Reception was very much positive to this story, which is always a nice stroke to the ego. A Door Ajar is going to be going on a temporary hiatus while I execute a fairly massive rewrite of the first few chapters, since playing it by ear when writing stories tends to open up plot threads or establish points that one comes to regret when writing later chapters. I'll definitely work to avoid that with this story, though.
Anyway, read on!
The next few weeks blurred together into a haze of lazy summer days spent watching television, constructing and destroying vast Lego empires, trying to top each other's scores at Mario, and generally wasting time the way only a child could. Halle's birthday came and went with a trip to the local shopping center, though Halle didn't buy much in the way of clothing, since she would be wearing her school uniform for five days a week for the next ten months.
Hogwarts loomed ever-present in her thoughts, a source of both nigh-uncontainable excitement and crippling apprehension. She'd gone over the list of hypotheticals in her head with such frequency that she was literally all worried out. She just couldn't bring herself to wonder again what would happen if she turned out to just be terrible at magic, if no one liked her, if it turned out to be some creepy cultist group that wanted her to drink "blood-drink" or something.
She consoled herself with the fact that James and Lily Potter had made it through all seven years and apparently done quite well for themselves.
Another distracting source of thought exercise was ponderings on her birth parents. Petunia Evans would always be Mum to her, but she still wanted to know a little about her biological parents. She didn't want to ask Mum for fear of dredging up more bad memories, and the only other person she'd met that seemed to know anything about them was the man she'd dubbed Cash, the strange black-garbed man that had approached her at the zoo.
She could only hope she would have an opportunity to meet him. Maybe he actually worked at Hogwarts.
Soon, it was time to find out. Thirty-one August was a flurry of rain outside and frantic packing of robes, spell books, owl treats, and several notebooks for letters home.
At least Hedwig would get plenty of exercise.
She was just managing to stuff a few normal clothes in her trunk (just in case) when Dud walked in. Ever since their reconciliation, he'd been quieter than normal, but Halle hadn't felt any sort of animosity from him. A slightly conceited part of Halle wanted to think that he was pondering life without her for a school term.
"Oi," he said, tossing something at her. She blinked but managed to catch it. Opening her hand, she saw that it was a rather simple necklace. "Wear that."
"Gosh, Dud, I'm flattered, but we're brother and sister," she said, quirking an eyebrow at him, and Dud's face went pink.
"Oh, shut it," he said. "It's from the school after our team finished first in the league."
On closer inspection, she did spot an engraving of a football along with the words D. Evans, #33, '90 – '91.
"It's nothing special, but I thought it'd be something to remember home by, you know," he said as Halle smiled, fastening it around her neck.
"I'll wear it proudly," she said with a grin, and Dud smirked back.
"I just…run at it?"
"Yes. That's what your grandparents told me. Run at the wall between nine and ten."
"Are you…certain? It looks very solid."
"Magic can be very convincing."
"I'll run at it – "
"Dudley Evans, you stay here," Mum said, grabbing Dud by the shoulder. "It's alright, Halle. You go, and you have a wonderful year. And if it doesn't work out, you write me, and I'll be at the station ready to bring you home."
"Mum, you're not exactly filling me with confidence, here," Halle said, wondering how so many very nervous butterflies had found their way into her stomach. Blimey, that wall looked solid.
"I'm sure you'll have a wonderful time, darling," Mum said, patting her shoulder. Nodding, Halle bit her lip, then latched onto her mum in a hug.
"I'll miss both of you," she said, pulling away, turning to Dud, who held his hands up.
"Hey, I got a hug from you once already," he said. "That's enough for the year."
Sticking her tongue out at him, Halle turned, made one last check to ensure Hedwig's cage was attached to her trolley, and took off before she started bawling right there in the station.
According to the Hogwarts letters, the Hogwarts Express departed from King's Cross (yet another trip all the way to London) at eleven sharp the morning of one September. Much to Halle's surprise when she'd read the letter, it apparently departed from Platform Nine and Three-Quarters.
Mum had explained that access to this platform was achieved by running straight at the wall between platforms nine and ten.
Sometimes I think they're just weird for the sake of it, Halle mused, clenching her eyes shut as she reached the wall and ran into…nothing.
Skidding to a stop, she opened her eyes and gasped.
A magnificent scarlet steam engine sat at the platform, belching steam over a teeming crowd of kids and teenagers (and a few parents). Adding to the din of chatter were the sounds of screeching owls, belching toads, and the occasional angry hiss of a cat. Once, Halle thought she heard the sound of an elephant, though it turned out to be a boy demonstrating some sort of spell he'd learned.
