Chapter 3 : Boats
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Hours later, the Hogwarts Express jerked to a stop. Albus and Matt, sticking close together, stepped off the train into the cold. Nighttime had fallen, and through the crowd Albus could make out several dozen carriages that seemed to be pulling themselves. Thestrals! he thought in alarm, and backed away so as to put as much distance as possible between himself and the invisible creatures.
“Albus?” asked a voice in his ear, and Albus turned around to discover that, in his panic to escape from the thestrals, he’d been clinging to Matt’s shoulder.
“Er... sorry,” he muttered, embarrassed. Luckily he was spared having to explain himself, as Hagrid chose that moment to call out “Firs’ years! Firs’ years over here!”
Albus followed the rest of the eleven-year-olds over to the half-giant, who was standing by a dark lake with many boats. Hagrid waved. “All righ’, there, Albus? Excited?” Albus nodded. “Okay, then, righ’ this way, firs’ years, you’ll be goin’ over to Hogwarts in these boats, nothin’ to be worried abou’, that’s right – ”
The first years climbed into the boats, some chatting nervously about the Sorting, others sitting in silence, eyes wide with fright. Albus and Matt chose a boat with two other inhabitants – a small brown-haired girl with glasses, curled up at the far end of the boat, and an unpleasant-looking boy with blond hair and a sneer. Albus recognized him at once.
“You’re the boy from the platform!” he exclaimed. “My dad knows your dad!”
The sneering boy studied him. “Yes, I know you,” he said. “You’re the Potter boy. Oh, my father’s told me all about your dad...” Albus gulped uneasily.
“Wait – you know who I am?”
“Of course – your dad and mine were at Hogwarts together. My father says your dad was an arrogant boy who just loved to play the hero. My father also says – ” He was cut off as the boat began to move, knocking him onto the floor. The girl gasped and then covered her mouth as if trying to take back the sound. Matt offered his hand to the blond boy, who stared at it in disgust before hoisting himself up onto the seat.
“I’ve never seen you before,” he observed. “What’s your name?”
“Matthew Forman,” said Matt. “And you?”
“Scorpius Malfoy, son of Draco Malfoy and Pansy Parkinson, grandson of Lucius
Malfoy and Narcissa Black. Pure-blood all the way back, of course.”
“Thanks for the family history lesson,” muttered Albus under his breath. Matt laughed.
“You laugh,” noted Scorpius, “which shows you have little knowledge of the importance of pure-blood families – you must be Muggle-born.”
“So what if I am?” challenged Matt.
“It’s nothing – it doesn’t mean anything,” cut in Albus, trying to keep the peace. “My aunt is Muggle-born, and according to my parents, she was top of the class every year she was at Hogwarts.”
“Oooh,” said Scorpius, rolling his eyes. “Top of the class – how amazing. My father’s told me about your aunt, too, Potter – according to him she was always an insufferable know-it-all and - ”
“Shut up,” said Matt.
“Why should I?” retorted Scorpius.
“Well, for one, that’s probably not true. Sounds to me like your father’s the insufferable know-it-all. And two, excuse my rudeness, but... NO ONE CARES!”
Scorpius’s face grew red. “You’re gonna pay for that, Forman. No one insults me or my father and gets away with it. Wait till I tell him, then you’ll be – ”
“We’re here,” whispered the girl in the corner, pointing at the castle, which loomed above them. The three boys nodded to her as the boats pulled up to the shore, the ropes magically tying themselves to the dock. They stepped out, wobbling slightly, and headed up towards Hogwarts Castle.
Albus and Matt stood outside the Great Hall, waiting apprehensively for the event that truly commenced their education at Hogwarts. The enormous doors opened and the first years filed in, shaking from nervousness and clinging to each other for dear life. A silence fell over the room as the older students turned to look at the new. Albus noted that, of the four long tables, three gave the first years broad smiles, while the diners at the last table smirked. Albus could tell right away who belonged to this table – the Slytherins. His brother’s words filled his head – “Slytherins are bad – pure evil.” No matter what his dad had said, Albus would not, could not be sorted into Slytherin. I wonder if you can apply for a house change if you really, really hate your house... Albus’s thoughts were interrupted by the sound of a woman clearing her throat – he looked up at the staff table and saw a very old lady about to address the school.
“Good evening,” she began. “To those of you that are new to this school, I have but three words – welcome to Hogwarts! And for those who are returning – welcome back! First years, I am your headmistress, Professor McGonagall. But I shall save the speech for later – I can see many of you are itching to be Sorted. So, I present to you... the Sorting Hat!”
The room burst into thunderous applause as the headmistress lifted an old, battered hat onto a stool. Albus nudged Matt. “My parents say the hat sings before the Sorting!” he whispered excitedly. Matt grinned.
“A singing hat – wow!”
A rip above the Hat’s brim opened and it began to sing.
“You may find it odd
That a hat decides your fate
But listen and I’ll tell my tale
Have patience, please – just wait.
Many years ago
When Hogwarts was brand-new
The founders had to divide the students
The problem – how to choose.
Gryffindor would take the brave
And Hufflepuff the kind.
