Chapter 3 : The Hat Hates its Job
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Albus was separated from his friends in the crush of the crowd and amongst the sea of faces he felt smaller than he’d ever felt in his life. Even going to the Ministry with his father, where tiny paper memos flied and witches carrying fire-breathing chickens were the norm, was nothing compared to the vast amount of black-robed Hogwarts students. Albus longed to see Severus, or Rose, or even James – just the sight of one friendly face would cheer him up.
Trying to get out of the swarm, Albus backed away from the train as much as he could, and suddenly his path was blocked by something large, something soft, something that was talking in a low, hoarse voice...
“Al! Yer finally here!” Hagrid said. “D’yeh know why the train was late? I’ve been standing here fer an hour!"
Albus turned around to see Hagrid, the gigantic Gameskeeper. “Some people in robes stopped the train, Hagrid!” he exclaimed. “They stopped the train and turned out all the lights. It was pretty scary.”
Hagrid frowned. “Some people in robes stopped the train? I’ll ‘ave to tell Dwyer abou’ this…” Hagrid strode off, leaving Albus behind, and then came back. “Sorry, Al. Anyway,it’s good ter see yeh! James told me you’d be starting this year. Remember ter come down and visit this Friday now, won’t yeh?”
“Yes, I will. Can you see Rosie? I think everyone’s disappeared!”
Hagrid laughed. “Nah, but just cause you can’t see ‘em, doesn’t mean they’re not there. Friends are like stars in that way, see?” Hagrid smiled down at him. “That’s one of me dad’s sayings. This way ter the boats. Now come on, we ‘ave to get you lot to the castle and I have to tell the Headmaster about what happened."
Hagrid did a quick headcount and Albus and the other first years walked along the narrow mud track to the lake. They reached it and while everyone was standing still listening to Hagrid, Albus was moving through the crowd, trying to find his brother. He spotted a mane of bushy red hair and headed for it, and sure enough it was Rose, with Severus beside her.
“Let’s get a boat!” said Rose excitedly. “I told you he wasn’t still on the train, Sev.”
Severus grunted. “Yeah, well. Who’s going with who? There are five of us and four to a boat.”
“I’ll go with Sev, and you three can get a boat to yourselves,” suggested Albus. “We can meet up on the other side.”
The other four nodded and Rose, Dillon and Daegan climbed into one boat while Albus and Severus got into another with a sandy-haired boy and a girl with brown hair. They both looked extremely nervous, just as nervous as Albus felt.
Hagrid got into a boat of his own – he took up the whole space – and the boats glided forward, cutting through the smooth glass-like surface of the black lake. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky and an almost-full moon shone brightly. It was one of those pleasantly cool nights – not freezing, but not hot either – and Albus thought it would be the perfect night to be going across a lake in a boat with his twin brother if what lay at the other side was not so daunting and scary.
The boats bumped against the shore in what seemed like no time at all and Albus got out, following the rest of his year as they walked up a short path to the great front doors. Hagrid raised a massive fist, paused for a second, and then knocked loudly, three times.
The door was opened by a happy-looking man in midnight-blue robes and a pointed red hat set at an angle. “Thanks, Hagrid,” said the wizard, who Albus knew to be Neville Longbottom, Herbology teacher, Head of Gryffindor and Deputy Headmaster.
Hagrid nodded and followed them into the Entrance Hall, a huge open space with stone flags, suits of armour, numerous portraits and paintings and marble stairs leading up, stone stairs leading down. Hagrid quickly opened and closed a pair of double doors. Albus caught the sound of happy chatter coming from the room within. The rest of the school must have been there already.
“Hello, first years, I’m Professor Longbottom. I am the Deputy Headmaster, as you all saw on your letters, and in a minute or two I’m going to take you to be Sorted, but just now I’ll explain about the way Hogwarts works. If you’ll just follow me …” Neville walked towards a smaller door to the left of the Great Hall doors and led the first years into a small antechamber. Once they were all inside, Neville turned to them. “There are four houses: my house, Gryffindor, and the others are Hufflepuff, Ravenclaw and Slytherin. Each house has produced outstanding witches and wizards over time. While – sorry, I don’t know your name. Do you have a question?” Neville was looking at a small boy at the back of the group with his hand raised.
