Where We Belong
The Great Hall was decorated with the colors of all four houses: green and silver banners hung over the Slytherin table, blue and bronze over Ravenclaw, yellow and black over Hufflepuff, and red and gold over Gryffindor. The thousands of candles that had been conjured for the Sorting Ceremony were back, floating overhead beneath a starlit sky, casting a flickering sheen on all the ghosts.
Usually the Leaving Feast was a time of celebration, eagerly anticipated by everyone. It was a time for the House Cup to be awarded, for individual students to be recognized, and for friends to enjoy one last meal together before they went home for the summer.
No one knew how the Headmistress was planning to award the House Cup this year. The house scores, lost during the goblin invasion, had been recovered thanks to the diligence (or obsessiveness) of Prefects and other students who carefully tracked each day's totals. But while the hourglasses had been repaired and the scoring resumed, there had been very few changes to the points since – and everyone was sure that the acts of certain students would have to be taken into account. The Gryffindors were counting on an enormous boost to their score thanks to Teddy Lupin. Teddy was less upset by this than he was by some of his more mercenary housemates suggesting that Chloe should earn them points. He certainly didn't disagree that Chloe's bravery deserved recognition, but the idea of trying to quantify her sacrifice with a few rubies offended him in a way he couldn't articulate.
Slytherins, Ravenclaws, and Hufflepuffs similarly expected their own house heroes to be recognized. The heroes themselves were remarkably unenthusiastic. Even Kai, who had been rather enjoying telling and retelling about his rescue of the Slytherins and subsequent "nearly mortal" wounding, came into the Great Hall feeling ambivalent, barely able to care about the House Cup, and fearful of what the Sorting Hat was going to say. Violet heard the older Slytherins muttering that if the Quidditch team's bravery, and Ophilia and Hugh in particular, didn't win the House Cup for Slytherin, it would be proof that the Headmistress never intended to give them a fair shake. Ophilia herself seemed unconcerned.
The ghosts too, usually as jovial as ghosts ever were at the Leaving Feast, were somber. Dewey found his eyes constantly wandering to a balcony on the second floor, where Alduin and Moaning Myrtle were standing apart from all the other spirits. Myrtle never came to feasts. Dewey wasn't sure, but he thought Alduin was watching the living students with something like longing.
The house-elves outdid themselves, producing the most sumptuous feast any of the students or staff could remember. This only made a lot of the students feel more self-conscious about enjoying it. They knew what Professor Llewellyn had told them – the still-enslaved elves wept and begged on their hands and knees not to be freed every time it was suggested. The students now wearing S.P.E.W. buttons hoped that eventually, Golly, Griffy, Lolo, and Teazle would set an example that the other elves would want to follow.
After dessert, the anticipation grew and grew, until Professor Llewellyn rose from her chair at the High Table, and the chatter around the hall died down.
"Twelve years ago," she proclaimed, in a voice that carried across the hall, "Voldemort and his followers came to Hogwarts ... and were defeated, at terrible cost." Teddy heard the shudders and gasps around the hall, but it wasn't the Dark Lord's name that made him shiver. He looked up at the balcony where Alduin Dolohov floated, and was sure, for a moment, that the ghost was staring back at him.
"This year brought trials, and sacrifices, the likes of which we hoped we would never see again," Llewellyn continued. Her gaze surveyed all the students, now listening with pale, somber faces. Quite a few gazes went in Alduin's direction. "But it also brought out the very best qualities of all four houses... after, I must admit, a very rocky start. I saw bravery, cleverness, wisdom, and compassion. I saw the youngest students put the rest of us to shame. I truly don't know what the Sorting Hat is going to say, but I am proud of all of you."
She allowed a silence to fall over the hall, then said, "After discussing it with your house heads, we are all agreed that to award the House Cup this year would trivialize your deeds and your sacrifices. If this is the last year in which this ceremony takes place, we are not going to hold up one house above the others." She drew her wand, and made a wide, sweeping motion with it. Students murmured as a tall stone obelisk rose out of the floor, then levitated above it until it was floating in front of the High Table, rotating slowly in a circle. It had four sides, and the students could see that the pyramid atop the obelisk bore the four house crests stamped in metal, one on each side.
At the base of the obelisk was a metal plaque, with glowing gold letters that read: 'For Meritorious Service to the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, Displaying the Finest Qualities of Their Houses and Their School, and Bravery and Sacrifice Far Beyond Expectations.'
"This monument," Professor Llewellyn said, "will be placed outside, next to Dumbledore's Tomb. May it stand in recognition of all of our house heroes." She nodded to the silent student body. "Will you please stand as your name is called?"
