Chapter 4: Sakura and the Other Side of Sorting

It had taken a majority of the train ride, but the conversation Sakura was having with her friends plus one unexpected-and-not-entirely-welcome addition eventually turned to the topic of the school houses.

Luna seemed to be the most ambivalent, saying, "I don't care."

"Don't care? How can you not care?" Anthony asked in a shocked tone of voice.

"Well it doesn't really matter," Luna stated.

"Yes it does. It affects lots of things, like who you go to classes with and who your head of house is," Sakura started counting off on her fingers. It was true that prior to going to Hogwarts she had held a position similar to Luna's, in her case more from ignorance than thinking it didn't matter, but she had learned over the previous year how much one's house affected things in both obvious and subtle ways.

"Not to mention the reputation you get both in school and after you graduate," Gloria was quick to add from her chair in front of the door to the cabin. Subsequent to the explosion and the window repair Gloria had gone out and retrieved a chair from somewhere and brought it into their cabin to sit on. It gave everybody a bit more sitting space, and possibly violated some health and safety regulation.

"Does it?" Luna asked. She spoke the same unconcerned tone that Sakura had come to associate with the odd girl. It gave the impression that Luna either hadn't understood something, or simply didn't care. By Luna's own declaration, it was probably the latter. "Then they must be careful to make sure we get selected for the right house, so I still don't care."

"I don't know about you, but I sure care. I'm going to go to Ravenclaw," Syaoran declared. His emphatic conviction made for a strong contrast to Luna's ambivalence.

"What makes you so sure of that?" Anthony asked.

"Sakura's in Ravenclaw, so obviously I should go to the same place she is," Syaoran said. He almost managed to not slightly stutter.

Sakura smiled at Syaoran, who smiled back at her.

"Oh, I'm pretty sure it doesn't work that way. I thought for sure I'd be sorted into Slytherin because of my brother, but I ended up in Gryffindor," Gloria said, causing reality to come crashing back down on Sakura. Right. There was the hat, and the sorting ceremony, and all of that. Sakura had completely forgotten that there was a very real chance that Syaoran wouldn't end up in the same house as her.

"Yeah. There's this big test. They got this lion, badger, snake, and raven, and you got to catch one of them with your bare hands. Whichever one you catch first they put you in that house," Anthony said. "You should go after the raven. It's the safest one to handle but you need to use your head in order to trap it, which is why we got the reputation for being the smart ones in Ravenclaw."

Luna nodded in understanding at the explanation of how the sorting worked.

"Come off it. I already know all about the sorting ceremony. We're just supposed to put on this dusty hat and it tells us where to go," Syaoran said.

"But don't forget what I told you about how it feels, too. It felt all icky and weird... like... like... something bad or something," Sakura quickly added. She didn't really have the words to describe how violated she had felt by the experience, let alone the words to describe it in English. "At least it's over fast."

"Icky?" Gloria and Anthony both asked in confusion. Both turned to look at Sakura.

Anthony quickly recovered, saying, "Right, icky. It's terrible. I can't even begin to describe how awful it felt. I felt like I was going to be sick right then and there. Can you imagine how embarrassing that'd be, to start classes by being sick in front of the whole school?"

Keroberos gave Anthony a knock on the head, interrupting his rant. He then accused him, "You're just making all that up. It's nothing like that."

"Like you know anything about the sorting. You weren't even there," Syaoran came to the defense of his fellow human, and not coincidentally picking a fight with Keroberos. It wasn't the first time Syaoran had done so on the train, not counting the times Keroberos had returned the favor and picked a fight with him.

It was the way that Keroberos and Syaoran preferred to interact with each other. Sakura didn't pretend to understand how those two boys treated each other, but they both seemed to enjoy their skirmishes over nothing in particular so Sakura just let them go at it. It wasn't like there was any particular malice in their voices, after all.

"I didn't have to be there. Can't you tell this kid is lying? First that capturing garbage and now this nonsense. It's written all over his face," Keroberos said.

"Yeah, right. What do you know about that?" Syaoran accused Keroberos with his normal facade of hostility.

"Oh, by the way," Gloria interrupted the timing the two before they could really get going, "I've been meaning to ask you. You do know that Keroberos transforms into this giant lion, right? Should you really be arguing with him that much?"

"I know," Syaoran said dismissively. "It doesn't matter. He's still a twit."

"And you're still a brat," Keroberos said his usual response.

"You mean that small thing? He can change into a lion?" Luna asked without any of the trepidation of a believer or the cynicism of a disbeliever in her voice.

"I have a name you know," Keroberos protested.

"That's right. He can turn into this big, flying, fire-breathing lion," Gloria confirmed.

"I see. Wow," Luna said. Her non-committal tone of voice was bereft of the wonder normally expected for somebody suitably impressed.

Anthony, on the other hand, had a more typical mix of hope and fear in his voice as he asked, "You're kidding. Aren't you?"

Sakura, Syaoran, and Gloria all shook their heads.

"I see. Right then," Anthony said. A new tone of respect could be heard in his voice. Or maybe it was just plain fear.

Gloria quickly changed the subject, saying, "Even if you don't end up in Ravenclaw with Sakura, it's not the end of the world. I was a bit torn up about not getting into Slytherin, but it turned out to be for the best. I'd hate to be in the same class as that git, Draco, with his merry band of dunderheads; and I got to be in the same class as the famous Harry Potter."

Sakura didn't remember Gloria being especially torn up when the Sorting Hat had placed her in Gryffindor, but who was she to contradict her friend? Instead, she added, "And we can still spend time together, even if you don't end up in the same house as me."

"Just not in classes or after curfew," Anthony said. "Then again, even if you do get into Ravenclaw, you'd still be in a different year than Sakura and will have all different classes, so not much luck there either."

