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Chapter 7 : A Ceremony of Sorts
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The self-sufficient carriages continued on their journey up the hill after some delay as we loaded Facetia into our cart and she was introduced rather hurriedly to everyone. I couldn’t hear the complaints of those who’d been caught in line behind us, but I could certainly imagine them, and was more than just a little embarrassed. What a way to make a first impression.
We did, however, eventually reach the castle, whereupon I was sucked through the immense pair of double doors by the veritable tide of students, the waves so choppy and disorganized that I was inevitably drawn away from Facetia and the others, though she was somehow able to stay put. I suppose the living rapids were no match for her anchored rock. Well, if rocks could walk, that is. She did manage make her way purposefully through the deluge to stop me from following it. Apparently we were supposed to stay behind for the ‘Sorting Ceremony,’ whatever that was. It kind of sounded like they’d be placing us on a certain level given our magical aptitude, like a placement test, almost, to see in which classes we should be put.
So I followed Facetia – and a few other people too, interestingly; I guessed they were the other transfers – towards a group of rather small-looking witches and wizards who’d just come through the doors. I ended up bumping into quite a few people, given that I was still preoccupied by the beauty and immensity of the place. The walls surrounding the area seemed to stretch up into the stratosphere, and escaped the light of the hanging chandelier at least fifty feet up, and kept going. The chandelier, while I’m on that topic, was the most magnificent lighting fixture I’d ever seen. Crystals hung from it in sheets, like it was some amazing, radiant willow tree. Everything here seemed not only to have a purpose, but to be quite aesthetically pleasing, too.
“In here, please.”
With effort, I brought my lower jaw back to meet the upper, and looked toward the source of the voice. I’d barely spotted an emerald sleeve and the brim of a hat before I was once more dragged with the crowd, though this one was considerably smaller than the last, into a smallish room set off from the main hall. The first years all seemed just as confused and in awe as I was, which was comforting in a sense, though the fact that they were all roughly five years younger than I somewhat dulled the ‘comfort’ effect. There weren’t many transfers beside the two of us. They were easy to pick out because they were taller than the rest, and were quite obviously not British. The only exception to that was a redheaded fourth year who could have passed for it if she’d really wanted to. Facetia, the extravert to my introvert, was introducing herself to them already. It didn’t take me long to learn the names of both Erin Delaney, the redhead, and Thomas Caulfield, from New York, who really wasn’t one for conversation. His surname reminded me that I hadn’t yet asked Remus for the return of my book. The last transfer, a seventh year, apparently, was rather difficult to get anything out of – he didn’t appear to know much English, and his Spanish was so fluent and frenzied that I only caught the words ‘toad’ and ‘gone,’ along with the phrase, ‘mother won’t be happy.’ Not that I would’ve been able to understand any more had he spoken more slowly – I spoke no Spanish whatsoever. I was guessing for the most part. The only thing he said in English was, “Hello, please,” with a very affected accent, so no-one really got what he was saying anyway. I felt slightly sorry for him, but mostly it was just amusing, particularly when I caught Facetia eyeing him in the way only she knew how. I elbowed her in the ribs to get her sight off of him. She blushed slightly. I had to restrain a fit of giggles.
I heard the clearing of a throat. Turning around, I could see the owner of the emerald sleeve and hat brim I’d spotted earlier, standing authoritatively at the head of the rather cramped room. She began to speak.
“Welcome to Hogwarts, first years and transfers.” She had a very sharp, commanding voice that made her scary in a different kind of way.
“When you step through these doors, you will make your way to the front of the Great Hall in a strictly organized and quiet manner. Do I make myself clear?”
We all nodded almost simultaneously. It would’ve been comical if the witch’s presence had allowed that sort of thing.
“Good,” she continued, “Now, here at Hogwarts, students are divided into four groups, or houses, as they’re called, based on their strengths and weaknesses. The house chosen for a specific student is designed to help them reach their full potential, both magically and mentally. While you are here, your house will be like your family. You will sleep in your house dormitories, eat at your house table, and attend classes with your house. At the end of the term, we award the House Cup. Your successes will earn points for your house, and rule-breaking will lose points. The house with the most points wins. The four houses are Gryffindor, Hufflepuff, Ravenclaw, and Slytherin.” I thought I heard a slightly derogatory undertone in her voice when she said ‘Slytherin,’ but it was probably just my imagination.
