Hoping For a Better Future: BOOK ONE

One day after the end of Harry's third year, he wanders the castle when suddenly a whole package of books falls on his head. Read my version of Reading the Harry Potter Books! =D

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11. VII - The Sorting Hat

 Disclaimer: Everything belongs to JK Rowling I own nothing. Writing in bold comes directly from Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone.


VII – The Sorting Hat

The door swung open at once. A tall, black-haired witch in emerald-green robes stood there. She had a very stern face and Harry's first thought was that this was not someone to cross.

"Something you and James never learnt," McGonagall sighed at Sirius. The only response she got back was a cheeky grin.

"The firs'-years, Professor McGonagall," said Hagrid.

"Thank you, Hagrid. I will take them from here."

"You always do," teased Sirius.

She pulled the door wide. The Entrance Hall was so big you could have fitted the whole of the Dursleys' house in it. The stone walls were lit with flaming torches like the ones at Gringotts, the ceiling was too high to make out, and a magnificent marble staircase facing them led to the upper floors.

They followed Professor McGonagall across the flagged stone floor. Harry could hear the drone of hundreds of voices from a doorway to the right – the rest of the school must already be here – but Professor McGonagall showed the first-years into a small empty chamber off the hall. They crowded in, standing rather closer together than they would usually have done, peering about nervously.

"Welcome to Hogwarts," said Professor McGonagall. "The start-of-term banquet will begin shortly, but before you take your seats in the Great Hall, you will be sorted into your houses. The Sorting is a very important ceremony because, while you are here, your house will be something like your family within Hogwarts. You will have classes with the rest of your house, sleep in your house dormitory and spend free time in your house common room.

"The four houses are called Gryffindor, Hufflepuff, Ravenclaw and Slytherin. Each house has its own noble history and each has produced outstanding witches and wizards. While you are at Hogwarts, your triumphs will earn your house points, while any rule-breaking will lose house points. At the end of the year, the house with the most points is awarded the House Cup, a great honour. I hope each of you will be a credit to whichever house becomes yours.

The Sorting Ceremony will take place in a few minutes in front of the rest of the school. I suggest you all smarten yourselves up as much as you can while you are waiting."

"You don't change much, do you?" Sirius grinned at McGonagall.

"You mean she uses the same speech every year?" asked Hermione curiously, not noticing McGonagall's frowning.

"Yep, or at least she used the same one when we were first years," Sirius replied.

"She also used it when I came to Hogwarts," Tonks said cheekily.

"Enough!" interrupted a stern McGonagall.

"Yes, Minnie," replied Sirius.

Her eyes lingered for a moment on Neville's cloak, which was fastened under his left ear, and on Ron's smudged nose.

"Would you give it a rest with my nose already!" Ron got angry.

"I think that's the last mention of it, actually," Harry said grinning at his friend.

Harry nervously tried to flatten his hair.

"Not going to work," Ron, Hermione, Neville, Remus and Sirius all said in unison. Harry scowled at them.

"I shall return when we are ready for you," said Professor McGonagall. "Please wait quietly."

She left the chamber. Harry swallowed.

"How exactly do they sort us into houses?" he asked Ron.

"Some sort of test, I think. Fred said it hurts a lot, but I think he was joking."

"You really should learn not to believe what the twins say," Hermione said.

"Well, they're smart enough to tell the truth half the time, so I don't know what's true and what's not," Ron complained.

"I like them already," Sirius commented with a huge grin on his face.

Harry's heart gave a horrible jolt. A test? In front of the whole school? But he didn't know any magic yet – what on earth would he have to do? He hadn't expected something like this the moment they arrived. He looked around anxiously and saw that everyone else looked terrified too. No one was talking much except Hermione Granger, who was whispering very fast about all the spells she'd learnt and wondering which one she'd need.

"You heard that?" Hermione asked embarrassed.

Harry tried hard not to listen to her. He'd never been more nervous, never, not even when he'd had to take a school report home to the Dursleys saying that he'd somehow turned his teacher's wig blue. He kept his eyes fixed on the door. Any second now, Professor McGonagall would come back and lead him to his doom.

"Drama queen," Sirius coughed and snickered. He was rewarded by a jab into his ribs. That hurt.

Then something happened which made him jump about a foot in the air – several people behind him screamed.

"Ah, the ghosts. Did they argue about giving Peeves another chance again?" Remus asked. The children nodded.

"They do that every year as well," Sirius added. "You'd think it would get old sooner, seeing at they're ghosts."