"But I can still help you study for your homework. I already took all of your classes last year," Sakura said, trying to find a silver lining to that particular cloud. It did little good. When the first announcement that they would soon be arriving at Hogwarts came shortly thereafter, Sakura was still under the depression that Anthony had caused with his reminder of basic facts that she had already known but didn't want to acknowledge.

Along with Gloria and Luna, Sakura changed into the school skirt and robe she would wear for the majority of her time in the United Kingdom. Syaoran and Anthony had stepped out to give them some privacy and to ensure sure no traffic went through the corridor. Keroberos had stepped out as well because, although Sakura had long grown accustomed to his presence in her bedroom years ago, Gloria wasn't quite comfortable with him watching her change.

It felt just as strange as the last time she had changed in front of the large windows of the train cabin. Strange, but safe, as far as Sakura could tell. Nobody was in sight outside the windows in the countryside, and none of the boys in the hallway had peeped on any of the three girls as far as she could see from her frequent checks on them.

The girls then stepped out of the room and gave Syaoran and Anthony some privacy to change into their uniforms as well. No corridor traffic passed by then either.

Upon re-entering the room, Sakura thought that Syaoran cut a particularly dashing figure in his dark robes and pants. The only real difference between his uniform and Anthony's was the lack of the Ravenclaw house emblem and tie, but Sakura still thought that Syaoran just looked better.

The act of changing into the school uniforms changed the entire atmosphere of the room. It was no longer just a simple, albeit long, train ride through the countryside with some friends. The uniforms had brought with them a much more somber tone. The room was now the antechamber in preparation for classes to start. Anxiety, tension, and restlessness permeated the air. The children were satisfied to spend the last few minutes of the journey staring out at the dark, star-filled sky in silence.

"We'll be reaching Hogwarts in five minutes. Please leave your luggage on the train, it will be taken to the school separately," a voice echoed throughout the train, interrupting the almost meditative trance Sakura had fallen into as she stared out of the window.

"We're seriously supposed to leave our stuff here?" Syaoran asked.

"Yes. They brought them up to our dorm rooms last year after we were sorted," Sakura said.

"This time I'm going with you too," Keroberos asserted. He flew into a familiar pocket of Sakura's robe.

"Kero-chan. You're not even allowed to go to the Great Hall during meal times. I'm pretty sure you're not supposed to be there for the sorting ceremony," Sakura said.

"I don't care. I'm not hanging around here with Siufui all on my own," Keroberos answered. He pointed accusingly at Syaoran's owl. Almost on cue, the owl pecked loudly on one of the bars of her cage towards Keroberos.

"Relax. It's not like anything's ever happened when we brought Keroberos there before," Gloria said, taking her usual role of enabler of mischief.

"They'll be lots to eat there, too, and I'm hungry," Keroberos added.

"You're always hungry," Syaoran said.

Keroberos didn't dignify Syaoran's statement with a response, besides the raspberry he blew in the boy's direction.

"Okay. I guess it'll be fine," Sakura agreed. She didn't really mind that much. It just meant that she and Keroberos would need to be careful to not cause a scene. Given the feast that was typically put out during celebrations, it would take a fair bit of self-control on Keroberos's part, but she was sure that he would be up to the challenge.

Mostly sure he would be up for the challenge.

The train slowly drew to a stop in the same station it had stopped at in 1991, and most likely had stopped at for the past hundred years. Once again the platform started filling with the hustle and bustle of people trying to get their first breath of genuinely fresh air after spending hours in the stale confines of the Hogwarts Express.

"Well, what are we waiting for? Let's go," Syaoran said, urging the rest of the passengers to hurry up.

Maybe it was due to the crowded nature of having a fifth person in the room, but nobody seemed inclined to wait that extra bit for the corridors to clear. They instead forced their way into the crowd, pushing outward into the cool evening air.

"Oh, what a gorgeous night. I wish we could go on that boat ride again," Gloria remarked, half to herself and half to the group.

The waxing crescent moon provided little in the way of illumination, but it did provide a great deal of atmosphere in the station. The still air made everything seem silent and surreal, surrounded as they were by the countless stars all around them. There were more stars than could be imagined from the perpetually-lit city of Tokyo. Sakura was sure it would be even more picturesque floating on the glassy water of the lake, surrounded by an ocean of reflected pinpricks of light. It was no wonder that the first-year students always took that scenic route towards the castle. It was a wonderful way to start an academic career.

Sakura took a quick look around to see if she could spot Lisa, but it proved to be a futile effort. There were just too many people to see more than the couple dozen children in her immediate vicinity. Even if she had been able to see through the mass of humanity surrounding her, the chances of spotting her friend in the throng of students surrounding the platform was slim.

"Firs' years! Firs' years! Over here! Firs' years!" Hagrid's burly voice called out. It cut through the deadened air and completely changing the tenor of the atmosphere. He was easy to spot in the crowd; both his height as well as the lantern he carried high above ensured he was unmissable.

"I guess that's us then," Syaoran said.

"See you when you get there, Syaoran-kun," Sakura said.

As Sakura's eyes tracked her boyfriend's departure with Luna, she had to fight down the briefest touch of envy for the odd girl who had entered her cabin earlier in the day. Luna got to go to the school with Syaoran while Sakura herself had to go a different way. Sakura knew she would see Syaoran again within the hour, but that didn't help with the stab of emotion she felt.

Syaoran and Luna briefly passed by the Weasley twins, who were flanking a little girl. The twins were pointing at Hagrid while undoubtedly making up some suitably humorous lie. Then the crowd shifted, and they were all lost to Sakura's sight.

"Come on. Let's go," Gloria said, directing Sakura and Anthony in the direction of the less romantic carriages which would take them to the ceremony.

The carriages were lined up in almost the exact opposite direction that Hagrid was leading Syaoran and the rest of the first-year students towards. There was a huge procession of vehicles with enough space to carry all of the non-first-year students.

