CHAPTER ONE: A Picture, a Train, New Rules and the Sorting
10:41 AM, September 1, 1998
In the picture:
The boy sits lightly on the edge of the bed, as if he will take off running at the slightest threatening movement. The room is dim, and his face is covered in the dappled shadows created by the lacy curtain over the window. His dusky brown skin and the wiry muscles on his chest and arms look incongruous against the pale, floral-print bedspread, the white walls and the delicate, white furniture.
His gigantic, tan trousers, which are tied on with a piece of twine for a belt, are so large on his tiny frame that it seems unlikely that he can even walk without tripping. He wears no other clothing.
He warily watches the one before him out of wide, slightly slanted eyes, with his unnaturally green irises half hidden by feminine lashes. There's a dark, pink line on his forehead in the shape of a lightening bolt. His hair is black, wild and slightly too long, and gives him the look of a gypsy when matched with his deeply tanned skin. All in all, the child has a wild and fey manner that doesn't suit the regularity of his surroundings.
The girl looks up from the picture to stare at the boy before her, who also has a lightening-bolt scar, and then looks back to the picture of the strange child, then up at the boy, then back to the picture, and, finally, up at the boy. She shakes her head, frustrated. "I know what you said, Harry, and this boy has your hair and scar, and his eyes are the right color, but this can't possibly be a picture of you."
Harry grins. "I was six, Hermione. I'd like to think that I've grown a bit since then." He is leaning carelessly against the brick wall of a train station, his hands tucked into the pockets of his overly large jeans. He takes one hand out to push up his glasses, which have begun slipping because of his sweat, and to push his damp hair out of his eyes. He is sweating harder than Hermione, but that is probably because his huge T-shirt hangs to his elbows, and his "knee-length" shorts almost reach his ankles. His smile turns wry as he adds, "'course, that may be only wishful thinking. I'm pretty sure some of the first years are taller than me."
"That's not what I meant," Hermione snaps huffily. Her clothing, light and practical, is better suited to the heat than Harry's is, and her hair is tied back from her face with a brick-red kerchief. As a result, she is much more energetic and comfortable than Harry. "Your skin is so pale (and don't say it's just because you haven't spent enough time outdoors, you're always pale and you've been outside all summer anyway, and there's no way even I could ever get that tan naturally, so it must be a racial or genetic-based coloring) and your eyes-" She pauses, and frowns. "It may just be your glasses. Take them off."
Harry rolls his eyes and sighs, but does as told.
Hermione grins, victorious. "And your eyes are a different shape than in the picture. Your eyes are rounder, more like Ron's and mine. Those are more slanted, not really Asian but somewhere in-between." Her smile drops away, and she gives Harry a stern look. "Explain. You promised to finally give me a picture of you when you were little-"
"And I have," Harry interrupts patiently. "I looked different when I was little, that's all. People change." He holds out his hand for his glasses. When Hermione gives them back, he grimaces and sticks them in his pocket. "Not worth it to put my glasses back on when they keep slipping," he explains. "I'm sick of pushing them back up."
Hermione frowns, but doesn't push the issue of the picture. She knows when Harry won't say any more. Instead, she turns to look around the station. "I wonder where the Weasleys are. If they don't show up soon, they'll miss the train."
Harry laughs. "Nah, they'll get here at the last possible moment, like always."
"And with the most possible noise and chaos, too," Hermione replies wryly (and truthfully). "Do you mind if we get on the train now, so that we miss the Weasley circus?" She wants to say, '-so that you don't broil to death in your cousin's gigantic clothing just because your family is too cheap to give you clothing that fits and you're too proud to admit you're uncomfortable?' She doesn't, because Harry will faint of heat sickness before he'll knowingly accept help.
"Sure," Harry says casually, although she can see the relief in his eyes. "At least it'll be cooler in there."
It is cooler on the train, so much cooler that Hermione shivers, but Harry sighs in relief as the cool air touches his skin. They drag their trunks down the dim corridor and into the first empty compartment they find. Hermione drops into a seat with a relieved sigh while Harry puts their trunks on the luggage rack. "Lazy girl," he teases, sitting in the seat across from her and putting on his glasses.
