A New Story Begins
Albus Potter shook as he stepped towards the ratty old Sorting Hat on the wooden stool in front of him. A small buzz spread across the hall upon hearing the familiar surname, and his breath caught in his chest. The professor holding the list of names cast a long shadow over Albus as he approached. He lifted the Hat and motioned towards the stool. Albus sat, and closed his eyes tight as the Hat came to rest on his head.
"Ah, I see…" the Hat drawled. "Gryffindor would be proud to have another Potter in its mix."
Albus breathed a sigh of relief.
Albus's breath caught again.
"There's so much potential in here... Such a strong desire to find yourself… You want to discover your true power - to see what you can do. You want to show that you can be as strong as... your father. You want to be great, and there's only one place that can help you along that path."
Oh, no... Albus thought.
"SLYTHERIN!" the Hat shouted. The crowd gasped.
Albus sat rooted to the chair as the professor lifted the Hat off his head and motioned to the table on the far right, where the Slytherins were cheering at the top of their voices. The rest of the hall sat in stunned silence. He looked at the Gryffindor table where he saw all his cousins staring at him, the shock and disappointment evident on their faces. He saw James smirking at him with a look that could only be read as "I told you so."
"Go on," the professor said. "That's where you belong."
Albus looked up, but the man's features were blurring. A moment later, Harry Potter's face was sneering down at him. "Go. You don't belong with Gryffindor. You're meant to be in Slytherin."
Panic gripped Albus's heart as he looked at his father. What's going on? he thought.
He heard a few more scattered calls of "You don't belong," and then the whole hall began chanting it as one. Albus looked around in desperation, fear coursing through his veins.
"You don't belong. You don't belong. You don't belong."
His father pointed at the Slytherin table, but before Albus could stand up, the stool disappeared, and he fell to the floor. The hall laughed, Gryffindor loudest of all, and James was calling his name, and the whole school was mocking him, and everyone's heads had become those of snakes…
…and then Albus Potter awoke with a start.
Ten minutes later, Albus left his bedroom. He was safe at home, still two months away from being a Hogwarts student - but still shaken from his nightmare. It wasn't the first time he'd had that particular dream, but it upset him the same every time.
What if I do end up in Slytherin?
He didn't think he could bear the shame. Everyone in his family was in Gryffindor - even stuck-up, bookworm Lucy, who everyone thought would surely end up in Ravenclaw.
"Al!" His mother's voice jarred his thoughts loose as he walked into the kitchen. "What have you been doing up there? James called for you ten minutes ago!"
"Sorry, Mum. Slow getting up." Well, it was the truth. After he had woken up in a cold sweat, he had lay in his bed for five minutes trying to get rid of the memories of the recurring nightmare. He took a seat at the table in between James and Lily, the latter of whom was looking very grumpy and being very quiet (a behavior quite unusual for her).
"Well, maybe you'll be quicker next time, after you see what you've missed," she said, passing him an envelope as bacon and eggs cooked themselves on the stove behind her. The reason for Lily's grumpiness became apparent as Albus read the addressing.
Albus's heart jumped into his throat. "The Hogwarts letters came!" he took the envelope and ripped it open. He may have been anxious about the Sorting, but it felt good to finally hold proof that he was indeed going to the school he had heard so many wondrous stories about.
Not that there had ever been any doubt of his magical ability. He had been performing accidental magic since he was two years old, when he had fallen down the stairs after someone hadn't closed the baby gate quite right. His mother told him that she had screamed when she saw him fall, but as chance would have it, she had needed not worry: Instead of a painful tumble down the hard wooden stairs, he had glided about an inch above the stairs until he came to rest on his belly at the bottom, giggling like it had been a carnival ride.
Albus unfolded his letter and read:
Albus S. Potter
The Bedroom at the End of the Hall
Dear Mr. Potter.
We are pleased to inform you that you have been accepted at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry! Included are your book list, supply list, and your ticket to the Hogwarts Express, which will leave King's Cross from Platform 9 ¾ at 11 o'clock on the morning of September 1st. Students are allowed to bring either an owl, a cat, or a toad as a pet.