Rolling up to a carriage at random, she made no attempt to manually heave the trunk into the luggage compartment (her efforts would likely be rewarded with a very sore back and little else), instead covertly pulling her wand from her pocket and casting one of the many spells she'd come across in her books.
"Wingardium leviosa," she whispered, pleased when the trunk hovered the critical few inches she needed to give it a push and let it slide easily into the compartment. Giggling silently at her first successful use of magic to actually accomplish something (rather than amuse herself late at night when she couldn't sleep), she shut the compartment and turned, jumping when she saw a boy directly behind her.
"Oh!" she stepped back. The boy had sharp features and pale skin, though it stopped just before looking sickly. His white-blonde hair gleamed in the sun, slicked back with what Halle deemed just a bit too much hair product.
"Sorry," he said, smiling. "I was on my way over to help, but it looks like you've figured it out."
"Yeah, I'm pretty awesome," Halle said, holding her wand up with a flourish before dropping it. "Most of the time."
Chuckling, the blonde boy stooped and picked up her wand, handing it back to her. "Ought to make sure you keep track of that," he said. "A witch isn't much without her wand. Nice hover charm, by the way."
"Thank you," Halle smiled. "I've been practicing from the moment I got my wand. I was raised muggle, so I reckon I've got a bit of catching up to do."
"I think you'll do alright," the boy said, gesturing toward the train. "But maybe we should find a seat?"
They climbed onto the train, the boy peering into a few compartments as they passed before stopping at one. "Aha," he said, opening the door and stepping back to allow Halle in.
"Thank you, sir," Halle said with a smile, stepping in to find two boys already situated in seats, chatting about quidditch, which Halle had gathered was a sport played on broomstick, but she didn't know the specifics. "Um, hello there."
"That's Vincent Crabbe, and Gregory Goyle. Just call them Crabbe and Goyle. Oh, and I'm Draco Malfoy."
"Do I call you Malfoy?" Halle asked, smiling as she sat and placed Hedwig's cage on the seat beside her. Draco Malfoy smiled again.
"You can call me Draco," he said, sitting next to her. "And what do you call yourself?"
"Oh, I'm Halle Evans."
"Nice to meet you, Halle Evans," Draco said, settling back in his seat. Halle smiled, glad to actually meet some friendly people. Just as she was about to say something else, the train lurched beneath them, and Draco turned to look out the window.
"Off we go," he said.
"So, are you just starting Hogwarts as well?" Halle asked after a brief silence in which everyone settled in for the long train ride. Draco nodded.
"All of us are," he said. "What house do you think you'll be in? We're hoping for Slytherin."
"House…?" Halle blinked, cursing her ignorance of a world she was supposedly born into. At Draco's confused look, she gave a sheepish smile. "Sorry. Like I said, I was raised by muggles after my birth parents, um…were killed."
"That must've been awful," Draco said.
"Well, I was only one when they died, and my aunt is a wonderful woman," Halle said. "But she…didn't want me to go away at first, so she didn't tell me about magic or anything. I know about as much as a muggle-born."
"Well, then we'll teach you," Draco said with a little nod toward Crabbe and Goyle. "Or I will. Crabbe and Goyle…. I'm not sure they know how to read," he said in a stage whisper, and Halle giggled.
"That's not very nice!" she said through her laughter. Crabbe and Goyle, though, only blinked, and Halle had to wonder if there wasn't some truth to his little joke. "Anyway, what are houses? Besides what people live in," she added.
"Hogwarts students are sorted into four Houses," Draco explained. "Gryffindor, Ravenclaw, Hufflepuff, and Slytherin. But, ask me, Slytherin's the best. Ravenclaw wouldn't be so bad, but Gryffindor's just a bunch of arrogant lunkheads who go on about honor and bravery but wouldn't know common sense if it bit them in the ass."
Halle laughed, slightly awed; she'd never dared to utter a swear word. Mum would murder her! "What about Hufflepuff?"
"Oh, they're just a bunch of nobodies," he said. "No ambition; all they do is sit around and preach about the power of friendship. They turn out some of the least successful wizards ever."
"Oh," Halle said. "Well, I want to get good at magic."
"Maybe you'll get put in Slytherin," Draco said. "All the most successful wizards do. My whole family's been in Slytherin as far back as we can remember."
Well, she wanted to be successful, of course. And if Draco's family had turned out a polite boy like him, Slytherin must do something right. "So, do you pick your house?"
"No, no," Draco said. "There's a sorting ceremony. You put on a hat, and it decides."
"It decides?" Halle repeated. "As in, it picks your house for you? A hat?"