"What the –?" He gasped.

"At least you didn't scream like a girl," Sirius chuckled. Remus blushed and tried not to meet anyone's eyes. Of course, Harry being Harry, noticed it and figured out it was his favourite professor that screamed. He grinned to himself.

So did the people around him. About twenty ghosts had just streamed through the back wall. Pearly-white and slightly transparent, they glided across the room talking to each other and hardly glancing at the first-years. They seemed to be arguing. What looked like a fat little monk was saying, "Forgive and forget, I say, we ought to give him a second chance –"

"My dear Friar, haven't we given Peeves all the chances he deserves? He gives us all a bad name and you know, he's not really even a ghost – I say, what are you all doing here?"

A ghost wearing a ruff and tights had suddenly noticed the first-years.

"Nearly Headless Nick," said Sirius smartly.

"We know," Ron and Hermione replied.

"Would you stop interrupting my reading with such unimportant things!" Snape snarled, having reached his limit. He wanted to read about Potter's sorting. The teens had the decency to look sheepish, while Black glared at him. He glared right back, daring him to say something.

Nobody answered.

"About to be sorted, I suppose?"

A few people nodded mutely.

"Hope to see you in Hufflepuff" said the Friar. "My old house, you know."

"We know," said Sirius, grinning cheekily at Snape. Snape gnashed his teeth together, but resolutely ignored the mutt. Harry looked between his Potions professor and his godfather. The two adults clearly disliked each other very much. He wondered why and then realized that his father and Sirius probably weren't very nice to Snape when they were at Hogwarts. Snape did always tell him that his father was an arrogant git that strutted around the school as if he owned it. He wasn't sure what to believe. From the story Remus and Sirius told him in the Shrieking Shack, his dad seemed like a mixture between Ron Weasley (with his prejudices) and Draco Malfoy (with his arrogance).

"Move along now," said a sharp voice. "The Sorting Ceremony's about to start."
Professor McGonagall had returned. One by one, the ghosts floated away through the opposite wall.

"Now, form a line," Professor McGonagall told the first-years, "and follow me."
Feeling oddly as though his legs had turned to lead, Harry got into line behind a boy with sandy hair,

"Seamus," Ron told them.

with Ron behind him, and they walked out of the chamber, back across the hall and through a pair of double doors into the Great Hall.

Harry had never even imagined such a strange and splendid place. It was lit by thousands and thousands of candles which were floating in mid-air over four long tables, where the rest of the students were sitting. These tables were laid with glittering golden plates and goblets. At the top of the Hall was another long table where the teachers were sitting. Professor McGonagall led the first-years up here, so that they came to a halt in a line facing the other students, with the teachers behind them. The hundreds of faces staring at them looked like pale lanterns in the flickering candlelight. Dotted here and there among the students, the ghosts shone misty silver. Mainly to avoid all the staring eyes, Harry looked upwards and saw a velvety black ceiling dotted with stars. He heard Hermione whisper, "It's bewitched to look like the sky outside, I read about it in Hogwarts: A History."

It was hard to believe there was a ceiling there at all, and that the Great Hall didn't simply open on to the heavens.

Harry quickly looked down again as Professor McGonagall silently placed a four-legged stool in front of the first-years. On top of the stool she put a pointed wizard's hat. This hat was patched and frayed and extremely dirty. Aunt Petunia wouldn't have let it in the house.

"Harry," chuckled Dumbledore.

Maybe they had to try and get a rabbit out of it,

"Why a rabbit?" asked a confused Ron.

"It's a muggle magician trick," Hermione explained.

Harry thought wildly, that seemed the sort of thing – noticing that everyone in the Hall was now staring at the hat, he stared at it too. For a few seconds, there was complete silence. Then the hat twitched. A rip near the brim opened wide like a mouth – and the hat began to sing:

"Oh, you may not think I'm pretty,

"Don't worry, we don't," Sirius said with a grin.

But don't judge on what you see,
I'll eat myself if you can find
A smarter hat than me.
You can keep your bowlers black,
Your top hats sleek and tall,
For I'm the Hogwarts Sorting Hat
And I can cap them all.
There's nothing hidden in your head
The Sorting Hat can't see,

"Does this mean that the Hat can read our minds?" asked a curious Harry. He had wondered about that for a while.

"He only uses a very quick Legilimency on you, just to get information on your personality," Dumbledore explained.

