Ahem. This was awkward.
This hat on my head had been muttering to itself in Latin for the past minute, at the very least, and before that, it had spent at least two impersonating different detective characters (Sherlock was definitely a major portion of the mix) to try to figure out which “House” I was meant to be in. And before that, it was singing lullabies to me in an attempt to provoke a physical reaction, even though I knew it could read my anxious thoughts perfectly well.
It was fun, riling this hat up, especially since it seemed to be spoiled. And I had no idea what it was doing.
The whole time, however, I knew I was being studied by a few hundred students -- all magical, apparently. All of the kids at around my age were somewhere around the base of the podium I was currently perched on, and there was rustling and soft chatting from around every corner of the hall, which sounded slightly scary, in my opinion. Around me, I could feel the breezes wafting from the many breaths and shuffles and words coming from each of the students, and it was incredibly distracting. They all spoke too much.
Meanwhile, the hat was still blathering.
I am the Sorting Hat, it declared for the umpteenth time, finally switching out of Latin. Not that I had anything against the dead language, of course, but hearing random phrases looping through my mind was slightly unnerving. You are not meant to be superior to me, so I will decipher your secrets!
Right. And pigs would fly.
As it began reciting quotes from various movies I’d listened to (I think I finally drove it mad), I took the chance to let my mind wander from any thoughts that would give the worn hat some clues as to what my personality contained, instead attempting to figure out what had happened on this absolutely peachy day.
Everything was normal to begin with -- birds were screeching, the sun was burning, and I was enjoying myself by having a glutton race with my older brother over our morning cereal. We usually poured a bucketful of cream over the top of our oatmeal and then lifted the bowl to our mouths, shoveling it in with a spoon until one of us choked and dribbled the mess across the tablecloth. Mama wasn’t very pleased, but even she really couldn’t say anything; the Bràigheach family was renowned throughout the countryside for their ability to gorge down a nauseating amount of food in a matter of seconds.
After I won the little competition, Aindreas, my brother, flicked me on the head playfully with his spoon and strolled out of the room to disappear somewhere upstairs. Probably in shame, as I was nine years younger than he was.
But then, the day insisted on souring, and that specific moment of sourness appeared when our doorbell rang. Multiple times. We had never really gotten around to changing our doorbell tone, so the harsh buzzing ding-dong! echoed through my head for a few torturous seconds.
“Hello, is this the Bràigheach family?” a woman asked cheerfully without even waiting for the door to open, while managing to butcher our lovely Gaelic surname. The way she pronounced it was somewhere along the lines of “Braig-heetch,” with a nice sharp accent on the first syllable, and it was all wrong.
Stepping quietly, my mama moved over, presumably to peek through the eyehole in our door, and I whispered in Gaelic, “Mamaí, tell them how it’s actually pronounced.” There was no way I was going to work up the guts to speak to a stranger, even if it was on the touchy subject of my last name, but I was pushed by Mama, who was sighing, in front of her as she opened the thin wooden door. For as long as I could remember, she had been pushing me to be less, well, shy. No that I was, of course. There were just people issues I had to conquer.
Anyway, now I was faced with the problem of actually talking, which would be a slight problem.
Keeping my eyelids lowered, I began to murmur, “You do know that it’s --”
“Holy Merlin, Mum,” a teenage boy said (at least, I was fairly certain he said “Merlin,” as strange as it was), a note of awe audible as he spoke. He had a mature voice, slightly drawling, and was probably around the age of fourteen.
I frowned. How many people were out there, exactly? Now that I realized there were more than one, I could make out three -- four -- five voices. Why were there five people on this simple doorstep of ours? “She does look --”
“We agreed to keep silent about this,” the woman snapped, and I could sense the frustration boiling underneath.
There was a pause until the same boy answered, “Forgot. Sorry, Mum.” But there was smugness hidden in his words, and, obviously, he didn’t mean a single word of the apology he uttered.
“Not a word from you two nuisances, either,” the woman added sharply, addressing the other kids, probably. Then, to us: “We’re here to break some information to you.” Oh, no. What happened?
“Ginny, the theatrics aren’t going to solve anything,” a soothing voice, a man’s, said, cutting into my thoughts. Addressing Mama now, he said gently, “Mrs. Bràigheach, you -”
“It’s pronounced Broch-heig,” I interrupted quietly, keeping my eyes lowered. “‘Broch,’ which rhymes with ‘loch,’ and ‘heig,’ which is pronounced with a guttural German ‘ch’ sound at the end. Bràigheach.” The woman -- Ginny? -- had messed it up once already, and the second time irritated me even more.
There was a bit of shuffling; we were being rude hostesses, but they still hadn’t told us their purpose in being here. “Mamaí, maybe we should lock them out,” I suggested quietly, and my dear mother chuckled softly in return. Funnily, though, she didn’t give a proper response to me and seemed to be giving her undivided attention to the family (I assumed they were a family, by the way they were acting) on our porch.
