Everyone piled off the train, and she heard a voice shouting, "Firs' years! Firs' years over here! All right there, Harry?" Hagrid's big hairy face beamed over the sea of heads. "C'mon, follow me - any more firs' years? Mind yer step, now! Firs' years follow me!"
Slipping and stumbling, they followed Hagrid down what seemed to be a steep, narrow path. It was so dark on either side of them that Harry thought there must be thick trees there. Nobody spoke much. In the end, Alex spoke up, tired of the silence, "Are we going to walk to Hogwarts, Hagrid? Cuz, I don't walk very long distances well. Or any distances, really."
Harry chuckled, and Hagrid answered, "No, bu' keep walkin', we're no' far now!"
"What?" Alex asked, unable to decipher his words through his heavy accent.
Again, Harry chuckled, and translated, "He said that we wouldn't walk all the way there, and that we're not far now." He heard Alex mutter something under breath that sounded suspiciously like "stupid accents", and suppressed a laugh.
"Ye' all get yer firs' sight o' Hogwarts in a sec," Hagrid called over his shoulder, "jus' round this bend here." There was a loud 'Oooooh!' The narrow path had opened suddenly onto the edge of a great black take. Perched atop a high mountain on the other side, its windows sparkling in the starry sky, was a vast castle with many turrets and towers. "No more 'n four to a boat!" Hagrid called, pointing to a fleet of little boats sitting in the water by the shore. Alex, Harry and Ron headed towards one boat together, but an arm came out of nowhere and pulled Alex aside, to another boat, catching her by surprise. She looked over and saw that Harry and Ron were accompanied by the boy who lost his toad and the bossy sounding, bushy haired girl from before.
She turned around, about to tell off the person who dragged her away from her friends, when she saw who it was and groaned. Draco. Well, this day can't get any worse, she thought.
Just then, Draco winked at her. She gagged, and contemplated jumping off the boat. She turned to Draco with a fake smile, who apparently thought she was responding to his flirting, smiled back smugly.
"First of all, we're like eleven, so ew. Secondly, I'm from New York, and I've seen wayyy better eye candy. Lastly, you just dragged me away from my friends, and flirted with me, which is disgusting. Now THIS is what they mean by 'how can my day get any worse, actually it can!' Also, try to flirt with me again, and I can send you to Mars and leave you there forever. And yes, I can do that, I learnt American Magic my whole life before I came."
Draco looked at her, trying to seem as though he shrugged it off, but regarded her with a wary glint in his eye and subconsciously shifted away. He seemed to be considering if she was lying or not, but decided not to take any chances.
Hagrid raised a gigantic fist and knocked three times on the castle door swung open at once. A tall, black-haired witch in emerald-green robes stood there. She had a very stern face and Alex thought, This miiiiiight not be the first teacher I wanna mess with. "The firs' years, Professor McGonagall," said Hagrid. "Thank you, Hagrid. I will take them from here."
She pulled the door wide.
The stone walls were lit with flaming torches, 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. Alex considered taking a picture and sending it to Justin, and she imagined his envious face, and she burst out laughing. A few kids looked her weirdly, but she ignored them.
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. Alex was one of the very few ones who just looked unconcerned.
"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."
Her eyes lingered for a moment on Neville's cloak, which was fastened under his left ear, and on Ron's smudged nose. Harry nervously tried to flatten his hair. "I shall return when we are ready for you," said Professor McGonagall. "Please wait quietly." She left the chamber. Harry audibly 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."
Harry looked so nervous, and Alex felt unwillingly bad for him. No one was talking much except the bushy haired girl, who was whispering very fast about all the spells she'd learned and wondering which one she'd need.
She went over to Harry and Ron and asked, "So what do you guys think the test will be about? Ugh. I can't believe it's been a few minutes, and I'm expected to study for an immediate test. I don't even study in normal occasions!"
Ron snorted at that, and even Harry gave a small nervous laugh, but both of them still looked rather scared. All was quiet until several people behind them screamed. "What the -?" Harry gasped. 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 one another 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. Nobody answered. "New students!" said the Fat Friar, smiling around at them. "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."
"Move along now," said a sharp voice. "The Sorting Ceremony is 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." Wow, Alex thought, this school is a castle, AND has ghosts? Justin will be soooo mad and grouchy till he gets to come!
She smirked as she thought this, and Harry looked at her curiously. She replied nonchalantly, "It's an evil smile." Harry opened his mouth, presumably to ask a question, when he shook his head and looked ahead. Alex almost burst out laughing at that.
They walked out of the chamber, back across the hall, and through a pair of double doors into the Great Hall. Both Harry and Alex had never even imagined such a strange and splendid place, and were in awe, Alex unwillingly so. It was lit by thousands and thousands of candles that 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.
They heard the bushy haired girl whisper, "It's bewitched to look like the sky outside. I read about it in Hogwarts, A History." "Know it all," Alex not – so - subtly coughed. Harry ignored this snide comment, and continued looking around, looking as though trying to memorise the grand sight before him.