“I’m Fraser, sir, Fraser Williams. Wasn’t You – wasn’t Voldemort in Slytherin?” asked Fraser.
Neville paused and looked out over the group. “Yes, he was. Don’t judge the houses by the people they have produced, though. Slytherin House is just as good as the rest. And did you know that it’s rumoured that the wizard who invented Floo powder was a Slytherin?”
There was muttering among the students. Evidently they had not known this.
“Yes. Voldemort was an extremely evil wizard. The Sorting Hat placed him in Slytherin because of Salazar Slytherin’s criteria. It was not his house that made him what he was, but his own choices. While your house is certainly a big part of your Hogwarts life, it should not affect the rest of your life very much, and if it does it will be because your own actions have made it so.
“As I was saying before, your fellow house-members will become like a family for your time at Hogwarts, and they’ll probably become life-long friends. Good achievements will earn you house points, and any rule-breaking will lead to detentions and house points taken off. You might want to smarten yourselves up a bit as we’ll go through to get Sorted in a minute.” Neville walked through another door and Albus turned to his friends. Daegan, Dillon and Rose had made their way over to the twins during Neville’s speech and now they all turned to each other.
“How do they sort you?” asked Daegan worriedly. “Do you have to answer questions on magic? I haven’t looked at any textbooks – I wish I had …”
Albus shook his head. “All you have to do is try on a Hat. It can, I dunno, see your thoughts or something, and it decides what qualities you have and which founder they match the best. I think it’s … for Gryffindor you have to be brave or chivalrous and stuff, for Ravenclaw you have to be really smart-”
“That’s you Rosie,” said Severus.
“-for Hufflepuff you have to be unafraid of work or something, and for Slytherin you have to be cunning and self-centred.”
“How do you know all this?” asked Daegan in awe.
Severus shrugged. “Dad remembered most of the song. The Hat sings a new song every year,” he explained to Daegan.
“Yeah!” said Dillon. “I can’t wait – oh look, here comes Professor Longbottom!”
Albus briefly wondered who she meant before remembering that at school, Neville was Professor Longbottom. He turned as Neville told them to get into line. Albus shuffled in between Severus and Dillon, and they walked forward into the Great Hall.
James had told him to watch the ceiling, and Albus’s jaw dropped as he saw, not a ceiling, but the night sky, clear and starry. He knew it was an enchanted ceiling, but it was hard to imagine it wasn’t simply open to the sky.
Next Albus looked out over the house tables. There were four of them, and he guessed that the Gryffindor table was the one on the far left, as it housed a mass of classic Weasley red hair and Albus could actually see the faces of a few of his cousins – the Weasley twins, Fred and Roxanne, Molly and Victoire. Victoire was the only one of his cousins without red hair. She had inherited Aunt Fluer’s silvery Veela hair, and she stood out just as much as the red heads.
Everyone’s gaze was pointed at a stool in front of the High Table, on top of which was a Hat. Albus knew this to be the Sorting Hat, although without various descriptions he wouldn’t have picked it out as special. It was a slightly tattered black hat that looked like it would be too big for any of the first years, with a wide brim and a sagging point. Suddenly a rip near the brim opened and the Hat burst into song.
Once it finished, there was tremendous applause. “Life must be pretty boring for a Hat,” mused Dillon.
Severus laughed. “I’ll say. Especially for the Sorting Hat. It only gets worn on September the first.”
Neville stood behind the Hat and held up a long roll of parchment. “Armstrong, Clara,” he read.
A tall freckled girl moved out of line and sat on the stool. The Hat went over her head and after a moment it yelled, “SLYTHERIN!”
The table on the far right cheered and clapped. Albus didn’t recognise anyone on that table, and he hoped he wouldn’t be joining them. He glanced at James and thought about what he would say if the Hat yelled out any house other than Gryffindor.