"Of course," Draco said. "It's not like some common muggle hat that you just stick on your head. Godric Gryffindor enchanted it to decide which house students should go to. Each founder told the hat what to look for in students. Salazar Slytherin wanted only the best."
She had to inwardly roll her eyes a bit at the Slytherin fervor, but she supposed it was like having a favorite sports team or something. "So, have you figured out many spells?" she asked. Draco shrugged.
"A few. You ought to watch out using magic if you live in a muggle house, though. After this year, they'll have a trace on you. If you use magic in a muggle area, the Ministry of Magic will find out, and you'll get sent a letter. Get caught too many times, and you could even get expelled."
Halle blinked. "That's annoying."
Draco nodded. "A bit. But the Ministry doesn't want the muggles to know what we are. Imagine if they found out; they'd probably riot and demand we fix all their problems for them, or try to kill all of us because we don't fit into their views of 'normal'."
Given her mum's and Dud's reactions to finding out about the magic world (despite the fact that they eventually came around), she could imagine the less tolerant muggles would be a little miffed knowing about the secret world that could accomplish things muggles couldn't attempt in their wildest dreams.
"Still, not all muggles are bad," she said. "My family's alright, and a lot of my friends from my muggle school are nice."
Draco looked unconvinced, but only shrugged. "I'll take your word for it," was all he said.
They lapsed into comfortable silence, Halle glancing around as Draco unearthed a magazine from a bag he'd brought along. She caught the title Quidditch Weekly.
"You're a quidditch fan?" Halle said, and Draco looked up.
"You've heard of it?" he asked, and Halle shrugged sheepishly.
"I don't know much about it," she said, which was all the prompting Draco needed to launch into a lengthy explanation about quidditch teams, the number of players, the three different balls used, positions, even his favorite professional team, the Caerphilly Catapults.
"They haven't made it to the World Cup in a few years, but I'm not giving up on them," he said as a voice sounded in the corridor.
"Anything from the trolley!? Aaaaaanything from the trolley!?"
A plump old woman was pushing a large cart of snacks and sweets up the corridor. All four of them glanced toward the voice (though Crabbe and Goyle looked particularly interested; it probably took a lot of food to be that…healthy), Halle reaching into her pockets to produce a handful of sickles.
She expected that wizard snacks would be slightly different from muggle ones, maybe a wider variety of magically produced flavors or color-changing candy bars, and she wasn't disappointed. Cauldron Cakes, Bertie Bott's Every-Flavor Beans (literally every flavor, over 200, as the box boasted), Licorice Wands, Chocolate Frogs (which shuffled around in the box, leaving Halle to suspect that they behaved like real frogs), and numerous others. Unable to decide, she simply bought one of each. Draco seemed to favor something called Pumpkin Pasties, and Chocolate Frogs, as he bought a substantial stack of each of them. Crabbe and Goyle simply grabbed handfuls of everything within reach, which Malfoy wordlessly paid for with his own gold, doing the same when the trolley lady gave Halle her total.
"Oh, thank you, but – "
"No buts," Malfoy said, gesturing Halle back into the compartment. "It's my father's money anyway, so thank him."
Smiling, Halle took her seat. "Perhaps I'll write him a letter once we get to Hogwarts. It'd be Hedwig's first delivery."
Draco ripped open a Chocolate Frog, which leapt out of the box, sailing through the air. "Oh, damn it," he said while Halle reached out, snatching it from the air and popping it into her mouth. Draco smirked at her. "That was mine," he said.
"Mine now," she said with a wink, swallowing the chocolate. Draco quirked an eyebrow, suddenly lunging and reaching around Halle to grab one of her Chocolate Frogs. Laughing, she tried to grab his wrist and retrieve the snack, but the movement sent them tumbling to the floor, rolling until Draco had managed to wrench his wrist away, moving to a sitting position and waving the box tauntingly at Halle.
"Mine now," he repeated back at her, and Halle stuck her tongue out at him.
A knock sounded on the door, which slid open to reveal a stock, round-faced, blonde boy who had the unfortunate look of someone who was always down on his luck.
"Has anyone seen, um…oh," he paused, and only then did Halle realize that she was practically sitting in Draco's lap; their scuffle had apparently left them in a bit of a compromising position. "Sorry, I'll just – "
"No, it's okay," Halle said, scrambling to her feet. Behind her, Draco clambered to a stand as well. "Have we seen what?"
"A toad?" Neville finished, his face flushed. "Um, I've lost mine."
"You have a pet toad?" Draco asked, laughter in his voice. "Who still has those these days?"
"Be nice," Halle admonished him, and Draco shrugged but fell silent, going back to his stack of Chocolate Frogs. "We haven't. Sorry. Want help finding it?"