“I want to make this very clear,” she said sternly, “No one house is better than another, and though rivalry between the houses will inevitably be present, we do strive for unity as much as possible, and holding prejudices against a rival house will only hurt you in the long run.”
She gave us time to digest all of that. I wondered briefly if the Spanish transfer had any idea what was going on.
“Well, if that’s done, follow me.”
She opened another door, and strode out into what was presumably the Great Hall. We followed, some timidly, some nearly tripping over their robes in their haste to get through the door. When I finally made it, my mouth, predictably, dropped open again. Four long tables were placed parallel to each other, spread with shining plates and goblets, which I didn’t doubt for a moment were real gold. Candles hovered throughout the entire hall, casting a bright, shimmering light everywhere that needed it. The most amazing thing, though, was the ceiling. Well, it looked like there was no ceiling, but I knew that couldn’t be true. Either way, the black of the night sky, infested with millions of tiny, flickering stars, hovered over everything, the crescent moon looking so completely tangible that I felt I could just reach out and touch it, and I might have tried if the first year behind me hadn’t hissed, “Get a move on!” in my ear.
At the end of the hall, right in front of a fifth table, was a plain, four-legged stool, upon which sat a very dilapidated old hat. We all stood in what might have passed for fevered anticipation if some of us weren’t really confused as to the hat, I included.
Then, without warning, a tear in the fabric of the hat opened near the brim, and, astonishingly (though probably not so much in this place), it began to sing.
“In an era long gone by
And a place so very near
Four wizards lived, the best of friends
Whom most today revere.
Godric was a daring sort
And gallant to a fault.
Of bravery he did approve
And chivalry exalt.
Rowena dear, a clever maid
Kept all her learning keen.
Her wisdom did not fade with age
She taught the unforeseen.
Fair-minded Helga did applaud
Those with effort to their name.
Though not too close would she inspect
She loved every one the same.
Salazar, in all his wit,
Chose those of grand ambition.
He valued they who would fly high
With cunning disposition.
These founders four did travel far
And gathered young to teach.
Though far beyond their mortal life
Would their influence reach!
That’s why I’m here upon this chair
To see where you'd excel.
Four houses here, I know them all
And I’ve always done quite well.
So wear me proudly while you can
And promise not to pout.
I’ll put you right where you belong –
Of that, there is no doubt!”
The hall was engulfed with the older students’ ringing applause. The hat bent itself in some strange kind of bow, and returned to its still state.
The witch scanned the scroll, “Abbot, Laurence.”
A boy with unkempt caramel-colored hair stepped up to the stool, dropping the hat onto his head as he sat. There was a pause, and then the hat cried out, “RAVENCLAW!”
Applause sounded from one of the tables, and the boy dashed off to join his new house.
The rest of the ceremony echoed this first sorting, with only the names and houses changing.
Alexander, Marcellus became a Gryffindor. Cook, Selena was made the second Ravenclaw. Crouch, Bartemius was put in Slytherin, and Josephine Dahl, Octavian Darcy, and Nathaniel Finnin all made Hufflepuff. I lost interest in keeping track after that.
Finally, the first years were done with their sorting, and the name ‘Caulfield, Thomas’ was called, marking the beginning of the transfer sorting.
“HUFFLEPUFF!” The hat proclaimed.
Erin Delaney, the sweet little redhead, became a Gryffindor, and Javier De Silvia, the Spanish seventh year, was sorted into Ravenclaw.
Then it was my turn.
“Firmin, Arachnae,” the witch called.
I walked up to the stool, not knowing at all what to expect, and put the hat on my head. It was entirely too big.
“Well, let’s have a look, then…”
Merlin’s beard, I thought to myself, I must be going insane.