"What's Legilimency?" asked Hermione. Harry and Ron looked at each other in surprise. It wasn't often that Hermione didn't know an answer to a question.

s the art of extracting emotions and memories from someone's mind," Snape started explaining, before he could stop himself. "The mind is not a book, to be opened at will and examined at leisure. Thoughts are not etched on the inside of skulls, to be perused by any invader. The mind is a complex and many-layered thing... It is true, however, that those who have mastered Legilimency are able, under certain conditions, to delve into the minds of their victims and to interpret their findings correctly."

Harry listened to the professor speak with unsuppressed interest. It sounded like Voldemort knew Legilimency as well – otherwise, how would he have known that he was lying about the Philosopher's Stone in his first year? He blanched. This sounded very wrong to him. He didn't want Voldemort reading his mind.

"Can we protect ourselves against it?" he asked the Potions professor with anxiety. "I don't want Voldemort reading my mind again."

There was a shocked silence when he said that.

"The Dark Lord has used Legilimency on you?" Snape asked loudly. Dumbledore and Moody both looked worried.

"In my first year, he knew I was lying about not having the Philosopher's Stone," Harry said, remembering. "And he knew it was in my pocket." Snape was silent for a few moments, trying to clear his mind of the revelation. Then he spoke again.

"The only way to protect your mind, is to learn Occlumency." And before anyone could ask what Occlumency was, he continued, "Occlumency is the art of magically defending the mind against external penetration, sealing it against magical intrusion and influence."

Harry went silent and thoughtful at that. It seemed like a good thing to learn, but he didn't know who would teach him – he wasn't exactly sure that Snape would agree if he asked him.
"Thank you," he said as an afterthought and went back to his thoughts. The room was watching him think. To some, it was a very unusual sight.

After a few minutes of silence, Snape had enough and started to read again.

So try me on and I will tell you
Where you ought to be.
You might belong in Gryffindor,
Where dwell the brave at heart,
Their daring, nerve and chivalry
Set Gryffindors apart;
You might belong in Hufflepuff,
Where they are just and loyal,
Those patient Hufflepuffs are true
And unafraid of toil;
Or yet in wise old Ravenclaw,
If you've a ready mind,
Where those of wit and learning,
Will always find their kind;
Or perhaps in Slytherin
You'll make your real friends,
Those cunning folk use any means
To achieve their ends.
So put me on! Don't be afraid!
And don't get in a flap!
You're in safe hands (though I have none)
For I'm a Thinking Cap!"

"That was actually a nice song. All we got were warnings," said Remus thoughtfully.

"We were in the middle of the war, after all," McGonagall said softly.

The whole Hall burst into applause as the hat finished its song. It bowed to each of the four tables and then became quite still again.

"So we've just got to try on the hat!" Ron whispered to Harry. "I'll kill Fred, he was going on about wrestling a troll."

Harry, Ron and Hermione all looked at each other. The main question on Hermione and Harry's minds was if Ron did have a bit of seer blood in him, or was it a coincidence. They decided to be on the look-out from now on.

Harry smiled weakly. Yes, trying on the hat was a lot better than having to do a spell, but he did wish they could have tried it on without everyone watching. The hat seemed to be asking rather a lot; Harry didn't feel brave or quick-witted or any of it at the moment. If only the hat had mentioned a house for people who felt a bit queasy, that would have been the one for him.

"I think if there was a house like that, everyone would be in it," Sirius laughed.

Professor McGonagall now stepped forward holding a long roll of parchment. 

"When I call your name, you will put on the hat and sit on the stool to be sorted," she said. "Abbott, Hannah!"

A pink-faced girl with blonde pigtails stumbled out of line, put on the hat, which fell right down over her eyes, and sat down. A moment's pause –
"HUFFLEPUFF!" shouted the hat.

Tonks cheered and clapped.

The table on the right cheered and clapped as Hannah went to sit down at the Hufflepuff table. Harry saw the ghost of the Fat Friar waving merrily at her.
"Bones, Susan!"

"Bones?" asked Tonks. "Is she related to Amelia Bones perchance?"

"She's her niece," Dumbledore explained.

"HUFFLEPUFF!" shouted the hat again, and Susan scuttled off to sit next to Hannah.

"Boot, Terry!"

"RAVENCLAW!"

The table second from the left clapped this time; several Ravenclaws stood up to shake hands with Terry as he joined them.

"Brocklehurst, Mandy" went to Ravenclaw too, but "Brown, Lavender"

"Isn't it funny that she has two colours as her name?" Tonks said chuckling. The four Gryffindors looked at each other. They never noticed that.

became the first new Gryffindor and the table on the far left exploded with cheers; Harry could see Ron's twin brothers catcalling.

