The Bribing of the Hat
Hagrid reached up one large hand and knocked on the tall door. It 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.
"The firs' years, Professor McGonagall," said Hagrid solemnly.
"Thank you, Hagrid. I will take them from here."
She pulled the door wide. The entrance hall was so big you could have fit the whole of the Dursleys' house into 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 have already arrived, 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."
Her eyes lingered for a moment on Neville's cloak, which was fastened under his left ear, and on the youngest Weasley boy, Ron, who had dirt on his nose. Harry nervously tried to flatten his hair, a fruitless task.
"I shall return for you when we are ready for you," said Professor McGonagall. "Please wait quietly."
She left the chamber and Harry swallowed hard. Why did they have to wait?
Draco had told them all about the Sorting Ceremony, so he wasn't at all nervous about that. He could hear some of the other kids speculating about what they'd have to do, but he and his friends kept quiet.
"...some sort of test..."
"...it hurts a lot..."
"...I wonder what spells I'll need..."
"...wrestle a troll..."
Harry was getting tired of waiting. He'd been waiting all this time and he wanted it to happen now. He kept his eyes fixed on the door, willing it to open and Professor McGonagall to say that they were ready. Then something happened that made him jump about a foot in the air. Several people behind him screamed.
He gasped. So did the people near 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.
"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," came 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."
Harry and his friends exchanged excited glances. This was it! He followed Draco and Theo, walking next to Tracy and in front of Pansy and Millicent. 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 that were floating in mid-air over four long tables, where the rest of 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 throng 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 upward and saw a velvety black ceiling dotted with stars. He heard that prissy Granger girl whisper, "It's bewitched to look like the sky outside. I read about it in Hogwarts, A History."
Show-off! thought Harry, but it was hard to believe there was a ceiling there at all, and that the Great Hall didn't simply open up 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.
Everyone was staring intently at the hat. 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;
Or perhaps in Slytherin
You'll make your real friends,
Those cunning folks 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!
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. 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. "Hannah Abbott!"
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.
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.
"HUFFLEPUFF!" shouted the hat again, and Susan scuttled off to sit next to Hannah.
"That's our friend Terry," Draco whispered to Harry.
Terry was a pleasant-enough-looking boy. He was a couple of inches shorter than Harry with very large brown eyes and a round face. He had close-cropped light brown hair.
The table second from the left clapped this time; several Ravenclaws stood up to shake hands with Terry as he joined them.
"Rotten luck," whispered Theo. "I was hoping he'd be with us."
"His whole family is Ravenclaw. How surprised can you be?" asked Tracy.
"Theo's girlfriend," whispered Pansy.
"Shut up!" Theo hissed.
Mandy, a short, pretty girl with big black pigtails went to Ravenclaw too, but "Lavender Brown" became the first new Gryffindor, and the table on the far left exploded with cheers; Harry could see the twin Weasley brothers, Fred and George, catcalling.
"This is it Millie. Don't muff it!" Pansy whispered to her.
Harry's heart lurched a little. Surely she wasn't actually going to try to bribe the Sorting Hat? Was she?
With confidence, Millicent strode forward and sat down. She pulled the hat on and everyone waited.
Seconds ticked by as everyone waited breathlessly. Finally the tear opened up and the hat shouted out, "SLYTHERIN!"
She was smiling as she took the hat off. She nodded significantly to Pansy and went to sit with the Slytherins at the far right table.
"She did it!" exclaimed Pansy. "I don't know how she did it, but she did it! Revenge is ours!"
Harry's smile was a little weak. What had he started?
Michael Corner went to Hufflepuff, and Stephen Cornfoot was sent to Ravenclaw.
"Vincent Crabbe!" That was one of the bigger boys who had ridden in the boat with Theo and Millicent.
It took only a second or two for the hat to yell, "SLYTHERIN!" for everyone to hear.
Kevin Entwhistle went to Ravenclaw. Justin Finch-Fletchley went to Hufflepuff. Seamus Finnigan sat on the stool almost a whole minute before the hat declared him a Gryffindor. Amy Geagan and Chrissy Golding were also sent to Gryffindor. Anthony Goldstein was a Hufflepuff.
"Gregory Goyle!" That was the other bigger boy.
The bushy-haired, buck-toothed Muggleborn almost ran up to the stool and jammed the hat eagerly on her head. Draco, Theo, and Tracy all evinced various expressions of distaste. Pansy had a very eager look on her face.
