectacles and yet, remembering the father at the same age, there was a distinct absence of mischief in his regard. Recalling Hagrid's bewildered confession when he reported to Albus his success at retrieving the boy from his Muggle relations, and his worries for the poor boy, Minerva wondered how he would cope.

Hagrid's admission that this boy –this boy— knew nothing of his past, the wizarding world or of magic had both shocked her to the core and annoyed her beyond her ability to express it, unless she resorted to the use of coarse anglo-saxonisms.

She let her eyes move onto another child, a brown-eyed girl, listening to every word with uttermost attention that found approval with Minerva, but her thoughts remained back with the owner of the almond-shaped, bright green eyes.

finitum est