They talk about the heat, and the Weasleys, and (because Hermione is Hermione, even after the war) their homework.
The door opens at five minutes to eleven, and a familiar face looks in at them. "Hi, guys," says Neville, stepping into the compartment. "Mind if I sit here?" Neville's brown hair has been cut neatly; and the bruises, cuts and burns he had had the last time he saw them have faded; but he is still thinner and more muscular than he had ever been as a child; and there is a battle-hardened strength in his eyes which wasn't there before the war. He is also, Harry notes with a touch of envy, about six feet tall.
"Neville!" Hermione exclaims happily, "I didn't know you were coming for the eighth year!" Neville looks confused, and Hermione adds, "That's what the Weasleys and a lot of other people are calling last year's seventh years who decided to repeat their final year, and the seventh years who never got to do seventh year because they had to go into hiding: the eighth years. The Twin came up with it- oh, he asked us to call him that because-"
Harry grins at Neville. "Hi, Neville," he says, interrupting Hermione before she can get properly started. "It's good to see you again."
"You, too, Harry. Did you have a good summer?" Neville asks quietly, shutting the door gently behind him. He smiles back at Harry.
Hermione huffs and crosses her arms. "Fine, don't listen, then," she mutters. She doesn't have time to get into a proper sulk, however, because someone outside of the train yells. Something bangs, something pops, and something explodes. Hermione and Harry go very still, but Neville jumps to the window at the first loud noise. A blink afterwards, Harry follows.
He chuckles, and Hermione relaxes. "You were right, Hermione," Harry says. "The Weasleys have arrived with noise and chaos at three to eleven."
Hermione comes to the window, and Neville moves aside so she can look out. "Oh, for Merlin's sake," she says, sounding rather like Professor McGonagall. "Couldn't they manage to arrive quietly, for once?"
Professor Sprout meets them in the entrance hall. She is a short, round witch with a cheerful smile and flyaway gray hair. She usually wears muddy, patched robes, but tonight she is wearing faded black robes with yellow trim. She says, "Please listen, everyone. We have some new rules and security measures to go over." She waits for patiently the students to quiet down.
Loudly, someone says, over the noise of the crowd, "Security measures against them, I hope."
The eyes of the students turn to Malfoy, Parkinson, Nott, and the few other returning Slytherins who had believed in (or pretended to believe in) Voldemort's cause. The Ministry has pardoned all of Voldemort's followers below the age of twenty, because "these children- yes, children- are merely victims of this war, as much as any of us, misled by the ones who were supposed to protect them" (as one popular defender had said). Many of them, surprisingly, have chosen to return for or repeat their final year.
The professor shakes her head firmly. "No, no, no. I most certainly do not mean the children who were on the wrong side. They are here for the same reasons you are, and have just as much right to safety. There will be no fighting within these walls, no matter who starts it; and most of these precautions are to prevent attacks that start outside of Hogwarts. Now, quiet down, please, or you will end up without information that you very much need."
She unrolls a parchment scroll and begins to read. "We, the Professor, Headmaster and Governors of Hogwarts, hereby declare that henceforth- oh, for goodness' sake, this is ridiculous. The first new rule is that no dark items or weapons of any kind will be allowed in this school, except for wands, of course. That means some of the more dangerous from Zonko's and Weasley's Wizarding Wheezes, too." She waits until the students have stopped shouting and complaining. "Yes, I know, but too many children have been hurt here over the past few years. I know the rules are a bit strict, but it really is necessary.
"Hmmm, let's see... we have never allowed magic in the corridors... yes, yes, you don't need to go on about it for hours..." She pauses to scowl at the parchment, and then looks up at the children apologetically. "Give me a moment to translate this out of politician-speak, please. Let's see... Alright, here we are. Some of you seem to have forgotten about the rule against magic in the corridors, so this rule will now be more stringently enforced- sorry, dears, I mean the punishment is worse. Using magic in the corridors will gain you detentions twice a week for a month, and lose your house twenty-five points.