We look forward to seeing you!
Professor Filius Flitwick
Albus reread the letter with satisfaction, the dream forgotten. He was finally going to Hogwarts.
"Here, give me your book list - oh, and you would have the supply list, too, that's right. We'll make a trip to Diagon Alley this weekend and get you everything you need." Albus's mother smiled at him. "We'll have to get you an owl, too, so you can stay in touch. I want you to write every week!"
Albus smiled as he handed her the requested lists. "I will, I promise!"
James made a gagging noise. "I don't know what I'd do if I had to write every week."
"James, don't tease your brother. We got a letter from you every other day your first month at Hogwarts." Their mother swatted James on the back of his head as he turned bright red.
"I'm, uh, going to go and see what Fred's up to," he said, and rushed out the door.
Ginny sighed as she put plates of food in front of Albus and Lily. "Hopefully they have some breakfast left over there."
Albus took a bite of eggs as he read the letter yet again.
The Potter children were fortunate enough to be growing up in what was the beginnings of a small Wizarding village. Their parents had built a house about a hundred yards from their grandparents' home, the Burrow. Over time, their cousins' families had settled down around them as well.
Their parents' unique status in the Wizarding world had led to an interesting childhood for all of the Potter and Weasley children. Their parents had tried to protect them from media attention, but there was still the occasional ridiculous "Three Year Old Potter Child Blows Up Ice Cream Dish with Accidental Magic - Next Albus Dumbledore?" story. Of course, the only reason Lily had splattered the ice cream was because a reporter had jumped in front of her with a smoking camera while they were in Diagon Alley.
Alas, nothing was perfect, and while the children were well aware of everything that had transpired a generation prior, none of them understood the magnitude of it all until they went to Hogwarts. James had come home from his first year at school with an over-inflated sense of his own importance, and it had taken their parents the better part of the summer to knock it out of him with housework.
Albus heard the front door open and then slam shut again, and a second later, Rose Weasley burst into the kitchen.
"Did you get your letter?" she asked, excited.
"Yeah, I didn't know they were - "
"OH! This is so exciting! When are you going to Diagon Alley to get your stuff? Mum says we have to wait until the weekend, since her and Dad are working all week, but maybe I can go with you if you're going earlier? I can't wait! Where should we go first? I'm looking forward to getting our books, maybe I can try to make some of the potions in there, I shouldn't get in trouble for underage magic for those, but I also want to go get my wand right away! I don't know what to - "
"ROSE!" Albus's mother interrupted the young girl's excited babbling. "We're not going until the weekend either, your Uncle Harry wants to be there when we go. Now sit down and have some breakfast."
"Darn! Oh, no, not about the breakfast - oh, I already ate, but thank you anyway."
The kitchen door opened again and Rose's younger brother Hugo walked in wearing an expression similar to Lily's.
"Hey, Hugo," Albus said to the younger boy.
Hugo grunted at Albus in response.
"He's a little bit upset," Rose whispered to him.
"Yeah, so is Lily," Albus responded.
"I'm not upset!" Lily spoke for the first time, indignant.
"Then why have you been sitting there hacking your bacon into bits for the past five minutes without eating anything?" Albus retorted.
"I'm not upset!" Lily repeated.
"Suuuuure you're not."
"Lily, why don't you and Hugo go upstairs and play," their mother interjected, heading off the temper tantrum that was sure to come. Lily stood up and stalked out of the room, glowering at Albus as she left.
"Don't antagonize your sister," their mother chastised, shaking a spatula at Albus. "She's losing both brothers for the year; of course she's going to be upset!"
"I wasn't upset when James left!"
"That's because the last thing James did to you before he left was put a Multiplying Maggot under your bed. And even then, you did miss him after we got rid of the smell. Now, if you're done, clear out of here. I have a story about the new Seeker broom to write, and I'd like some peace and quiet in here while I write it." And so Albus and Rose headed up to Albus's room.
