Summary: "Good luck at Hogwarts, Miss Springer. I'm sure the journey you take these next seven years will make quite the tale indeed."

AN: Written for isabelquinn at Livejournal as part of the fandom_stocking gift exchange.

"English oak and dragon heartstring, 9 1/2 inches," Mr. Ollivander stated, his wrinkled hands shaking as he removed the piece of wood from its box. This was the fifteenth wand they had tried, not that Natalie had been counting or anything. She was beginning to resign herself to the fact that she wasn't going to find a wand (could the Hogwarts letter have been a mistake?), but the esteemed wand-maker seemed unfazed as he continued humming.

The hazel wood wand had caused a mini-tornado in the middle of the shop, sending all of Mr. Ollivander's ancient books and boxes to the floor in disarray. When Natalie waved the dogwood, she had nearly burnt all of Mr. Ollivander's hair off. (Although he was, albeit, already partially bald.) He had just chuckled, quickly muttering the counter-curse with his hornbeam wand before carefully removing the wand from Natalie's fingers. "Ah, dogwood," he'd said with a fond smile. "One of my own personal favorites. Dogwood has quite the sense of humor, you see. Very mischievous. But no, no, definitely not the wand for you."

The ash, beech, and elm had been just as destructive.

So when she accepted the English oak, holding it gingerly between her middle and index fingers on her left hand, she was surprised by the golden sparks that emitted from the tip of the wand. The sparks revolved around her like a spotlight, reminding her of tiny sunbeams.

Clapping wildly, Mr. Ollivander said something about the wand choosing the wizard. His words went over Natalie's head; she grinned hugely, staring at the simple piece of wood in her hand. Finally.

She really was a witch.

"English oak is a complex, intriguing wood," Mr. Ollivander explained passionately. He gestured for the wand, and Natalie surrendered it reluctantly. He replaced it in the box, flicking dust off the lid. It had obviously been sitting on the shelf for quite some time. Centuries, maybe. "Much like yourself, if I am correct. Particularly suited for witches and wizards who have an affinity with the magic of the natural world. Very loyal."

Natalie listened hungrily, eyes wide in awe.

An affinity with the magic of the natural world? she wondered. That didn't sound like her at all - she'd only found out that she was a witch last month! Then again, now that she thought about it, maybe it wasn't so odd. The first bit of "accidental magic," as Professor McGonagall had explained it to Natalie and her parents, that she'd performed had resulted in prize-winning vegetables. To this day, people in Natalie's small town wondered how the Springers had managed to grow ears of corn that were each at least fifteen pounds.

"Fifteen galleons, please."

Natalie's hands fumbled as she fished through her bag for her coins, carefully separating the galleons from the sickles and knuts. (Wizarding currency was so different.) Once she was sure she had selected the correct amount of coins, she dropped the gold in the palm of Mr. Ollivander's hand.

He offered a parting smile as he passed the box to her, and she shyly returned his grin. "Good luck at Hogwarts, Miss Springer. I'm sure the journey you take these next seven years will make quite the tale indeed."

Hogwarts was even more grand than Natalie had imagined. Her stomach fluttered with nervousness and excitement as she spotted the huge castle. The tall, dark towers and stone exterior were both intimidating and breath-taking; she half-expected to see a fire-breathing dragon burst out of the sky and swoop over the school defensively.

Actually, did dragons even exist? And are they really as terrifying as they always are on television? She would have to find out.

"Firs' years!" a loud voice called, causing Natalie to jump and swirl around. Natalie shrieked when she spotted the source of the noise: a burly man who had to be at least fifteen-feet tall. Some nearby students, two girls wearing black silk robes, snickered. Natalie looked down at her own second-hand robes, which were slightly faded in color. She'd thought they'd looked fine in the store - especially considering how much cheaper they were - but now she selfishly found herself wishing that she'd allowed her father to buy new robes for her instead.

"Firs' years over here!" the voice repeated.

Judging by the reaction of the rest of the students, fifteen-feet tall men in this world were completely normal. Or at least not unheard of. He was leading the students toward the lake, where several boats were waiting. In somewhat of a daze, Natalie followed.

"That's Hagrid," a boy whispered to his group of friends, pointing to the large man. He was wearing glasses and had his tie hung loosely around his neck. "I heard he's half-giant, but he doesn't like people talking about it. Isn't he huge?"

Hagrid quickly ushered the first years into boats. As luck would have it, Natalie ended up in the same boat as the two girls who had snickered at her earlier.

They held their noses high in the air as Natalie timidly climbed aboard the boat. They smelled of strong perfume, Natalie noted. It gave her a headache.

Then, before Natalie could say a word, the taller one of the two girls had turned to her companions with a smirk and a knowing gesture -

"Look, Leslie, a Mudblood. How quaint."

