Rose let out another squeal of recognition as Neville Longbottom, another close family friend, opened the door. "Uncle Neville!" she said loudly, running forward to hug him. Albus followed her in what he hoped was a more dignified manner.
"Come in, students. Hagrid, you'd better hurry along to the feast," Neville said. "I'm Professor Longbottom," he continued once they were all inside. To the right, Albus could hear happy and excited voices. The older students had already arrived. Instead of taking them to the Great Hall, Neville led them into a small chamber off to the side of the entrance hall.
"Stay here until I come back to get you," Neville ordered. "Ah—a word about the Sorting: For those of you who don't know, a few minutes later you will all be Sorted into one of four Houses: Gryffindor, Hufflepuff, Ravenclaw, and Slytherin," Neville said, spitting out the name of the last House in disgust. "Your House is extremely important. You will spend all of your free time in your House common room, and you will be having all of your classes with your Housemates. They will become like your family over time. Any rulebreaking will deduct points from your House, and any achievements will add points to your House." As an afterthought, he added, "Gryffindor has won both the House Cup and the Quidditch Cup for nineteen years straight now."
With those words, Neville left Albus to brood over his coming doom. His father had promised that it wouldn't matter to him what House Albus was Sorted into, but it would certainly matter to the rest of the family.
And perhaps it was what his father had said back on the platform, or perhaps it was because he had met Scorpius Malfoy, but Albus no longer feared being Sorted into Slytherin.
But I have to be in Gryffindor. I have to be. He looked sideways at Rose, who was fixing her bushy hair. Albus didn't even bother to smooth down his own. He had long since given up on it. He looked down at his plain tie and Hogwarts' crest. Soon, they would turn scarlet and gold. At least, that was what he hoped.
The silence was shattered by several screams. All the first years looked up in horror as misty figures came forth from the wall, drifting a few inches above the ground. Dozens of pearly, semi-transparent ghosts surrounded them. A man with a ruff waved at them. "Sir Nicholas de Mimsy-Porpington, at your service. Resident House ghost of Gryffindor. We'd better win again!"
A beautiful, transparent lady drifting behind him narrowed her eyes. "Ravenclaw better get some good new students. I'm very tired of Gryffindor's constant victories."
Floating next to the woman, a fat ghost with many chins gave a jovial chuckle. "As am I. New Hufflepuffs, you'd better do your best!"
A bloodied man covered in chains said nothing. He only glided past them in silence, not looking at anyone. "That's the Bloody Baron," whispered Nicholas de Mimsy-Porpington. "He's the Slytherin ghost. If you count Slytherin as a House, that is." With a guffaw, Nicholas and the other ghosts drifted away.
Once Albus' heartbeat had returned to normal, he looked around. Rose was laughing in relief. "Oh, those ghosts gave me an awful scare! But they're really harmless. Mum and Dad told us about them! The ghost of Gryffindor House is really called Nearly Headless Nick. We'd better be friends with him, since we're going to be in Gryffindor. I'm sure he'll help us with getting around the school..." Albus listened to Rose blabber on and on, taking comfort from her constant talking. She was never nervous, unlike him.
Finally, Neville came back inside and beckoned the first years forward. Albus felt like he was going to be sick. Once they stepped back out into the entrance hall, Albus saw a girl with long light brown hair slip into the group, unnoticed by everyone but him.
He completely forgot to dwell on his Sorting. Who was the girl, and why was she late? He certainly hadn't seen her on the boats. She certainly was very pretty, with those shining blue-violet eyes. Her stunning periwinkle gaze met his green one for a moment, and he felt his face heat up. What? Why was that? This was new.
Albus pushed his thoughts back to the Sorting as he walked into the Great Hall. He widened his eyes in pleasure. He had never imagined a place so weird yet wonderful. Thousands of floating candles lit the hall, and the students sat talking merrily on the four house tables. In the front of the hall was another long table where the professors were sitting. Neville led them up here. "Form a line," Neville ordered quickly, and the first years obeyed.
Albus noticed, with a gulp, that a patched, dirty hat sitting upon a stool in the middle of the hall. Albus looked over to the students and saw his cousins and brother horsing around at the Gryffindor table, which looked by far the biggest and the happiest.
Then, without warning, the hat began to sing:
I am the famous Sorting Hat,
But please do not yet clap,
For I have a terrible job.
