Tradition at Hogwarts dictates the sorting of the First Years is performed by the ceremonial Sorting Hat, despite the events and changes that have occurred in the past year this tradition has held strong. Professor McGonagall swept through the large doors which lay at the far end of the Great Hall in a flurry of emerald green – the colour of her robes, closely followed by a large group of positively terrified looking First Years. In her left hand she carried a scroll and a small stool and in her right hand she carried the battered, old sorting hat. I looked up and noticed that the Headmasters seat was unfilled; perhaps they really did have no-one for the job. My eyes swept across the hall, it was certainly more empty than I'd ever seen before at an Opening Feast. It was sad to notice that several of the other students who were also in Gryffindor had not returned this year. I wondered what could have happened to them. If they were still alive, whether their parents had placed them into hiding or other foul events had befallen them.
The attention of entire hall was upon the Sorting Hat, which as usual would introduce the houses and their qualities in an opening song of sorts; the large tear in the hats material opened and its loud voice echoed to the furthest corners of the hall:
"Two Wizards, Two Witches;
One dream, To build a school of magical learning,
Never once did discord seem,
None did see the tides turning,
Although all four had ideas for those they wished to teach,
And so it was known to which founder each student had their claim,
Each student would uphold these aims,
These goals they wished to reach,
And if they failed, they had only themselves to blame,
Said Slytherin "I will only teach only those with blood most pure."
Said Gryffindor "I will teach those with bravery in their veins."
Said Hufflepuff "I shall teach all, of that you can be sure."
Said Ravenclaw "I shall teach those whose intelligence remains."
But how to decide?
It was Gryffindor who removed me from his head and placed me on the table,
The other founders concurred, sorting students my purpose - within the school I would reside,
And for many decades the school stood stable,
Until discord and distrust crept among the four,
Disagreement and friendships broken,
Slytherin left, to be seen at the school no more,
The school remained,
Slytherins absence unspoken,
And so time past, and to this day the school still stands,
Despite our foes building outside our school,
And our failure or success in this war lies within our hands,
But if we fail at this, we shall fall to the mercy of our enemies, a fool,
To remain friendships must be extended,
Or we risk destruction from within,
I have warned you,
I have told you many a time.
Now I must ask: Can the sorting begin?"
A burst of loud applause broke out in the hall, "It was kind of short." Neville noted turning to face me.
"What it said was valid though. I mean it was saying we need to unite within." I replied, turning to look along the rest of the tables.
It was the first time that I noticed Draco Malfoy, alone. Usually surrounded by his dim-witted cronies, it was almost shocking to see the tall blond alone. It was like part of who he was disappeared without Pansy Parkinson's bat-like presence, and Crabbe and Goyle certainly made his group of followers seem much larger than in reality it probably was. But even I felt a stab of pity within my heart for the poor boy. Even I was not completely alone, I still had Neville, Ginny and Luna he however had no-one. In the back of my mind I could hear Professor McGonagall calling out names of students, who would move up towards the front and sit on the small stool to be sorted. The Sorting Hat would announce their house and around me one of the four tables would erupt into a burst of applause. I turned my attention from Draco Malfoy to the front of the hall, where a small girl was walking towards the Hufflepuff table.
"Hambel, Jarred." I heard Professor McGonagall's voice echo. I watched as a small black haired boy walked slowly up towards the hat, it was placed upon his head and after several moments the hat announced that he would join Gryffindor. I applauded loudly with the others in my house, and after the cheering died down the sorting continued. I watched as one by one the terrified children walked towards the front and were sorted, I could barely imagine looking that terrified, but the truth was I probably looked even more so. The Sorting ended with "Wellday, Hera" who with a swish of long blonde hair joined the table of Slytherins. I could not help but notice how few First Years there were, less than half the number which were sorted the year I started.
They eyes of the older students were upon the empty headmasters chair. Traditionally this was the time which the Headmaster would address the school, but with no Headmaster in presence what would happen. Professor McGonagall took her seat next to the empty Headmasters chair, ending all hope that she had been given the post. The entire hall went silent, the chattering of the younger students even came to a complete halt. The large wooden doors slowly creaked open and in stalked Severus Snape. A hushed murmur of the word "Murderer…" swept through the entire hall. He showed no emotion as he walked silently between the Gryffindor and Slytherin tables. There was no empty teacher's seat, the Carrows had taken the two vacancies at the staff table, and the seat left was the Headmasters…
His long black robes flickered unpleasantly behind him as he walked along the table and took the only seat left. "No…" Neville whispered from my side sitting straight up from his slouched position. Any who had been in the same class as Neville and Snape knew of the extensive bullying that Neville had endured from the teacher.
"It's okay." I whispered. "He won't be teaching."
My comment however did not ease Neville's obvious stress, I carefully placed a hand on his back and whispered "It's going to be okay, everything's going to be okay."
At the Ravenclaw table several of the younger students had burst into tears, I felt like going and hugging ever single one of them, to give them hope that everything was going to be alright. The well publicised murder of Albus Dumbledore had made several headlines, the hunt for Severus Snape offered a large reward, yet he had evaded this and managed to return to Hogwarts to take the post of the brilliant man he had earlier murdered. I could not help but notice the cheers growing at the Slytherin table. Not a single other house, nor staff member cheered. We sat in silent horror at the events which had unfolded.
He suddenly stood. And the cheering stopped and the attention of every last student, teacher and ghost was upon him. "Just eat already…" He said in exasperation.