“No, no, you’re perfectly sane, but that’s not what I’m looking for…” the hat continued, “Hmm… Well, you’re not the most social of creatures, eh? Mightn’t get along with many of the Hufflepuffs… But we can rule that out anyway. Loyalty you may have, but hardworking?”
The hat made a sound that was comparable to a scoff. I could have taken offense, but it didn’t give me much time before jumping into another analysis.
“Ravenclaw, maybe? Well...” It paused. “No, no… Definitely not. Sharp mind, to be sure, but you might want to work on your focus. Letting one’s mind wander won’t help you, not here, anyway…”
I almost laughed at that. Facetia often told me I had the attention span of an aging goldfish pretty well into senility. There are precious few things I can set my mind to and keep it there. Perhaps unfortunately, Dark Magic is one of them.
“Which leaves two remaining houses.”
The hat probed my brain for another moment or so.
“Hot temper, eh?” it finally said, chuckling, “Though you try to hide it, even from me… Well, Gryffindor certainly can’t help you with that, the pack of firebrands... Bravery not your strong suit?”
I honestly didn’t know. I guess I’d never sat down and just thought about myself before. And it’s not as though you’ve gotten much opportunity to show your mettle at sixteen.
“Trust me on this one; it’s not.”
Well, at least it was honest.
“So I guess good old Slytherin remains, then. Your head might fit better here than in Ravenclaw, I would think. Something to consider, anyway. Ambition… you’ve certainly got a lot of it, but not much direction… That’ll give Sluggy something to work with, all right.”
I didn’t bother to ask who ‘Sluggy’ was.
“Well, I guess that settles it, then.”
It cleared its nonexistent throat, “SLYTHERIN!”
Mentally, I felt as though I’d been listening to the hat for an eternity, but physically it seemed like I’d barely taken the seat before I was hopping back up again, and dropping the hat on the chair. There was a bit of scattered applause coming from the table on my far left, and so, using my staggering powers of deduction, I guessed that it was the Slytherin table. I looked at Facetia as her name was called, and, predictably, she smiled. I returned it as I hurried to find a seat with the rest of the Slytherins.
And while we’re on the topic of predictability, I can say with firm assurance that you were expecting me to be sorted into Slytherin. You’re probably thinking something along the lines of, “Oh, way to break the stereotype, Arachnae. That’s showing the world some Slytherins are good, decent folk, alright.” I think to myself things along that same thread sometimes, but let’s be realistic. It isn’t my fault I was made a Slytherin – that’s the Sorting Hat’s job. Blame me all you want for being a Death Eater, please, but cut Slytherins a bit of slack. I knew quite a few of them who turned out to be normal, law-abiding citizens. I won’t talk about them, though, because they were all terrifically boring. One such boy was Basil Edwards. I dated him for about a week, and I ended up spending more time counting the bricks on the wall in Madame Puddifoot’s than anything. All in all, the relationship was snuffed out before it could light up, and he now works for the ministry, handling Portkeys. Fascinating profession, that.
There were seven-hundred thirty-four bricks, in case you wanted to know.
Another thing about Slytherin: in addition to those like Basil who had only the highest concern for the rules and just being a good person in general, there were those who were the exact opposite, and it was by a complete dealing of chance that I happened to sit next to one of them.
The hat had barely touched Facetia’s head before she was sorted into a different house, and as I would soon find out, the rival house of my own. It was certainly a surprise. She and I were different, certainly, but I never fathomed that our varying attributes would separate us at any point. I thought back to what the witch in green had said about living with your house, having classes with your house, how it would be like your family… Facetia was already like my adopted sister, and the idea that I could belong to any family that didn’t include her was rather unnerving. To put it lightly, I was not very happy.
“Hey, are you going to eat anything?”
Right, back to the person I was sitting next to. I hadn’t even noticed that the myriad of golden tableware had filled with foods of all kind, quite a few of which I’d never laid eyes on before.
“Erm…” was my only response as I reached for the most familiar thing in the spread – mashed potatoes. The girl on my right continued to speak as I spooned some onto my bare plate.
“So, where are you from?”