It quickly became apparent why there had been such a hurry to crowd out of the train. Much like the cabins in the Hogwarts Express, the carriages were quickly filling up. For the slightly slower students, that translated into a long walk to the back of the procession to find an empty carriage. For the final stragglers, it could also very well mean that friends would need to separate for the ride to the castle.

Sakura had overcome her innate fear of ghosts the previous year, but that didn't stop her from finding the strange winged horses in front of each of the carriages a bit scary. While they looked vaguely like ghosts, they were substantially more solid. It added extra weight to their existence, and that existence was an inherently spooky one at that with their gaunt bodies and large leathery wings. The dim light of the moon only made their large dark and leathery figures seem that much more foreboding. They were scary in the same sense that a pit full of snakes was scary. Sakura didn't honestly think that she was in any danger from them, but likewise not being able to fall into the pit didn't make the snakes inside any less fear-inducing.

"Why can't they just use ordinary horses for these carriages?" Sakura asked, strategically placing herself furthest from the ghostly horses as they walked down the line of vehicles.

"I imagine it'd be expensive to feed them all. Hogwarts has got to have a bigger budget than we do, but feeding horses gets expensive after a while. If you'd only use them a couple of time a year, I doubt it'd be worth it," Anthony said as the three of them walked past full-carriage after full-carriage.

"But those things," Sakura said, pointing at the creatures she didn't know the name of, "have to eat stuff too. It can't be any cheaper to use them instead of regular horses."

"What things?" Anthony asked.

"Those things. Those weird winged horse things," Sakura said, pointing at one of the mounts in front of a passing carriage.

"Oh no. Don't tell me that she's contagious," Gloria said. "I'm warning you, if you start talking about kruffles or jumping hexapoads or anything like that I'm leaving right now."

"Hoe?" Sakura asked, confused by her two friends' reactions. She didn't push it.

"Finally, an empty one," Anthony remarked as they started getting close to the end of the line. He let Gloria climb in first, followed by Sakura, before he entering the carriage himself.

"Hey, Gloria, mind if I join you?" a boy asked from the side of the carriage shortly after the three of them had settled. He wore the Gryffindor red and gold tie and house emblem on his robe. Both were easily visible in the dim light of the lantern hanging off the side of the vehicle.

Gloria looked in askance towards Sakura and Anthony. Sakura shrugged back. She would have loved it if Lisa could have joined them, but if she was with Wayne it was doubtful they would have enough space to fit all five of them.

Anthony shrugged back as well.

"Sure. Get in, Jack," Gloria said. She moved a bit over, which gave room for Sakura and Anthony to move in as well.

"Great, thanks," Jack said. He climbed in, turning the excessively spacious bench for three into a comfortable bench for four. "I'm Jack Sloper. Nice to meet you."

"I'm Anthony Goldstein," Anthony introduced himself with a wave.

"Sakura Kinomoto. It's a pleasure to meet you," Sakura introduced herself as well.

"So, Gloria, still thinking of trying out for the Quidditch team?" Jack asked.

"Of course," Gloria said as if it were the most obvious thing in the world. Given it was Gloria, it might have been. "You?"

"Of course," Jack responded, echoing Gloria's tone. "What position are you hoping for?"

"Not sure. Maybe a Chaser. How about you?" Gloria asked back.

"A Beater if I can get it," Jack answered back.

"Oh, good luck with that. Fred and George got those positions pretty well cornered," Gloria said.

As Gloria and Jack continued talking about Quidditch, Sakura leaned back and thought about the incredibly poor way the four of them were positioned. Sakura didn't especially care about Quidditch, and from past experience she knew Anthony didn't especially care about it either. However, there they were, trapped between the other two who were waxing poetic about their plans and hopes for the upcoming Quidditch season.

Neither of the Ravenclaw students bothered chiming in with even cursory phrases to act like they were part of the conversation. Sakura doubted that either Gloria or Jack noticed, given how caught up they were in talking about players and plays. She just leaned her head back and tuned out the excited dialogue as the carriages started moving.

The vehicles proceeded along some dirt roads. They creaked, squeaked, and bumped up and down like it was the 1800s or earlier. It was atmospheric, to be sure, but it was also hard to really get comfortable. Sakura had to sit up to prevent knocking her head against the backrest every time the carriage gave a strong jostle.

Outside the window, a signpost directing the way both towards Hogwarts and towards a place called Hogsmead passed by. They went in the direction of Hogwarts.

In the distance, Sakura could see the fantastic castle where classes were held. It was from an angle she had never seen it before. She could still recognize various landmarks, such as the notably tall spires of Ravenclaw Tower, but it was an academic knowledge of the buildings which triggered none of the sense of familiarity she was accustom to having in the school itself. The view was much less impressive than the one she had seen during the approach by foot she had taken the previous year. The framing of the scene by the carriage window, which prevented her from seeing the entire majesty of the complex all at once, somehow cast the numerous stone facings and glowing windows in a much more mundane light. The distant moon in the background and the shadowed embankment in front of the stony facades of the building fought to counter this by adding a touch of atmosphere. However even they were not able to compete with that awesome sight when the first-years turned that corner on that dirt path and the castle presented itself in all its glory to the tired students.

"What do you make of the train stopping on the way here? Do you know anything about it?" Jack asked. It cut through the fog of Sakura's distraction and demanded her attention.

Sakura unconsciously held her breath.

"No," Gloria casually lied through her teeth. As Sakura understood it, Gloria had had a fair bit of practice with that in the past. "Do you know anything about it?"

"Well, I heard," Jack said, saying the common preface for much of the gossip which was one of the de facto currencies of the school, "that there were these students who were showing off and one of them messed up a charm and broke the train."

Sakura might have been surprised by how fast the news had spread, but she had spent the previous year at Hogwarts and thus was well familiar how quickly news spread in that cloistered environment. That the entire student body was present on the train just made the process that much faster.