The hat was silent for awhile. Muffled words could be heard from underneath. It appeared as though she was arguing with it.
Hermione pulled the hat off her head looking very unhappy. She placed it back on the stool and stomped off towards the Hufflepuff table amidst cheers from the Hufflepuffs and laughter from Harry's friends.
"Daphne Greengrass!" became the third girl Sorted to Slytherin.
Wayne Hopkins was declared a Hufflepuff as well as Megan Jones, and Su Li was a Ravenclaw in short order.
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 was so excited that he ran off still wearing the hat and had to jog back amid gales of laughter to give it to "Morag MacDougal," who became a Ravenclaw. "Ernie Macmillan" was the last boy to be Sorted to Hufflepuff.
Then it was Draco's turn. He swaggered rather nonchalantly up to the stool. He pulled the hat on, but didn't get a chance to sit down before it screamed out, "SLYTHERIN!"
Draco winked at Harry, waved to his friends, and went to join Crabbe, Goyle, Greengrass, and Millicent at the Slytherin table. There weren't many people left now.
Then it was Theo's turn and he sauntered just as casually as Draco.
A pair of twin girls, Padma and Parvati Patil were next, Padma to Ravenclaw, Parvati to Gryffindor. Sally-Anne Perks went to Hufflepuff.
As Harry stepped forward, whispers suddenly broke out like little hissing fires 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 hear. "Difficult. Very difficult."
It was to be just like choosing a wand, apparently.
"Plenty of courage, though you don't believe it. 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?"
Harry was thinking about the new friends he'd made, children who had opened their arms and hearts to him. They didn't treat him like some freak show the way the people in the Leaky Cauldron or the Granger bint had. They were a bit rough around the edges, but they treated Harry a sight better than anyone ever had before. He really didn't want to go to a different house from them.
"Already made friends in Slytherin I see, yes, and you want to be with your friends. You could be great, yes, and Slytherin would help you on your way. It seems to me that everything points to SLYTHERIN!"
Harry heard the hat shout the last word to the whole hall. He took off the hat and walked shakily toward the Slytherin table. He noticed that he was getting the loudest cheer yet. Draco's brother Elan got up and was shaking his hand vigorously. Several other boys were yelling, "We got Potter! We got Potter!"
He could see the High Table clearly now. At the end nearest him sat Hagrid, who was staring at him in shock. 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 bright hall that shone as bright 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.
There were only four people left now. "Dean Thomas," a tall boy with warm dark brown skin went to Gryffindor. "Lisa Turpin" was a Ravenclaw, and then it was Ron Weasley's turn.
He didn't look well at all, turning green under his freckles. He staggered up to the stool, almost collapsed on top of it, and pulled the hat on. It was silent for only a few seconds before shouting out, "GRYFFINDOR!"
Harry watched as the now white-faced boy made his way over to where his brothers sat and collapsed. They were all patting him on the back and congratulating him.
A black-skinned boy was the last to be called. He sat down under the hat. They all waited a long thirty seconds before the hat declared, "SLYTHERIN!"
Professor McGonagall rolled up her scroll and took the Sorting Hat away as Albus Dumbledore got to his feet. He beamed 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!
He sat back down to claps and cheers. Harry looked around at his friends. None of them were quite certain of what to make of this.
"Is he," he asked Elan uncertainly, "a bit mad?"
"Completely off his rocker," Elan said cheerfully. "Potatoes?"
The magnificence of the feast astounded Harry. The sheer variety of meat dishes rendered him speechless. He drooled unabashedly as the delicious aromas filled his nose. Now, unlike at Number Four, he could eat as much as he wanted.
And he did.
He felt a chill from nearby and looked to his right to see a horribly disfigured ghost sitting one seat away. He had blank, staring eyes, a gaunt face, and robes stained with silver blood.
"Welcome, Mister Potter," the Bloody Baron said softly. "You will do quite well in Slytherin."
"Thank you," he said, not quite sure what response was called for.
The desserts replaced the remnants of the feast, and Harry somehow found the capacity to pack away a large helping of treacle tart.
"I hope you're all up to helping us hold onto the House Cup this year," Elan was saying. "Slytherin House has won the past six years. It's a matter of pride for us now."
"Six years, wow," said Millicent, clearly awed.
"So don't get caught breaking rules!" Elan admonished. "We're going to have a sort of orientation once we all get back to the dormitory to help make things easier for you."