"Bulstrode, Millicent" then became a Slytherin. Perhaps it was Harry's imagination, after all he'd heard about Slytherin, but he thought they looked an unpleasant lot.

"All that inbreeding does tend to make them look like that," Sirius said.

Snape raised his eyebrow at that. "What does that make you look like, then?" he asked sneeringly.

"Shut up, Snivellus," Sirius growled.

"Don't call me Sni-" Snape was interrupted by Dumbledore clearing his throat slightly. Scowling, he returned to reading the book. Harry was watching his godfather and professor again. Snivellus was apparently a name Sirius tended to call Snape often from what Harry understood. It made him remember what the Dursleys called him all the time – freak. He didn't like it. He didn't like seeing his godfather being so mean to Snape either. He didn't know if Snape did something that made Sirius hate him, or if it was that Sirius was just like Ron with his prejudice against all things Slytherin. His brain started to hurt from thinking about this, so he concentrated on listening to his professor's velvet voice again.

He was starting to feel definitely sick now. He remembered being picked for teams during sports lessons at his old school. He had always been last to be chosen, not because he was no good, but because no one wanted Dudley to think they liked him.

Snape paused for a micro moment there, remembering the same thing happening to him in elementary school, before he went off to Hogwarts... not that it changed much when he got there.

"Finch-Fletchley, Justin!"

"HUFFLEPUFF!"

Sometimes, Harry noticed, the hat shouted out the house at once, but at others it took a little while to decide. "Finnigan, Seamus", the sandy-haired boy next to Harry in the line, sat on the stool for almost a whole minute before the hat declared him a Gryffindor.

"Granger, Hermione!"

Hermione almost ran to the stool and jammed the hat eagerly on her head.

"GRYFFINDOR!" shouted the hat. Ron groaned.

"Ron!" Hermione said, scandalized.

"Sorry, didn't mean it that way," Ron mumbled, his ears pink again.

A horrible thought struck Harry, as horrible thoughts always do when you're very nervous. What if he wasn't chosen at all? What if he just sat there with the hat over his eyes for ages, until Professor McGonagall jerked it off his head and said there had obviously been a mistake and he'd better get back on the train?

When Neville Longbottom, the boy who kept losing his toad, was called, he fell over on his way to the stool. The hat took a long time to decide with Neville. When it finally shouted "GRYFFINDOR", Neville ran off still wearing it, and had to jog back amid gales of laughter to give it to "MacDougal, Morag".

The Neville in the room blushed as his friends chuckled at that.

"That happened to James too," Sirius grinned. "He was so excited."

Malfoy swaggered forward when his name was called and got his wish at once: the hat had barely touched his head when it screamed, "SLYTHERIN!"

Malfoy went to join his friends Crabbe and Goyle, looking pleased with himself.

There weren't many people left now.

"Moon" … "Nott" … "Parkinson" … then a pair of twin girls, "Patil" and "Patil" … then "Perks, Sally-Anne" … and then, at last –

"Potter, Harry!"

As Harry stepped forward, whispers suddenly broke out like little hissing fires all over the hall.

"Potter, did she say?"

"The Harry Potter?"

"That was very annoying," Harry felt the need to inform the room. Ron and Hermione rolled their eyes, by now knowing just how annoying Harry's fame was to their friend.

The last thing Harry saw before the hat dropped over his eyes was the Hall full of people craning to get a good look at him. Next second he was looking at the black inside of the hat. He waited.

"Hmm," said a small voice in his ear. "Difficult. Very difficult. Plenty of courage, I see. Not a bad mind, either. There's talent, oh my goodness, yes – and a nice thirst to prove yourself, now that's interesting … So where shall I put you?"

"So, you mean to tell me that you could have gotten in any of the houses?" Tonks said, surprised. She had thought that the hat would have immediately sorted him into Gryffindor. The same thoughts were flying through the minds of almost everyone in the room, except Harry, who was now tense again.

Harry gripped the edges of the stool and thought, "Not Slytherin, not Slytherin."

"Not Slytherin, eh?" said the small voice. "Are you sure? You could be great, you know, it's all here in your head, and Slytherin will help you on the way to greatness, no doubt about that – no? Well, if you're sure – better be GRYFFINDOR!"

