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Chapter Two

The Sorting Hat's Verdict

Sunday 1 September 1991


My Hogwarts letter did come, of course. No-one found it very interesting because they had already had two years to become used to Roger's being a Hogwarts pupil. The relatives didn't clamour at the grate to be let into our house to exclaim over my letter. Aunt Amelia made a Floo call to enquire about it, but Susan's letter had also arrived, so I was sharing the glory with her. There was no fuss about the trip to Diagon Alley to buy my supplies because it was the third year of buying supplies for Roger. Roger was to have his own broomstick this year, and the excitement of finding him a decent second-hand Comet completely distracted Mum and Dad from admiring my new wand.

"Never mind," I muttered. "So long as I'm not in Ravenclaw, I'll make the Hogwarts people notice me."

When I finally entered the Great Hall at Hogwarts, I found I didn't want to be noticed. The noticeable people – those with escaped toads or scarred foreheads – were being noticed in a bad way. I wanted to blend into the crowd until I had made a few friends.

Professor McGonagall picked up the Sorting Hat and commanded, "Abbott, Hannah."

Under the gaze of the whole school, Hannah Abbott stumbled forward to the stool and collected the Hat. I had already met Hannah a couple of times, as she was my cousins' cousin. She was nice, and she was allocated to Hufflepuff.

"Bones, Susan."

Susan was the student I knew best, although we were actually only second cousins. I suppose she was nice too, but she was a great deal too admiring towards Roger! She was also sorted into Hufflepuff, and I began to hope. If the Sorting Hat put me in Susan's dormitory, Mum and Dad would be pleased with me, and I'd be well away from Roger.

"Boot, Terry."

I didn't know that name at all, and nor, apparently, did the students on each side of me. But the happy-faced Boot boy was sent to Ravenclaw, so I lost interest in him.

Terry Boot was followed by a Brocklehurst and a Brown, then a Bulstrode, which was a name that Aunt Amelia had mentioned. I hadn't heard of Corner; Cornfoot must mean the family from the Diagon Alley toy shop; I might have heard of Crabbe. Finally Professor McGonagall announced:

"Davies, Tracey!"

I took a deep breath and stepped towards the stool. I sat down, lifted the Hat to my head and silently hoped, "Not Ravenclaw, not Ravenclaw!"

"Not Ravenclaw, eh?"

I jumped. The Hat, flopping around my ears, was talking to me!

"Are you sure? You could be an academic, you know; it's all there in your head, and Ravenclaw could help you on your way to wisdom, no doubt about that."

"No!" My thoughts screamed as loudly as they dared. "Not Ravenclaw! I'm not one of those conceited show-offs who walk around as if they've swallowed encyclopaedias. I don't believe in knowing stuff unless it's going to be useful. I'm a useful sort of person: I should be in Hufflepuff!"

The Hat seemed to laugh at that. "Oh, no, you don't have an ounce of loyalty. You've some courage of the animal type and a nice thirst to prove yourself, but you're no kind of team player. Well, if you're sure, better be – SLYTHERIN!"

As I lifted the brim of the Hat, the first thing I saw was Roger's shocked face. He was sitting there at the Ravenclaw table, white and jaw-dropped, unable to believe that I wouldn't be occupying the seat he had saved for me.

Not allowing myself to be surprised, I replaced the Sorting Hat on the stool and marched past the Ravenclaw table, nodding significantly at my brother as I went. At the Slytherin table I caught up with the huge Crabbe boy who had been sorted just before me. A square-faced Prefect held out a hand to each of us; Crabbe pumped at her right hand, so I awkwardly took the left.

"Congratulations, Vincent and Tracey! Welcome to the greatest house in Hogwarts."

I let myself smile. I was going to belong here, in the house of water and serpents.

Take that, Roger!

Vincent Crabbe only grunted when I tried to speak to him, so I sat quietly at the bench to watch the rest of the Sorting. My parents had asked me to look out for their friends' children, so I noted that boring old Anthony Goldstein was despatched to boring old Ravenclaw. Then another of those large, troll-like boys was sent to our table. He ambled straight past me and took the seat on the other side of Vincent. They grunted at each other in a way that showed they were already old friends and they ignored everyone else. So I ignored them, because Daphne Greengrass, a tall blonde with a dazzling smile, was taking the other seat next to me.

"Nice to meet you," I said, holding out my hand.

She clasped it briefly. "And you, Tracey."

Daphne was a person who bothered to remember names! What an excellent beginning. But I was suddenly shy of her. She looked so confident – I could tell she was a pure-blood, and blood mattered in Slytherin.

Dad had asked me to find out "what happened to poor Frank Longbottom's son". I had forgotten why Frank was "poor", but his fat little boy, who didn't look old enough to be at Hogwarts, was dismissed to Gryffindor. Soon after that, a jubilant towhead named Draco Malfoy was sent to join us. Vincent and his friend Gregory shuffled aside on the bench so that he could sit between them, which told me that Draco was more important than they were. Whoever he was, I should take notice of him!