"Oh, really?" Gloria asked, surprise and interest in her voice. If Sakura didn't know better she would have honestly thought that Gloria was hearing this for the first time. "Did you hear anything about that, Sakura?"

"No," Sakura said, trying to act as casually as Gloria did. She felt clumsy with the lie, but the way the dim light of the carriage masked her face and the fact Jack had only just met her made her think she could get away with it. "How about you, Anthony? Did you?"

"No," Anthony said, even less convincingly than Sakura.

"I don't know how true it is, but right before the train stopped I heard this big boom. And then all these professors went running to the back of the train. One of the engineers went chasing right after them," Jack said.

"I see," Sakura said, hoping that the subject would somehow get changed away from the debacles that she and Syaoran had gotten into.

Conveniently the caravan had arrived at Hogwarts by this point, so Sakura wouldn't need to endure the worries of this particular conversation topic any longer. The carriage that Sakura rode drew to a stop and she quickly followed Jack out of the vehicle, enjoying the freedom and relief much more than when she had escaped the Hogwarts Express earlier in the evening.

The four of them made their way into the Great Hall, joining the large collection of students on the same path. The majority of them had already taken their seats when Sakura, Gloria, Anthony, and Jack entered the large room which had been enchanted such that the ceiling showed the starry sky above, as if the ceiling was invisible.

At this point the two Ravenclaw students and the two Gryffindor students bid farewell to each other and split up to go to their respective tables. The start-of-term banquet, much like all of the special events, was always treated much more formally than ordinary meals where students could sit wherever they liked. By unspoken understanding all of the students sat in their respective houses.

Sakura and Anthony walked down the aisle in the middle of the room. Sakura kept her eyes peeled, searching through all of the students wearing Ravenclaw's colors for one face in particular. She didn't have to look far.

"Sakura. Anthony," Lisa called out, catching their attention. "There you are. I was starting to worry that I had missed you."

Lisa had saved two seats next to her which Sakura and Anthony were only too happy to take. They took their places on the long benches as the final stragglers entered the hallway.

"Did you hear about the train accident? I heard the reason we had stopped was because some students broke the train," Lisa said.

"Hoe," Sakura complained to herself.

It wasn't just Jack and Lisa, either. The fragments of conversation Sakura could overhear surrounding her all seemed to pertain to her and Syaoran's escapade on the train. While it wasn't as bad as starting her entire life in Hogwarts as "the girl who blew out a window of the Hogwarts Express," starting her second-year that way wasn't much more appealing.

"Yeah, we know about it," Anthony said, shaking his head. "That bloody show-off."

Lisa looked back and forth between her two friends on either side of her. Her eyes widened and she asked in a quiet voice, "You are joking, right? You mean you were involved with that?"

As Lisa spoke, something ineffable around the room changed.

Sakura tightened her face but didn't respond. Anthony didn't say anything either. The lack of response was all Lisa needed.

"Why am I not surprised? It does seem like you are involved with all of the rumors around here, Sakura," Lisa said.

There was definitely something different about the room. The Gryffindor table was certainly talking louder now.

"That's not true. I almost never am. What about that big argument between Nearly Headless Nick and the Bloody Baron? Or that weird break-in in the Slytherin common room? And don't forget Professor Quirrel, either." Sakura said, naming some of the more prominent rumors which had circulated Ravenclaw the previous year.

"Very well. You may be correct," Lisa conceded, "but you do seem to get into more trouble than most of the people here."

The commotion not only spread from the Gryffindor table to the Slytherin table, it also jumped across the large space in the center of the Great Hall to reach the Ravenclaw table. Sakura listened in a bit. She realized with a shock, and no insignificant amount relief, that the impossible had happened. Something had knocked news and speculation about the mysterious explosion and train stoppage off the top of the gossip list. Something even bigger than the breaking of the Hogwarts Express.

Harry Potter was missing.

Even now it seemed to be spreading to the Hufflepuff table as well. Many of the students were turning to get a better look at the Gryffindor table, searching for confirmation as if they could actually see anything among the dozens upon dozens of faces there of which half were facing away anyway. Still it was a natural reflex and Sakura found herself doing the same thing, trying to spot the famous boy despite only having a passing familiarity with what he looked like.

What was going on? Was it some prank? Had something happened to The Boy Who Lived? Had anybody seen him on the Hogwarts Express? When was the last time anybody had actually seen him? Were they sure?

It seemed like this interest wasn't purely limited to the students, either. At the front of the room sat Professor Dumbledore and the various school teachers. Most of them were scanning up and down the Gryffindor table as well, some more surreptitiously than others.

Professor Dumbledore leaned over to Professor Snape and said something impossible to make out through the din of excited conversation. Professor Snape glowered in response, a facial expression not foreign to his face and unmistakable to everybody in the room. The greasy Potions professor rose to his feet and stalked to one of the doors.

Much like a stove being turned up, this action quickly and noticeably increased the tension in the Great Hall. It brought with it a commensurate increase in noise as well. That confirmed it. Harry must be missing. What were the professors going to do now? Why had Professor Dumbledore sent Professor Snape away, seeing how he was possibly the only professor who actually hated Harry? What would Professor Snape do if he actually found The Boy Who Lived?

This bubbling mass of emotion and tension broke just after the door behind the departing Professor Snape closed. There was a loud series of screams and thumps from the side of the room. Sakura, along with everybody else present, quickly turned to stare at the source.

Somehow the benches surrounding the Slytherin table had all vanished. This left all of the Slytherin students on the ground in varying degrees of discomfort and embarrassed exposure, depending on how they had fallen. If the timing hadn't been planned that way, it was the most incredible coincidence.

Once the source of the panic was identified naturally everybody turned to look at Fred and George, who sat in perfectly calm oblivion. They showed the fake picture of perfect innocence which only the truly unrepentant trying to maintain plausible dependability while at the same time claiming credit can show. They were fooling nobody, which was probably their goal.