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. Alex thought, Justin would have freaked if that thing was placed on his head, the clean freak.
Everyone in the hall was now staring at the hat, she 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,
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,
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;
To achieve their ends.
Or perhaps in Slytherin
You'll make your real friends,
Those cunning folk use any means
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!"
Oooo, a singing hat, how… weird and creepy. Why can't we be 'sorted' by something other than a creepy, smelly, disgusting hat. Ugh. Brits. So… hat loving… wow. Alex thought sarcastically.
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 smiled weakly, while Alex laughed, "Oh my gosh, wouldn't that be so awesome! I can actually use my experience then!"
Ron looked at her incredulously while Harry stared ahead, not seeming to be listening to her.
She shook her head at Ron. "Dude, don't ask, I don't think you'll want to know."
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 here yes, and sat down. After a moment - "HUFFLEPUFF!" shouted the hat. 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!" "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" became the first new Gryffindor, and the table on the far left exploded with cheers.
"Bulstrode, Millicent" then became a Slytherin. Alex snorted at her, thinking, That girl needs to lose the 'tude, dude. "Finch-Fletchley, Justin!" "HUFFLEPUFF!" "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!" the bossy, bushy haired girl almost ran to the stool and jammed the hat eagerly on her head. "GRYFFINDOR!"
"Longbottom, Neville!" The boy who kept losing his toad was called, and he walked shakily on stage, ashen - faced. 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, looking extremely embarrassed and gave it to, "Morin, Logan!" 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, and giving Alex a wink on the way. Alex muttered, "I'm sending to him to Mars first." Harry snickered, and Ron looked like it took him all his will not to laugh out loud. There weren't many people left now. "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 all over the hall. "Potter, did she say?" "The Harry Potter?" 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, my goodness, yes - and a nice thirst to prove yourself, now that's interesting... So where shall I put you?" 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!"
Harry walked to Gryffindor's table, obviously relieved, and they cheered for him the loudest of them all.
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 they'd seen earlier. Alex saw that ghost patted his arm, and Harry seemed to freeze in place. Harry 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 recognized him at once from the card he'd gotten 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 whom he met, from the Leaky Cauldron. He was looking very peculiar in a large purple turban. And now there were only four people left to be sorted.
"Russo, Alexandra!" Harry looked at Alex, who confidently strided to the stool, and sat down, pulling the hat over her head. She tapped her foot impatiently, waiting for the hat to yell the name of her house.
"Another difficult one. Hmmm… Courage, that's definitely there. I see… hmmm… Has potential to become a great student, but too lazy to study." Alex snorted, and thought, So true, buddy, now just pop me in to some lame-o house, and I can go eat. I'm starving. "An apparent dry sense of humour, huh? Also quite impatient… hmmm… cunning, sly, and a desperate thirst to prove yourself… Slytherin sounds quite appropriate." Alex thought desperately, NO! I do NOT want to go to where Malfoy is! "Unwilling, huh? So I guess… hmmm… best be GRYFFINDOR!" The Gryffindor table cheered when she swaggered over, and plopped next to Harry, who gave her a warm smile, and Alex grinned back.
She tuned out the next two students and waited for Ron.
He was pale green by now. A second later, the hat 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. Albus Dumbledore had gotten 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. "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!" 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. "Mad?" said Percy airily. "He's a genius! Best wizard in the world! But he is a bit mad, yes. Potatoes, Harry?"
Meanwhile, Alex laughed and said, "I like that dude!" Harry gave her another smile, and then his attention went back to the food that had just appeared in front of him. 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, fries, Yorkshire pudding, peas, carrots, gravy, ketchup, and, for some strange reason, peppermint humbugs.
Alex looked at the food, and exclaimed, "DUDE, where's the fries! The burgers! The PRETZELS!" Everyone looked at her weirdly, and she looked at them, eyes wide. She shook her head, and said nonchalantly, "You people have not lived." And with that, she took a bite of the food in front of her. She shrugged and said mostly to anyone who would listen, "Not bad, but I stand by my statement." Harry rolled his eyes, and smiled bemusedly. Alex struck him as the strong, independent, sarcastic type. And probably lazy.
Throughout dinner, Alex pretended to listen to everyone, when in actual fact, she was thinking about her family. To be honest, she sorta missed them, not that she would ever admit it.
Suddenly, Harry let out a cry of pain clutching his forehead. Alex looked up and followed his line of vision. He was looking at one of the teachers, and he had greasy hair, a hooked nose and pale skin. "What is it?" Percy asked. Harry stammered out, "N-nothing."
The desserts disappeared and Dumbledore stood up again. The hall fell silent. "Ahern - just a few more words now that we are all fed and watered. I have a few start-of-term notices to give you. "First years should note that the forest on 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 and Alex. "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. Quidditch trials will be held in the second week of the 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."
Alex and Harry laughed at that. Alex tuned everything else out and followed Percy to the Gryffindor common room, too tired to even notice the moving portraits. She trudged up to her dormitory and fell asleep not even bothering to take off her clothes. It was the start of several interesting years.