Aisha Allouzi was the first name the Headmistress called, and the Ravenclaws applauded and cheered as the first-year girl nervously rose to her feet. Llewellyn waved her wand, and Aisha's name was inscribed on the face of the obelisk bearing the Ravenclaw crest.
Llewellyn continued calling names in alphabetical order – Mercy Burbage, Edan Burns, Alfred Cattermole. As each name was called and each student stood up, their names were magically added to the stone, beneath their house's crest.
The Slytherins whistled and cheered and pounded their table as Ophilia Karait and Elizabeth Krupp were called, much more loudly than they had for Nagaeena Indrani, who looked almost embarrassed standing up with the other first-years.
"Blimey, you should get more recognition than us!" whispered Colin Hayes to Teddy, as the Gryffindors filled the hall with thunderous applause and cheers when his name came.
"No, this is perfect," he whispered back.
It was all the first-years who had been left awake when the goblins attacked, along with Ophilia and the Slytherin Quidditch team. Teddy looked over at the Hufflepuff table and met Dewey's gaze. Dewey nodded. Teddy didn't care to be identified as 'more heroic' than anyone else. He didn't care if some of them had done more than others, or even that a few, like Nagaeena and Deana, might have done very little but survive. That was good enough for him.
Kai whistled and stamped his feet, urging the Ravenclaws to make more noise, as Gilbert Zirkle's name concluded the honor roll, and then everyone rose from their seats, staff and students alike, giving the Hogwarts house heroes a standing ovation. Dewey and Mercy looked at each other and blushed. Sung-Hee was looking shyly at her feet, and clearly wanted to sit down. But the applause and the cheering went on and on, until even the ghosts were joining in.
Then Teddy noticed something. He looked at Dewey again, and the Hufflepuff boy looked back at him. Mercy too, suddenly had a nervous but determined expression.
The noise gradually died down. The teachers sat, followed by the students. Those whose names had appeared on the obelisk also took their seats. But Teddy and Dewey and Mercy remained standing, and Sung-Hee, who had been about to sit, gulped and remained standing when Mercy clutched at her hand. Eyes focused on them, and Teddy licked his lips nervously.
"Excuse me, Professor," he said. He was sweating, and his voice came out as almost a whisper, but he forced himself to speak more loudly. "There's a name missing."
"Two names, Professor," said Dewey.
Llewellyn nodded slowly. "Why yes, so there are." She looked down the High Table. Professor Longbottom and Professor Peasegood rose from their seats.
"Would you do the honors, Professors?"
Gravely, Professor Longbottom pointed his wand at the obelisk.
"Chloe Grey," he said softly, but loudly enough to be heard across the hall, and Chloe's name appeared on the stone, below the Gryffindor house crest.
Professor Peasegood had tears in her eyes. She looked up at the balcony, and all eyes turned to the two ghosts standing there. Then the Head of Hufflepuff said, in a hoarse voice, "Alduin Dolohov."
Alduin's name – his real name – was added to the list, with the other Hufflepuffs. A few Hufflepuffs began clapping, then all of them did, and then they rose to their feet and applauded, while looking up at the ghost. Slowly everyone else also stood up, and another standing ovation filled the Great Hall.
Alduin looked stunned, and behind him, Myrtle was wide-eyed. The Fat Friar was weeping, and it wasn't only Hufflepuffs who had to wipe tears away.
Only a few of them noticed Myrtle slowly slipping her hand into Alduin's. She smiled shyly up at him. He turned his head to look at her, and then a slow smile crept across his face. His eyes were shining.
They look happy, thought Dewey, in wonder.
And when the noise finally died down once more, and students and staff again took their seats, Teddy, Dewey, Mercy, and Sung-Hee were still standing. In a quavering voice, Mercy said, "Excuse me, Professor."
Professor Llewellyn looked at her. "Miss Burbage?" she asked.
"There are still four names missing," Mercy said.
The Headmistress blinked slowly. "Well then." She held out her wand. "Please tell us who they are."
"Lolo," said Mercy. Llewellyn paused, then nodded. At the base of the obelisk, there were three blank faces, along with the surface on which the plaque was set, and on one of those faces, Professor Llewellyn engraved Lolo's name.
"Golly!" shouted Teddy. Professor Llewellyn looked at him, then nodded and added Golly's name.
"Teazle," said Dewey. Teazle also appeared.
Only Sung-Hee was left, and she was shaking as she stammered, "Griffy." All the Hufflepuffs sat down, as Llewellyn added the fourth name, but Teddy remained on his feet, and once again, everyone stared at him.