The cause of the prank now identified, the Gryffindor table wasted no time. Almost as one they turned and laughed at the misfortunes of the Slytherin house as the Slytherin students themselves tried to pick themselves up off the ground. The most notable exception to this jeering were the Weasley twins, although a couple of other Gryffindors stayed silent too.

The laughing quickly spread to the other tables as well. The Ravenclaw table and the Hufflepuff table joined in, the students around the latter having to exceptionally strain to see across the room to the rows upon rows of fallen Slytherins. The other two houses lacked the same esprit de corps in their reaction that the Gryffindor students had, but there were enough people pointing and laughing that it was more the rule than the exception.

The professors had a much different reaction. Professor Sprout had a mixture of shock and annoyance on her face, while Professor Flitwick only had annoyance. Professor Dumbledore, for his part, appeared as unflappable as ever. The most prominent and notable reaction from the head table was Professor Lockhart. His laughter was incongruousness with the other professors. It made him stand out even more than his bright purple robes already did.

"Very good, very good. It's nice to see some things never change. It reminds me of back when I was a student. I'm going to have to ask you to stop now, Ravenclaws. I'm a professor now so I can't play favorites, even if I used to be in your house too," Professor Lockhart said loudly, flashing his well polished and brilliant smile at their table. "You... uhh... Penny. Be a dear and bring their seats back. Pranking is well and good, but you need to know when to stop."

Confusion reigned while everybody tried to figure out what Professor Lockhart was talking about. He was staring straight at Penelope, the Ravenclaw prefect. It seemed like he was blaming the Ravenclaw house for this latest exploit of the Weasley twins.

Once this became clear, the ruckus from moments earlier redoubled with the Gryffindor students adding in jeers and taunts at the supposedly troublemaker Ravenclaws and one red-faced Penelope. The Hufflepuff table looked thunderstruck, whereas the majority of the Slytherin students just focused on regaining their footing. Those Slytherin students who had already managed to get to their feet shouted insults at the Gryffindor table, and their jeers were slowly being joined in by several Ravenclaw students. Sakura was tempted to join in the retaliation against the unfair accusations from the Gryffindor table.

This came to a head when Professor Flitwick took to his feet on his chair and said in a voice louder than all of the jeering combined, "That's enough." With the volume he spoke, it might have even been magically enhanced.

It was like somebody had thrown a bucket of ice over everybody. The shouting and jeering immediately stopped.

"This is not the way to greet new students into these hallowed halls," Professor Flitwick said. He waived his wand and benches reappeared on both sides of the Slytherin table. "Please, take your seats."

There was some loud muttering from the Slytherins, and one of them called out, "What? Aren't you going to punish them?"

"Punish who, Mister Derrick?" Professor Flitwick asked.

"Them. Fred and George," the older Slytherin student said, pointing at the Weasley twins.

"Do you have proof they did it?" Professor Flitwick asked.

"You know they did," the boy countered.

"I take it that is a 'no.' I'd love to punish the culprits who did this, but without proof there's nothing I can do," Professor Flitwick said, staring intensely. It was obvious to Sakura that Professor Flitwick did know who did it and sincerely would like to punish them, but that he wouldn't act without concrete evidence.

Fred and George pointedly ignored him.

The Slytherin boy who had called out took a seat, muttering how unfair it was. He muttered loud enough that the whole room could hear, but Professor Flitwick and the others let him get away with it.

After the confrontation was over, the entire atmosphere of the room changed again. All of the professors kept an eagle-eyed watch over the students, especially on two particular students sitting at the Gryffindor table. Under their watchful gaze the fever-pitch speculation of Harry's absence had quieted considerably, replaced instead with quiet whispering between people who wanted to speak without drawing undue attention to themselves.

Anthony leaned towards Lisa and Sakura and asked, "Quite the coincidence of timing. You think Harry was in on that prank?"

"It could be, except I have not seen him at all for the entire trip. How would they have coordinated it?" Lisa asked.

"Who knows?" Sakura answered, leaning in as well.

In contrast to the exciting trip as a first-year, time passed by slowly in the Great Hall. It passed by even slower after the excitement of the prank against Slytherin at the start of the waiting. The frown of intense watchfulness the various professors wore just made the situation that much more tense and made Sakura that much more acutely aware of each second ticking by. It was not just boring; it was a nervous boredom, like there was a storm about to break.

Eventually the doors pulled open. They revealed the figure of Professor McGonagall followed by the flock of children comprising the first-year students of 1992.

The entire experience was almost a complete mirror image of her own first-year sorting. A sedate carriage ride instead of the amazing revelation of Hogwarts Castle. A friendly camaraderie with people she knew well instead of getting to know a couple of otherwise strangers she happened to have met on a train. Wary boredom instead of a bout of nerves for the upcoming event. In retrospect, Sakura definitely preferred her experience from the other side of the sorting ceremony.

Everybody turned to stare at Professor McGonagall as she lead the children to the front of the room and to the stool where she would eventually place the Sorting Hat. There was literally nothing better to do. Several of the incoming children were gawking at the candles floating in the air and the apparent lack of a ceiling above. Most likely muggle-born children. Even Sakura took that magic for granted now, despite how impressed she had been when she had first seen it.

Sakura quickly spotted Syaoran. He didn't stand out exceptionally, being about the same height as the younger students despite being some two or three years older than them. Still, with the strength of his magic shining through, it was easy for Sakura to feel which area to look in. From there it was a simple matter to pick out her boyfriend from the crowd. He was still walking next to Luna.

Once everybody had gathered in a cluster at the front of the room, Professor McGonagall pulled out the dingy, pointed Sorting Hat and placed it on the stool. It sat there in quiescence for several seconds before the mouth of the hat near its brim cracked open and it began to sing.

"We welcome students one and all

from London to Dundee,

From Dublin and from places known

to points across the sea.

"Dear Hogwarts greets you and your kind

wherever you are from.

Your only precondition is

to learn and want some fun.