The food appeared before us, but no-one moved. For once no-one dived at the vast plates of immaculately cooked and prepared food and just froze. Even Draco Malfoy, whom I found myself staring at once again was sitting there. There was a unspoken agreement that no one moved until someone else did. So we sat in silence not moving for several minutes. "Oh for god's sake!" I heard someone cry from the Slytherin table suddenly breaking the silence, and immediately there was a rush to who could grab what first. I even found myself diving on a particularly good looking piece of roast chicken. It was as usual perfectly cooked by the elves in the House Kitchens. I felt my second stab of pity for the day hit me, those poor House Elves slaving away endlessly in the kitchens. I glanced down proudly at my S.P.E.W badge and felt good in the knowledge that I was trying to help them.
Once the golden plates had been cleared once, the desserts immediately appeared on the tables before us. I helped myself to a portion of treacle tart and awaited the Headmasters formal address. I found my eyes wandering over to where Draco sat every so often, beside him there were large gaps, no-one dared to sit beside him. I listened half-heartedly as Neville rambled on about what his Grandmother had told him about a book Rita Skeeter was publishing, a book about the life of Dumbledore, his Grandmother had heard much of the books contents were absolute rubbish from Bathilda Bagshot.
"Bathilda Bagshot?" I asked. "The author of A History of Magic?"
"Yeah, Gran's known her for years." He replied. "She was an old friend of Dumbledore's as well."
"She taught here once." I noted.
"Gran said that, she's quite insane these days, the last time Gran talked to her was about two months ago and she was completely out of it apparently."
"How is she giving stories for a book then?" I asked.
"Don't ask me." Neville said turning his attention back to the last of his food.
"Hey Hermione!" I heard a voice call across the table.
I looked to the direction the voice has come from I noticed Lavender Brown and Parvati Patil waving at me. Lavender with a ridiculous pink ribbon in her long blonde hair.
"Hey Lavender, hey Parvati." I said to them.
"Is it true Ron and Harry are out hunting Voldemort?" Lavender blurted out.
"Real subtle Lav." Parvati hissed at her.
I swallowed. What was I supposed to say? No? That would cause them to think they were hiding from him, when they were really out there on a mission I could not share. But if I said yes, the rumour would spread like wildfire around the school and within a matter of hours everyone would be asking questions.
"Their not hunting him, Professor Dumbledore left them an unfinished task to complete, and their out there finishing his work." I replied, combining the truth and a small lie, yes. In fact they were really hunting him, but not directly, they were hunting the fragmented pieces of his soul.
"Wow. Ron's so brave." Lavender sighed.
I cringed inwardly. I was confused in my thoughts about my Best Friend, did I like him or didn't I? It hurt me to see him with Lavender last year, but know a relationship just wasn't possible. He never really shared his feelings with me, making it hard to share mine; the confusing cloud of emotion swirling about in my mind caused me to miss Snape standing once again. A sharp jab in the ribs caused me to come back to my senses.
"Welcome to another year of magical education at Hogwarts. We have a few start of term announcements we must get out of the way before we begin…" He said pausing for what seemed like dramatic effect; not that the moment needed it. "We have two new staff members. Professor Alecto Carrow, who has graciously agreed to take upon the role of Muggle Studies teaching after the terrible disappearance of Professor Burbage, and we also have Professor Amycus Carrow, who has joined us to take Defence Against the Dark Arts; I wish them well. It must also be noted that we have heightened security measures; I would ask that the Head's of House address their students on these measures. And Mr. Filtch the caretaker has advised me to remind you that all Weasley Wizarding Wheezes products are banned within the school. Thank you and please return to your dormitories."
I watched as the newly appointed Prefects raised a hand and called the first years towards them, I watched as Collin Creevey who's enthusiasm seemed paramount, although the female Prefect seemed to be absent. "Neville who was made Prefect for Gryffindor other than Collin?' I asked turning to my left.
"Ginny was. I thought she would have told you." Neville said to me.
"No she didn't mention it, although I haven't really spoken to her in weeks and I only got my letter last week, so that would explain it." I replied.
"Who takes over for Ron?" He asked me.
"No-one." A voice said behind us startling us both. "When a Prefect leaves or is appointed Head Boy or Girl they are not replaced."
We both turned to see Professor McGonagall facing us.
"Sorry Professor, didn't see you there." Neville said in a timid voice.
"Never mind Longbottom, Miss. Granger might I have a word?" She asked me.
"Sure, I'll see you later Neville." I said following Professor McGonagall to her office.
She shut the door with a flick of her wand.
"Is Ginny alright?" I blurted out.
"Yes, yes. Miss. Weasley will be perfectly fine, the Dementors presence certainly startled her but she will recover. What I have called you here to discuss is your duties as Head Girl, before Mr. Malfoy arrives, I must advise you of the password so you can tell any of the Prefects who have yet to hear it, 'Lacewing Flies' is the password they'll need to gain access to the Common Room. Now where is…" Her sentence cut short by the opening of the large doors to her office.
"You called for me Professor?" Draco asked with a bored tone.
"Yes I did, now I assume both of you received your letters, badges and instructions over the holidays?" She asked.
"Yes Professor." We replied in unison.
"Well there is something else you must know…" She said pausing.
I turned to face Draco, and he was already facing me, the confusion about what she was going to say noticeable in both our eyes, it was the first time that I noticed Draco's eyes properly, the dull grey shinning brightly in the flickering candle light, both of us turning immediately to face Professor McGonagall wondering what she could have failed to mention in the letters…
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