"Mister Lupin?" asked Professor Llewellyn, with a small frown. She had been about to put her wand away, but now looked at Teddy curiously.
"You forgot Moogums," said Teddy.
"And Groggin!" shouted Connor and Colleen McCormack.
"And Nee!" Aisha squeaked, before bowing her head embarrassedly.
The Headmistress blinked, then made careful gestures with her wand, and the three elves who had helped Teddy and the others escape the goblin cavern joined the four free elves at the base of the obelisk.
And finally, Teddy thought, the list was complete. He saw Golly, Griffy, Lolo, and Teazle standing at the back of the hall, staring at the obelisk with open mouths and shaking their heads. He grinned at them.
"All of these students, and elves, risked their lives to save others," said Professor Llewellyn. "Some gave their lives. You will notice that there are members of every house on this list... and members of every house owe these individuals their gratitude."
She held out her hands, silencing the hall. She nodded to someone behind her, and everyone became very still as Professor Rai came across the raised platform, carrying a stool in one hand and the Sorting Hat in the other.
He set the stool in front of the High Table, before all the assembled students, and set the Sorting Hat upon it. Every eye was on the hat now, and it slowly straightened up, its peak a little stiffer and pointier than when Teddy had last seen it. It looked like it had been cleaned up a bit as well.
They all felt the hat surveying them, in its eyeless, faceless way, and then it said slowly, "So. I told you last year, that I sent some of you where you don't belong. And now it's time for those who aren't where they belong to step forward, and be sent where they do."
There was a very long silence. First-years all looked at each other. Older students looked at the first-years.
"Well?" demanded the Sorting Hat.
Teddy looked around, at his fellow firsties at the Gryffindor table. No one moved.
No one at the Hufflepuff table moved.
Kai stared at the Sorting Hat, praying no one was looking at him. Out of the corner of his eye, he was aware of Gilbert sitting next to him and fidgeting, but he didn't move. Across the table, Rodney Bode stared at his plate.
Connor and Colleen McCormack looked at each other, Connor at the Ravenclaw table, Colleen at the Gryffindor table. Kai half-expected one or both of them to stand up, but the twins just nodded to one another, in some unspoken agreement, and both remained in their seats.
No one at the Ravenclaw table moved.
A few Slytherins cast glances at Stephen White, but he sat up straight, hands clasped in front of him, and stared directly at the Sorting Hat without moving.
And Violet saw Teddy, Dewey, and Kai each look at her in turn, and she just gave them each a small, tight smile.
No one at the Slytherin table moved.
"No one thinks they belong somewhere else?" the Sorting Hat asked in amazement, its voice echoing through the hall. "Is there no one who has realized where they ought to be isn't where they are?"
It twisted on its perch, as if scanning the hall. Its voice was the only sound.
"Well, then," it drawled. "You must all be where you belong."
The first-years stared at it, with expressions ranging from surprise to confusion to relief.
"But what's this?" the hat continued. "I see some of you look unhappy! Dismayed! Still waiting for me to set things right, are you?"
Everyone looked around. Some eyes hastily darted away from the firsties they'd been looking at, and some older students – and, Teddy noticed, a few of the teachers – hastily composed themselves.
And the hat laughed, and spoke once more, into the silence. "A very wise man once said, it is our choices that show what we truly are." Its broad split seam curled into a hat-like grin, as it proclaimed: "You have chosen where you belong!"
Then it began singing:
"Godric Gryffindor sought the bravest wizards of his time;
Rowena Ravenclaw desired those with eager minds.
Salazar Slytherin wanted those with towering ambition,
and Helga Hufflepuff was kind; to house all was her mission.
And so the founders each selected students of a feather,
but they, though each so different, knew they had to work together.
Now you may think those fabled times a golden age of glory,
but the truth is that those times were hard, and often they were gory!
The founders had great enemies, possessed of terrible power;
divided, they would have fallen, in their darkest hour.
They never could have persevered, without brave Godric's courage;
Helga's patient toil sustained them when hardships would discourage.
Rowena's wisdom saved them all; without her, they'd be beat,
and often Salazar's gimlet eye snatched victory from defeat.
Hogwarts' towers didn't rise with feasts and celebration,
but in blood and sweat and tears, born of determination.
And then... then the founders forgot the lessons they themselves had learned,
and you, their heirs, must learn again how hard they were earned.
The founders made me, and they said, 'Sort each where they belong,'
and never – never – have I done a student or house wrong!
Over the years, I used my brains, to tell you where to go,
and you, I fear, stopped using yours, until I told you so.