It is this that gives Hogwarts its greatest flaw,
The Sorting of the children,
Into houses Gryffindor, Hufflepuff, Ravenclaw, and Slytherin.
Gryffindor, where the brave go,
Those chivalrous folk will never lay low;
Hufflepuff, where the loyal and sweet reside,
They will fight for what is right;
Ravenclaw, where the studious learn best,
Where they pursue their academic quest;
And the cunning, ambitious folk, Slytherin,
Who will do anything it takes to win;
But before I sort you, consider this,
Is this really Hogwart's wish?
To separate, to fight?
To plunge all of Hogwarts into an endless night?
Listen well, and listen closely,
For the greatest war of all the ages is quickly approaching.
Put me on, but be very afraid,
If you don't consider what I say, it may be too late.
There was silence for a few seconds, and after a few moments of rather hurried and worried clapping, Neville unrolled his scroll, which was so long that it reached his shoes.
Albus watched the hat, thinking about what it had said. Rose, apparently, hadn't even been listening. "Why is everyone looking so worried?" she whispered. Albus ignored her question. The shock of the Sorting Hat's song had gone away and Albus had returned to worrying about his own Sorting.
"When I call your name, come up to the stool and put on the hat," Neville announced. "Abel, Janet." A girl with blond pigtails and a pink face hurried up to the hat and jammed it onto her head. A few seconds later, it yelled, "HUFFLEPUFF!"
"Derlwin, Eric." A blond boy with an arrogant look on his face swaggered up to the stool, clearly not nervous at all. Before the hat even touched his head, it screamed, "GRYFFINDOR!"
Albus turned to look at the Gryffindor table. For some reason, it did not seem as inviting as it should. Everyone there seemed extremely arrogant and smug—and why shouldn't they be? The Gryffindors ruled the school, after all. They were also receiving the greatest amount of students. Nearly every student was Sorted into Gryffindor, and Albus wondered whether everyone was begging the hat to let it put them into the heroic House. After several more names, Albus realized that there hadn't been a single Slytherin. He glanced at the silver-and-green-clad table and saw that it was nearly empty—everyone apparently wanted to avoid Slytherin House. Instead of looking sinister, the Slytherins simply looked lonely and neglected.
"Lyon, Elina." The very pretty girl with the long light brown hair and the nice bluish-purple eyes that Albus had spotted earlier gracefully walked over to the hat and put it on.
A second later, the hat shouted, "GRYFFINDOR!" Albus realized that the staff members and professors were clapping harder than they had for any other student, and wondered what it meant. Did Elina Lyon know the professors well? But she had just met them! She hadn't been on the train, though. Maybe...
The next name jerked Albus out of his thoughts. "Malfoy, Scorpius." Neville narrowed his eyes as Malfoy stepped forward. Malfoy did not look nervous, nor did he look arrogant. Instead, he gave off an aura of boredom.
The hat did not take long to decide. "SLYTHERIN!" The Slytherins tried to clap for their first addition of the evening, but were drowned out by all the booing and jeering. Albus suddenly felt very angry. Why should the current Slytherins be blamed for the mistakes of their parents and grandparents? At that moment, he decided that if he was Sorted into Slytherin, he would change it and make the other Houses respect it.
"Nesbitt, Oswald." The short, slightly elfish boy with the huge brown eyes scuttled forward. The hat took a very long time to decide with Oswald, but it finally screamed, "SLYTHERIN!" The jeering turned to cruel laughter as Oswald forgot to put the hat back on the stool and had to jog back in order to give it to Olga Nyne.
Roughly half of the students had already been Sorted. Albus observed that this was a large year. Even so, only two students had been Sorted into Slytherin House.
"Ocust"..., "Penn"..., "Pomely"..., and then, at last—
"Potter, Albus." Albus stood there in shock, his brain working sluggishly. Whispers broke out:
"Potter, as in Harry Potter's son?"
"He looks just like his dad!"
"He's got to be a Gryffindor..."
Rose pushed him forward, mouthing, 'Don't worry, you'll make it into Gryffindor.' Albus only gave her a weak smile that looked more like a grimace and began his slow, torturous walk toward the stool. He was shaking so much that he wondered how his feet were able to support him. Neville grinned encouragingly as Albus approached him, but Albus could only respond by making a noise similar to both a gasp and a wheeze.
Finally, he sat down and pulled the hat over his eyes. I have to be in Gryffindor, he told the hat firmly. Then, to Albus' shock, a small voice sounded in his ear.