Daegan started and walked shakily up to the stool. The Hat went over his eyes and it was silent for a few moments before yelling out “GRYFFINDOR!”
Albus clapped as the sea of red heads rose as one. The Weasley clan stomped and cheered as Daegan, grinning, went to join the Gryffindor table.
“HUFFLEPUFF!” yelled the Hat.
The Sorting continued like this and as Neville moved through the Ms and Ns Albus began to get worried. He had suddenly realised that as his name began with an A, he would be Sorted before Severus.
“Malfoy, Scorpius-” (Slytherin) “-Philips, Lucinda-” (Hufflepuff) “-Potter, Albus.”
Albus gulped and his heart hammered hard against his chest. He felt Severus pat him on the shoulder and he walked numbly towards the stool. Neville lifted the Hat, gave him a tiny wink, and then the Hat dropped over his head. Albus had been right in guessing that it would be too big, and it fell down over his eyes, blocking out views of James trying to mouth Slytherin at him, which was a good thing.
'Ah… anoher Potter.' Albus jumped slightly, he had not realised that the Hat would actually talk to him. It had a low, buzzing voice. 'So much in there – potential, yes, and – oh, oho, I see …'
“What?” whispered Albus, then thought, 'What do you see?'
'Something … interesting, but I must do the Sorting, it is not my place … anyway … very clever, yes, and you want to prove yourself, live up to your father’s name, and talent, that’s … obvious … so where to put you?'
'Not Slytherin,' thought Albus as hard as he could. 'Please not Slytherin.'
'No, definitely not Slytherin. I think... yes.' "GRYFFINDOR!"
Albus rose from the stool and removed the now-irritated Hat from his head. He placed it back on the stool and walked calmly down to the Gryffindor table, shooting a cocky glance at James before sitting down next to Daegan. He couldn’t stop smiling as he turned to watch Severus being Sorted.
Severus glanced at Albus, who gave him the thumbs up, and then walked up to Neville and sat on the stool. As the Hat went over his head, Albus could see Severus chewing his lip, a familiar gesture in a strange place. Albus smiled.
Suddenly Albus heard a buzzing in his ears. He knew it wasn’t the Muffliato charm – everyone around him was watching Severus – and when he concentrated on the sound, it started to form familiar patterns, like words.
¬‘-could help you.’
Albus jumped slightly, but no one around him noticed. Frowning, he concentrated again.
¬‘I won’t! I won’t be in Slytherin! Dad says our choices count and didn't Dumbledore say something like that once too?'
'Yes, I suppose he did... You would make a nice Slytherin though...' There was a pause. 'I do see.. yes, very well then.' "GRYFFINDOR!"
Albus clapped and stood with the rest of the Weasleys as Severus, looking happy and slightly confused. “The Hat wasn’t very happy about something. It-”
“Got annoyed, I know.” Severus opened his mouth, frowning, and Albus just shook his head. Later he mouthed, and Severus understood.
They turned back to the front of the hall and watched a couple of other people be Sorted. Dillon and Rose got into Gryffindor, along with Fraser Williams, who had asked about the evilness of Slytherin. Albus looked at the High Table, where the Headmaster was standing.
“Welcome to our new students; to our old ones, welcome back. I am the Headmaster, Professor Dwyer, and this is the start of a brand new year at Hogwarts! Before I give you the speech, tuck in.”
Tuck in to what? Albus thought, but then he saw that the previously empty plates and goblets were now full of food and drink. Albus grinned and piled his plate high with lamb chops, mashed potatoes, and other kinds of food. He hadn’t realised how hungry he was.
“The Hat seemed a bit irritated; did it feel like that with anyone else?” Rose asked.
Albus and Dillon nodded. Severus smiled guiltily. “That might have been me. It wanted to put me in – er – a different house, but I didn’t want to, and it turns out it listens to your choices. Well, it has too. So, I annoyed it, but it put me in Gryffindor.”
Rose laughed. “That would explain it.”