I have seen more centuries, than some of you've seen years;
there isn't much I haven't seen, when I look between your ears.
Some of you clearly belong in one house or another,
but no house is your only choice; you all could find another.
So this year some of you I cast, not where you'd fit with ease,
but to the house that needed you, for all your qualities.
It was a test for all of you, and not just on your own;
I held your house responsible, to make itself your home.
Aye, it wasn't easy, it wasn't kind, I feared you'd not come through,
and the true test of your mettle would be harder than I knew.
But persevere you did, brilliantly! I tip myself to you!
You all found homes, you all found friends, across the tables too!
So now you know, that you're not meant to huddle with a few,
and let house colors define everything there is to you.
You all have courage, heart, and wit, but you are each unique;
there's far more to who you'll become, than I see with one peek.
Take pride in your noble founders, of whom you should be awed,
but remember that they all were great – and all of them were flawed."
When hat finished singing, silence reigned, until a few of the teachers began clapping. Then the students joined in, and now it was the Sorting Hat that everyone was applauding. The seam that split it to form its 'mouth' broadened into an impossibly wide smile, and it bent forward, letting its top half fold over in a credible imitation of a bow.
Professor Llewellyn stood up again, and waited patiently, while waves and waves of applause rolled throughout the hall. Only when the noise subsided to a few persistent students still clapping, who finally fell silent, did she say, "I do believe there will be no more sorting... until next year."
She smiled as applause erupted once more and continued. Teddy grinned, clapping with the rest. Dewey smiled at his fellow Hufflepuffs. Kai, with more relief than he wanted to admit, high-fived Gilbert, who then grinned and rolled his eyes as all the other Ravenclaws wanted to duplicate the Muggle gesture with him. Violet looked at Stephen, who looked back at her, and she winked. He grinned.
Teddy noticed Nearly Headless Nick staring upwards, and then he realized all the ghosts were looking in the same direction. He turned his head, to follow their gazes, and saw they were all looking at Alduin and Myrtle.
Something was happening.
Dewey saw it too. He looked around quickly, and saw that some other kids were noticing it, while others were talking to their friends. A few students fell silent as they stared at the ghosts of the two children.
Alduin Dolohov and Moaning Myrtle were still standing side by side, and hand in hand, looking down at the Great Hall. They were smiling, in a way no one ever saw ghosts smile. And they were fading from sight. Their translucent forms were becoming transparent, fainter and fainter, until there was only a flicker of light tracing their outlines, then a dim glow where they had been, and then nothing.
The students who'd noticed stared at the empty air where the two ghosts had been. Teddy finally looked at Nearly Headless Nick, who was transfixed on the spot, with an expression of such sadness that it was almost painful to see. Teddy glanced at the other ghosts and saw similar wistful, haunted expressions on their faces.
"Nick," he whispered at last. "What just happened?"
As if shaking himself from a trance, Nick turned his head towards Teddy. It turned a little oddly, not quite the way a normally-attached person's head should turn, but for once, Nick didn't seem to notice.
"They are gone," he said quietly.
All the Gryffindors around the table blinked at that.
"Gone?" asked Megan Lewis softly.
Nick wasn't looking at anyone. His eyes were still somewhere far away.
"All ghosts are unhappy souls," he sighed, in the mournful tone one might use to deliver a eulogy. "We cling to this pale shadow of life, unable to return, unable to move on. We may come to terms with what we have become, but we are never at peace." He looked up again, at the spot where the two ghosts had vanished. "Only rarely does a spirit find in death what he or she never found in life – acceptance, forgiveness, love, understanding... whatever it was we missed – miss – so very much." He bowed his head, as all the Gryffindors listened quietly. "Those are the happy few," he murmured, "who find peace, and are able to let go." Then he slowly ascended up and up, rising to the ceiling and then through it, while the Gryffindors stared silently upwards, watching him go.
All the other ghosts were leaving too. Silently, the Fat Friar descended through the floor at the end of the Hufflepuff table. The Gray Lady rotated about, gathering her robes, and floated regally out of the Great Hall, more stiffly than usual. Violet noticed the Bloody Baron staring after her, for a moment, with a look of loss and sorrow, before he too descended through the floor. And then the Great Hall was empty of ghosts. By now everyone had noticed their departure, and those who hadn't been aware of what was going on before were elbowing their companions and whispering questions. The teachers were also mostly quiet, though Professor Longbottom was whispering something to Hagrid, who nodded gravely.
Professor Llewellyn, still standing, nodded, and the rest of the staff rose from their seats. Prefects stood as well, and their houses stood with them, and students began exiting the hall.
