The Feast and Afterwards
Professor Longbottom pulled a scroll from his robes, cleared his throat, and announced, “When I call your name, please come up and wear the hat. First up, Abba, Brendan!”
A little blond boy tripped up the steps and plopped himself onto the stool. Professor Longbottom carefully placed the Sorting Hat on his tiny head.
The hat opened its rip of a mouth, hesitated, and then yelled, “GRYFFINDOR!”
The red-and-gold table cheered as Brendan Abba gave the hat back to Professor Longbottom and ran off to join the Lions. I followed him with my eyes and watched him sit next to Nate Panther, the old Gryffindor Keeper from third year. Nate clapped Brendan on the back, and I smiled fondly. I loved first-years.
A stunningly pretty redhead- probably a Weasley descendant- climbed the steps and sat primly on the Sorting Hat’s stool.
Again, the red table cheered as Katie Allister joined it, sitting by the two most popular girls in Gryffindor- Lea Henshawe, who was rather outgoing, and Lorie Braithnoch, who was rather shy. Lea welcomed her with a big smile, even though Lorie was prefect. I could see the badge glinting off of her robes.
Atkinson, Maudie... Bean, Briana... Brett, Zachary... Bryant, Esther. Slytherin, Hufflepuff, Ravenclaw, Ravenclaw. I cheered extra loudly for those last two, noting where Zachary Brett and Esther Bryant sat so that I could collect them after supper.
After that, I tried to pay attention, but my thoughts kept drifting to last year’s disastrous ceremony, when Headmaster Damien had started his reign of terror. How glad I was that this year was turning out to be normal!
My head snapped up. Polly’s brother was clambering up the steps to be Sorted- had that much time passed already? Apparently so, for Ned Lider perched on the stool. His legs didn’t reach the floor and they wriggled like two of the tubers in Snargaluff pods. I heard a few Hufflepuffs coo.
Ned closed his eyes as Professor Longbottom affixed the hat on his head. It fell over his eyes, and he pushed it up, waiting.
Polly looked disappointed but relieved as her brother joined Brendan Abba at the Gryffindor table. She came from a family that highly disapproved of Slytherins, although some- like Brooklyn- were pretty cool.
The Sorting finished- Kayla and Ana’s little brother and sister were Sorted into Hufflepuff along with their big sisters. Professor- er, Headmaster- Fourier stood up.
“Thank you, Professor Longbottom,” he said cordially. “Now, I know you’re all hungry, but remember- don’t stuff yourself, and fifth-year Ravenclaws and Hufflepuffs, keep away from the spinach pie!” He winked as laughter arose from the fifth-year Hufflepuffs and Ravenclaws, myself included. We remembered the dangers of spinach pie from our third-year Potions class. “Now, in the words of the Sorting Hat... bon appétit!”
Food flashed into existence on the tables in front of us. The first thing I reached for, being vegetarian, was the spinach pie... of course. It was easily the most delicious vegetarian entrée on the table.
“He-ey, Captain,” said a familiar voice. I looked up, nearly letting the potatoes I was serving myself tumble onto the table.
It was Lanie Kelling, the Ravenclaw Seeker from my third-year Ravenclaw Quidditch team, and she sat down next to me. The old Keeper Shawnee Haven slid into a seat across from her and beside Polly. I grinned at them. “Lanie! Shawnee! You heard?”
“We all knew it would be you,” Shawnee laughed. She was a short, stout black Scot with a head of wild, coarse dark brown curls. “You’re the best one on the team.”
They were talking about my second newly earned Hogwarts position of importance- Captain of the Ravenclaw Quidditch team. “Thanks!”
“When are tryouts?” asked Lanie as she plopped a chunk of shepherd’s pie on her plate.
I shrugged. “We just got here. I need to get my schedule and coordinate with the other Captains.” I was one of 3 new fifth-year Captains (the only Captain who wasn’t a fifth year being Austin Wood, seventh-year Slytherin, grandson of Oliver Wood and brother of fifth-year Tommy Wood, one of the former Gryffindor Beaters). “Anyway, you two are on the team, no question.”
“No, no, no,” Lanie protested, waving off my statement. “If there’s someone out there who’s better than us, hey, they deserve to be discovered.”
“Anyway, I look forward to saving a bunch of Quaffles from certain doom,” Shawnee said, reaching for the Yorkshire pudding. We managed to keep straight faces for a beat before bursting out laughing.