Rose and Hugo spent a great deal of time during most days at the Potters' house, due to both of their parents working during the day. On days when Ginny had to be somewhere on location for the Prophet, they would all go to the Burrow where their grandmother would dote all over them, or else to one of their cousins' house. Their grandmother always said that one of the best reasons to live close to your extended family was for the support, and in the end, that was how she had been able to convince all the various Weasley relatives to move closer. Their Uncle Bill and Aunt Fleur still had a cottage by the shore, but decided that, as having three kids and working was beginning to wear on them, there might be some logic in having family around. Even Uncle Charlie had a small house in the area, though he spent most of his time abroad.
The two walked past Lily's room and caught a glimpse of Hugo sitting on Lily's bed frowning before Lily slammed the door in a flash of red hair and anger.
"She'll settle down eventually. She did the same thing the past two years when James left to go to Hogwarts," Albus said.
They reached Albus's room, and as they walked in, Albus flipped the switch on the Wizarding Wireless next to the door.
" - don't know about this bloke, he doesn't have much experience in the way of hands-on education, I don't know how he can be…"
"Just news." Albus rolled his eyes as they sat on the floor. "So, what do you think it's like there?"
"What do you mean, 'what do you think it's like,' we've been there before! We go there every year for the memorial!" Rose said, nonplussed.
"I know, but, I mean, what do you think it's going to be like. Y'know. Being a student there, everyday?" Albus clarified.
"Well, Dominique says classes are really hard, but Lucy says they're easy. James says the professors are mean, but Molly says they're mostly really nice and helpful. So, I don't know what to think about that."
"Of course James would think the professors are mean; he and Fred cause so much trouble there, it's a wonder they haven't been thrown out yet. And Lucy doesn't do anything but study, so of course she thinks the classes are easy." He sighed. "I guess it's just something we'll have to see for ourselves."
"Yeah, you'll have to tell us how Slytherin House is. We've never been to their common room!" A voice rang out from the doorway, and Albus and Rose looked up to see James and Fred laughing.
Albus stood up to go slam the door, but Fred stopped him. "Easy, easy. we just wanted to ask if you wanted to go play some Quidditch with us."
Upon hearing the magic "Q" word, Albus perked up, as did Rose (albeit to a much lesser extent). Quidditch was perhaps his favorite activity in the whole world. He couldn't wait until he could go out for his House team (whichever House it would end up being). He knew that his father had been allowed on the team his first year, but he didn't think any such exceptions may be made for him; he wasn't anywhere near as good a Seeker as his father had been, and from what James and Fred had said, all the House teams had a quality returning Seeker in place.
"Did someone say 'Quidditch?'" Lily's door opened, and she poked her head out, all traces of her previous unhappiness gone.
"Yeah," James said. "Come on, Grumpy. Get your broom and let's go!"
Ten minutes later, they were in a field behind the Burrow, playing three on three Quidditch. Three improvised hoops made from old wicker basket parts, Muggle vehicle tires, and what Albus suspected was a broken toilet seat sat atop tall posts constructed from old broom handles and tree branches, held together by a considerable amount of rope and magic. It had been a summer project several years back, before most of them had begun attending Hogwarts.
James, ever the show-off, was weaving around Hugo and Albus, ignoring the wide open Lily waving for the Quaffle.
"Throw it here! James! JAMES!"
But James instead hurled the red, leathery ball at the post on the far left as he closed in. Fred blocked it with ease, grinning at James. Hugo grabbed the Quaffle and sped off down the pitch, passing it to Albus at the last second, who slung it in past a frustrated Rose.
Lily scoffed at James. "See what happens when you PASS TO YOUR TEAMMATES?"
"Shut up, Lily."
"I'm just saying, I was wide open."
"Shut up, Lily."
"All you had to do was pass me the Quaffle."
"Shut up, Lily!"
"You're such a ball hog, it's no wonder you're only a reserve."
"SHUT UP, LILY!"
And so the game continued late in the afternoon, until they were too tired to continue.