I was trying to avoid eye contact, but I could tell by her voice that she wasn’t a boy, so I supposed it was okay to talk to her. I started to answer, but before I could, there was an eruption of diaphragmatic upset from the whole of the student body. I didn’t know what they were laughing about, and couldn’t figure it out, as everyone at the table was standing up, attempting to get a good look at whatever was going on. Then there was a loud bang, followed by the boom of a magically enhanced voice.
“SETTLE DOWN, PLEASE,” said the voice, and though it wasn’t spoken harshly, they all fell silent and sat down again.
“THANK YOU!” the voice said cheerfully in response to the students’ compliance. That’s when I first saw Albus Dumbledore. He was sitting with the rest of the teachers at a fifth long table at the head of the hall, and he wasn’t fierce in the slightest. I was reminded horribly of Headmaster Bracken at the sight of both his jovial grin and pointed hat, but unlike my previous cheapskate of a Headmaster, Dumbledore’s grin actually looked sincere, and it was quite obvious that he was wearing such a hat simply because he liked it, not because he was trying to make an impression. But the best part about him was that he didn’t have horns or a tail.
His head turned ever so slightly, and suddenly his twinkling gaze met mine, and then, oddly enough, he winked at me from behind his half-moon glasses. Not two seconds later his eyes had left mine, and were observing the Great Hall as a whole once more. The wink was so much like Facetia’s smile in that it was comforting, reassuring, but so different because it’d had a very joking sort of quality to it, like he’d been about to burst with laughter. I didn’t know if the wink meant something, or if he was just being nice, but whatever the reason, it put me at ease somewhat, and it didn’t seem like such a big deal anymore that Facetia and I were in different houses.
“Hello? You alive in there?”
It was that girl again, still trying to make conversation, “I asked you where you were from.”
“Fun,” she replied, with a clear indication that she didn’t find it fun at all, “Did you like it there?”
I nodded, trying to keep actual words to a minimum. She paused to take a bite of whatever she was eating before assaulting me with more questions.
“Why’d you come here?”
I shrugged. I figured if I explained to her the whole situation with Facetia, not only would she become bored very quickly, she might not have an entirely good impression of me. Following your friend across the Atlantic would sound pretty crazy to anyone but yourself and the friend.
She really started to worry me with, “What’s your blood like?”
I’ll admit I kind of freaked out, “Excuse me?!”
She rolled her eyes, “Blood purity.”
Oh. That blood.
“Does it matter?”
“What else does?”
“How about my name?” I was getting kind of angry at this point.
“I know it, Arachnae. McGonagall called it when you got sorted.”
I was feeling increasingly stupid.
“You’re not a mudblood, are you?” she asked, disgust plain in her features.
I had to laugh; she reminded me so much of Dad, “No.”
I really didn’t know. The Firmins you could trace back pretty far, but as for Mom, both her parents were magic, but I’m pretty sure her father was muggleborn. That was pure enough for me, though, and this girl would never know anyway.
She smirked a bit, and I got the distinct impression that she wouldn’t have continued the conversation if I’d said anything else. As it was, she did continue talking, introducing me to herself and the few people around us.
A boy with blonde peach fuzz covering his head waved. He’s dead now.
“Rabastan Lestrange,” the boy had his dark hair pulled into a small pigtail. It didn’t look very clean. He’s in Azkaban.
“His brother left last year – you would’ve liked him – Camilla Wilkes,”
This girl’s eyes were very pale and very wide, but she looked amiable enough. She’s dead, too.
He barely glanced up from the book he was reading. His hair was black as pitch, extremely oily, and hung over his face, obscuring most of his features, though I could make out a rather prominent proboscis hovering about an inch over the page. I recognized the words on the paper – it was chapter four of Spells for the Sanguine, by Douglas Dalibor. I’d read it twice. I made a mental note that this might be a guy I could break my rule for, just to see how much he knew about what he was reading.
“And I’m Bellatrix Black,” she concluded, “Welcome to Slytherin.”