"Using malicious- that means bad or nasty- magic anywhere, including pranks and minor jinxes, will double that punishment. This does not include times when you need to use offensive and defensive magic during class, like in Defense Against the Dark Arts. Also, so that you won't fall behind in Defense, the headmaster has arranged for a professor to supervise the Defense classroom every night after dinner. You may go there to practice your attack spells.
"Let's see... My goodness, this is long... Oh, is that all it says, in all those words? We no longer allow any form of concealment charm or potion to be used on students. Nor do we allow dark magic, influence spells, or transport spells to be used on a student. In addition, you may not use these spells on yourself, although several common beauty spells will be allowed for self-use in the future. There is a more thorough list of spells in each of your common rooms." She closes the parchment with a snap and looks up at them. "I know all the rest of it by memory, so we won't bother with that horrible scroll. Honestly, I can't make heads or tails of half of it.
"So, to finish up: These rules will be enforced in several ways. First, as we speak, the house-elves are checking your belongings for malicious magic. On entering the school in the future, all magical objects must be given to house-elves, who will be stationed in the entrance hall for just that purpose. They will check them for malicious magic and put them in your rooms. They will not be harmed unless they are in violation of the rules, in which case they will be confiscated. Any questions or protests about confiscated objects may be directed to the headmaster.
"Second, you will be checked for spells every time you enter Hogwarts. This is painless and has no negative side effects. Several Aurors have been supplied to Hogwarts by the minister, and they will perform these spells before you leave the Great Hall this evening. The spells they use to detect magic are very sensitive, so please tell the Auror who examines you if there are any spells on you or on any objects you carry with you.
"I'm sorry if any of you feel that the new rules are a violation of your privacy, or in any way frustrating. Unfortunately, these are dark times, and we must take all possible precautions. The school governors and the minister have unanimously agreed to the new safety precautions." She takes a deep breath, and rubs the bridge of her nose like she has a headache. "Honestly, we could have gone over all of that in half the time... Thank you for your patience; you go into the Great Hall now."
Everyone tramps into the Great Hall. At the back of the room, by the windows, someone has erected a rectangular table, about the size of a normal dinner table; it looks tiny next to the House tables. The four seats at the little table- all of which are occupied- face the High Table at the other end of the room. Harry supposes that these four men are the Aurors, and is surprised but pleased to see Kingsley Shacklebolt, who was Temporary Minister until a few weeks ago, sitting with them. Kingsley grins and waves surreptitiously at Harry, who smiles back as he heads for the Gryffindor table.
Professor McGonagall is standing at the front of the hall by the Sorting Hat. Her hair is a little greyer, and her face a little more lined, but she looks as stern and commanding as she always does. A line of pale and nervous first years stand by her.
There are three new teachers and a new headmaster at the head table. One of the teachers is young, maybe in his mid twenties, and he wears round glasses like Harry's. He is sneering at something that Hagrid is saying to him, and Harry wonders if he knows that Voldemort died a few feet from where he is sitting. The other new teacher is an elderly woman with short, curly white hair and a kind smile. She is talking to the new Headmaster, who is a tall, scowling old man with a long, sharp face and long grey hair. The final new teacher looks about the same age as McGonagall. She has graying hair and eyes so blue that Harry can see them clearly from across the room.
The Headmaster stands, glowering at them. He speaks slowly and clearly, snapping out each syllable as if he is cutting the words into pieces. "My name is Herman Nigellus, and I am your new Headmaster. Your new Defense Against the Dark Arts professor is- please stand, Professor Sweet- Marianne Sweet, who is also the new Slytherin Head of House." The old woman with the white hair stands. "Your Potions professor is Zachariah Snubuckle, who was a Ravenclaw." The young man stands.
"Finally, Sophia Alyssum, previously a Hufflepuff, will teach the re-instated Theory of Magic class." Without waiting for the students to clap, he gestures for the new teachers to sit back down. "Theory of Magic was removed from the syllabus in 1938 by Headmaster Armando Dippet, who was afraid that too much theoretical knowledge would cause students to turn Dark. Headmaster Dippet was an idiot, and the class has now been returned to the graduation requirements. All students must take at least one year of Magical Theory."