As they left, Violet heard Ahmed Allouzi saying to his roommate Garrick Shaw, "I knew Aisha belonged in Slytherin!"
"But she chose Ravenclaw," replied Garrick.
"Since when does the Sorting Hat let children choose where they belong?" Ahmed grumbled.
Ophilia, standing by the side exit, glanced at Ahmed, and gave him an odd smile. Then she turned her attention back to the front of the Great Hall, where Professor Llewellyn was picking up the Sorting Hat to take it back to her office. Violet thought the Prefect's expression looked unusually distant, for a moment, and then she looked away before Ophilia caught her staring.
~ o ~ o ~ o ~ o ~ o ~ o ~ o ~ o ~ o ~ o ~
Eleven-year-old Ophilia Karait waited for her turn, as the other first-years lined up to be sorted. She was ready, she told herself. She had spent a great deal of time asking all the adult wizards she knew about the sorting, after she'd found Hogwarts: A History to be wanting in its description of how the Sorting Hat made its decisions.
Her friends Rina and Clarice went to Slytherin, as expected. Annabelle went to Hufflepuff, which surprised everyone but Ophilia. Then it was her turn, and everyone knew where she was going to go.
For as long as she could remember, everyone had said she was destined for Slytherin. She had no family legacy at Hogwarts, as her parents had immigrated to Britain before she was born, but they were influential in post-war wizarding society, so Ophilia got to meet a lot of other children and their parents. She was proud, at first, when people said she was a natural Slytherin. After all, wasn't being cunning and ambitious and powerful good?
Those were the days immediately after the fall of Voldemort, though, and Ophilia soon realized that 'Slytherin' wasn't a compliment. She'd been too young to really understand what was going on while the war was happening, but she understood soon enough: the Slytherins had been on the wrong side. Grown-ups looked at you funny when you said you wanted to be a Slytherin.
So when she took her place on the stool, and the Sorting Hat went on her head, she thought immediately, before the hat could even get a word out, "I want to be in Gryffindor!"
The Sorting Hat paused at that.
"Is that so?" it asked, in a voice only she could hear. "And do I have a say in the matter?"
"Well, of course you do," she thought back, reasonably, "but I've been told you won't send someone somewhere they really don't want to go, and I don't want to go anywhere but Gryffindor."
"I see," the hat said slowly. Then it was silent again for a moment.
Ophilia wondered whether she'd overstepped herself. Had she offended the hat? She felt her resolution slipping a little, but she added firmly, "I think I'm brave enough."
To her surprise, the hat chuckled out loud. The other students and the teachers were staring at her, but it wasn't unheard of for the hat to take a little while with some students, so no one thought it was completely out of the ordinary for the hat to be chuckling and having a private conversation with her.
"Yes, indeed, you most certainly are," the hat agreed, and Ophilia was relieved. But then it added, "But you're also clever, oh yes, and very, very sharp. A calculating mind, and my, aren't you brimming with ambition! You're a girl who won't let anything stop you from getting what you want!"
Ophilia knew what the hat was getting at, and frowned. "I don't want to be in Slytherin."
"Why not?" asked the hat.
"Everyone hates Slytherins."
"And are you the sort of person who steers your life by others' opinions?"
Ophilia's gaze slipped over to the Slytherin table. They were a brooding, unhappy lot, watching the new students suspiciously, and occasionally glowering at the other houses. When one of the first-years would be sorted into Slytherin, they'd cheer and clap loudly, trying to drown out the muttering and hisses that came from the other tables, but they all looked as if they felt more pity than enthusiasm for their new housemates. She looked at Clarice and Rina, who smiled back at her a bit nervously. She knew they were expecting her to join them. She glanced at Annabelle, whose unexpected sorting into Hufflepuff had left her confused, and now watching Ophilia, she looked half-hopeful, half-mourning, as if she already knew their friendship was about to end. A moment ago, Ophilia had been quite firm in her resolve. Now, she felt conflicted.
"Miss Karait," said the hat, and its voice in her head sounded quieter, though it was still only her who could hear it. "There are individuals who need one house, and that is where I send them. But sometimes, it is one house that needs an individual. You will thrive no matter where you go; of that I have no doubt. But there are those who cannot thrive so easily, without help." And then, as Ophilia looked again at her friends, the hat told her, "If you truly want to be in Gryffindor, then Gryffindor is where I shall send you."