Silence reigned in the room again, and Harry started to feel hot under the gaze of the people in the room. Snape on the other hand was shocked to hear that Harry was almost sorted into his house. Though, seeing how his childhood was, I'm not too surprised, he admitted to himself.
Remus was glaring at the back of Sirius' head, knowing what was going on in his friend's mind better than anyone in the room did. Sirius was silent and wasn't looking at Harry. Ron and Hermione weren't that surprised – they knew just how sneaky Harry could be if he wanted to. Neville also wasn't that surprised by the revelation. The hat did want to put Harry in any house after all.

"The hat wanted to put you in Slytherin," Sirius finally said in a weird voice. Harry looked at him inquiringly, but remained quiet.

"Sirius," said Remus warningly, but Sirius either didn't hear the warning or didn't care about it.
Harry suddenly knew what was happening. Sirius was going to hate him for almost becoming a Slytherin. He exchanged a begging look with Tonks and suddenly stood up and moved towards the sofa where his friends sat. Tonks smiled at him gently, before standing up as well and moving to sit in-between Remus and Sirius, only blushing a little at sitting next to Remus.

Ron and Hermione immediately put their arms around him and glared over at Sirius who still didn't look at Harry and had a strange look on his face.

"Ignore him," said Harry quietly to his friends and they acquiesced.

"It wanted to put you into Slytherin?" Sirius exclaimed, still looking weird.

"There's nothing wrong with being a Slytherin!" Harry had finally had enough. Snape looked at the boy in shock (though it didn't show on his face).

"You'd think that if Slytherin was the house of evil, people would have destroyed it long ago and there would be no Slytherin house any more. And don't forget that Pettigrew was a Gryffindor and he betrayed my parents to Voldemort! Should we say that Gryffindor was evil too? Because someone out of Gryffindor went bad? And what about professor Lupin, he's a werewolf, and they're considered dark and evil as well, does that mean he's evil too?" Harry continued ranting. Sirius blinked at the mention of Wormtail, but didn't say anything – he couldn't because someone had placed a non-verbal Silencing charm on him.

Snape on the other hand, was feeling strangely indignant on Potter's behalf. His godfather had seemed cool with the boy being a parselmouth, but the thought of Harry being a Slytherin over Gryffindor didn't seem to settle well with the dog animagus. Severus had to wonder if Black would abandon his godson over this, like he abandoned his brother, Regulus, and his other family (apart from Andromeda and Tonks, apparently). He felt strangely protective over the boy for a second, before he gave himself a mental slap and stopped thinking about it.

"Merlin, you're such an arsehole," Harry finished his rant and scowled at Sirius, crossing his arms over his chest.

"Language, Mr Potter," he heard himself say, though mentally he was laughing at what the boy had said.

"Sorry, sir," Harry said, pinking a bit.

Harry heard the hat shout the last word to the whole Hall. He took off the hat and walked shakily towards the Gryffindor table. He was so relieved to have been chosen and not put in Slytherin, he hardly noticed that he was getting the loudest cheer yet. Percy the Prefect got up and shook his hand vigorously, while the Weasley twins yelled, "We got Potter! We got Potter!" Harry sat down opposite the ghost in the ruff he'd seen earlier. The ghost patted his arm, giving Harry the sudden, horrible feeling he'd just plunged it into a bucket of ice-cold water.

"Hate it when that happens," Ron said, trying to cheer his best friend up. He was rewarded with a weak smile.

He could see the High Table properly now. At the end nearest him sat Hagrid, who caught his eye and gave him the thumbs-up. Harry grinned back. And there, in the centre of the High Table, in a large gold chair, sat Albus Dumbledore. Harry recognised him at once from the card he'd got out of the Chocolate Frog on the train. Dumbledore's silver hair was the only thing in the whole Hall that shone as brightly as the ghosts. Harry spotted Professor Quirrell, too, the nervous young man from the Leaky Cauldron. He was looking very peculiar in a large purple turban.

And now there were only three people left to be sorted. "Turpin, Lisa" became a Ravenclaw and then it was Ron's turn. He was pale green by now. Harry crossed his fingers under the table and a second later the hat had shouted, "GRYFFINDOR!"

Harry clapped loudly with the rest as Ron collapsed into the chair next to him.
"Well done, Ron, excellent," said Percy Weasley pompously across Harry as "Zabini, Blaise" was made a Slytherin. Professor McGonagall rolled up her scroll and took the Sorting Hat away.

Harry looked down at his empty gold plate. He had only just realised how hungry he was. The pumpkin pasties seemed ages ago.

