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Chapter 4: The Sorting.
On their arrival at the castle, the first years were met by a tall, stern looking, dark-haired witch.
“You’ve brought us the first years, I see, Hagrid,” she said. “Thank you very much. I will take them from here.”
She led them into the Great Hall, where the ceiling was bewitched to look like the sky outside. James heard many of the other students gasp as they looked at the dark clouds. If you hadn’t known, you would indeed have thought that you were looking out at the sky. James, however, had seen the ceiling a couple of times before and was no longer awed by it, as the others, particularly those who were Muggle born were. He could see Alice looking back and forth at the other students, as if wondering whether or not she should ask if there was a ceiling. Eventually, however, she turned back to the teacher who was addressing them without asking. James guessed that she was afraid of appearing foolish by asking. It was a feeling he found it easy to identify with.
“I am Professor McGonagall,” the tall witch told them. “No doubt you are aware that I am the headmistress here. Soon we will be having our start-of-term banquet which I am sure that many of you are looking forward to. However before we begin, you will be sorted into your various houses. For those of you who don’t know, there are four houses. They are called Gryffindor, Ravenclaw, Slytherin and Hufflepuff. While you are in Hogwarts, you will have classes with the other 1st years from your house, sleep in your house dormitory and spend much of your free time in your house common-room.
“As many of you will also know, each year we have a House Cup. Points will be awarded to and deducted from each house, as a result of the behaviour and talents of the members of that house. And you can be sure that the older members of your houses will be hoping that this year’s first years will not let them down.”
James heart sank at the reference to the House Cup. He had forgotten about that. While his father had been at Hogwarts, his house Gryffindor had won the House Cup every year, and James knew that many of those years, his father had won it for them.
He suspected that whatever house he was placed in, (hopefully Gryffindor) would be expecting him to do likewise, and he found it hard to imagine a scenario when he would win any points at all for his house.
He didn’t have much time to worry about that though, as Professor McGonagall was lining them up to take their turn with the Sorting Hat.
They stood there facing the other students and the teachers. James looked down at the teachers’ table where Hermione was sitting. It would be weird to have her as a teacher, James thought suddenly. He didn’t think he would ever remember to call her “Professor Weasley”.
The Muggle borns, in particular, looked extremely nervous. Many of them had no idea how they were to be sorted and the other students were reluctant to inform them. It was too much fun to see their faces as they wondered how on earth they were going to have to prove themselves worthy of belonging to any particular house.
James was hardly any less nervous. It was usual for members of the same family to be place in the same house, but not certain.
Despite the uncertainty, everyone was assuming that James would be in Gryffindor and he felt that his family would be disappointed if he were placed anywhere else.
Both of his parents had been in Gryffindor, as had his grandparents on both sides and all of his aunts and uncles. Most of his older cousins were also there. Bill had two sons and a daughter at Hogwarts and Charlie had two sons there; all of which were in Gryffindor. Even Percy’s son was in Gryffindor, in his third year.
The only exception was Ron and Hermione’s daughter Harriet, who took after her mother in intelligence and had been placed in Ravenclaw, when she had started at Hogwarts last year. Although Ravenclaw was generally considered a perfectly acceptable house to be in, James felt that his uncle was a little disappointed by this, but he compensated by declaring that his two younger sons would definitely be in Gryffindor.
James had no doubt that they would be. The elder of the two boys, Michael, was a year younger than James, but twice as courageous. He was always the one to climb to the top of trees, or down the side of a cliff, and taunted James with cowardice when he wouldn’t join him.
There was no malice in his teasing; the two boys were actually good friends, but nonetheless, it was quite humiliating to have your younger cousin so much braver than you. For Merlin’s sake, Michael wouldn’t even be ten until mid-October.
Despite his preoccupation, James didn’t miss the rip near the brim of the Sorting Hat opening, as the Hat began to sing or the gasps of the Muggle borns as they saw what was happening.
He did not pay much attention to the song the Sorting Hat was singing, but he couldn’t help catching it’s description of each of the houses.
Gryffindor thought courage the very highest virtue.
His house is now reserved for those of valour: brave and true.
Ravenclaw thought intelligence determined who was best.
You may be sure a Ravenclaw will ace every test.
And ambition was valued by cunning Slytherin.
Those in his house do not believe success can be a sin.
Helga Hufflepuff alone did not seek ways to choose.
“So long as they all do their best,” she said. “They cannot lose.”
It was depressing. James did not believe that he had any of the virtues associated with any of the four houses. He couldn’t think where he might be placed and dreaded facing his father if he was placed somewhere really unacceptable like Slytherin.
He worried so much that he missed a good deal of the sorting, only managing to catch the names of those he had spoken to on the train.
The Hat only paused a moment, before shouting out “GRYFFINDOR.”
That didn’t surprise James.
Oh no, they were on the Ps now. It couldn’t be long before they got to “Potter, James.”
The hat, however spent quite a long time deciding where to place Richard. Eventually it called out “RAVENCLAW,” and James saw the boy’s face break into a smile. That had obviously been where he had hoped to be placed.
He hadn’t much time to think of this, though, as the next name called was “Potter, James.”
James stepped up and placed the hat on his head.
“Please Gryffindor, please Gryffindor, please Gryffindor,” he thought frantically, remembering his father’s tale of how the hat had been deciding whether to place him in Gryffindor or Slytherin and had finally placed him in Gryffindor, because he had asked it not to place him in Slytherin.
“Gryffindor, is it?” the hat whispered in his ear. “No, I’m not sure that’s quite the right place for you. I think you belong in…. HUFFLEPUFF.”
The entire Hall gasped. Nobody had ever considered the possibility that Harry Potter’s son might be placed anywhere other than Gryffindor. The Gryffindors themselves booed, while the Hufflepuffs cheered and shouted with glee. Alice looked particularly pleased, although she seemed nervous about joining in with the general excitement of her house.
In other circumstances, James might have been torn between pleasure at the knowledge that both houses wanted him so badly and fear of what they would say when they realised what he was really like, but at that moment, he was too concerned about what his father and the rest of his family would think when they heard. Ok, so Hufflepuff was better than Slytherin, but it still was nowhere near as good as Gryffindor, or even Ravenclaw.
He saw his cousins gazing in amazement. Like everybody else, they had expected him to be placed in Gryffindor with the rest of them. If it hadn’t been for Harriet, he supposed they would have been even more surprised.
The Hufflepuffs crowded around him, as they headed for the banquet, questioning him, just as the students on the train had questioned him. Only the first years had really had a chance to speak to him then and now the older students took their turn, pushing Alice and the others aside.
A tall boy wearing a prefect’s badge pushed his way up to him.
“Really glad we got you in our house, James,” he said. “Hufflepuff haven’t won the House Cup in over 30 years. Now that you have joined up, I bet we’ll have a better chance, eh?”
Why did everyone have to expect so much of him?