"Oh, there's a girl helping me out already," the boy said. "Thanks, though." He gave Draco one last fearful look and retreated. Halle took her seat next to Draco, who shook his head.
"A toad," he muttered, falling silent at Halle's disapproving look.
As the afternoon wore on, Halle discovered a few things about Draco Malfoy. He came from one of the oldest pureblood families in existence, and as such, he had a bit of an arrogant streak. His family was rich but generous, apparently, donating to numerous charitable organizations, including the wizard hospital, St. Mungo's. And his father had been an unwitting pawn of Voldemort (though Draco used the more common "You-Know-Who") through use of the Imperius Curse, which was some sort of mind-control curse that gave Halle chills.
For the first time, as Draco fell silent, staring out of the window, Halle realized that Voldemort was more than just some bully dark wizard that had happened to kill her parents; he'd been a tyrant, gathering followers or simply forcing people into his service through mind-control or blackmail, disguising a hunger for power behind claims of blood purity and supremacy. Mum had once watched a television special about Adolf Hitler, and Halle had traveled through the sitting room during some key moments. This Voldemort sounded like he would've gotten along with the Nazi dictator.
And Halle had killed him.
Not directly, of course. Being one year old, she hadn't been in control of most of her faculties. But something about her had turned a killing curse back on Voldemort when he'd decided to make a clean job of his attack on Halle's original family. She had a feeling Mum knew a little about it, but whatever it was, she wasn't telling just yet, and Halle didn't have the heart to press her after all of this change.
Still, that didn't stop Halle from wondering a few things: what had been so important about her parents that Voldemort himself had deigned to kill them when he could've sent any one of his brainwashed masses to do it? Why kill a child that posed no apparent threat? And, the big one, what did drooling one-year-old Halle Potter do that had caused the Dark Lord to shuffle loose the mortal coil?
Lost in her musings, she didn't notice Draco calling her name until he poked her in the cheek, causing her to jump. With a chuckle, the blonde sat back and smirked at her.
"Knut for your thoughts," he said, and Halle shrugged.
"Oh, nothing interesting," she said. Draco nodded, accepting the answer. He held up his left wrist and pointed at his watch.
"We'll be there within the hour," he said. "We'll step out while you change into your uniform, then, if you don't mind, you can do the same while we change."
Halle glanced outside while the boys stood and made their way into the corridor, Crabbe and Goyle even taking a post on each side of the door to make sure she wasn't disturbed. Without her noticing, it had gotten noticeably darker, the sun setting fast behind some trees in the distance. She scrambled into her robe, her heartbeat picking up at the imminent arrival to Hogwarts.
Hogsmeade station wasn't much more than an old but well-kept building with a long wooden platform that the students piled onto. The sun had fully set by now, the platform lit by hanging lanterns and occasional older student's wand flaring with a bright light.
Just as Halle was about to cast a light spell of her own, a booming voice immediately to her left made her jump and almost drop her wand.
"Firs' years, this way! Firs' years, follow me!"
Halle turned and backed up a few steps when her eyes settled on the largest man she had ever seen in her life. Bigfoot had nothing on this man, whose mane of shaggy hair and enormous beard made him look like a wild man who had wandered onto the platform. If not for the older students paying him little mind, she would have been alarmed.
"Who is that?" she asked in a whisper.
"Hagrid," Goyle said, speaking for the first time Halle could remember.
"He's the gamekeeper," Malfoy said, giving the giant man a wary look. "Mind yourself. Father says he's a bit savage."
The large man seemed nice enough to Halle, even stopping to help Neville up by the scruff of his shirt when the boy tripped over a shoelace. He stopped at the edge of the platform as the older students all made their way down a path that presumably led to another means of transportation.
"Ev'ryone here?" he called, scanning the crowd, his eyes pausing for the briefest moment on Halle, and she thought she saw the man's beard twitch in what could have been a smile, feeling herself reflexively smile back. "Alrigh', follow me, and mind yeh don' trip!"
Hagrid led them down a steep, narrow path through dense trees that obscured all light except the stars above. Once, Halle lost her footing, Crabbe reaching out to grab her under an arm and lift her up effortlessly.
"Thank you," she said, and Crabbe nodded silently.
"Alrigh' yeh'll get yer first look at Hogwarts in jes' a few seconds," Hagrid said, pointing at a curve in the path ahead.
Awed gasps rose from all around, Halle's joining the fray as she caught sight of one of the most beautiful old castles ever. Across a mirror-black lake, the enormous stone structure looked right out of a painting, the occasional window glowing yellow in the dark night, the pinprick of light reflecting off of the lake.
