Author’s Note: Chronologically, this is about six weeks after the first chapter from this short story collection. While you got to know Naomi a bit better in the first chapter, you will be getting a glimpse into Claire’s mind in this one.
The Sorting Hat’s comments during Claire’s sorting about bravery are inspired by comments that Ned Stark makes to his son Bran in George R. R. Martin’s A Game of Thrones. The title is a line from the classic film Casablanca.
The Beginning of a Beautiful Friendship
September 1st, 1971
Eleven-year-old Claire Vermette remembered the first time she saw the Hogwarts Express clearly. Her parents had brought all five of their children to King’s Cross Station to see of their oldest child, Coralie. Claire had only been five at the time, but she had vivid memories of holding her father’s hand and staring up at the huge red steam engine.
She had been back many times since to bring back Coralie and later Denis and Gilbert. It seemed almost surreal that it was her turn. Yet, after giving her parents and little Sophie hugs, she had boarded the train behind her sister.
Claire did her best to keep up with her older sister as her trunk dragged behind her, scraping against her heels. Claire peered into the compartments that they passed, trying to get a look at the people she would be going to school with, but she felt like she hardly had time to absorb any of it before they disappeared from view and she was looking into the next compartment.
Midway down the train, she stopped abruptly to avoid running into her sister. As Coralie opened the door to the compartment, she asked, “Are you two first years?”
Claire peered around her sister’s arm. Inside the compartment were two girls who certainly did not look much older than she was. Sitting near the middle of one side was a girl with a fairly round face. She had brown hair that fell just past her shoulders and big brown eyes. When she saw Claire looking at her, the girl gave a tentative smile. On the other side, sitting next to the window, was a taller girl with striking features. Her long dark hair was pushed over one shoulder and her vibrant blue eyes were looking up at Coralie. Unlike the other girl, she seemed unfazed that a seventh year was talking to her.
“We are,” the blue eyed girl said. She turned her eyes to Claire then, which made her swallow hard. “Does she want to sit with us?”
Rather than waiting for Coralie, Claire spoke up for herself. “If you don’t mind,” she said. She was a bit embarrassed that her big sister was inviting her into these girls’ compartment, but she didn’t want to seem like a baby who couldn’t talk for herself.
The brown eyed girl slid closer to the window. “Sure,” she said with a smile.
Claire dragged her trunk into the compartment, trying to avoid scraping it against the back of her ankles again. When she had it settled, she went to close the door and found her sister already gone. “I’m Claire Vermette,” she said as soon as she sat down.
“I’m Pippa Brown,” the friendly girl said. “That’s Liv Madley.”
Claire smiled across to the other girl – Liv – who finally offered a smile in return. Near her feet, a caged owl squawked. “Sorry about my sister. She can be embarrassing.”
“Don’t worry about it,” Pippa said, waving a hand as though she was trying to brush the comment off. “What house is she in?”
Claire could tell that Pippa was trying to break the ice, which she was thankful for. “Hufflepuff. I have a brother in Slytherin and a brother in Gryffindor though, so I have no clue where I’ll get sorted.”
“What houses are your parents from?” Liv asked.
“They went to Beauxbatons,” Claire said. “I was born in France, actually. My family moved to Scotland when I was two.”
The girls asked her some questions about the other wizarding school and the wizarding world in France. Claire did her best to give answers, but she wasn’t sure how detailed she could be. They still went to France a couple of times a year, but she had never actually seen Beauxbatons and was only able to relay what her parents had told her. She had no idea if what her parents said about the school in the late forties was even remotely accurate anymore.
Trying to change the subject, she asked, “What about you two? Did everyone in your families go to Hogwarts?”
“Yeah,” Liv said, leaning back. “My parents were both Ravenclaws. Now my brothers both are, too.”
“My parents were also Ravenclaws,” Pippa said cheerfully. “My sister Rowena is in her third year and a Ravenclaw now, as well.”
“With that name, she practically had to be,” Liv said with a laugh.
Claire turned so she was facing the other girls more. “Do you think you’ll both be Ravenclaws, then?” she asked.
“Liv will be,” Pippa said, looking at the other girl. “She’s practically a genius, just like the rest of her family. I won’t be, though. I’m not really that type.” She seemed perfectly comfortable admitting that she was not as smart as the rest of her family, at least in her own mind.
Pippa’s comments about Liv surprised Claire a bit. “How long have you two known each other?” she asked, looking between them.
“Forever,” Liv said. “Or it feels that way, at least. We’re from the same neighbourhood and our mums kind of knew each other from school, even though they were a couple years apart.”
Pippa added, “There are a few other wizarding families that live in our area, so we all know each other at least a little bit.”
They were interrupted shortly after, as a couple other new students piled in with them. Claire figured it was because they looked less intimidating than some of the other groups, even with three of them and Liv’s screeching owl, who was later introduced to them all as Franklin. By the time eleven o’clock came around and they started moving, there were six of them in the compartment, plus Franklin and a tabby cat that lay on top of his owner’s lap.
Chatting with other witches and wizards her age made the day seem to fly by. They talked about Hogwarts and their lives before, ate candy off the trolley and speculated about what life was going to be like, and looked out the window all the while, hoping that they would see signs that Hogwarts was off in the distance.