Was there anyone else I should know? I recognised the Patil twins, but neither was sent to our table. Oh, and there was the great Harry Potter. He was so small, and his hair was so messy! Now, surely he would join us in Slytherin? But, no, Potter went to Gryffindor. The Gryffindors were really silly about that; they cheered and stamped their feet and clapped twice as loudly as they had for anyone else. Would the other Slytherins envy his fame? Or would Potter be irrelevant, since he wasn't one of us?

Daphne was now paying attention to the new girl on her other side. Pansy Parkinson was petite and fine-boned and she laughed a great deal. Daphne laughed back in a way that showed that they, too, had been friends for a long time. I stared straight ahead, wondering if everyone here knew each other.

"Vincent," I said, "will you introduce me to your friends?"

Oh, no! As they were all boys, I should have said, "Will you introduce them to me?" Vincent simply grunted; he apparently didn't know any better; but Draco snickered because he had noticed my gaffe.

"Don't you know me already?" he asked.

I lifted my chin and tried to hide my Cockney accent. "I think that teacher said you were Draco Malfoy."

"She said right. But it was easy for her; she had a list. Oh, and this is Crabbe and this is Goyle. But I've forgotten your name."

"Tracey Davies."

"Well, Tracey Davies, I can't say I know your family, but I expect we'll all be friends around here. If you want to meet the right sorts, you should hang around with me."

The food arrived soon afterwards, and Vincent did nothing but stuff his face all evening. Daphne and Pansy were politer; we did talk about broomsticks (lucky I knew something about flight!) and unicorns (lucky they had never seen one either!). But they were mainly interested in each other. Oh, well. I knew I'd do better saying nothing at all than accidentally saying something Ravenclawish or just plain Muggle.

Finally it was time to go down to our dormitories. Several students – and not just first-years – were yawning frantically, so no-one would notice if I didn't say much. We followed the prefect down two flights of stairs. She left five of us at the dormitory door, and Pansy led the way in. I ran straight to the opposite window, but it didn't open.

"Our course not," said Pansy. "You don't want a flood, do you? This dormitory is under the lake."

Daphne turned on a lamp, and we all blinked at the four-poster beds, at the green velvet hangings, at the long ebony dressing-table that we would share, and at our own faces reflected in the silver-rimmed mirror above it. A fish swam quite close to the round window, and I saw that our view was indeed nothing but water.

A pretty brunette giggled. "Ooooh, a fish! D'you think we'll ever see the Giant Squid through our windows?"

"My brother said he saw it once," claimed an awkward, large-framed girl.

"He was probably exaggerating," said Daphne. "The Squid is shy; it wouldn't swim this close to the buildings."

Pansy enthroned herself on the edge of a four-poster and waved the rest of us to sit around her. "Let's all introduce ourselves and say a little about our families," she said. "You begin, Daphne."

This confirmed that Daphne occupied an unshakeable position as Pansy's second-in-command. If I wanted to fit in, not only must I listen to Pansy, but I must never step on Daphne's toes either.

"My name is Daphne Queenie Greengrass," the blonde recited, "and my father is a Beater with the Falmouth Falcons. The Greengrasses are a very old pure-blood family from Norfolk, while my mother is a descendant of Kalliope Lufkin, the first witch to become Minister for Magic. We are also connected to the Malfoys…"

Whoops! I tried to look impressed, although I still hadn't a clue why Draco Malfoy was important.

"… My uncle is married to Draco Malfoy's aunt. All of us have an honourable tradition of belonging to Slytherin House, where my sister Syrinx is the Gobstones Champion."

Daphne turned benevolently to the large, lank-haired girl on my right. "Now it's your turn. I think the Deputy Head mentioned that your name is Millicent."

"Yes, Millicent Bul – er, Millicent Gertrude Bulstrode." The large girl had a plum accent, but she sounded nervous. "I'm from Aylesbury, where my parents own an antique shop in a Muggle street. They transfigure cheap stuff into Victorian chairs and tables and Georgian silverware, whatever people want. They also stock nose-biting teacups and self-losing key rings and suchlike."

This was all wrong. People didn't admit to baiting the Muggles. They didn't even admit to making money off Muggles, not on a first meeting.

Millicent glared at us. "My parents are good at it. They can forge hallmarks and do fake ageing on the wood, and the customers never guess that the stuff we sell them isn't genuine. My great-grandfather is Caractacus Burke from Knockturn Alley, and he gives us heaps of his spare stock. We had a chess set that my Muggle grandmother – "

Daphne tittered, and Pansy cut in. "Thank you, Millicent! That puts us very nicely in the picture. Let's give someone else a turn!"

She was looking at me, so I swallowed my shaking, plastered on a smile, and swiftly made eye contact with each of them in turn. None of them knew who I was, but it wouldn't help me at all if I mentioned that my father was a Muggle-born or that my parents were poor.