"Not bad," Draco said, his soft voice sounding much more impressed than his words let on. Halle raised an eyebrow at him, and he winked as they continued on their way.
Further down the path, they came to a collection of docks, a small fleet of boats bobbing in the water.
"No more'n four to a boat!" Hagrid called, and Draco stepped into one, graciously helping Halle to sit next to him. Crabbe and Goyle stepped in after, attempting to take one side to their own, but with a mutter that they would capsize if they did, Draco arranged them on opposite sides, Halle giggling the entire time.
"Ev'ryone ready?" Hagrid called. "Off we go!"
As one, the collection of boats set off across the lake, and the castle loomed larger and larger as they drew closer, slipping through a sheet of ivy that revealed a sort of underground harbor. The boats docked (even tying themselves down), and again, Draco climbed from his boat first, helping Halle to stand.
Okay, she could get used to this.
Hagrid strolled up to large wooden door and rapped sharply on it with a massive hand. Almost immediately, the door opened to reveal one of the most imposing women Halle had ever laid eyes on. She was tall and looked be in her sixties or seventies, but Halle supposed that age only added to a witch or wizard's formidability. Her black hair was pulled back into a severe bun, and Halle didn't use severe to describe a hairstyle that often.
"Evenin', Professor McGonagall," Hagrid said. "The firs' years for yeh."
"Thank you, Hagrid," McGonagall said. "I will take them from here."
She led them through the door and into a hall so huge that Halle actually felt the slightest wave of dizziness at just big the place was. The ceiling stretched nearly out of sight, and along the stone walls, torches lit the place. A marble staircase opposite them apparently led to the upper floors.
"Not bad, is it?" Draco whispered in her ear.
"This way," Professor McGonagall said, leading the first years into a small chamber off the entrance hall. When the door shut behind them, she rounded on them. "Welcome to Hogwarts. The start-of-term banquet will begin shortly, but before that, you must be sorted into your houses. While here at Hogwarts, your house will be like your family. You will attend classes with your housemates, and most of your free time will likely be spent in your house common room.
"You may earn or lose points for your house through commendable actions or…flouting the rules," the stern thinning of her lips told any prospective Gryffindors exactly what any "flouting" would bring them. "At the end of the year, the house with the most points will be awarded the House Cup. The houses are Gryffindor, Hufflepuff, Ravenclaw, and Slytherin."
Outside the smaller chamber, the sounds of footfalls could be heard, likely the older students passing through on their way to the banquet hall. "The Sorting will begin shortly. I suggest you do what you can to…smarten up."
Nearby, the boy who had lost his toad shifted uncomfortably.
McGonagall left them, and mutterings broke out amongst the students, speculation flying about what sort of procedure the Sorting would be. One redheaded boy was going on about how his brother had told him it was a very painful process, another wondering out loud if they would have to fight each other.
"Do wizard parents just not tell their children?" Halle asked Draco in a low voice. Draco smirked.
"I guess a lot of them like to maintain the mystery, give their kids something to fret over."
"That's not very nice," she groused, and Draco chuckled at her minor moment of petulance.
"It's all in good fun," he said.
The discussion was momentarily interrupted by a cabal of ghosts drifting through a far wall, apparently in the middle of a discussion, though the quartet was too far away to catch much. The ghosts briefly stopped, staring ponderously at the students.
"Is it that time already?" one mused, a short, plump man dressed like a friar, smiling at a nearby student, a small blonde that shrank back at his look. "Wonderful! Hope to see you in Hufflepuff!"
"Move along, now," McGonagall's voice came, and the students turned as the ghosts drifted off. "It's time to begin the Sorting."
She led them back out into the larger chamber and through a massive set of double doors into an (if possible) even larger room.
Halle gasped; if the entrance area had been impressive, this room was simply wondrous. The ceiling was apparently charmed or spelled to look like the sky outside, an inky mass dotted with stars. Hovering in the air above four large tables (one for each house, she assumed), floating candles cast a warm light around the place. Adjacent to the four tables, one smaller table held all the teachers. Halle spotted Hagrid, who met her eyes and gave her another beard-twitching grin, and as her eyes scanned along the table, she stumbled a step.
The same hook-nosed, pale man that had given her the cryptic message that had started all this sat at the table, his eyes riveted on her. She felt her face heat up under his scrutiny and – was he smirking at her!? Her shyness vanished, replaced by indignation as she glared back at him, only causing his smirk to widen before he looked away.
"Why's Professor Snape smiling at you?" Draco asked. "He hardly ever smiles, let alone at people."
"His name is Snape?" Halle asked as they came to a halt. "He found me at the zoo the day before my Hogwarts letter came, told me to make sure I read it."