"Hogwarts was started years ago

by four founders renown,

each brought with them unique talents

and tools to teach around.

"For Gryffindor the greatest trait

is bravery all times,

to stand firm in the darkest hour

knowing all will turn out fine.

"Wise Ravenclaw thought you should place

wit highest of all things;

important for the humble man,

essential for great kings.

"For Slytherin, strength, cunning, and

blood purity were best,

and with them all a wizard would

stand out above the rest.

"And finally for Hufflepuff

was loyalty most dear.

With friendship and with true allies

there's nothing you should fear.

"With all these virtues featured here

you may want to know

to which of these fine houses you'd

be best suited to go.

"To this I tell you, 'worry not,'

they made this hat you see.

Just put me on and I'll tell you

the place where you should be."

It was a tribute to how much Sakura's English had improved that she actually understood what the hat was singing this year, even if she didn't fully appreciate it. That didn't stop her from politely joining in the more enthusiastic applause from the collective student body.

The hat then fell silent and returned to its previous state of quiescence, awaiting its first student.

Professor McGonagall stepped forward, now holding a scroll in front of her. She announced for the benefit of the young students, "When I call your name, take a seat on the stool and place the hat upon your head to be sorted. Alden, Andrea!"

A young girl who Sakura could actually see shaking from nervousness made her way forward to the hat. Sakura could sympathize, remembering her own nerves during her sorting. It had been stressful for her, and she had even known what to expect when her turn had come up. To be the first person would be just that much worse.

Andrea sat on the stool and gingerly placed the hat on her head. After a couple of seconds it dutifully announced, "HUFFLEPUFF!"

There was some light cheering from the Hufflepuff table as Andrea took the hat off her head. Her uniform was already forming the yellow and black tie and badger house crest signifying the Hufflepuff house. She dazedly took to her feet and made her way over to the their table.

Professor McGonagall gave no pause, automatically announcing, "Brown, Eric!"

The announced boy confidently made his way up to the just vacated stool to take his turn. Despite this Eric wasn't actually the focus of attention in the room. Behind him one of the first-year girls had pulled out a newspaper and was unfolding it. Her straggly blonde hair was unmistakable, if the action of reading a newspaper in the middle of the sorting ceremony hadn't been enough of a clue.

It was Luna.

"What does she think she is doing? Does she have no manners or common sense?" Lisa asked. At a whisper, of course.

Anthony let out of groan of exasperation and whispered back, "No. I think she actually doesn't. You didn't sit with her for half the trip here."

"You know her?" Lisa asked. In the background there was some a smattering of claps as Eric was sorted, although Sakura wasn't even paying attention.

"We met her on the ride here. Her name is Luna, and she's a bit..." Sakura hesitated, trying to find the most appropriate adjective to use, "...odd."

"'Odd' is not the word to use. My aunt Gretchen is 'odd.' Luna's outright crazy. She should be attending St. Mungo, not Hogwarts. I really hope she gets sorted into another house," Anthony said.

"I see," Lisa said, and returned to staring at the girl.

The sorting continued apace. Nobody actually tried to stop Luna from reading her newspaper. It was probably upside down again, although it was too far away for Sakura to be sure. One thing that was certain was that Luna was the center of attention in the room, rather than the hat or the students being sorted one at a time. Most of the student body and many of the professors were openly staring at her.

After what seemed like far too long, Professor McGonagall eventually announced, "Li, Syaoran!"

That caught Sakura's attention. She watched as Syaoran approached the stool with determination, picked up the hat, hesitated only for a moment, and then pulled it over his head.

A second ticked by. Sakura held her breath.

A second ticked by. The already glacial slowness of time seemed to freeze.

A second ticked by. Syaoran fidgeted in his seat.

A second ticked by. Had all of the sortings taken this long?

A second ticked by. Sakura chanced a quick glance around the room, but nobody else seemed to think anything was amiss.

A second ticked by. What was taking so long?

A second ticked by. The hat opened its mouth.


Sakura expelled her breath, disappointment crushing her hopes. Syaoran looked less than pleased as well, his face reflecting Sakura's own feelings as the emblems of Slytherin formed on his uniform. By far he was the most disappointed person so far with his sorting. He gave a defeated look towards Sakura, and then slowly trudged his way over to the lightly cheering Slytherin table.

"Lovegood, Luna!" Professor McGonagall announced, ignoring the drama which had just unfolded before her.

Luna didn't respond.

"I said, 'Lovegood, Luna!'" Professor McGonagall announced again, slightly louder and definitely more annoyed. This caused a titter of laughter across the various tables.

This time Luna did start moving forward, folding her newspaper under her arm and drifting her way towards the stool in front. When she got within an arm's reach of the hat she stopped and then loudly protested, "You want me to put that on? It looks like the perfect breeding ground for wrackspurts."

"I assure you the Sorting Hat is perfectly sanitary. Please put it on, Ms. Lovegood," Professor McGonagall said, frustration barely leaking out in her tightly controlled voice.

Luna didn't say anything more, but picked up the hat by its tip and then used her folded newspaper to beat it a couple of times.

Sakura could almost see the thoughts floating around everybody's head, echoing Anthony's earlier statement. She genuinely thought this might be the first time that every house hoped that the new student would be sorted into somebody else's house.

Luna then sat down on the table and gingerly, carefully, placed the hat on her head just so.

Time ticked by.

More time ticked by.

Even more time ticked by.

Sakura was sure that this was the longest sorting that she had ever experienced. It felt even longer that Syaoran's sorting, and given how nervous she had been for Syaoran's sorting that meant something.

Still even more time ticked by.

Yet still even more time ticked by.

"RAVENCLAW!" the hat eventually announced. It could have been her imagination, but Sakura swore she could hear a question mark coloring that declaration.