"Professor Sprout has told you the new rules, but don't forget the old ones. Rulebooks are now to be found in each common room. They are very short, so even those of you with limited reading skills are expected to read them and know the rules. More complete versions are available in the library for the curious." He sneers the last word as if it's an insult. It is the first emotion he has shown besides his scowl.
"I am now going to make many of you very angry with me." He smiles slightly, as if amused. "There is a rule in the original Hogwarts Charter that says all new students must be Sorted by the Hat on the first day of their first year after enrolling in school. Many of you left school last year. Despite the extenuating circumstances, you were no longer considered students, and had to re-enroll this year as new students.
"Therefore, all... Eighth years, is it? All eighth years must be re-Sorted." His smile broadens as the Hall erupts into cries of protest and dismay. "Yes, I thought you would feel that way. You may still choose to leave, if the new rules and the Sorting disturb you. Your money- or, more likely, your parents' money- will be refunded. This offer only lasts until the Sorting begins." He waits, and raises an eyebrow as no one leaves. "No one? Unexpected."
"We may then begin the Sorting. Hat?" He sits back down amid complete and utter silence- or, at least, as complete and utter silence as a room full of hundreds of children can ever achieve.
The Sorting Hat doesn't sing, and it doesn't rhyme. It says:
"War is a time of trials and of truths. When you fight for your life, for your friends, for your family, for your honor, or for your beliefs, you learn what is important.
"To fair Ravenclaw, teacher of the curious, her beliefs were more important than even her dearest friend.
"To fey Slytherin, teacher of the cunning, his make-shift family was more important than his own happiness.
"To sweet Hufflepuff, teacher of the loyal, her promises were more important than the man who was like her brother.
"To brave Gryffindor, teacher of the courageous, his honor was more important than his family.
"Be you brave, follow Gryffindor; be you steadfast, follow Hufflepuff; be you crafty, follow Slytherin; be you knowing, follow Ravenclaw.
"I am the Sorting Hat, and I show you your path.
"So come and put me on. Be you a leader, a soldier, a worker or a philosopher, I will send you to your home.
"But be wary.
"Beware the missteps of the ones you follow, for all four gained what they sought, but all four lost what they needed."
There is a long silence in the Hall after the Hat finishes speaking. Finally, Professor McGonagall clears her throat. "Aaron, Ernest."
The tallest first year boy walks shakily over to her. He is promptly sorted into Hufflepuff. The Hufflepuffs cheer, although they're much more subdued than they usually are.
"Abbott, Hannah." A Hufflepuff eighth year with blond hair, a red face and eyes full of tears walks slowly up and sits on the three-legged stool. Professor McGonagall sets the patched Hat on her head, and it sinks down to cover her eyes.
"HUFFLEPUFF!" the Hat cries. Hannah bursts into pleased tears, and runs back to her table while the students cheer.
Several first years are Sorted, and then Susan Bones, Hufflepuff eighth year, is called. The Hall waits impatiently while the Hat makes up its mind. Finally, the Hat yells, "GRYFFINDOR!" Susan starts to cry, and McGonagall leads her gently over to the Gryffindor table, whispering kind words in her ear. Hermione makes room for Susan, and wraps her arm around her once she sits. A second year Hufflepuff girl is crying too, presumably in sympathy for Susan.
McGonagall goes back up front. "Boot, Terry."
Terry Boot, Ravenclaw, goes up, head high, and sits. The Hat takes less time than it did with Susan. "SLYTHERIN!" it yells. He hands the Hat back to McGonagall and goes to his new seat, his face unreadable.
Quite a few more first years and several eighth years are Sorted, and then Hermione is called up.
The Hat spends a long time thinking about Hermione. "Ravenclaw," it finally says, sounding rather uncertain. Hermione hands the Hat roughly to McGonagall and stalks over to the Ravenclaw table. Harry watches her worriedly, and he is relieved when Luna moves to sit by her and manages to draw her into quiet conversation. Hermione will do well in Ravenclaw.
There are a lot more first years, but no eighth years, between Hermione and "Longbottom, Neville."
"GRYFFINDOR!" the Hat shouts the moment it touches Neville's head. Neville looks vaguely startled, but grins and runs back to the Gryffindor table—then runs back to return the Hat to McGonagall. Everyone, including a pleased Neville, laughs.