Slytherin wanted the cunning –
Ravenclaw, the sharp of mind.
‘But how to tell?’ the founders asked.
‘Shall we put them to a test?’
Then Gryffindor created me
And you all know the rest.
So take a seat, and put me on
I promise I won’t bite
I’ll just have a look inside your brain
To ensure that I am right.”
The room was quiet as the Hat’s song ended. “Gryffindor, Hufflepuff, Slytherin, and Ravenclaw – are those the four houses?” Matt whispered. Albus nodded. “Have you – do you know – ”
“Which house is best?” Albus asked.
“Well, my family have all been in Gryffindor,” Albus said, “and they’ve all turned out all right. Ravenclaw’s for smart people, that’s about all I know, I haven’t heard anything bad about that house though... Hufflepuff’s known for being, well – you heard the Hat, it said “kind” – that’s about all Hufflepuffs really are. And Slytherin – ”
“Shh!” hissed a girl standing near them. “The Sorting’s started!”
Headmistress McGonagall pulled out a roll of parchment and unrolled it. “First years, when I call your name, you will walk up to the front of the room, sit on the stool, and put the Sorting Hat on your head. When it has called out the name of a house, please set it down and quickly make your way to your new House’s table. I will now begin.”
“Adams, Daniel!” A chubby boy with black hair walked nervously up to the stool and gingerly placed the hat on his head. Within seconds it had called out “HUFFLEPUFF!”, and Daniel, grinning, went to join the Hufflepuffs at their table.
“He seemed pretty happy,” observed Matt. “Hufflepuff can’t be too bad, then.”
“Yeah,” agreed Albus, not really paying attention to Matt as the headmistress called out another name.
“Aster, William!” A small boy with blond hair and glasses walked slowly to the front of the room.
“Hurry up, now!” said Professor McGonagall, not unkindly. “We haven’t got all day!” William quickened his pace. The Hat barely touched his head before calling out “RAVENCLAW!”, to William’s apparent delight.
Albus and Matt watched as the next several first years were Sorted, and then the headmistress called out, “Forman, Matthew!”
Matt grinned weakly at Albus as he turned toward the front of the room. “Wish me luck.”
“Good luck,” whispered Albus, but Matt was already almost there. He put the Hat on his head, his eyes shut tight. Before long, however, it had shouted out, “GRYFFINDOR!” and Matt, letting out a deep breath, almost ran to the Gryffindor table.
Albus could feel himself shaking more and more with every name called. Not all the first years were as nervous as he was, though. Through the commotion he heard Scorpius Malfoy whisper to another boy, “What house do you think you’ll be in? I’ll be in Slytherin, of course, like my parents and all my ancestors, really. I would die if I wasn’t in Slytherin, wouldn’t you? I mean, imagine being put in a house with half-bloods, or even” – he shuddered – “Muggle-borns. How disgusting!”
“Little, Ashley!” Albus turned back towards the Sorting as the brown-haired girl from the boat shyly pushed her way through the crowd. Shaking, she yanked the Hat down over her glasses and waited. The first years watched with apprehension as Ashley awaited the Hat’s response, her eyes darting around the room. It took quite a long time, in fact, before the Hat finally called out “GRYFFINDOR!” Ashley, relieved, pulled the hat off her head and walked slowly toward the Gryffindor table.
“Malfoy, Scorpius!” The sneering blond boy dashed up to the front of the room. He snatched up the Hat and jammed it down over his head. Within a moment it had made its decision. The rip on the brim opened and shouted “GRYFFINDOR!”
“YES!!” shouted Scorpius, ripping off the Hat and throwing it to the ground as he sprinted toward the Slytherin table. Then the room grew quiet as Scorpius realized what had happened. “WHAT?!?” he screamed, turning around and running back towards the Hat. “NO!” He grabbed the tattered Hat and clenched it between his fists. “No! This is a mistake! I – I can’t be in Gryffindor! Re-Sort me!!” He squeezed the hat harder and harder, tears running down his cheeks.
Headmistress McGonagall leaned over him and took the Hat out of his hands. “I am sorry, Mr. Malfoy, but the Sorting Hat’s decision is final. Please take your seat with the Gryffindors so that we can resume the Sorting.” When Scorpius did not move, two professors picked him up and carried him, kicking and screaming, out of the Great Hall.
Albus gulped. The Hat must not have listened to Scorpius... what if it doesn’t listen to me? What if it doesn’t usually listen to people’s requests and my dad was like an exception or something? Albus felt his throat contracting. His heart beat faster and sweat dripped from his palms. He stood as if in a trance, almost hyperventilating, lost in his own thoughts.
“Potter, Albus!” Whispers rose across the room, but Albus, preoccupied with his worries, did not move. “Albus Potter?” called the headmistress. Heads turned towards the back of the room. “ALBUS POTTER!”
Albus flushed. “I’m – I mean – sor-”
“Just come put the Hat on,” laughed Professor McGonagall. Embarrassed, Albus shuffled to the front of the room and cautiously put the Hat on his head, aware that one of the most important decisions of his childhood would be made for him in only a few minutes.