Pudding appeared and just as Albus could eat no more, the crumbs disappeared from his plate and Professor Dwyer stood up again, his face serious. “Hagrid informs me that the train was stopped by a number of cloaked and hooded figures. I want none of you to worry about this because the Aurors at the Ministry will undoubtedly be working on this as we speak. I would like the Head Boy and Girl and the seventh year Prefects to stay behind though, and also anyone who saw something they think is important. On a lighter note, I would like to congratulate Hufflepuff for winning the House Cup last year and Ravenclaw for winning the Quidditch Cup. Good luck to all four houses with that this year. This year, we have a new Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher because, as all of you here last year will know, our old teacher Professor Terrison retired. Please welcome Professor Keane.”
A man with short brown hair and grey eyes stood up as the students clapped politely. Keane had large dark rings under his eyes and he looked pale, even from a distance. “Thank you,” he said. His voice was low and hoarse. “I look forward to teaching you all this year.” He sat down again.
Daegan and Albus shared a glance. The five of them were all thinking how odd the new teacher looked, and how when he said he was looking forward to teaching, he didn’t sound like he meant it one bit.
“I would like to tell all first years that items purchased from Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes are banned and will be confiscated upon detection. Madame Pomfrey can tell the difference between a Nosebleed Nougat and a real nosebleed, as some of you older students know. For the full list of banned items, please refer to the list pinned up inside Mr Perry’s office.”
Howard Perry was the new caretaker, Albus knew. He had taken over from Filch a couple of years ago, and as far as Albus’s cousins were concerned was a lot nicer.
“As well as a new teacher, I would also like to introduce a wizard studying to start teaching next year, Ernie Macmillan.”
A short, rather pompous-looking man stood up and gave a tiny bow, touching the brim of his hat. “Thank you,” he said as the applause died down. “I would like to make schools everywhere fun and interesting places and where better to start than Hogwarts, where I was taught? The subject I’ll be taking a few classes on is History of Magic, and I’ll be studying under Professor Binns. Hopefully I can – ahem – liven up classes a little.”
Neville snorted loudly and then went red and turned it into a cough. Albus laughed a little. He knew that Professor Binns was a ghost, and that his classes were the best place to catch up on sleep. ‘Liven up’ was a good statement whatever the meaning.
“Thank you, Mr Macmillan,” Dwyer said, smiling slightly. “I am going to assume you meant make classes more interesting. That is all, I think?” he glanced around at the other teachers. “If you want to try out for your house Quidditch team please hand your name to your head of house. The Quidditch Captains will give the dates of try-outs and practices. Hogsmeade weekends will be posted on the noticeboards. Have a good night, and be ready for lessons in the morning!”
The Gryffindor fifth year Prefects, Albus’s cousin Molly and a boy called Tobias Jones, stood. Albus dithered. “Should I tell Dwyer about the tattoo I saw?” he asked worriedly.
“No, Al,” said Rose. “You could get in big trouble for giving misleading information and wasting the Aurors’ time. Come on, let’s go to the dormitory.” Albus stood and reluctantly followed his friends out of the Great Hall and into the Entrance Hall. The Slytherins started down the stairs to the dungeons, the Hufflepuffs went along a corridor and the Ravenclaws and Gryffindors went up a marble staircase. Soon the Ravenclaws peeled off, leaving the Gryffindors to walk back to their common room alone.
They stopped in front of a portrait of a fat lady in pink and Molly said, “This is the password, guys, so remember it. Felix Felicis.”
The portrait nodded and swung forward, revealing a hole which the tired Gryffindors eagerly clambered through.
The common room was round, with a roaring fire in a curved fireplace and several red, squashy-looking armchairs with round tables in between them. A cork pin board hung between two archways, beyond which were stone staircases. The walls were scarlet with golden lions wandering around on them. Albus found the constant movement peaceful, somehow.