Both families ate dinner at the Burrow that night, to celebrate Albus and Rose getting their first Hogwarts letters (Albus had come to notice that not much was necessary to warrant a celebration dinner at his grandparents' house). Their grandmother had made all of their favorites, and plates upon plates of roast beef, potatoes, shepherd's pie, Welsh meatballs, and more lined the table.
The mood was high around the table as Harry, Hermione, and Arthur debated the latest political issues, Ron and Ginny argued over whether or not the Tornados would beat the Kestrels ("I'm telling you, Knox is the best Keeper in the game, they're not going to sneak very many past him!"), Molly made sure the kids were all eating enough, and James told the younger children tall tales of his and Fred's adventures during their first two years at Hogwarts.
"You did not!"
"We most certainly did!"
"But how did you manage that without getting caught?"
"It's an art, little brother."
"James," interjected Molly. "Please tell me nobody was hurt when you did that."
"Of course not, Grandmum! Although, Walter Hopkirk was walking sort of bow-legged for a week or two after that…"
"James!" Molly exclaimed as the younger children giggled. "I'm going to have to have a word with your uncle about what kind of products he's giving - "
She was interrupted by Harry slamming his fist down on the table. "Hermione, I'm telling you, something's not right there! Button has no first-hand experience in this matter. working for the Examiner's Commission doesn't translate into success at what he's being asked to do!"
"The Board of Governors obviously think he's suited for the job, or else they wouldn't have put him there! If they had any doubts about - "
"But it just doesn't add up! There's so many people who would - "
"Harry! Hermione!" Molly's sharp, admonishing voice interrupted the argument. "Perhaps now is not the best time for this discussion?"
Albus thought the two parents looked far more surprised than they should have been that all five children were staring at them from the other end of the table.
"Er - You're absolutely right, Molly, we should - er - right, well, then…"
Albus was stunned. He had never heard his father and Rose's mother argue like that, and he wasn't missing the meaningful glances being passed between the adults. The subject would be brought up again later.
As they finished up dessert, Lily and Hugo disappeared upstairs with a set of Exploding Snap cards, and James, who had been quiet the past few minutes, spoke. "Albus, Rose, let's go outside, I want to show you something I learned how to do flying the other day."
"But we spent all day flying, why didn't you show us then?" Albus objected. He did like flying, but he wanted to hang around in the hopes that the adults would bring up whatever it was they had been talking about again.
"…I forgot about it until now, is that okay with you? Would you like to sit here and argue about it, or do you want to come outside and see it?"
Albus sighed. "Okay, let's go." He stood, and Rose followed, mute.
"Be careful out there, it's almost dark," their mother warned as they left the kitchen.
"James, what's your problem? I wanted to hear what they were arguing about!" Albus said, annoyed, as they made their way around to the back of the Burrow.
"Yeah, well, they weren't about to start talking while we were sitting there, now were they?" James replied.
"But now we're not even there, so even if they do talk about it, we won't be able to - OH!" Albus's eyes opened wide in excitement as James pulled an Extendable Ear out of his pocket.
"You got us out of there so they would start talking again!" Rose exclaimed, a devious grin growing on her face.
James smirked. "You two have a lot to learn about how to get around authority," he said, chuckling as they stopped. "Look, let's go all the way around the house, they already saw us go past the kitchen window, so it would be safer to just go in a circle. We'll slip this thing under the door."
They crept up on the door that led from the outside to the kitchen. James slipped the ear under the door, and they all leaned in to listen.
"…just been appointed to draw attention to the Board of Governors? Why would they want that?" Rose's father was asking.
Their grandfather spoke next. "They're a bunch of rich old men who have been sitting there watching the Headmasters and Headmistresses gain all this attention and love from the public, and they're afraid that nobody respects them - which, I must say, is the truth, but they don't do much, and people realize that. They've seen Dumbledore, McGonagall - even Snape - gather all the attention of the public, and they want some of that for themselves."
"So they make a ridiculous move by putting somebody from the OWL and NEWT board in there as the next Headmaster of Hogwarts? The media is having a field day with this! They look stupid!"