"Ah—how fascinating. Difficult. Extremely difficult. I see intellect beyond your age, oh my goodness—bravery, lots of it! Talent, ah... perhaps you have too much talent... too much power."
Albus gulped. What do you mean? he thought, though he knew perfectly well what the hat meant.
"Insecure, dangerous, powerful... deadly," the hat continued, now chuckling. "You have a destiny greater and more terrible than anyone else's. Not only this, but I see great cunning. I see a desire for change, a desire to prove yourself the greatest wizard ever to walk the Earth. I see all your ambitions and dreams... you want to be different from your family. You want to be legendary because of what you do, not because of what your father did."
I want to be in Gryffindor. I need to be in Gryffindor, Albus thought frantically. He didn't like what the hat was saying at all.
"Are you sure? Because then, that's it. You'll be just another Potter-Weasley, just another hero's son. To step apart from your family and friends takes great courage, and it brings much pain. But you especially will face much worse than your family's disappointment and rage."
Albus struggled with himself. He imagined Rose's bubbly and optimistic face, Scorpius' cold yet clever expression, and the words of his sneering, bullying older brother. Finally, Albus decided: All right. I'm an outcast. This is what I was meant to do.
"So... we've agreed? Very well, then. I expect great things from you, Albus Severus Potter. You will be the one to bring back the honor of the serpent's House—SLYTHERIN!" The Sorting Hat yelled out the last word for the whole hall to hear.
There was utter silence. Albus took off the hat in time to see Neville drop his scroll. Hagrid yelled, "NO!"
Then the booing, shouting, and jeering started. Albus had been expecting it, but he still winced nonetheless. He looked toward the Gryffindor table, very afraid to see what was there. His cousins looked as if they had been hit in the head with a club. Albus searched his brother's face hopefully, but the only thing he saw there was shock, hatred, and anger.
Knowing it was hopeless, he turned to Rose. She looked so anguished that the expression almost physically hurt him. After holding his gaze for a few seconds, she narrowed her eyes and looked in the other direction. Albus' heart broke. Trying to hold back his tears, he scuttled to the Slytherin table, which was so shocked that it hadn't clapped at all.
Well, the Sorting Hat did say that being Sorted in Slytherin would bring much pain, Albus thought, trying to console himself. The reactions of his family and the rest of school weren't unexpected. In fact, he would have been extremely surprised if they had accepted his Sorting. But it still hurts so much, he realized.
Albus sat down at the edge of the table, away from his new housemates. He wasn't in the mood to make new friends when he had just lost all of his old ones—especially Rose.
He saw Neville regain himself and call the next person, "Quemly, Chloe." Albus, who was only waiting for one other name, buried his head in his arms and tried to stop the tears from falling. Finally, the name he had been anticipating was called.
"Weasley, Rose." Rose was Sorted into Gryffindor before the hat even touched her head. Albus rubbed his eyes, knowing that now he and his favorite cousin and best friend were separated forever.
A few names later, the Sorting drew to a close, and Neville rolled up his scroll. The school and staff still looked shaken, as if they couldn't get over the fact that the son of the heroic Harry Potter had gotten Sorted into the 'evil' house.
Then the man sitting in the middle of the table stood up. Albus stared at him curiously. The man had pale skin and dark, flinty eyes. He looked rather young, perhaps in his early thirties. "Hello, and welcome to a new year at Hogwarts. I am your Headmaster, Professor Triton."
Albus raised an eyebrow. Headmaster Triton did not seem particularly enthusiastic.
"I will discuss the rules only after we have all eaten, because I'm sure some of you cannot wait," Triton said dryly. He then looked down at his golden plate, which had magically filled with food.
Albus looked down at his own plate to see that it, too, had filled with food. Not very hungry, Albus nibbled at a piece of bread, thinking about the fifty-or-so Howlers that he was going to receive the next morning from his parents and relatives. Deciding that he wasn't going to sit so far away from his new Housemates, Albus slid closer to the other students.
A boy with fluffy blond hair gave him a weak smile. "Hello, Potter. My name is Wyatt Hemley, and I'm the captain of the Slytherin Quidditch team," he said, sighing. "Welcome to the House of the losers. We haven't won the House Cup or Quidditch Cup in nineteen years. Gryffindor's the Golden House."
"Oh...," said Albus stupidly.