Obviously, I didn’t worry about it then, but looking back on that little scenario, the concentration of future Death Eaters at the table was disturbing. And there were still others that I’d be introduced to later. That’s the thing about Slytherins – you’ve got people like Basil, who live long, prosperous, though admittedly boring lives obeying the rules, and then you’ve got us. The sad miscreants who really have nothing better to do with their time than pledge eternal loyalty to some Dark entity or another. At least we had fun. I doubt any of the Basils out there would admit to that.
I met up with Facetia after the feast.
“He tripped me!” she intoned with ire over the roar of the human tide that was washing past us.
“That boy, Sirius Black!” She was quite obviously not having as much trouble making herself heard as I was.
“Is that what everyone was laughing at?” I asked, cupping my hands over my ears in an attempt to drown out the numerous other voices. The British were not making a very good first impression in the ‘noise’ area.
She nodded, flushed from either anger or embarrassment. Maybe both.
“Ridiculous,” I replied, “That’s not funny.”
For a moment, she looked glad for my support, but then I added, “It’s hilarious.”
She rolled her eyes and grabbed my shoulder, shoving me backwards into someone. The someone did not appear very happy about this, and before I knew it, I’d been sucked into the current of bodies streaming from the Great Hall. Facetia, rock that she was, maintained her position and said something that was lost amidst the noise of the masses. I hoped it was something in the general vein of, “See you later.”
Almost before I could answer her I was sucked right out of the Great Hall, and still going. I had no idea where I was supposed to sleep, or even where I would have classes when the time came. I couldn’t even be sure that I’d be able to find my way back down here for breakfast. I remembered feeling similar as a first year at St. Hedwig’s. People would be willing to lend a hand there if I gave them a look that said, “Help me, I’m lost and confused,” but would the same hold true for this place? I wondered if they had a map that I could borrow.
After all of this went through my head, I realized that every Slytherin had mysteriously disappeared from the waves. With far more difficulty than anyone should have in this kind of situation, I extracted myself from the throng, and tried to retrace my steps. After three left turns, a right, and descending two staircases, I ended up back in front of the Great Hall, utterly befuddled as to both the direction I’d come from, and the direction in which I had to go next. Luckily, salvation came in the form of Albus Dumbledore, pointy hat and all, who was just leaving the Hall. Part of me tensed up at the sight of him, but altogether his presence was very reassuring. I reminded myself to give Dad a nice whack on his shoulder when I got home.
“What seems to be the problem?” he asked, all kindness and twinkly eyes.
“I’m lost,” I said simply, trying to twist my face into that old, “I’m such a pitiable creature,” look. I probably got it wrong.
“Oh, you aren’t lost,” he replied, very matter-of-factly, “You know precisely where you are, as you were only here about five minutes ago.”
“Well…” Oddly enough, I really couldn’t argue with that logic.
“What you are,” he continued, “is ‘unable to find your common room,’ which is a completely different issue altogether, and one that is far more easily remedied.”
He set off in a direction to my right, and I could do nothing but follow. Apparently, the Slytherin common room was underground, because the first part of the journey consisted only of the descent of a long, spiraling stairwell. I wasn’t sure if I should take that as a bad sign or not. Upon reaching the landing, we took several turns, and it was only after the first two that I figured I ought to memorize them. Right, left, left, middle fork, left. I repeated the sequence over and over in my head, praying that I wouldn’t forget it.
After the last left, we were met with a blank, stone wall. An old, blackened suit of armor stood at attention in the middle of it. And that was all.
“Well, here we are!” Dumbledore said cheerily, and I began to worry about the state of his mental health.
“Oh! The password, of course!” He turned to the suit of armor, “Ambrosia.”
The suit of armor coughed and stepped aside as the wall opened up to reveal a long, low-ceilinged room.
“Well, goodnight, then,” he said suddenly, “Should you ever truly be lost, Boris is rather talented at finding missing places.” He patted the suit of armor on the shoulder, turned, and was gone around the corner before I could say any more.
“I don’t mean to brag, but he’s right,” said the suit of armor proudly. I yelped shamelessly, and scurried into the common room.
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