In third year, when Shawnee had first tried out for Keeper, she had gone up against a burly beast of a sixth-year who had stared at her though a curtain of shaggy, greasy blonde hair and grunted, “I look forward to saving a bunch of Quaffles from certain doom.”
He had lost to Shawnee, of course; after that, he’d cut his hair and lost some of the unnecessary muscle, and when we lost a Chaser to the hospital wing later that season, Zach had been more than willing to step in for her.
“In that case...” Lanie put a cocky smirk on her face and winked. “Ain’t nobody gon’ catch that Snitch faster than me, you hear?”
“I wish I could do a Kitty,” I commented, “but she never said anything like that to me.”
Kitty, our previous Captain, had been a Chaser since our first year (her fourth). She had been really nice and a wonderful Chaser. Reuben had been another story. A cocky American of British descent with a thick Southern accent, he’d been shocked to have been beaten out for the position of Seeker in his fifth year by a second-year girl. He had softened over the next summer and tried out for Chaser when the three of us were in our third years and he in his sixth.
“I miss them,” Lanie said simply.
I sighed. Two of the Chaser trio had left after their horrible seventh years to continue their lives; one lay buried in the gardens along with everyone else who hadn’t survived Headmaster Damien’s terrible year and the battle that had ended it. “Yeah. Everyone does.”
When dinner (and dessert- yum) were finished, Professor- Headmaster! I really needed to get in the habit of calling him that- Fourier stood up once again from the ornate Headmaster’s chair and walked to the podium.
“Now that you are all full, I’d like to extend a warm welcome to new and returning students alike,” he began. “Welcome to Hogwarts. This is a school, yes, a school of magic and learning, but also one of fun. I guarantee that ninety-nine percent of you will enjoy the best seven years of your lives here. If you are the other one percent, I pity you.
“So. Now that my welcome has finished, I would like to go over some very important rules that have been in use since Hogwarts’s founding.”
Shawnee and I exchanged knowing glances. This ought to be interesting.
But, of course, it proved incredibly boring. “Please stay away from the Forbidden Forest and the Whomping Willow if you are not in the mood for multiple injuries or a gruesome death. Also, our caretaker Argus Filch has asked me to remind you that all items from the shop Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes have been banned.”
I searched the Gryffindor table for the other pair of fifth-year twins, Johnny Gonzalez and Matt Garza. In our first year, they’d found out that they had been separated and adopted at birth by two different families, and they were inseparable from then on. They were also the school’s resident pranksters. Sure enough, I found them at the end of the table, trying to stifle laughs behind their hands. I smiled fondly, like I had with Brendan. I liked the twins (both pairs). Johnny was cool, but Matt was my favorite. Beneath his silly jokester attitude, he was really just a big softie.
“Finally, if you wish to try out for your House Quidditch team- excepting first years, of course- please give your name to your Head of House and they will notify you of the tryout date.
“Ah, I see some heads nodding and yawns out there, and who am I to keep you from your soft, comfortable beds? Go, so that you may be well-rested and alert for your classes tomorrow! Good night, students, and sweet repose.”
Instantly the Hall was abuzz with activity. I ran up and down the aisle between the Ravenclaw and Slytherin tables, shouting “First years to me, please! Ravenclaw first years to me!” and amassing a large group of first-years behind me.
I met up with Will, who had also gathered a considerable amount of eleven-year-olds, at the end of the table. I took the lead, the line of first-years trailing behind me as I made my way through the doors and up some of Hogwarts’s one hundred and forty-two staircases, heading for Ravenclaw Tower. Just as I was about to ascend the narrow, twisting spiral stairs that led to the Ravenclaw common room, I felt someone tug at my sleeve. Leaving the rest of the first years to go up with Will, I looked at the little girl, recognizing her as Dellie Thresher from the sorting. “Yes, Dellie?”
“You’re Alyssa Salinger, right?”
I nodded. “What can I do for you?”
Her big brown eyes widened. “My big sister says you’re a Prefect and a Quidditch Captain, plus you saved the whole school last year.” With a start, I realized that her sister must have been Millie Thresher, one of the most popular Ravenclaws in the house- and one of my fellow fifth-years. “And she says you’re top of the class, too. How do you do it?”
I smiled down at her. “Study, and manage your time wisely,” I advised. Above me, I heard Will knock on the door to the commons. As everyone quieted, I hurried Dellie up the stairs so she could witness the riddle.