Albus Dumbledore had got to his feet. He was beaming at the students, his arms opened wide, as if nothing could have pleased him more than to see them all there.

"That was a correct assumption, Mr Potter," Dumbledore said, smiling. "I'm always happy to see my students again."

"Welcome!" he said. "Welcome to a new year at Hogwarts! Before we begin our banquet, I would like to say a few words. And here they are: Nitwit! Blubber! Oddment! Tweak! "Thank you!"

"Do you always give such rousing speeches, professor?" Tonks said, trying to get a smile out of the serious people in the room.

"As often as I can manage, Miss Tonks," the Headmaster twinkled.

He sat back down. Everybody clapped and cheered. Harry didn't know whether to laugh or not.

"Is he – a bit mad?" he asked Percy uncertainly.

"Of course I am, all the best wizards are," Dumbledore assured them. Harry let out a small snort while Hermione giggled.

"Mad?" said Percy airily. "He's a genius! Best wizard in the world! But he is a bit mad, yes. Potatoes, Harry?"

Harry's mouth fell open. The dishes in front of him were now piled with food. He had never seen so many things he liked to eat on one table: roast beef, roast chicken, pork chops and lamb chops, sausages, bacon and steak, boiled potatoes, roast potatoes, chips, Yorkshire pudding, peas, carrots, gravy, ketchup and, for some strange reason, mint humbugs.

The Dursleys had never exactly starved Harry, but he'd never been allowed to eat as much as he liked. Dudley had always taken anything that Harry really wanted, even if it made him sick. Harry piled his plate with a bit of everything except the humbugs and began to eat. It was all delicious.

"That does look good," said the ghost in the ruff sadly, watching Harry cut up his steak.

"Can't you –?"

"I haven't eaten for nearly four hundred years," said the ghost. "I don't need to, of course, but one does miss it. I don't think I've introduced myself? Sir Nicholas de Mimsy-Porpington at your service. Resident ghost of Gryffindor Tower."

"I know who you are!" said Ron suddenly. "My brothers told me about you – you're Nearly Headless Nick!"

"He won't like that," Remus said, smiling a bit.

"I would prefer you to call me Sir Nicholas de Mimsy –" the ghost began stiffly, but sandy-haired Seamus Finnigan interrupted.

"Nearly Headless? How can you be nearly headless?"

"He won't like that either," McGonagall commented.

Sir Nicholas looked extremely miffed, as if their little chat wasn't going at all the way he wanted.

"Like this," he said irritably. He seized his left ear and pulled. His whole head swung off his neck and fell on to his shoulder as if it was on a hinge. Someone had obviously tried to behead him, but not done it properly. Looking pleased at the stunned looks on their faces, Nearly Headless Nick flipped his head back on to his neck, coughed and said, "So – new Gryffindors! I hope you're going to help us win the House Championship this year? Gryffindor have never gone so long without winning. Slytherin have got the cup six years in a row! The Bloody Baron's becoming almost unbearable – he's the Slytherin ghost."

Harry looked over at the Slytherin table and saw a horrible ghost sitting there, with blank staring eyes, a gaunt face and robes stained with silver blood. He was right next to Malfoy who, Harry was pleased to see, didn't look too pleased with the seating arrangements.

"How did he get covered in blood?" asked Seamus with great interest.

"Bet you Harry finds out somehow," Tonks said. McGonagall could only shake her head at the metamorphmagus.

"I've never asked," said Nearly Headless Nick delicately.

When everyone had eaten as much as they could, the remains of the food faded from the plates, leaving them sparkling clean as before. A moment later the puddings appeared. Blocks of ice-cream in every flavour you could think of, apple pies, treacle tarts, chocolate éclairs and jam doughnuts, trifle, strawberries, jelly, rice pudding …

As Harry helped himself to a treacle tart, the talk turned to their families.

"I'm half and half," said Seamus. "Me dad's a Muggle. Mam didn't tell him she was a witch 'til after they were married. Bit of a nasty shock for him."

The others laughed.

"It is not a laughing matter," Snape said, thinking about his own father who hated him and his mother because they were magical and he wasn't.

"I wasn't laughing at it either," Harry said quietly.

"What about you, Neville?" said Ron.

"Well, my gran brought me up and she's a witch," said Neville, "but the family thought I was all Muggle for ages. My great-uncle Algie kept trying to catch me off my guard and force some magic out of me

"You cannot force magic out of someone," McGonagall said indignantly.