Molly and Tobias stood underneath the noticeboard. “The boys’ dormitories are to the left, girls’ to the right. First to fourth years, remember your curfew is eight. That just means you have to be in here by eight. You can stay up til midnight if you want, although I wouldn’t advise it. Fifth to seventh years, your curfew is nine. Your trunks will be up in your dorms, and if you brought pets they’ll be in the dorms or the owlery, depending on what the pet is. Our Head of House is Professor Longbottom, the Herbology teacher. You can talk to either me or Molly if you have any questions or worries or anything you want to share, really. Have a good night’s sleep, guys, and don’t worry about the train thing. It’ll all blow over soon enough.” As if they’d practised the move, Molly and Tobias both turned at the same time and began to climb the stairs to their respective bedrooms. Instantly the common room erupted in chatter.
“Eight o’clock!” exclaimed Dillon. “At home I get to stay up til nine!”
“You can do that here,” said Albus. “Weren’t you listening? Curfew means they don’t want you walking around the school. You can spend the extra hour in here if you so choose.”
Dillon nodded, apparently satisfied. “Cool. Are any of you guys ti-ti-tired?” she asked, stifling a yawn.
Albus, Severus, Daegan and Rose nodded. “I have to go send an owl first. I’ll see you guys tomorrow, I guess,” said Albus, and without another word his friends and twin brother turned to the stone staircases and climbed up to their dormitories.
Albus darted out of the portrait hole and sped along to the owlery. Sure enough, Septimus was there, his feathers giving off a soft light. Albus took a quill from a pot and one of the pieces of parchment so kindly provided and started to write a letter.
Dear Mum and Dad and Lily, it began.
Me and Sev are both in Gryffindor. So is Rose, but she’ll probably owl you herself later. School looks good. There was a train holdup thing but Dad probably knows about that already. Have to go now.
P.S. Say hi to Uncles and Aunts and Hugo for me.
Albus folded up the letter and went up to Septimus, who help out his leg. By ‘Uncles and Aunts’ Albus meant the Weasleys, but it was easier to write the three words than to list all their names. “You know where to go, Sep,” said Albus. “Number Twelve Grimmauld Place. Home.”
Septimus hooted and jumped off Albus’s arm, flying out of one of the large windows. Albus watched him until he was a tiny speck in the sky, then nothing more, before finally walking back to the common room.
Once there, he went up to the first year dormitory. Albus found his trunk and got into his pyjamas before collapsing into bed and drawing the hangings shut around him. He lay, wide awake, listening to the sounds of his fellow Gryffindors sleeping. Fellow Gryffindors. All summer he had been worrying about the prospect of being in Slytherin, and now that he was a Gryffindor he was laughing at himself.
Suddenly the buzzing came back. Albus stopped and concentrated hard.
‘Al never told me how he knew the Hat swore at me.’ It sounded like a muffled, tinny version of Severus’s voice, as of Albus was hearing him on the radio. ‘How could he have known? Maybe I mouthed the swearword or something.’
‘You didn’t.’ Albus had no idea if it would work, but he tried sending a thought to Severus. He was sure that what he was hearing was Severus’s thoughts, and as the Hat had been talking to Severus in his head, Albus had heard the Hat too.
A mixture of feelings that weren’t his own entered Albus’s head. Confusion and caution were the strongest two.
‘Sev, it’s Al. I have no idea how, but I can hear your thoughts sometimes. Can you hear mine? That’s how I knew the Hat swore at you. Are you there?’
‘Sev! Is this weird or what?’
‘It’s pretty weird, yeah.’ Albus felt a wave of tiredness come over him along with Severus’s statement. He felt strangely disembodied from the feeling, as though it were not his own. Now he knew it was Severus’s.
‘Al, I’m pretty tired. Can we go to sleep?’
‘Sure.’ Albus lay down on the bed and closed his eyes. What was the Muggle word for it? Telekinesis? No, that was the power to lift things with your mind. Telepathy, that was it. Having solved this mystery, Albus dropped off quickly, but in the back of his mind he could feel that Severus was still awake. It was a rather odd experience.
This is the edited version because a reviewer thought Dwyer and Hagrid would make more of the holdup than they originally did, so here it is!
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