By the time they changed into their robes and disembarked from the train, their group got broken up by students piling out of other compartments. Following the call of “First years!” Claire made her way with Pippa towards the lake, where they found a dozen or so boats waiting for them. Having lost Liv and the others, Claire and Pippa piled in with a blond boy and a boy with a crew cut.
What seemed like both an eternity and a couple minutes later, the boats drifted to stops alongside a little boat house far below the castle. As they piled out, Claire looked up at Hogwarts, looming up above them with lights flickering. A shiver of excitement went through her. They were finally here.
It seemed to take a while for the person in charge to get them organized. While she was waiting, Claire tried to do a rough head count, but it was hard with people milling around. She guessed that there were at least forty-five first years, but she couldn’t be sure. She stood on her tip toes to try to spot other familiar faces, but she was short and it didn’t help much. She was still craning her neck when the Deputy Headmaster came out to lead them into the Great Hall.
As they walked between the Hufflepuff and Ravenclaw tables, Claire looked for her siblings. At the Hufflepuff table she found Coralie with a pointed wizard’s hat perched on her blonde curls, and offered her sister a smile.
Once they were at the front of the Great Hall, they stood in a semi-circle around a stool and hat. As the hat began to sing, Claire and Pippa exchanged grins. The song went on for a few minutes but when the Sorting Hat finished singing, the Deputy Headmaster wasted no time in unrolling a scroll of parchment.
He cleared his throat, then called out, “Alexander, Cathryn.”
Cathryn Alexander was sorted into Hufflepuff, sending the table behind Claire into applause. She was followed by Luther Aubrey, the first Ravenclaw, and two Slytherins (“Avery, Julius” and “Black, Rigel”). After them, the second Black (“Black, Sirius!”) became the first Gryffindor to be sorted.
“Brown, Philippa!” was called out next. Claire watched as Pippa made her way through the people in front of them, excusing herself as she went. The hat was only on her head for a few seconds before it yelled out “HUFFLEPUFF!”
Claire watched Pippa scurry to her sister’s table before turning back to the Sorting Hat. She knew it would be a long time before she was called up, thanks to having a surname that started with “V”, so she did her best to be patient as she watched the others be sorted. There was a long stretch without a single Slytherin that included a pair of twin girls (“Flume, Apollonia” and “Flume, Artemisia”). After more than a dozen people, that was broken by a girl named “Lawson, Kiora” becoming the second girl to join the Slytherin table.
A few names later, the Deputy Headmaster called for “Madley, Lavinia.” Claire watched as Liv made her way up the steps confidently before sitting on the stool. It took a bit longer than Pippa, but soon the hat was declaring her a Ravenclaw, just as Pippa predicted. With a smile, Liv went to join the Ravenclaw bench.
More and more people were called up to be sorted, including several who went to the Slytherin house, as though to balance out the stretch without a single one from before. Finally, when there were only six other people standing up with her, Claire heard her name called.
She didn’t have to brush past anybody on her way up, since most of her fellow first years had already taken their seats on their respective benches. She walked up the steps carefully, making sure she didn’t step on her robes, since the mere thought of slipping in front of the entire school made her embarrassed.
As the Deputy Headmaster put the Sorting Hat on her head, she did her best to brace herself for the inanimate object talking in her ear. Yet, even though she had heard all three of her older siblings talk about how weird it was, she was still surprised when she heard a voice whisper to her, “Interesting family you have. Three different houses for three different kids. You won’t be a Ravenclaw though.”
“Where do you want to put me?” Claire thought. She looked out over the tables, wondering which one she would end up at.
“You, my dear, are a Gryffindor or a Hufflepuff.” The voice sounded confident in its assessment. “You are loyal and have a kind heart. But you are also strong willed and brave.”
That surprised Claire. “Brave?” She didn’t feel brave. She got nervous doing a lot of things.
The hat responded to her thoughts. “Afraid you may be, but you persevere. It is not brave to do something you do not fear, it is overcoming those fears that make you a GRYFFINDOR!”
The last word was shouted out loud, which resulted in cheering from one of the tables at the far end of the room. Claire hoped that Gil was one of the people cheering for her, now that she had been sorted into his house.
Claire sat down near the end of the bench, where the other dozen or so students who had been sorted into Gryffindor were sitting. A boy on the other side of the table with messy hair asked, “Claire is it?” When she nodded he said, “I’m James.”
The others around her introduced themselves as well… a short girl named Aurora, a tall boy sitting next to her named Forest, a chubbier boy named Peter, and the boy who had been called up immediately after her (“Wagstaff, Matthew!”) who slid into the bench across from her.
After the last Gryffindor of the night (“Young, Saphira”) joined them, there was only one student remaining. “Zeller, Mark” became a Hufflepuff and with that, the sorting was over.
As Professor Dumbledore gave a welcoming speech, Claire looked down the two benches and counted seven new Gryffindor boys and six new Gryffindor girls. Of the other twelve, only one of the boys had sat in her compartment with her on the train, and he had said very little. As she looked over the faces around her, she wondered what the others were like. Who would she bond with? Were some of the people sitting near her going to become her new best friends?
When Professor Dumbledore finished speaking and the trays around her filled up with food in an instant, she began to listen to the conversations taking place around her. She was finally here and she wanted to take in every minute of it.