She frowned, closed her eyes, and made her decision. The hat announced it, and she opened her eyes again and waited for the Sorting Hat to be lifted off her head. She glanced once at the Gryffindor table, and allowed herself to feel a moment of regret, for what might have been. The Gryffindors, who a moment ago had been waiting with expectant, neutral expressions, were now mostly looking at her with hostility. Some sneered openly.
One moment of regret, and then she stood up and walked to the Slytherin table with her head held high, to join her friends, and she never looked back.
Teddy broke away from his friends for a moment, and walked over to Professor Longbottom. They were standing on a bare wooden platform, all that was left of the Hogsmeade train station. They could see a few buildings already going up in the razed village. An entire wall which would eventually be part of the rebuilt Hog's Head Inn was standing up by itself, held up by magic. A wizard was directing piles of bricks into place with his wand, and enchanted shovels and picks and other tools were flying about everywhere, busily doing the work of a dozen men each. Even with the help of magic, though, it was going to be a long time before Hogsmeade was rebuilt. And the tall stone tower with the bronze bell atop it was a grim reminder that the goblin threat was far from over. That was why there were half a dozen professors on the platform with the students waiting for the Hogwarts Express, even though the Aurors had already surrounded the area with the most powerful Goblin Repelling Charms available.
Professor Longbottom smiled wanly. "It's been quite a year, hasn't it, Teddy?"
He nodded. "Yes, sir."
"I spoke very harshly to you some months ago," Longbottom said. "I was extremely disappointed in some of the choices you made. But I should never have compared you to your father, or Harry, or myself. That's the very thing all of us are trying not to do – see your generation as younger versions of ourselves."
Teddy nodded. "It's all right, Professor. I know I did some stupid things."
Longbottom's smile widened. "Yes, you did. But I think you more than made up for that." He looked down more seriously at the young Gryffindor. "You know, I'm very proud of your bravery. But I'm even more proud of the fact that you refuse to let an injustice stand. Your tendency to see injustice everywhere may have given us some hair-pulling moments at times." He grinned, as Teddy frowned a little. "But you are going to be one hell of a Gryffindor. In fact, you already are."
A whistle sounded from down the tracks, as the Hogwarts Express came steaming towards the station.
"I hope you and Harry stop by the Leaky Cauldron some time this summer," Longbottom said.
Teddy nodded. It was a little strange, thinking of Professor Longbottom as an ordinary person who had a family and a life away from school. "See you later, Professor."
He walked back to rejoin the knot of first-years – soon to be second-years – waiting for him. Dewey and Kai and Violet were there, but so was most of the former D.A. There were a dozen conversations going on at once, as the train rolled in, until one voice broke through the clamor.
"Teddy, my boy!" said Professor Slughorn, wading his way through the youngsters like a velvet-clad walrus parting a school of fish before him. "Looking forward to going home, I should imagine!" He reached Teddy and clapped him on the shoulder.
Teddy exchanged looks with his friends, and nodded somewhat embarrassedly to Slughorn. "Yes, sir." He'd noticed Professor Slughorn moving through the crowd, exchanging farewells with students of all ages and all houses, though it was, of course, Slytherins whom he spoke to most often. As usual, Teddy wasn't quite sure why he was of such interest to the Deputy Headmaster.
"It's been a difficult year, a very difficult year," Slughorn sighed, removing his glasses and breathing on them, and then rubbing them against his vest. "I believe this may be my last year at Hogwarts."
"Oh," responded Teddy. He glanced at Violet, who raised an eyebrow.
"I'm thinking of buying some land here in Hogsmeade," Slughorn went on, looking out at all the construction. "While it's cheap, you know. Real estate is always a wise investment. I could open a shop, perhaps a tavern and potion supply store, something to serve the student community. And once the goblin troubles go away, I may actually settle down here. Not such a bad place to retire." He winked at Teddy. "Why, in a couple of years, when you're old enough to visit Hogsmeade on weekends, perhaps you'll come in to have a chat with your old Potions professor, eh?"
"Yes, sir," Teddy replied uncertainly.
"And Miss Parkinson, you absolutely must visit as well! You know, someone will have to replace me as Head of Slytherin, and I'm sure your father will want to have some input on that. Please let him know he's always free to firecall me. In fact, I believe I'll send him an owl."
"Yes, Professor," said Violet.
As students lined up to board the train, Teddy heard excited murmurs spreading through the crowd even before he reached the train himself. He found the Head of the Auror Office standing by the bright red locomotive, smiling and nodding at the students who walked past.
"Guess who drew escort duty for this trip?" Harry asked Teddy cheerfully.