"A Mudblood?" Natalie repeated confusedly, brow wrinkling. She adjusted her glasses and checked her robes for dirt, but she just didn't understand what they were talking about. Leslie was the one with Chocolate Frog on her face.

They snickered again, and Leslie mouthed something that looked suspiciously like Hufflepuff to her friend.

If Natalie had had any doubt about disliking these people, it was gone now. She glowered at them. The way she saw it, she had two options:

1.) Taunt Leslie for having Chocolate Frog on her face. Really, she could afford all that perfume and makeup, but she didn't own a napkin? A handkerchief?

2.) Stay silent, don't make eye contact, and pretend to be invisible.

She was leaning toward the second option when something shot up out of the water, soaking everyone and rocking the boat back and forth violently.

"EEEK!" Shrieking, the three girls clutched at the edges of the boat to avoid being thrown overboard. (If one of the girls lost their grip and fell into the lake, Natalie wouldn't be disappointed.)

When Natalie finally got a chance to glance around, she spotted a... giant squid? As in: a humongous, pink, 30-foot tall squid. It was descending back in the water now, and Natalie had just decided it was possibly the creepiest thing she had ever seen when it raised one of its tentacles and waved at her. It actually waved.

The corners of her mouth twitched upward as she thought about having a giant squid for a friend.

She knew it sounded a little crazy, and maybe it was just her imagination, but she was a student at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Right now, anything seemed possible.

Professor McGonagall tsk'd as Natalie, Leslie, and the tall girl entered the castle, pools of water forming at their feet. Then, an instant later, she flicked her wand and they were completely dry. Natalie stared in amazement, but the other two girls weren't shocked in the least.

"Thank you, professor," she said, feeling at her now-dry robes. They had been soaked just seconds ago!

Professor McGonagall gave her a tight smile. "Hurry along," she ordered, waving her arm to the left. All the first years were gathering in a tiny room near the staircases. "The Sorting will begin momentarily."

As Natalie quickly took off to join the rest of the first years, she gaped at all of the moving, talking portraits in the corridors. The castle also seemed to be lit entirely by floating candles, which made her feel like she'd stepped back in time. Then she spotted ghosts floating around the corridors, medieval tapestries, and enchanted suits of armor that saluted as she passed.

"Welcome to Hogwarts, my young maiden," one of the portraits - a knight - said grandly. He hopped off his horse and bowed, his sword bobbing at his waist. "Sir Lancelot, defender of the noble Merlin, at your service."

Natalie's cheeks reddened and Lancelet winked and smiled at her, showing off his dimples. She was about to reply when-

"Are you a muggle-born?" a girl with blonde hair and pink glasses interrupted, not unkindly. She was flanked by two other girls: a redhead with lots of freckles and a somewhat chubby girl with black hair. Years of being an observer had taught Natalie a few things, and she immediately surmised that the three girls were close friends.

"Yes," she admitted. Her voice came out a bit squeaky, as it always did when she talked to new people, and she blushed. The other girls either didn't notice or didn't care.

"I'm Karen," the blonde girl said perkily, offering Natalie a toothy grin. "This is Hannie" - she gestured to the girl with black hair - "and Nancy."

"I'm Natalie," Natalie replied, a bit easier this time.

"So," Karen continued, not missing a beat. "Any idea what we have to do to get Sorted?"

Then, before anyone had the chance to answer her: "My brother Sam said there is a goblin guarding a hippogriff. We have to duel the goblin, then tame the hippogriff, and then use the hippogriff to steal a dragon's egg. After that, we open the egg and it says which house we should be in."

Natalie bit her lip nervously. The story did sound a bit far-fetched, but today she'd been ushered into a boat by a fifteen-foot tall man, had a giant squid wave at her, conversed with a knight's portrait, and seen ghosts casually roaming the corridors.

"What happens if you can't get the dragon's egg?" Nancy wanted to know.

"Then you go to Hufflepuff," Karen said somberly, eyes dramatically downcast.

"I don't think Hufflepuff sounds bad," Natalie spoke up quietly, but defensively. She'd briefly read about the different houses in Hogwarts, A History and thought she might like Hufflepuff. It certainly seemed like the friendliest of the bunch.

"Me either," Hannie smiled at Natalie, glaring at Karen.

Nancy nodded, showing that she agreed. Karen huffed.

"And besides," Hannie added. "Linny told me that all we have to do is put on an old hat."

Karen snorted. "A hat? You think they're going to let something like a hat define where we spend the next seven years?"

"Linny wouldn't lie to me," Hannie insisted.

"Sam wouldn't lie to me," Karen argued, folding her arms across her chest.