"Odd," Draco said. "Snape's the Potions Master here and head of Slytherin." He was about to say more, but at that point, Professor McGonagall called their attention to a stool in front of the staff table, on which was perched a very old, very worn-looking hat. As they watched, a rip opened along the hat's brim.
And it sang.
The song was a quirky little number, outlining the points prized by each founder in their prospective students. Halle sort of paid attention, a little distracted by the fact that a sentient hat was singing them a song.
The hat finished its little number, and Halle joined the polite applause while Professor McGonagall moved to stand next to the stool, unrolling a long scroll.
A small blonde girl brushed past Halle and made her way forward, McGonagall lifting the hat so she could sit on the stool. The stern professor placed that hat on the girls' head, and….
"Hufflepuff!" the hat called after a few seconds, and a table full of students to the right burst into cheers. Smiling with clear relief, Hannah hopped from the stool and made her way over as polite applause sounded from the rest of the tables.
As the crowd of students whittled down, Halle noticed something. Most of the time, the hat only required a few seconds of deliberation, and other times, it required up to a minute before it shouted out the student's new home. Lavender Brown, a smiling blonde girl that wouldn't have looked out of place in a clothing catalogue, wore that hat for a minute and a half before the hat declared her a Gryffindor. Crabbe was made a Slytherin as soon as the hat touched his head (though if it was possible for a hat to look disoriented, this one surely did after coming into contact with the large boy's simple mind).
Then a peculiar thing happened: McGonagall neared the end of the E names, and Halle was prepared for the moment when she would shout "Halle Evans!".
But it never came.
McGonagall moved right on to the F names.
"What about me?" she turned to Draco, who shrugged, looking dumbfounded as well.
The crowd shrank, and soon….
Halle was left alone as Draco gave her a little wave and moved to sit. The hat had barely touched his head when –
Standing, Draco sauntered over to the table and sat between Crabbe and Goyle. Halle shrank in on herself, glancing around. A redheaded boy nearby gave her a commiserating smile, and she felt a little heartened; at least she wasn't the only one fighting a turning stomach.
She blinked. Was that her? Looking around, she saw no one else step forward, though she noticed she wasn't the only one trying to catch a glimpse of…well, her, it seemed. Whispering broke out as she stepped forward, feeling her face heat up as people realized who she was.
"That's Halle Potter?"
"Can you see her scar?"
"She's got a headband on."
"She kinda cute."
She hopped up onto the stool, briefly glancing up at McGonagall.
"It's, um…Evans, ma'am. Halle Evans."
She thought she saw the faintest hint of a smile quirking the professor's lips.
"Very well, Miss Evans," she said, placing the hat on her head, and Halle's world went dark as the too-large hat covered her eyes.
A voice, not quite there, fluttered through her head.
"Hmmm, difficult…. Very difficult…. A courageous young lady, to be sure, and a sharp mind. And raw talent like I haven't seen in ages. A thirst to prove yourself, to overcome your non-magic upbringing…."
That hat could read minds, it seemed.
"Of course I can, dear girl. How else would I do this job? Guess?"
Halle couldn't stop a little giggle, and the hat chuckled along with her.
"Now, where to put you? A cunning girl like you would do well in Slytherin, but you've the courage of a Gryffindor. Goodness, such a tricky student…. I do look forward to your type. Always rewarding to see how you fare…."
Halle briefly pondered that Cash—Snape—was the head of Slytherin, and despite his rather intimidating appearance, Halle found him somewhat fascinating. If she were in his house….
"Hmmm, well Slytherin could use a dose of some genuine courage. Better be…
The last word was shouted at large, and after the briefest of pauses, the Slytherin table erupted in cheers, though the other three looked slightly off-put, only clapping politely as McGonagall lifted the hat from her head, her mouth a thin line, though she gestured Halle toward the table of green-clad students. Halle noticed as she walked that her robes faded from pure black to the green-trimmed Slytherin colors, complete with matching tie.
She sat between Malfoy and Crabbe, Malfoy clapping her on the shoulder.
"Welcome to Slytherin."
The rest of the Sorting passed in a haze, Halle barely paying attention, such was her relief at having braved the process. Now that her stomach had stopped tying itself in knots of anticipation, she noticed how hungry she was. She stared mournfully down at her empty plate as Albus Dumbledore took the little podium in front of the staff table. An ageless old man with waist length silver hair and beard, the headmaster had the kindly look of an old man looking upon his favorite grandchild as he smiled down at the students.
"Welcome, one and all, to another year at Hogwarts!" he said. "Before we begin our excellent feast, I have a few words for you all, and they are as follows! Nitwit! Blubber! Oddment! Tweak!"