Teddy smirked. "Right. Fancy that." He knew an Auror was going to be aboard the Hogwarts Express, just in case a goblin war party was foolish enough to attack the train itself, but he hadn't expected it to be Harry.
His godfather grinned at him. "Don't worry, I'll mostly be up front. I won't go wandering through the passenger cars unnecessarily and embarrass you in front of your friends."
Teddy rolled his eyes. "See you at King's Cross, then."
The students boarded the train, while Harry walked over to chat briefly with Longbottom and Slughorn and Hagrid.
"Look at them," said Neville. "After everything they've been through, they can walk through this wreckage as if nothing happened."
"Children are resilient," said Harry. "They'll cope." His expression grew serious for a moment. "But they won't forget."
"Indeed. I'm sure Teddy and his friends will do brilliantly in the years ahead. It's time for us old men to step aside," wheezed Slughorn.
"Speak for yerself, Professor!" rumbled Hagrid indignantly. Harry and Neville chuckled.
"Are you really retiring, Professor?" Harry asked.
"Students will no longer be coming to Hogwarts with memories of the war," Slughorn told him seriously. "And I've seen some truly excellent young men and women, like Miss Karait... and your godson, and Miss Parkinson. I think I can leave Slytherin House in someone else's hands, now."
Hagrid made a rumbling sound, far back in his throat, and Harry and Neville glanced at him for a moment, but then he was quiet.
"So tell me, Neville," Harry said, changing the subject. "Do you think Professor Llewellyn has learned her lesson? She strikes me as a rather hard-headed woman."
Neville nodded. "She is. We had some... words, in her office, on more than one occasion, let me tell you." He sighed. "I think she'd be a much better teacher than a Headmistress, but she's doing her best."
"You give her too little credit," said Slughorn. "She was wise enough to listen to advice from all of us, after all."
Harry looked at Neville and Slughorn questioningly. Neville chuckled dryly.
"I told her we should keep an eye on the D.A., but not try to suppress them," the Head of Gryffindor explained.
"I pointed out that the D.A.'s popularity was only increasing with all the houses, the more emboldened and aggrieved they felt," said the Head of Slytherin. "Professor Llewellyn saw the wisdom in encouraging inter-house cooperation, even if it meant doing so by giving them a common enemy to rally against."
Harry shook his head. "I don't think I'll tell Teddy that he might have gotten his way sooner if he'd stopped his protests. I'm not sure he's old enough to appreciate the irony."
Neville grinned. "That's probably wise."
Teddy, Dewey, Kai, and Violet didn't all sit in the same compartment on the trip back to London. Each of them started out sitting with their housemates. Dewey spent the first part of the trip with Edgar, Simon, Mercy, Sung-Hee, Karen, and Susan, while Edgar tried to teach them the rules to his fantasy dragonslaying game, and made enthusiastic plans for starting a 'campaign' next year.
"You know, I'll bet Kai would love this," suggested Dewey. "You really need to recruit him for your campaign."
Edgar nodded agreeably. "Right, he loves Muggle stuff, doesn't he?" And he and Simon both went off in search of Kai. Mercy looked at Dewey gratefully. She had listened patiently, but clearly wasn't that interested in rolling dice to kill pretend dragons.
Kai was walking up and down the train, holding up a mobile phone and trying to 'catch a signal,' as he explained to everyone who asked. Now and then he would become excited as something would appear on the little glass screen, and then it would go blank again. Kai even tried leaning out the window, holding the mobile phone out at arm's length, until a Prefect yelled at him. The young Ravenclaw was also going into each compartment, trying to collect phone numbers and email addresses from every student who was going back to stay with Muggle relatives. Muggle-born girls, like Irene Baker, found it highly amusing when Kai boldly approached them and asked for their phone numbers, though he didn't understand why.
Teddy spent some time with the other Gryffindor first-years. Other kids would wander by his compartment and say hello, sometimes even stop to chat with him. Especially girls. When he went looking for Dewey, Kai, and Violet, he found Deana following Kai around, but she apparently had been waiting for Kai to join Teddy. Then they all went in search of Violet, and found her sitting with Nagaeena, Decima, and Bernice.
"Teddy!" exclaimed Nagaeena. "Come join us!" She smiled, lowering her lashes and looking up at him coyly. Violet rolled her eyes, while Decima and Bernice merely smirked.
The girls (not including Violet) were making cooing noises at Nagaeena's snowy white owl. Teddy leaned forward to look at it, and transformed his face, letting his nose become a long sharp beak and his eyes turn wide and round and golden. The owl fluttered its wings and hooted in alarm, but Nagaeena, Decima, and Bernice squealed excitedly. Teddy transformed his face back to normal and winked at Violet.