"Yes, but, see, look what everyone is talking about, Harry. Them. The focus is on them, so they're happy."
It was silent for a few moments, then they heard James' and Albus' father speak again. "I don't know, Arthur, I just get the feeling that there has to be something more... I don't know."
Rose's mother spoke up. "Harry, you're an Auror, and all's been peaceful for the past few years. You're looking for something where there's nothing, just so you have something to do. You're bored - "
"Hermione, I'm not bored! Something just doesn't sit right with me! I mean, I know that Bernard Button is a smart man, and a very capable examiner, but… He doesn't have any experience teaching. He doesn't know how it is in there, how to handle any situations that might arise. Even an Auror would be a better choice, at least they have hands-on experience with anything."
"So go tell them that you want to be Headmaster. They'd probably sack Button in an instant if they heard that Harry Potter wanted the job."
"I don't want to be Head; I was just trying to make a point."
More silence followed, then their grandmother spoke. "You shouldn't have gone off like that in front of the kids. I don't think I've even seen Lily look as scandalized as she did when she heard her father yelling at her favorite aunt."
A slight pause, then they heard Rose's father speak. "These kids are growing up too fast. Harry, how did you handle it when James first left for school?"
Albus gave James and Rose a surprised look at the sudden change in direction of the conversation.
"Heh. It was a rush of different emotions. Excitement, worry, sadness... extreme anger. I was happy for him, that he was finally going to get to go to Hogwarts, and have his own adventures there. Then a little worried about how he'd adjust - which was silly, since he had Fred, and the pair of them are so personable, they'd have no problem making friends. Not to mention he had Lucy there to keep him in line with his classes. Then, when he finally left, it was sad, with the house being so much quieter. Albus is so reserved, and Lily didn't quite know what to do without her older brother around to antagonize her."
"Aww, that sounds like how it was around here when Bill went off to school! Ginny cried for days and days - "
"Mum! I did not!"
"Yes, you did, hun."
"What about that 'extreme anger' you mentioned?" Rose's father brought the conversation back to the point.
"Oh, yes. That was when we discovered the Multiplying Maggots he had hidden under Albus' bed before he left."
The entire room burst out into laughter, and Albus, James, and Rose all tried to stifle their own as Albus gave James a small shove. James shoved back, harder, and Albus bumped into the door, making a loud CLUNK.
"What on Earth was that?"
"Probably just one of the gnomes making a ruckus on a dare - "
"Oh, no it wasn't! Accio!"
James gave a startled gasp as the Extendable Ear was jerked from his grasp, and as the door opened, all three knew they were in big trouble. Their grandmother stood there, glaring down at them, Extendable Ear in one hand, wand in the other. "Snooping! I should have known! It's been a long time since I've had to check for one of these things poking under a door or hanging off a stairway! You are just like your uncles, James Sirius Potter!"
"A bit like his namesakes, too, it seems."
"Ron! Not the time! I'm disciplining your children!"
"Hey, only one of them's mine. Yell at Harry and Ginny."
"Don't be a - "
"James?" Harry interrupted his wife as he looked at his oldest son. "How much did you three hear?"
"…Not that much, we had just come back, and - we heard our names, and thought we'd have a listen, and - "
"James, I listen to liars for a living. Please don't lie to me."
Albus's brother looked at the floor. "We heard everything."
"Everything from the Governors wanting respect, and - and about the new Headmaster, and - "
James looked up again. Their father was looking back at them, disappointed. Albus felt his face turn bright red. He hated seeing his father with that look on his face - the Sorting Hat from his dream was right in one sense: He looked up to his father, and wanted to earn and keep his respect. Albus was sure that he had never resorted to eavesdropping on adults having private conversations.
"Let's go home." Harry's face was calm, but Albus knew he was upset. "It's been a long day."
The adults all stood up, and the children picked themselves up off the floor. Rose's mother headed upstairs to collect Lily and Hugo, as their grandmother continued scolding them.
Ten minutes later, they were in their home. Albus was already in his room, getting ready for bed and listening to James argue with their mother in the hall.