The melodic voice of the door’s eagle knocker asked, “How can you create something from nothing?”
I held back a laugh. I’d gotten this very question in my third year, and it had taken me twenty minutes to figure it out. But Will had obviously never had this question, as the confused look on his face plainly said. Normally, I would’ve enjoyed watching him puzzle over it, but some of the first-years were practically asleep on their feet, and I wasn’t about to make them wait.
“There is never nothing, so there always must be something,” I called to the door. Sure enough, it said, “Nicely phrased” and then swung open. A few of the first-years gasped in awe.
“I never would’ve said that!” I heard a first-year whisper to his friend as they filed in through the door. Will kept it open for me, and I stepped inside, nearly tripping over the throng of first-years who had stopped in their tracks before I could separate myself from them and look at what they were seeing.
It must be admitted that the Ravenclaw common room was a sight to behold, even late at night. Starlight filtered in through the windows that arched high above our heads. Couches surrounded a huge table that sparkled in the lowlight, as it was made of glass panes and inlaid with crystals. Smaller tables and adjoining armchairs were scattered throughout the large, circular room, and a dying fire crackled in a fire pit in the center. Each window had, in addition to a fantastic mountain view, an attached window seat; the windows themselves were separated by big alcoves in the walls, each with an arched entrance and intricately carved walls covered in bookshelves. A bust of a woman inhabited the alcove directly across from the door- a serene-looking woman wearing a diadem, into which was carved Ravenclaw’s most excellent motto: Wit beyond measure is man’s greatest treasure. The domed ceiling was dark blue, matching the carpet, but painted with stars; the white marble walls were covered with silky banners of blue and bronze where they met the dark blue ceiling. In the daytime, I remembered from years past, the abundance of white marble in the room had made it glow with a beautiful, natural-feeling white light.
“Whoa,” breathed in a first-year, summing it all up.
“Wait until it’s daytime,” I suggested. “It’s a great place to relax during free periods or after classes. Also to do homework.”
“Right now, though-” Will pointed to a door that was flanked by bookcases behind the statue of Rowena Ravenclaw- “it’s time for bed. Once we go through that door, there will be a hallway that splits into two. Witches go to the right; wizards, to the left.”
I opened the door and entered the hallway, on the walls of which hung portraits of famous Ravenclaws. I herded the first-year girls- all eleven of them, a big group- to the right, while Will departed with a wave and the nine first-year boys to the left. After climbing a quick flight of steps, we came out into a hallway that had one door facing us and then turned to march back past the stairs and over the Ravenclaw commons, doors lining the left side.
“First years get the first room,” I explained, opening the door opposite us. “Go on in. All of your things are already there.”
The little first-years trooped in past me, with Dellie Thresher at the end stopping to give me a shy little wave. When they were all inside, I closed the door gently and went down the hallway past the stairs and three more doors.
My six fellow Ravenclaw fifth-year girls looked up when I entered. Polly went right back to unpacking her bags. Helen MacDougal and Millie Thresher both waved and said hi, but it was Shawnee, Lanie and my other Ravenclaw best friend Lynne Turnip who really gave me the best welcome.
Lynne rushed over and gave me a big hug. “Quidditch Captain, Prefect- what will we do with you, Aly? Congrats!”
I hugged her back. “Thanks, Lynne. How was your summer?”
“Oh, great!” she enthused. “I went to visit Grand-mère in France.” Lynne’s mother was French, and Lynne took as much pride in being half- French as she did in being Muggle-born. She had actually gone to Beauxbatons for her first year and transferred to Hogwarts when her family had moved to England. It was Lynne’s French connections that had saved so many lives last year when, before fighting Headmaster Damien for the last time, we evacuated everyone third-year or younger to Beauxbatons. (Of course some stayed behind, but we couldn’t help that.)
Across the room, Helen waved to get our attention. “Aly? I know you just got in, but the rest of us are pretty tired. Do you think you can wait to unpack until tomorrow so we can all get some sleep?”
“Sure!” I said. “As long as I can get changed first. It’ll only take a minute.”
“Go ahead,” Helen allowed, and she and Millie withdrew into their spaces, as did Polly. I ducked into my curtained area, drew the drapes around me, and changed into my pajamas. When I had finished, I told the rest, and Lanie whispered a spell to extinguish the torches on the walls. I climbed into bed and pulled the warm covers over me, delighted to be back at Hogwarts- normal Hogwarts- at last.