"Showoff," Violet muttered.
Teddy looked over his shoulder, and saw the Slytherin boys in their class sitting together across the aisle, watching Teddy talking to the girls. Geoffrey Montague was with them, and he grinned at Teddy and made a rude gesture. Teddy grinned and made a rude gesture back. The rest of the Slytherins looked at both boys as if they were crazy.
"Boys," sniffed Violet disdainfully. Bernice and Decima nodded in agreement, while Nagaeena sighed and shook her head.
The four of them, Teddy, Dewey, Kai, and Violet, stood on the platform at King's Cross Station. Harry had disembarked, and nodded to the four kids, but was talking to another Auror. Kai saw his parents waving at him, and sighed. "Got to go, I reckon. See you in a couple of weeks," he said.
Teddy and Dewey nodded. "Looking forward to it, definitely." They looked at Violet.
"Any chance at all you'll be able to visit?" Dewey asked hopefully.
"Probably not," Violet said. "But we'll see."
"Later, Vi!" Kai called, and hurried off, with a grin, before Violet could reply. She just scowled and shook her head.
"There's my folks," said Dewey. He looked at Teddy, and then the two of them clasped hands in a tight handshake, more passing between them in that moment than either had the vocabulary to express. "Take care, mate."
"You too," Teddy replied.
Dewey looked at Violet, and she held out a hand, with a small smile. He shook it. "You take care too, Violet. Hope I see you this summer."
She nodded, and Dewey walked off to join his parents, leaving Teddy and Violet standing alone together.
"There is one thing I wanted to ask you," Violet said.
Teddy's eyebrows went up. "Yeah?"
"What did you have to give Ophilia, in return for that Paralyzing Potion?"
Teddy started to stammer a denial, then his shoulders slumped under his cousin's level gaze, and he just sighed.
"Nothing, really," he replied.
Her expression was incredulous. "Nothing, really?" she repeated, in a voice that clearly said she didn't believe him. "I suppose Ophilia risked suspension or worse, just because she liked you?"
"No, 'course not." Teddy shuffled from foot to foot. "Just a favor."
"A favor," Violet repeated.
He nodded. "She said I couldn't really do anything for her right now, but she figured having a metamorphmagus owe her a favor was bound to be useful someday. So... I owe her a favor."
Violet studied him a moment, and then shook her head.
"Guess I'd better take off," Teddy said reluctantly. "Before your mother sees us and accuses me of trying to turn you into a werewolf or something."
Violet had to try very hard not to laugh at that.
"I suspect she's going to try to take me on a tour of Europe this summer," she said. "Anything to keep me away from London, and Father. And all of my friends." She sighed.
Teddy smiled at her. Violet frowned. "What?"
"All of your friends," Teddy repeated.
She blinked at him, and then smiled slowly.
Teddy cocked his head at her, frowned, and then said, "Hey, Vi?"
"Yes?" She frowned back at him. "And don't call me Vi –"
She squeaked in surprise, as Teddy suddenly laughed, wrapped his arms around her and half-lifted her off her feet, squeezing her tightly in an embrace.
"We really do love you, you know," he said quietly.
She was speechless for a moment, then whispered, "Let go of me, you sentimental git!"
He did. Then he saw Violet's mother striding towards them, looking extremely irate.
"Uh oh. Your mum's here."
He felt her lips brush against his cheek, so quickly he almost thought he imagined it, before she pulled away from him and smiled wryly.
"If we can't see each other, we'll write," she said. "And I'll be back at Hogwarts next year."
He nodded. Violet waved to him as she went to join her mother, even knowing she'd hear no end of it once they got home, so he waved back, trying to ignore Ms. Parkinson's death-stare.
Harry came up behind him, and put a hand on his shoulder. "Ready to go home?" he asked.
"Yeah," Teddy said.
Summer awaited, for Teddy and his friends.
A/N: Thanks to everyone for reading! I always love comments, so don't be shy about reviewing just because this story was completed a while ago. ;)
Many readers have asked about a sequel. I originally intended Hogwarts Houses Divided to be a solo story. I have grown quite attached to Teddy and his friends, however, and like J.K. Rowling, I can't help but start mapping out the future for them. So, I will probably write a sequel at some point, which will skip ahead a few years.
In the meantime, however, if you enjoyed Hogwarts Houses Divided, please consider checking out my Alexandra Quick series. The characters are the same age, and all OCs, but it is set in an original American wizarding world. I've yet to hear from anyone who liked HHD who was disappointed by Alexandra Quick. :)