"It's only nine o'clock!"
"You'll be lucky if you're not sent to bed even earlier for the rest of the summer, after that stunt!"
"Yeah, James, go to bed, you're in TROUBLE!"
"SHUT UP, LILY!"
"Lily, you go to bed, too!"
"But, Mum! I didn't even do anything!"
Albus heard his siblings' doors slams. As he put his clothes in the laundry, he heard his door open. "I'm getting in bed, Mum!" He dove for the bed, but as he pulled the covers up, he saw not his mother, but his father.
"Oh. Uh - I, um - "
"Albus, I'm not mad at you." His father said, sitting down on the end of the bed. "I'm not even mad at James, as much as worried about what you lot will think about your Headmaster now."
"You said you didn't think he deserved the job."
Harry sighed. "No, it's not that he doesn't deserve it, it's just that the choice really confuses me. When Professor McGonagall stepped down at the end of last year, everyone figured that someone like Professor Flitwick, or Professor Moorehead, or even Neville would be chosen to replace her. She even requested that she be allowed to pick her successor, but the Board - well, they did what they thought was best, and their idea of what was best was different from Minerva's."
Albus nodded, trying with difficulty to process everything.
"But I don't want you to think anything less of Professor Button. He's a very intelligent man, and he knows how to make your classes as efficient as they can possibly be. Show him as much respect as you would show me."
Albus nodded, understanding that his father knew how much he respected him.
Harry stood up. "Get to sleep," he said, and left the room, putting out the lights with a wave of his hand.
Albus rolled over, feeling much better than he had fifteen minutes prior. He was going to do whatever he had to in order to make his father proud - and to not end up in Slytherin House.
And with those thoughts, he drifted off to sleep.
"Albus is in bed, at the very least." Harry said as he entered the living room. Ginny was still trying to finish her article.
"Good. How about you try to work some of that same kind of magic with the other two?" she snapped, still annoyed with the children.
Harry chuckled. "I'm afraid they don't quite respond the same way to me as he does. James used to, but he's entering his 'rebellious teen' years. And Lily's her mother's daughter, for sure."
Ginny looked up from her writing. "Is he going to be okay at Hogwarts? I mean - he's very bright, but he just seems so… anxious. I hear him crying in the night, sometimes, and a few nights ago, I could've sworn I heard him scream something about Slytherin…"
Harry frowned. "Slytherin? But… oh, no. He's worried he'll get put there."
"Well, obviously, Harry. You and Ron aren't making it any better, talking about how they should learn some good hexes for the Slytherins - Did you know that Malfoy's son is starting this year, too?"
"Yeah, I did. Seamus stopped by and showed us the record. Thought we'd get a kick out of it. How'd you hear?"
"Ron told me at dinner tonight. I don't want you two telling Albus and Rose, and certainly not James, to go cursing him without provocation."
"Ginny, I seem to remember more than a few occasions where Malfoy would end up fighting off giant flying Bogeys…"
Ginny sniffed. "That was different. He had proven himself to be an ass. This one hasn't! Yet, at least…"
Harry chuckled again. "Don't worry, I'm not going to tell him to do that."
"And make sure he knows he's got nothing to worry about. He's got about as much chance of ending up in Slytherin as you had."
Harry felt his heart skip a beat as he processed those words. He had never told Ginny that the Hat had given serious consideration to putting him in Slytherin. It wasn't that he was embarrassed - quite the contrary: He had outgrown the notions of House superiority, so he never felt the inclination to reveal that particular fact.
At least, that was the rationale he used. While Slytherin House still retained a certain… dark quality about it, the students in it were nowhere near as sinister as they had been when they had been in school. At least, that was the word from Neville, at any rate. But Ginny was right. Albus had nothing to worry about. If he truly did not want to be in Slytherin, the Hat wouldn't put him there. After all, it hadn't when Harry had asked not to be put there.
"Harry? You all right?" Ginny's voice snapped him out of his thoughts.
"Yeah." He gave Ginny a smile he hoped was reassuring. "I'll talk to Al, don't worry."