"I'm Tracey Ann Davies and I'm from London." Croydon was an unfashionable borough, so I wouldn't mention it. "My grand-aunt is the Minister for Magical Law Enforcement – her name's Amelia Bones."

Pansy's eyes sparked with interest. One point to me for having a Ministry connection and one more point for dropping the pure-blooded name of Bones!

"Aren't the Boneses something to do with clothes?" asked the brunette.

"Well, yes, my grandparents are tailors. Grandma was born Tabitha Twilfitt – "

"Really?" Now Daphne was impressed. "Not Twilfitt the dressmaker?"

"I buy all my clothes from Twilfitt and Tatting!" giggled the brunette. "It's dead expensive, of course, but so much classier than that Malkin's!"

"That's the one," I agreed. "Grandma is Madam Twilfitt, and Bones's Bespoke Tailoring is the masculine branch of the same company." But tailors, no matter how pure-blooded, didn't compare with the Old Money wizards, so it was time to change the subject. "What else? Well, my interests are Potions, Transfiguration and Arithmancy…" They had no reaction to this either, so I dropped that line and finished brightly with, "And I adore cats!"

The final remark made all of them smile.

"I have a cat," said Millicent, although it wasn't her turn to speak.

We all ignored her and looked at the girl on my left. She had long, dark curls and a freckled, babyish face.

"I'm Cecilia Laverne Runcorn." She giggled self-consciously. "Oh dear, what can I say? Daddy works at the Ministry of Magic, and Mummy's oldies are in the perfume business… the Honeysmooches, you know."

We had all patronised Honeysmooch's, so Cecilia was rewarded with knowing smiles.

"Do I know the name Runcorn?" mused Pansy. "Yes, I do! There was an Albert Runcorn who bought property from my father a couple of years back… a very respectable, pure-blooded gentleman."

"Daddy!" exclaimed Cecilia ecstatically. "His new house in Liverpool! Anyway, I play the flute a bit, which pleases my stepfather because he's a dead famous singer. As for my stepmother… Well, she's just famous for being beautiful! Not that I like her, but she can be dead useful as my sister and I are both interested in fashion." Another giggle. "And I like cats too!"

Although she clearly hadn't a clue what kind of information would make her popular, Cecilia was saved by sheer luck. Her father was a pure-blood, a Ministry official and a business associate of the Parkinsons. The Honeysmooch connection was simply a bonus.

When the buzz of chatter had died down, Pansy reclaimed the centre stage. "My name is Pansy Morgana Parkinson, and I live in Manchester, where my father owns a real estate business. I am actually related to Daphne, as my mother was born a Greengrass. I am also connected with the Malfoy family… Did you all meet Draco Malfoy earlier? I have known him all my life because my sister is married to his uncle…"

I thought quickly. In a dormitory of five, someone was going to be left out, and Pansy would decide who. Daphne was her best friend; Cecilia and I had managed to fit in; but Millicent had already created the wrong impression. Sooner or later, they would find out that my background was no better than Millicent's, and I had to make myself popular before that happened. If I wanted to keep on fitting in, my best bet was to form an alliance with Cecilia.

"… And my mother took me to buy a very sweet collection of silver brooches, which used to belong to Callisto Gaunt herself," finished Pansy. "Would you like to see them?"

Of course we wanted to see them. Even if we had never heard of Callisto Gaunt, we wouldn't dare refuse such an invitation. In fact, the brooches were very pretty. There were twelve of them, shaped like lizards and salamanders and decorated with emeralds and diamonds.

"They're fakes," said Millicent. "Look, you can tell. Those aren't real diamonds, and – "

I was tempted to shove her, but I remembered in time that it would help me if Millicent made a fool of herself.

"They are gorgeous," I said, as Millicent blindly continued to explain that they couldn't be more than fifty years old so they were only reproductions and not antiques.

"I love this one!" said Cecilia.

"Keep it!" said Pansy. "Why don't you each choose one to keep? We're all going to be friends, so let's start our friendship with a gift."

I knew then that Pansy had not been ripped off. She already knew the brooches were only cheap reproductions; she had deliberately lied about owning "antiques" in order to impress us. She must be displeased that Millicent had called her on it.

I let Daphne choose first, noting that she very deliberately picked out the second-largest. I didn't mind; I was eyeing off one of the smaller ones. As soon as Daphne had made her selection, my hand darted forward, knocking Millicent's out of the way. I let it hover for a second, then stroked a salamander with gleaming emerald eyes.

"Pansy, you're so generous," I said. "But are you sure you don't want to keep this one? It's so sweet!"

"I said you could have it," she said airily. "If ever I regret sharing, I know where I can buy more like it."

I picked up the brooch and moved to sit next to Cecilia, taking care not to look at Millicent. I asked Cecilia if she had a cat, and she said she did but it was more her sister's pet. I let her prattle on about her home life while I wondered what we would find to talk about tomorrow.

I had finally left Roger behind. I was in Slytherin.

And I wondered if I had what it would take to survive here.

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