Halle quirked an eyebrow, glancing over at Draco, who shook his head while the rest of the students applauded.
"Mental, that man. Father says he should've retired the headmaster post a long time ago."
"He's funny, though," Halle said with a shrug.
"Maybe, but you don't get to be headmaster of a school by telling jokes," Draco countered, reaching for a platter. "Mashed potatoes?"
Halle blinked. Then she blinked again. Where once a table full of empty platters sat, now there was a full spread of some of the most sumptuous looking food she had ever seen. Mum's boss had once given her a gift certificate for one those fancy restaurants that had required Halle and Dud to dress in their Sunday best, and Halle would've wagered a frightening amount of money that their fare would seem like school food to this.
She served up a helping of mashed potatoes, ham, gravy, and some dishes she couldn't name but they were delicious. She came back for seconds, lamenting that she might put on more than a few pounds if treated to this sort of food on a daily basis.
Perhaps the sheer size of the castle ensured that any excess calories were worked off simply commuting from class to class.
When the students had eaten their fill, the food disappeared, leaving the dishes sparkling clean, only for them to refilled by a spread of desserts, some of which brought actual tears of joy to Halle's eyes.
She ate at least as much dessert as she had the main course.
"Like sweets, then?" Draco asked, his amusement apparent as Halle took a bit of Boston Crème Pie.
"Love them," she said once her mouth was clear. She noticed quite a few of the surrounding students giving her curious looks, but one look from Crabbe or Goyle (both of whose sheer size made them intimidating even to a seventh-year) cowed them back to their meals.
"Draco Malfoy, did you tell these two to scare off others asking about me?" she asked, smiling at the blonde, who had the grace to at least try to look sheepish.
"I figured you didn't want any questions about being the Girl-Who-Lived," he said. Halle rolled her eyes at the nickname.
"Is that what they call me? The Girl-Who-Lived who defeated You-Know-Who? You wizards do love hyphens."
Draco actual laughed at that, taking a spoonful of pudding. "Names used to be a powerful thing among wizards. I guess old habits die hard."
"That seems to be the motto around here," Halle said with a wink, and Draco shrugged.
"Isn't there a muggle saying? 'If it's not broken, don't fix it'?"
"I'm surprised you know it," Halle said, glancing back up toward the staff table, her eyes locking on Professor Snape, who was chatting with a man in a luridly purple turban. She was just pondering how odd it was to see a man wearing a turban in Scotland when it happened.
A prick of pain, like someone prodding at her scar with a knife, before it was gone. She clapped her hand to her forehead, but the sensation was already gone. Draco glanced at her curiously.
"Headache?" he asked, and Halle shook her head.
"A bug," she said. Draco smiled, though it turned into a small frown as he slid a finger under her headband and gave it a tug, letting it snap back to her forehead. "Heeey!"
"Pink does not go well with Slytherin colors," he said, and Halle stuck her tongue out at him.
"I like my headband," she said. "And it looks like I'll be needing it, all these people staring at my scar."
Draco glanced up at the staff table as well, looking back to her. "I bet Snape would charm it green for you. He seems to have a thing for you."
She felt herself blush, shaking her head. "Oh, don't be daft."
When dessert was gone as well, Dumbledore took the podium again.
"Now that everyone's had their fill, I have a few final words before we retire for the evening. First years should note that the forest on the edge of the grounds is absolutely forbidden to students. A few of our older students may try to keep this in mind as well.
"Our caretaker, Mr. Filch has taken great care to remind me that any and all use of magic in the corridors is against no less than forty-two separate rules.
"Quidditch tryouts will be held in the second week of term. Anyone wishing to play for their House teams should contact their house quidditch captain or Madame Hooch.
"And, lastly, this year, the third-floor corridor on the right-hand side is forbidden to anyone who does not wish to die a most painful death."
Halle blinked, wondering if she'd heard right. What sort of warning was that? Any trouble-maker in the school would see that as a challenge.
"Is he serious?" she asked Draco, who was again shaking his head in exasperation.
"I do believe he is," the blonde said. "Father says Dumbledore's always pulling crazy stunts like this."
"Maybe you should write him," Halle said as Dumbledore dismissed them. "Tell him Dumbledore's up to something."
"Might be a good idea," Draco said as the Slytherin Prefect, a rather petite blonde girl named Gemma Farley, led them deep into the castle's dungeons, offering a walking commentary of the school, the staircases (which liked to change where they led from day to day), navigating from classroom to classroom (some doors liked to pretend they led you to your classroom, only to lead to a broom cupboard), and Peeves, the castle poltergeist, who would simply love an opportunity to cause havoc for a firstie.