- he pushed me off the end of Blackpool pier once, I nearly drowned – but nothing happened until I was eight. Great-uncle Algie came round for tea and he was hanging me out of an upstairs window by the ankles

"But Neville, that's not right," Hermione whispered. McGonagall and Dumbledore exchanged looks. They were both in agreement that they had to speak to Augusta about this.

when my great-auntie Enid offered him a meringue and he accidentally let go. But I bounced – all the way down the garden and into the road. They were all really pleased. Gran was crying, she was so happy. And you should have seen their faces when I got in here – they thought I might not be magic enough to come, you see. Great-uncle Algie was so pleased he bought me my toad."

On Harry's other side, Percy Weasley and Hermione were talking about lessons ("I do hope they start straight away, there's so much to learn, I'm particularly interested in Transfiguration, you know, turning something into something else, of course, it's supposed to be very difficult –"; "You'll be starting small, just matches into needles and that sort of thing –").

"That's Hermione for you," Ron said fondly.

Harry, who was starting to feel warm and sleepy, looked up at the High Table again. Hagrid was drinking deeply from his goblet. Professor McGonagall was talking to Professor Dumbledore. Professor Quirrell, in his absurd turban, was talking to a teacher with greasy black hair, a hooked nose and sallow skin.

Snape wasn't sure if he should be insulted or grateful that it wasn't a worse description.

It happened very suddenly. The hook-nosed teacher looked past Quirrell's turban straight into Harry's eyes – and a sharp, hot pain shot across the scar on Harry's forehead.

"What happened?" asked a worried Remus. He had never heard of anything like this happening before. Of course, he didn't know anything about curse scars either, so he shouldn't be talking.

"You'll see," Harry said darkly.

"Ouch!" Harry clapped a hand to his head.

"What is it?" asked Percy.

"N-nothing."

The pain had gone as quickly as it had come. Harder to shake off was the feeling Harry had got from the teacher's look – a feeling that he didn't like Harry at all.

And the feeling was quite mutual, at least until a few chapters ago, thought Snape to himself. Of course, he still didn't like Potter that much, but he didn't outright hate him anymore. He couldn't – he saw too much of himself in the boy. Now that's a laughable thought.

"Who's that teacher talking to Professor Quirrell?" he asked Percy.

"Oh, you know Quirrell already, do you? No wonder he's looking so nervous, that's Professor Snape. He teaches Potions, but he doesn't want to – everyone knows he's after Quirrell's job. Knows an awful lot about the Dark Arts, Snape."

"Of course he does, anyone with a brain would know that to be able to defend yourself against the Dark Arts you have to know something about them," Harry said scathingly. He wasn't the best in their year at Defence Against the Dark Arts for nothing.

Once again, Snape wasn't sure if he should feel insulted or complimented.

Harry watched Snape for a while but Snape didn't look at him again.

"And why would I, you're not that interesting to look at," Snape said before he could stop himself. Merlin, did he just tease the boy? Harry seemed to think he was, because he started chortling.

At last, the puddings too disappeared and Professor Dumbledore got to his feet again. The Hall fell silent.

"Ahem – just a few more words now we are all fed and watered.

"What are we, horses?" Ron complained.

I have a few start-of-term notices to give you.

"First-years should note that the forest in the grounds is forbidden to all pupils. And a few of our older students would do well to remember that as well."

Dumbledore's twinkling eyes flashed in the direction of the Weasley twins.

"Always did that with us too," Remus said, smiling a bit.

"I have also been asked by Mr Filch, the caretaker, to remind you all that no magic should be used between classes in the corridors.

"Don't know what you still remind them, Albus," McGonagall sighed. "They never listen to that."

"I have to try," Dumbledore defended himself with a twinkle.

"Quidditch trials will be held in the second week of term. Anyone interested in playing for their house teams should contact Madam Hooch.

"And finally, I must tell you that this year, the third-floor corridor on the right-hand side is out of bounds to everyone who does not wish to die a very painful death."

"You know, knowing children, you shouldn't have said that. Curiosity killed the cat, remember?" Remus said seriously.

"I know, but I had to warn them nonetheless," Dumbledore sighed.

Harry laughed, but he was one of the few who did.

"He's not serious?" he muttered to Percy.

"Must be," said Percy, frowning at Dumbledore. "It's odd, because he usually gives us a reason why we're not allowed to go somewhere – the forest's full of dangerous beasts, everyone knows that. I do think he might have told us Prefects, at least."

"Pompous prat," Ron mumbled, frowning at the book.