Nobody in Ravenclaw seemed too happy as Luna's tie took on the colors of her house. This might be the first time that other houses clapped and cheered more than the receiving house did upon getting a new member. There were a tint of laughter as well, but it wasn't loud enough to single out any specific person.

Luna didn't seem to notice as she took the Sorting Hat off her head. She proceeded to hit herself on the head a couple of times with her newspaper before making her way over to the Ravenclaw table.

"Great... So we get the crazy witch," Anthony said. "Do you think we can trade?"

Before Sakura could respond she noticed that Luna wasn't just walking towards the Ravenclaw table; she seemed to be walking directly at her. This appearance quickly proved to be reality as Luna came to a stop just between Sakura and Lisa. She then stepped over the bench and forced herself in between the two girls. The motion was awkward because not only was there not enough space for her, there wasn't even a place setting there. This had the effect of pushing Sakura into her neighbor, who pushed into his neighbor, who pushed into his neighbor, and so on down the line until an open place setting was found.

Lots of dirty glares were directed to the newly sorted Ravenclaw girl, who seemed oblivious to them all. Instead Luna turned to Lisa and hit her on the head with her newspaper.

"What was that for?" Lisa protested.

"I'm sorry. It seems I was too slow," Luna said. She then unfolded her newspaper and started reading it again. Upside down.

Lisa stared at the young girl in shock and confusion, clearly at a loss for what to say in response.

"I told you so," Anthony said to Lisa, barely masking his voice.

Sakura probably wouldn't have cared half as much if Luna had been reading her newspaper normally, but that it was upside down just intrigued her. She couldn't help but look over Luna's shoulder, trying to discover what had caught the odd girl's attention so much that she continued to read it while the sorting ceremony was still ongoing.

"Sǝlɟ-dɹoɔlɐıɯǝp ɐuʇı-slɐʌǝɹʎ ɐɔʇıʌısʇs ɥɐʌǝ ɔlɐıɯǝp ɔɹǝpıʇ ɟoɹ ʇɥǝ ǝsɔɐdǝ oɟ ʇɥonsɐups oɟ ɯɐupɹɐʞǝ dlɐuʇs ıu ʍɥɐ..."

Sakura's efforts were put to a halt when Luna turned the page. Rather than start over again with a new paragraph, which would most likely be interrupted again given how slowly Sakura was forced to read, she instead turned her attention back to the sorting taking place in the front of the room. She might not care very much about any of the remaining new students, but it was more interesting that reading out upside down letters one at a time.

The sorting continued for another couple of students before she noticed something. Sakura turned to her neighbor, the one who wasn't reading a newspaper, and asked the older boy she didn't really know, "Is it just me or does it seem like everybody doesn't care as much about this sorting as last year?"

The boy next to her answered, "It's to be expected, isn't it? Harry Potter's not being sorted this year. Last year was special because everybody wanted to know where he'd go, but usually the sorting feels like more of a formality than anything. I know I'd skip it if I could."

"That's kind of sad," Sakura said.

"Maybe, but what can you do? If it's not your year then it's not like it'll affect you all that much. Even if it did it's not like we know anything about the firsties yet, except for, you know..." the boy said, gesturing with his head at Sakura's other neighbor

Sakura nodded in understanding. If it hadn't been for Syaoran's being sorted, and in an odd way Luna's being sorted as well, she probably wouldn't have noticed any of the sortings this year at all. In fact, besides those two, she honestly couldn't remember where anybody else had been placed despite it having happened only minutes ago. It was kind of boring.

"You should have brought something to read too," Luna casually remarked to Sakura, catching her by surprise. "Do you want to part of my paper? I've already finished half of it."

"No, thank you," Sakura said. She didn't think she had it in herself to be so rude as to read a newspaper during the ceremony.

The only remaining sorting Sakura took notice of was when one "Weasley, Ginevra" got sorted into Gryffindor, and that had as much to do with her being the last student as it did with the recognized and infamous Weasley name.

Her task done, Professor McGonagall rolled up the scroll and picked up the Sorting Hat. Professor Dumbledore then got to his feet, bringing the room to silence.

"Welcome everybody!" he announced. "Welcome to another new year at Hogwarts. I hope your heads have had a chance to empty out over the summer so we can fill them up with brand new things. I have nothing to say before we begin the banquet, so I hope you'll indulge me. Thank you!"

Professor Dumbledore then sat down. All of the plates in the hall were now covered with food.

Long accustomed to the magical appearance of dishes during special events, Sakura wasn't put off and quickly joined in with everybody else and helped herself. The dinner passed by quickly, as tasty and heavy as she remembered from her past meals at Hogwarts. Everybody seemed to be in good spirits. The mystery of the missing Harry Potter wasn't forgotten as such, but people were more than happy to push it to the side in favor of the delicious feast. Sakura spent her time in equal parts feeding herself, sneaking food to Keroberos, and exchanging longing glances with Syaoran across the room. He exchanged them back just as longingly.

Early in the meal, Sakura noticed Professor McGonagall lean over and whisper something to Professor Dumbledore in the front of the room while pointing to the Gryffindor table. He said something back, but whatever it was it didn't seem to make her very happy. Professor McGonagall subsequently stood up and proceeded to walk out of the room. This might have been predictable given the still missing Harry Potter.

As expected, in the middle of the meal, as Sakura happened to be sneaking Keroberos a large sausage, the various ghosts appeared. Nearly Headless Nick flew down the Gryffindor table, meeting and greeting several of the new students. The Fat Friar did the same for the Hufflepuff table, just as jolly as Nearly Headless Nick was carefree.

The Bloody Baron made an appearance as well, descending directly in front of Syaoran as he was being nudged by one of his neighbors who was simultaneously pointing at Sakura and saying something. She wondered what they were talking about. Syaoran just waved both his neighbor and the ghost off.

Grey Lady did not make an appearance.

Once everybody, even Keroberos, had had their fill and more, plus a bit of dessert just to be on the safe side, Professor Dumbledore took to his feet again. The hall once again fell silent.