They finally reached what appeared to be nothing more than a blank section of the cellar wall. Gemma spoke.
A hairline crack appeared in the featureless wall, which swung inward, revealing it to be set of double doors very cleverly pretending to be a wall. Gemma gestured them in, and the group walked down a short corridor before emerging into a large square room packed with low-backed green armchairs and sofas. The whole room was dimly lit with glowing green lanterns, and two large windows showed a black expanse that might have been water.
She couldn't stop a strange leaping in her chest, a sense of satisfaction, of homecoming. As she looked about the room, she saw people that respected power and ambition, and she knew that she both in spades; all she had to do was show it to them.
Quick as the thought had formed, she banished it with a shake of her head, wondering what had prompted it in the first place.
Gemma led the girls to their dorm while the male prefect (whose name escaped Halle) led Draco, Crabbe, Goyle, and a few others to the boys' dormitories. She stepped in to find a sizable room packed with four posters for each of them. Halle found her trunk sitting at the foot of the only one with a window, though again, it only looked out into inky blackness.
"Okay, let's get something straight, Halle Potter," a voice said, and Halle turned to see a girl she remembered as Pansy Parkinson glaring at her. "I don't care if you're the Girl-Who-Lived, the savior of the world, or the Minister for Magic. I've got plans for my time here, and they involve you staying out of my way."
"Really?" Halle asked, unable to suppress a laugh. "The first night, and you're going alpha queen bitch?" She'd never cursed before, but damn it, if Draco could, she could, too!
Pansy's face pinked, but she held her ground, her little brown pug eyes narrowing. "I'll warn you once, Potter. Stay out of my way, and we'll get along fine."
Halle smirked, not the least bit intimidated. "I wouldn't want to get along with a self-entitled little tart like you."
In the background, two girls snickered, sharing a little grin, and Pansy turned red. She started to reach for her wand, but Halle had hers out first, aiming it at the girl's nose. She scoffed and grabbed some clothing, storming off to the showers.
"Not bad, Potter," another girl said, nodding at Halle. She was taller than Halle by a good few inches, with shoulder-length blonde hair and icy blue eyes. In a muggle school, she would be deemed an "ice queen" and have a following of no less than seven boys. "Daphne Greengrass."
"Pleasure," Halle said. "But it's Evans. Halle Evans."
"Fair enough," Daphne said, gesturing at a shorter girl nearby. She was plump, but not overweight, with curly brown locks to her mid back. "This is Tracey Davis."
"Charmed," the smaller girl commented before going back to changing into her pajamas.
"Millicent Bulstrode," another voice said, and they all turned to see a rather large girl with her hand stuck out to Halle, who automatically took it and gave it a shake. Millicent Bulstrode was nearly as large as Crabbe, and about a head taller. She had neck-length hair cut in a bob hairstyle that just wasn't right for her round face, but Halle wasn't about to tell her that.
"Um, nice to meet you, Millicent," she said.
"I'd watch my back, if I were you," Daphne cautioned Halle as they all changed into the pajamas. "Parkinson's not the only one who'll probably try to make a power-play like that. The Girl-Who-Lived getting put in Slytherin probably wrecked a lot of social standings out there."
"What do you mean?" Halle asked, sitting on her bed. Daphne moved to stand in front of her, hands on her hips.
"There are two types of Slytherins," she said, holding up to fingers to emphasize her point. "You have your alphas," she pointed to one finger, "who are either wealthy, influential, powerful, or all of the above, and attract followers looking for a taste of power. And you have your glory-seekers," she pointed to her other finger, "who are just looking for the most powerful alpha to latch onto to try to further their own interests. Although, I suppose there's a third type that just doesn't get involved and does their own thing." She shook her head. "But those first two types are what you should care about. You're the Girl-Who-Lived," Halle really wished people would stop calling her that, "which makes you powerful and influential already. You're the child of the most talented witch and wizard to go through Hogwarts in some time, and the Potter family is a respected old family, meaning you've got some real-world political pull to boot. If anyone's got a target on her back, it's you."
"How do people know these things about me when I don't?" Halle muttered to herself, shaking her head, and Daphne laughed.
"The point is, if you wanted to, you could pretty much run this house," she said. "If you want, I can help."
"Are you the 'type two'?" Halle asked, air-quotes and all. Daphne smirked.
"I'm just looking to have some fun while I'm here," she said.
This chapter started to drag toward the end, since there's not a lot of room for deviation right when they get to Hogwarts without derailing the story. Rest assured, now that Halle's settled into Slytherin, things will really start to stir up.
Reviews are always appreciated.