"Millie, what did you say to the hat?" Pansy was dying to know.
Millicent smirked. "I just told it that if it would do something for me, I'd do whatever it wanted."
"And what does it want?"
"It wants to direct the school choir. I told it we'd circulate a petition to get one started."
They all laughed at that, except Millicent. "I also told it that we'd all be in it." The laughter ceased.
"What?" came Draco's outraged protest.
"It was the only way I could get it to agree," she said defensively. "Like Tracy said, there's no price too high to pay for the smiting of our enemies, and this is a pretty small sacrifice."
Draco sighed. "I guess," he said dejectedly, "but I can't sing."
"So? If we're bad, maybe we won't have to follow through."
Harry, who was starting to feel warm and sleepy, looked up at the High Table again. Hagrid was drinking deeply from his large 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.
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.
"Ouch!" he said, clapping a hand to his head.
"What is it?" asked Elan.
The pain had gone as quickly as it had come. Harder to shake off was the feeling he'd gotten from the teacher's look. He wasn't sure what it was, but the teacher seemed to already know more about Harry than just his name. The look on the man's face had been unreadable.
"Elan, who's that teacher talking to Professor Quirrell?"
"That's Professor Snape, our Head of House. He's the Potions Master, but he knows an awful lot about the Dark Arts and would be a superb instructor in that subject."
Harry watched Professor Snape for awhile, but the teacher never looked back over at him.
At last the desserts too disappeared, and Professor Dumbledore got to his feet again. The hall fell silent.
"More stupid words?" Draco wondered quietly to Harry.
"Ahem - 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. A few of our older students would do well to remember that as well." Dumbledore's twinkling eyes flashed in the direction of the Gryffindor table.
"I have also been asked by Mister 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 team 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."
Harry laughed, but he was one of few who did. "He's not serious," he muttered to Elan.
"Must be," Elan said, frowning. "That's odd; he usually gives an explanation for new rules. He didn't even tell the prefects about this."
"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.
Dumbledore gave his wand a little flick, as if he were 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, snakelike, into words.
"Everyone pick their favourite tune," said Dumbledore, "and off we go!"
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!"
The Slytherin first years followed Elan through the chattering crowds, out of the Great Hall, and down the marble staircase, down the stairs that led to the dungeons. They turned left and right through the labyrinthine passages. Elan stopped partway along a hallway with a carved stone column at the corner
"The password is 'Gryffindors are stupid'."
"Isn't the house rivalry starting a little early?" grinned Draco.
"Who cares? It's funny," giggled Daphne.
A stone door concealed in the wall recessed and slid to the side. The first years poured through, eager to see their new home.
The common room was in the shape of an elongated rectangle. It was an underground-style room, with steps that led down to the recessed floor, carpeted in a rich green with silver designs. The walls and ceiling were rough-hewn stone. Lamps hung on chains from the ceiling, giving off a cosy greenish light. A fire was crackling cheerfully under an elaborately carved mantelpiece in the centre of the long wall. Beanbag chairs were scattered before the fire grate. Several high-backed chairs surrounded each of the tables that were evenly distributed throughout the room. There were two corridors at the far end of the room. Bookshelves lined the walls. It was a very pleasant sort of place.
"Dormitories are down those corridors," Elan said, pointing towards the far end of the room. "Boys on the right and girls on the left. First years are at the end of the corridor this year."
The corridor made a right-hand turn a few steps in, and they followed it to the end. They passed six heavy wooden doors on their left before they saw a bronze plaque reading 'First Years' prominent on the last door. They pushed it open to find their beds at last.
Six four-poster beds were hung with velvet curtains of deep verdant green. At the foot of each bed was a school trunk. Each boy also had a chair and a writing desk. A silver and green scarf and tie was hung over the back of each chair.
Each of the beds was positioned with the headboard against the near wall. In the opposite wall was a large picture window, giving a beautiful view of the night sky above and the black glass lake below.
"Not bad," breathed Harry.
"I'll say. Look at that view," echoed Draco.
"Good thing we have curtains. I wouldn't want the sun to strike me first thing." Theo was yawning.
"How can we have a view if we're underground?" Goyle asked.
"Must be the exterior of the cliff face," Theo theorized.
Too tired to talk overlong, they pulled on their pyjamas and fell into bed. Harry dropped off to sleep almost immediately. He was happy and well-fed and very, very tired. He slept soundly the whole night through.