"Now that you are all no longer in danger of starving to death, I have just a few start-of-term notices to add before I bid you all a good evening. First, for the new students, you should note that the forest on the grounds is off-limits for all pupils. A couple of older students would do well to remember that as well," Professor Dumbledore said, directing his gaze primarily at the Gryffindor table as he said this.

"Second, the hallways near the greenhouses are currently being re-charmed so that area will be off limits for the first two months of the year. Anybody caught there will be severely punished, and should see Madam Pomfrey about regrowing their hair. Third, Mr. Filch, our caretaker, has asked me to remind you that magic should not be used in the corridors between classes," Professor Dumbledore announced. The perpetually grouchy and seemingly stooped Mr. Filch standing in the back corner of the room grumped a bit at that announcement.

"Fourth, the Quidditch trials will be held on the third week of the term this year. Anybody interested in playing for their house team should contact Madam Hooch. Finally, as you are all aware, Professor Quirrel has moved on and is no longer teaching here. So for this year, we have a new Defense Against the Dark Arts professor, Gilderoy Lockhart..." Professor Dumbledore announced.

The students, more girls than boys, started clapping and cheering at that announcement. The named professor took to his feet, flashed a brilliant smile to the students, and said before Professor Dumbledore could resume speaking, "Thank you, thank you. It's a pleasure to be here. When Professor Dumbledore begged me to come teach at Hogwarts, I was honored. Of course it was only natural for him to come to somebody as capable as me with my Order of Merlin, my membership in the Dark Force Defense League, and my five-time winning of 'Witch Weekly's' Most Charming Smile Award. But this isn't about me; it's about what I can do for you. The prestige, the honor, and the skills you can only develop under a world-class wizard like myself. With my knowledge and experience, I'll see to it that each and every one of you will be the best you can be. The world can be a dangerous place, let me tell you. Like the time I faced down the Wagga Wagga Werewolf who was terrorizing that village before I was able to corner the beast and cast a Homorphus charm, forcing it back to human form."

"Exactly right," Professor Dumbledore deftly interjected himself before Professor Lockhart could continue. "We're all grateful that you have decided to join this fine institution. With that said, I'm sure everybody is eager to get to bed and have a fresh start for the fresh school year, but before that, let's sing the school song!"

Several of the teachers' faces took on a distinctively wooden smile at this declaration. Professor Dumbledore didn't seem to notice as he flicked his wand, causing a golden ribbon to emerge, float up in the air, and spell out some lyrics.

"Everyone pick your favorite tune, and off we go!" Professor Dumbledore announced, and then started the singing.

Sakura's English might have improved to the point that she could understand the song the Sorting Hat had sung, but it hadn't improved to the point of understanding the cacophony of noise which followed Professor Dumbledore's lead. In fact she was relatively sure that even native speakers of English would have had a hard time following the complete mix of tempos, melodies, harmonies, and mumblings which comprised the alleged song. Sakura just closed her eyes and tried to shut her ears to the noise all around her, unknowingly mimicking a very similar behavior from Luna right next to her. It finally came to an end with Fred and George, singing arm in arm what sounded like a slow dirge. They continued for some two minutes after the last of the other singers had ended.

"The magic of music," Professor Dumbledore wistfully. "With that, off to bed. Good evening, everybody."

Sakura gave a quick wave to Syaoran, who returned it. Then the sound of the multitude of Hogwarts students simultaneously climbing to their feet resonated around the Great Hall, and order was lost to the room.

When Richard and Penelope, the two prefects who were leading the Ravenclaw students to Ravenclaw Tower, reached the stairs to climb into the dormitories, as was tradition Sakura and the other returning students slowed down and let the first-year students take the lead so they might to hear the riddle and its answer. She still found herself closer to the front than the back of the group, and was easily in earshot to hear the knocker ask, "What is the most significant number in Arithmancy."

"Of all the rotten... I'm pants at Arithmancy. What did Professor Vector say last year? I think it's seven..." Richard, the prefect who was leading the group, mused out loud. "A little help here, Penelope?"

"It's not seven. Seven may one of the most powerful numbers but the question was what is the most significant number," Penelope said, coming to the rescue of her fellow prefect. Then, directing herself to the door to Ravenclaw Tower, she answered, "Numbers only derive their meaning in relation to other numbers, so there is no single most significant number in Arithmancy."

"Well reasoned," the knocker said before the door swung open.

Richard then said, "Well, there goes my chance of impressing all you first-years, but let that be a lesson to you. To succeed in Ravenclaw you'll need your wits and a wide breadth of knowledge, but that alone won't be enough. Many a time you'll be stuck somewhere. Maybe doing your homework, or maybe trying to open the door to the dorms at night. Don't be afraid to ask for help, and be willing to help others who are in need of it."

Sakura nodded to herself. She had lost count of the number of times she had been trying to get into the dorm rooms and had been faced with an unanswerable question. She knew she wasn't alone. If the door didn't quickly change away from the topic of Arithmancy, or maybe magic theory if that was what it was currently questioning, she had a sneaking feeling that her first lockout of the year might be the next time she tried to enter the dorm rooms on her own.

Once all of the first-year students filed into the Ravenclaw Common Room, Sakura joined with the others in following in afterward. There was some token discussion floating around about the still missing Harry Potter, but it was nothing Sakura really wanted to get involved in. Instead she made her way to her dorm room. She found to her surprise that it was the same as the room she had had the previous year. In fact there was no overt indication that anything had changed from the previous year, excepting the different contents of Sakura's luggage and the sign on the outside of the door now labeling the room as now belonging to second-year students.

Thus it was easy for Sakura and Lisa to join the already unpacking Deborah and Linda and quickly settle in prior to going to bed. It all went very smoothly. Deborah didn't try to glomp onto Keroberos even once, no matter how much it looked like she was tempted to.

Last Updated: April 3, 2014