"And now, before we go to bed, let us sing the school song!" cried Dumbledore. Harry noticed that the other teachers' smiles had become rather fixed.

"You noticed that as well, did you?" said McGonagall, with a small twitch to her lips.

Dumbledore gave his wand a little flick as if he was trying to get a fly off the end and a long golden ribbon flew out of it, which rose high above the tables and twisted itself snake-like into words.

"Everyone pick their favourite tune," said Dumbledore, "and off we go!"

And the school bellowed:

"Hogwarts, Hogwarts, Hoggy Warty Hogwarts,
Teach us something please,
Whether we be old and bald
Or young with scabby knees,
Our heads could do with filling
With some interesting stuff,
For now they're bare and full of air,
Dead flies and bits of fluff,
So teach us things worth knowing,
Bring back what we've forgot,
Just do your best, we'll do the rest,
And learn until our brains all rot."

Everybody finished the song at different times. At last, only the Weasley twins were left singing along to a very slow funeral march. Dumbledore conducted their last few lines with his wand, and when they had finished, he was one of those who clapped loudest.

"Ah, music," he said, wiping his eyes. "A magic beyond all we do here! And now, bedtime. Off you trot!"

"Again, what are we, horses?" Ron complained again.

The Gryffindor first-years followed Percy through the chattering crowds, out of the Great Hall and up the marble staircase.

Harry's legs were like lead again, but only because he was so tired and full of food. He was too sleepy even to be surprised that the people in the portraits along the corridors whispered and pointed as they passed, or that twice Percy led them through doorways hidden behind sliding panels and hanging tapestries. They climbed more staircases, yawning and dragging their feet, and Harry was just wondering how much further they had to go when they came to a sudden halt.
A bundle of walking sticks was floating in mid-air ahead of them and as Percy took a step towards them they started throwing themselves at him.

"Peeves," Percy whispered to the first-years. "A poltergeist." He raised his voice, "Peeves – show yourself."

A loud, rude sound, like the air being let out of a balloon, answered.

"Do you want me to go to the Bloody Baron?"

There was a pop and a little man with wicked dark eyes and a wide mouth appeared, floating cross-legged in the air, clutching the walking sticks.

"Oooooooh!" he said, with an evil cackle. "Ickle firsties! What fun!"

He swooped suddenly at them. They all ducked.

"Go away, Peeves, or the Baron'll hear about this, I mean it!" barked Percy.

Peeves stuck out his tongue and vanished, dropping the walking sticks on Neville's head.

"Why is it always me?" Neville sighed.

They heard him zooming away, rattling coats of armour as he passed.

"You want to watch out for Peeves," said Percy, as they set off again. "The Bloody Baron's the only one who can control him, he won't even listen to us Prefects. Here we are."

At the very end of the corridor hung a portrait of a very fat woman in a pink silk dress.

"Password?" she said.

"Caput Draconis," said Percy, and the portrait swung forward to reveal a round hole in the wall. They all scrambled through it – Neville needed a leg up – and found themselves in the Gryffindor common room, a cosy, round room full of squashy armchairs.

Percy directed the girls through one door to their dormitory and the boys through another. At the top of a spiral staircase – they were obviously in one of the towers – they found their beds at last: five four-posters hung with deep-red velvet curtains. Their trunks had already been brought up. Too tired to talk much, they pulled on their pyjamas and fell into bed.

"Great food, isn't it?" Ron muttered to Harry through the hangings. "Get off, Scabbers! He's chewing my sheets."

Ron scowled at the mention of his rat.

Harry was going to ask Ron if he'd had any of the treacle tart, but he fell asleep almost at once.

Perhaps Harry had eaten a bit too much, because he had a very strange dream. He was wearing Professor Quirrell's turban, which kept talking to him, telling him he must transfer to Slytherin at once, because it was his destiny. Harry told the turban he didn't want to be in Slytherin; it got heavier and heavier; he tried to pull it off but it tightened painfully – and there was Malfoy, laughing at him as he struggled with it – then Malfoy turned into the hooknosed teacher, Snape, whose laugh became high and cold – there was a burst of green light and Harry woke, sweating and shaking.

"You had one weird dream," Tonks said.

"I think it was a premonition, actually," Harry replied thoughtfully. After all, Voldemort was in the back of Quirrell's head.

He rolled over and fell asleep again, and when he woke next day, he didn't remember the dream at all.

"I'll read next," said McGonagall and took the book from Severus' fingers.

 

  

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