Ernie Macmillan, a snobby Hufflepuff, is sorted into Ravenclaw. Draco Malfoy goes back into Slytherin, although the Hat takes a surprisingly long time deciding. Theodore Nott goes back into Slytherin. Pansy Parkinson, to everyone's shock, goes to Gryffindor. Harry, remembering the final battle, supposes that it must have taken quite a lot of courage to suggest something for which she knew many people would hate her.
Harry had somehow almost forgotten that he, too, would have to be re-Sorted, and it takes him a moment to realize that Professor McGonagall has called his name. He stands and walks slowly up to the three-legged stool, trying to seem careless and unconcerned despite the lump of coal that has settled in his stomach. Professor McGonagall drops the Sorting Hat on his head, and it falls down over his eyes.
"You again, eh?" the Hat says cheerfully. "I'd hoped to get another look at you. You're a tough one, you know." Ollivander said something like that, Harry remembers. The Hat chuckles, "He was right. You are indeed a very tricky customer. Now, let's see... Where shall I put you...?"
Not Slytherin, Harry thinks, but then he remembers Snape, and he doesn't think it again. Gryffindor, please, he thinks. Please put me in Gryffindor.
"No," the Hat says firmly, almost as if Harry's request has made up its mind. "I don't think I will. You're brave, yes, very brave; but you've learned all you can learn from Gryffindor. I'm going to put you somewhere that will help you. People don't have only one kind of virtue, you know, and you still have a thirst to prove yourself. One day, Mr. Potter, with the proper encouragement, you will do great things."
Harry doesn't want to do great things. He wants to be a normal wizard with a family and friends, all of whom are safe from Dark wizards and other evil things. He thinks at the Hat, If you put me in Slytherin, I won't be great. Slytherin helps you get your ambitions, and my ambition is to be normal, not great. Also, I'm lazy and I don't like studying, so you can't put me in Ravenclaw or Hufflepuff. You'll just have to put me back in Gryffindor. That's where the people who do great things are, anyway.
The Hat starts to laugh, and the laughter seems to echo off the edges of the darkness and against the inside of Harry's head. "When the Founders used me for the first time," the Hat explains, still chuckling, "they used me on themselves, just to make sure I knew what I was doing. Salazar Slytherin was rather annoyed when I tried to put him in Ravenclaw." Harry doesn't know what any of this has to do with his Sorting. "I'm getting there, child. The point is that Slytherin tried to argue with me, although he called it reasoning with me. I didn't change my mind, of courser, but you're the first person to argue properly with me since Slytherin!" The Hat starts laughing again. "And here I put you in Gryffindor. I don't know what I was thinking. You're more like Slytherin than most of his Heirs were. No, no, that decides it. Better be- But wait."
Very quickly and quietly, while Harry is still too surprised at the sudden switch in topic to protest, the Hat added, "This is very important, Mr. Potter. Tom Riddle, Heir or not, was not a true Slytherin, and you are. You'll do fine in his House. As for being great and terrible: you have no choice about being great, but you can always choose to be good. Remember that."
And the Hat yells, "SLYTHERIN!"
It is almost worth it when Harry takes off the Hat and realizes that nearly everyone in the Hall, including Professor McGonagall, is sitting with their mouth open. The only one making a sound is Luna Lovegood, who is clapping and cheering. He is once again reminded of why, despite all her oddities, Luna is one of his best friends.
Making his face carefully blank to prevent laughter, Harry hands the Hat to McGonagall, who takes it numbly. He walks over to the Slytherin table and sits quietly down next to Terry Boot. As if that is a signal, everyone starts talking at once. It takes Professor McGonagall three tries before anyone hears her call for "Regulus, Eleanor."
Harry is very careful not to look at Ron, Hermione and Neville for the rest of dinner.
Harry thinks that Sirius and his dad would probably approve, because anything that gets McGonagall to make a face like that is an activity worthy of a Marauder, even if it means getting Sorted into Slytherin. At least, he hopes so.
And at least Lily wouldn't care that he's in Slytherin.