"Why did you get Sorted here, anyways?" Hemley asked, curious. "I mean, really? You could have been popular and well-liked—you could have fit in! But you still got into this House. Why?"
Albus thought about this for a moment. He scowled. "I-I wouldn't have ever fit in Gryffindor," he muttered.
The Quidditch captain looked embarrassed for asking. Then, he smirked dramatically. "Well, bad luck, I guess. All the thugs in the school find it fun to beat up Slytherins physically, mentally, and magically. You won't come back to the common room without being insulted, pushed, punched, or hexed at least ten times a day."
Albus gulped and felt less hungry than ever. Hemley did not look he was exaggerating that much. Albus was sure that he hadn't faced the worst of all the bullying yet.
"But the scariest of them is James Potter. He's far cleverer than the thugs, and far more well-liked and popular. They call him the King of Hogwarts. But you'd know that, won't you?" Hemley said.
Albus gulped again. If it was true that James loved to torture Slytherins, Albus was in big trouble. Before he had been Sorted, James had found it fun to bully Albus, but now it could only get worse. He was quiet for a moment, reflecting in the horror of his situation.
Hemley sneered, "Three new first years? Ridiculous. Gryffindor got more than twenty—how do they even fit that many?"
Albus agreed. Only he, Oswald Nesbitt, and Scorpius Malfoy had been Sorted into Slytherin. Oswald wasn't eating much either, but was instead doodling cheerfully on the tablecloth. Clearly, Oswald had no idea what he would have to face from the other Houses. Scorpius Malfoy, however, was paying attention to everything Albus and Hemley had been discussing. His sharp gray eyes darted from the staff table to the Gryffindor table, taking in every detail.
Albus turned toward the professors' table, wanting to study Triton for another moment. "Do you like the Headmaster?" he asked Hemley.
"Gale Triton? I suppose I like him. He's fair and pleasant, I must say. He used to be an Auror, so he's probably not too excited with this job," Hemley explained.
Satisfied with Hemley's answer, Albus continued to scan the staff table. Albus watched a man with dark hair talking with another colleague. The man turned around suddenly, and Albus' bright green eyes met the man's ice-blue ones.
Albus felt an electric shock go through his body. It was like he had been frozen and burned on the inside, and his head hurt so much that it felt like it would split. Then, the man with the ice-blue eyes turned away, leaving Albus gasping for breath.
Albus had no idea what had happened. Who was this man, and why did Albus suddenly feel sick and tired, like all the energy had been sucked out of him? He studied the professor with the ice-blue eyes for a moment longer, but the man did not look at Albus again. "Who's that professor sitting to the right of the Headmaster?" he asked Hemley, wanting to know more about the man who had caused him that pain.
Hemley winced. "Ah... that's Professor Irving. He's Head of Gryffindor House, and he's a right pain in the you-know-what. He favors the Gryffindors and despises the Slytherins. The other professors don't like us either, but they aren't so obvious about it. You'll see how cruel Irving is when you have your first lesson with him. It's unbelievable how he treats Slytherins."
Albus shuddered. He didn't want someone like that as his enemy, but something gave Albus the feeling that Irving really hated him, even though Albus had done nothing to offend him—nothing besides being Sorted into Slytherin, anyways.
A few minutes later, the plates were cleared and replaced with desserts. Albus reached for his favorite, treacle tart, and stuffed it in his mouth. His thoughts returned to Rose and his family. Depressed, Albus stared at the Gryffindor table. Rose, he was guilty to see, had very red eyes and was sniffling. Albus missed her so much that it made his chest ache, but she would never want to be friends with him ever again now that he was a Slytherin.
To his family, he wasn't a Potter-Weasley anymore. Will they ever accept me? Albus wondered. He seriously doubted it. They had all taken a personal offense because of his Sorting, and he hadn't been very close with them before his Sorting. He had always been the oddity and the outcast, the one that had been ignored and generally disliked.
Albus stared around the table, watching the habitants of the abandoned, hated house. We're all so downtrodden. I'm going to change that. He wasn't very brave, despite what the Sorting Hat had said, but he was ready to fight anything if it would change Slytherin's name.
Finally, the plates were cleaned for the last time, and Headmaster Triton stood up again. He clapped his hands to call the attention of the students, then began his speech. "Now, before I let you go, I must discuss the rules." There was a loud groan from the students, and several of them started booing. Triton simply smiled and continued. "All products from Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes are banned, according to the ghost of Mister Filch, our caretaker. The Forbidden Forest is forbidden, obviously, and wandering the corridors at night is prohibited. The third-floor corridor is banned for this year. I suggest you do not explore it, unless you wish to lose your sanity."