"Really? What about the time he offered you a cockroach cluster, but it was a real cockroach covered in chocolate instead of the candy?"

"That was different!"

"They're always like this," Nancy whispered to Natalie, who was looking very out of place as she observed the scene in front of her. "They'll be back to normal in a few minutes."

The entrance of Professor McGonagall caused Karen and Hannie to immediately stop arguing. She cleared her throat, folding her hands and holding them in front of her. "The sorting will now begin," she announced stiffly. "Follow me."

The Great Hall was possibly the most breath-taking room Natalie had ever seen. Perhaps the most impressive feature was the ceiling, which was dark blue with moving stars. Or maybe there isn't a ceiling, Natalie thought. It hadn't been this dark out when she'd boarded the boat at the lake, but sometimes it could become dark in a matter of minutes.

"Isn't the ceiling just divine?" Karen asked loudly, as all of the first years followed McGonagall to the front of the room. "It's enchanted. I've read all about it."

"Are you sure Sam didn't tell you that?" Hannie asked sarcastically. "And, hey, look, there's a hat! Maybe they're going to pull the hippogriff out of it?"

Karen glared. Natalie had a feeling that Karen wasn't used to being wrong, and even she (a muggleborn!) could tell that there wasn't a dragon in sight.

"I-" Karen opened her mouth to retaliate, and probably cause an embarrassing scene in the middle of the Great Hall, but both Natalie and Nancy cut her off.

"Karen, Hannie, stop it," Nancy demanded.

"What is a hippogriff?" Natalie inquired.

But Natalie never got her answer. Professor McGonagall instructed the first years to form a line, then stood next to an old stool that had an even older hat sitting on it. She pulled a roll of parchment out of the pocket of her robes. "When I call your name," she said. "You will come forward and I will place the hat on your head so that you may be Sorted."

"Abrams, Scott!"

Heart pounding, Natalie watched as Professor McGonagall called one student after the other, each dutifully walking to the stool and placing the hat atop their head. No goblins, hippogriffs (whatever those were), or dragons seemed to be involved. That was a relief, at least.

"Brewer, Karen!"

The hat had barely touched Karen's head when it proclaimed: "Gryffindor!" Natalie stared as Karen pranced to the students cheering at the table with the scarlet-and-gold banners. She sat down next to the brunette girl with a shiny Head Girl badge on her lapel.

"Dawes, Nancy!"

Karen's red-headed companion sat on the stool for at least two full minutes, kicking her feet back and forth. At last, the hat called "Hufflepuff!" and Nancy shot her friend a nervous look before joining her new housemates.

"Gianelli, Bobby" was soon sent to join Karen in Gryffindor. Natalie could practically hear Karen's scowl as Bobby plopped down next to her. "Harding, Pamela" (the tall girl from the boat) and Leslie were both sent to Slytherin. Several minutes later, Hannah Papadakis took her seat at the Ravenclaw table. Karen's disappointment was very discernible; Natalie found herself wondering if the girl was going to have a breakdown in the middle of the Great Hall. (She couldn't blame her. Not really. If she had such good friends from day one, she wouldn't want to be separated from them, either.)

But thoughts of the blonde girl she had briefly met on the train were quickly forgotten as Professor McGonagall finished with the P's, Q's, and R's. Natalie felt sick as "Smith, Charlotte!" was sorted into Hufflepuff.

"Springer, Natalie!"

She shakily made her way to the stage, her ponytail bobbing up and down. Natalie sat on the stool gingerly and wiped her palms on her skirt. Seconds later, the brim of the hat fell in front of her eyes. Natalie was glad not to have to see everyone as they stared at her; somehow, it made the sorting less intimidating.

"Ahh... difficult..."

Natalie jumped as the hat began speaking to her. She hoped no one else could hear what the hat was saying. Were talking hats normal? Her parents were both Muggles, so she couldn't be sure.

The hat chuckled at her. "No one else can hear me, but this is completely normal," the hat said. So the hat was a mind-reader, too. "Now, where to put you..."

Not Ravenclaw, Natalie hoped. That house had intimidated her ever since she heard some girls talking about it on the train. She'd never thought of herself as very intelligent.

"You could be a Ravenclaw," the hat told her thoughtfully. "You do have potential. But no, Ravenclaw isn't the house for you. You are desperate to prove yourself, I see. When the time comes, you will do whatever it takes to make others see you for who you are. No, I think you belong in..."

Hufflepuff, Natalie thought desperately, thinking of how kind Karen and her friends had been to her. She knew she didn't have the courage and boldness to be a Gryffindor like Karen, but she could see herself as a Hufflepuff.


As Professor McGonagall duly removed the Sorting Hat from her head, it was all Natalie could do to keep from fainting.