Albus wasn't sure whether to laugh or not. Nobody else did, so he stayed silent. "Is he serious?" he whispered, worried.
"I guess," Hemley muttered back. "But I hope he's exaggerating."
Gossip suddenly broke out:
"Why is it banned?"
"Perhaps there's a monster?"
"Maybe he's hiding a stash of dead students there?"
"I think he has a new girlfriend—"
"SILENCE!" Triton roared. "I highly recommend you do not bother with this. It is not to your concern. Now, everyone dismissed!"
Albus looked to a girl with a long black braid and a prefect's badge. She introduced herself as Annemarie Wong. "You three boys will come with me. I'll show you how to get into the Slytherin common room. It's actually quite complicated, but you'll get used to it."
Annemarie led them out of the Great Hall and down into the dungeons. It steadily became darker, and the walls seemed to glow green. "This is the Potions classroom," she said, gesturing toward a rather small chamber off the main path. "Once you reach this point, it's a lot harder to go deeper. The magic in the school makes it impossible for a non-Slytherin to get into the common room without help. You need to have your wand at all times. Watch me," Annemarie ordered.
Albus watched, entranced, as she took out her wand and said, "Monstrarad serpentem." Her wand rose up in the air and pointed to the path to the left. "The school senses the wand and its owner. If the owner is a Slytherin, the wand will point in the right direction. If the owner is an imposter, the wand points to certain death."
Albus gulped. The dungeon mazes certainly sounded very dangerous. "Also, the mazes change form every few hours, so there's no point in trying to memorize the path," Annemarie said. "So, make sure you never forget your wand."
"Is this a new addition?" Scorpius drawled. "It wasn't here when Father was at school."
"Yes," Annemarie told him. "We decided to strengthen the security after some students from the other Houses played a very nasty prank on us a few years back. I don't want to talk about it. It's a painful memory for all of us."
The three first years and the prefect continued for a few more minutes. Annemarie occasionally said 'Monstrarad serpentem' in order to check her progress. Finally, they arrived at a blank stretch of wall. Albus saw a small hole in the middle of the wall, and wondered what it was for. This question was answered when Annemarie took out her wand again and pressed it into the hole. There was a small click, and the wall slid open magically. "You will only be granted entry if it is a Slytherin's wand," she added offhandedly.
Albus, however, wasn't paying attention anymore. He had seen the Slytherin common room and let out an impressed gasp. Nearly everything glowed green, and skulls decorated the furniture. A large window depicting the inside of the lake took up one side of the room, (Albus thought he briefly saw a merperson's tail in the gloom) and detailed tapestries of serpents gave the room a regal feeling, as if it had once been the parlor of a king's castle.
"Boys to the left," Annemarie said. "When you're coming back to the Great Hall, the maze will shift and change to let you through. Good night. Tomorrow... expect a bit of a rough ride."
"Why?" Oswald asked, looking confused. "Classes don't start until Monday, and today is Friday."
Annemarie gave a long-suffering sigh and rolled her eyes. "First years are so naive. Hogwarts for Slytherins isn't very fun. In fact, it's downright torture. The other Houses don't like us very much. You'll see..."
On that dark note, Scorpius and Oswald immediately went into the boys' dormitories to sleep. Albus, however, sunk into the sofa nearest the fire, which also looked slightly green. Albus spotted a large, silver-framed portrait over the mantle. It was currently empty. At first, Albus didn't particularly care about it, but then, he glanced at it for a second time and gasped in shock. The nameplate underneath the frame said: Severus Snape.
Albus was quite sorry that the frame was empty and he didn't get the chance to talk to his namesake.
Deciding to finally turn in for the night, Albus dragged himself to the first year boys' dormitory. He let out another appreciative gasp. The walls were painted a dark green, and three king-sized, emerald-colored beds were laid out in the room, which had plenty of space because it was nearly empty. This is certainly better than the Gryffindor dormitories, Albus thought happily as he threw himself on his bed after changing into his nightclothes. He was asleep before his head even hit the pillow.
He had expected serious problems from the Gryffindors in the next few days, but nothing could have prepared him for what was coming.
Because what was coming would be much worse than anything the Gryffindors could do to him.
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