“Your daughter has to leave,” the original boy said impatiently, “and we’re here to pick her up and send her to Hogwarts, which is the magical school for witches- and wizards-in-training. So may we leave now?”
...What? Was he kidding me? There was one simple explanation: this family was full of idiots.
“Thank you,” two disjointed voices muttered underneath their breaths -- the girl and the boy, the ‘two’ that Ginny was talking to earlier.
“JAMES!” she roared, cutting through the rest of their words while turning around to face whoever James was -- the first boy who spoke? -- and giving me half of a heart attack. “You know what, I thought this would be a good idea, but since you children are immature little beasts, I’m going to send you guys home with Dad, and I’ll deal with this on my own. Deal? You can hustle off to buy some of that muggle ice cream that you love so much, and then you can go home and be the lazy hogs you always are!”
From the lack of disgruntled responses, I figured this was a daily spiel.
“My sweet, go upstairs and find your brother, okay?” My mama seized the chance to speak to me privately as the mess of a family outside began arguing over broomsticks, for some reason, and gave me a gentle push in the direction of the staircase. As long as I didn’t have to be with these insane people anymore, I would do anything at this moment -- just being with them for a few moments was making me feel stressed and irritable.
“And tell him to come downstairs and help me, alright?” she added. Well, so much for that hope of avoiding these people.
“Alright,” I answered, placing my left hand on the wall where the staircase railing was even though I didn’t need to. It was purely habit by now. Walking slowly at first and then gradually speeding up until I was taking the long, rickety stairs two at a time, I reached the top and turned left where my brother’s room was. However, I crashed into him along the way. “Mamaí wants you down,” I began, but he was already silencing me and gently guiding me by my shoulders down the stairs, having heard Mama’s request already. “I don’t need your help,” I grumbled, slapping his hands away and hopping down the last few steps -- three, two, one! -- on my own.
Now. Back to the loony bin.
As I reentered the kitchen with my brother close behind me, I noted that the room was oddly silent, save for the sound of breathing. Half a second later, I noticed that, no, the room was not entirely quiet -- Ginny’s huffs reminded me of of a rhinoceros ready to trample whomever got in its way. Pleasant.
“James. Teddy’s little godbrother, isn’t it?” my brother greeted stiffly, his arm tense. I didn’t realize that he had slipped his elbow into my hand until then.
“Aindreas?” James returned, the note of shock evident in his voice, while ruining the delicate sounds of the Gaelic language once again.
“Me,” I intoned quietly so that only my brother could hear, and I heard a small snort of laughter coming from him. “You two know each other?” I murmured to my brother in our language, a bit surprised that he had actually met this barbaric member of the family before. Was I being harsh in judging James so soon? No.
“Long story,” he answered in the same language, but his voice broke slightly in the middle. And he rushed through those two simple words much too quickly. Funny how that “long story” excuse usually meant “I don’t want to ever talk about it, so please stop asking. With a cherry on top.” Except, it was usually less nice.
Mama and Ginny began having a discussion in a corner of the kitchen -- it sounded as though they were continuing one, actually. Did Mama halt the conversation as I walked into the room so I wouldn’t be able to hear what they were talking about just then? Taking my brother with me, I walked over and wrapped my arms around my thin mother, burying my face into her back. “Make them go away, Mamaí,” I requested, a lovely vibration going through my nose as my voice traveled through the cloth. “They’re being rude and I don’t like them and they’re really strange.” It was a miracle that she managed to understand me at all, but I could feel her apron tug as she nodded.
“She’s better off with me,” Mama agreed aloud, speaking English with a slight Irish lilt that only I could catch. That lilt appeared when she was scared or nervous, and only then.
Since when were strangers allowed to waltz into unsuspecting civilians’ homes, asking for their children? (At least, that was what I assumed the subject was.) And the strangest part was that this seemed to be a negotiation of a sort, as though Mama was meant to consider this offer. Why wasn’t her first reaction something along the lines of “Call the police”?
“You’re going to lose her within a few minutes,” my mother continued, an edge in her voice. Ooh, drama. “Don’t tell me what to do with my child.”
“But this is best for everyone --” Ginny began, desperation seeping into her tone. Was she on a business trip that required me as her prize? Was it money on the line? Why did she care so much?
“I’m staying,” I cut in firmly, panic settling deep into my throat. It was probably evident in my voice, but the blood was roaring too loudly in my ears for me to notice. “I’m staying.” With the repeated phrase, I tried to keep my voice light and feathery. More people tended to trust girls who didn’t shout, I’d found, and as stupid as that statistic was, I needed to use it to stay with my mother and brother. They were all I had.
There was a pause, and my brother took the time to place his broad hands on my shoulders as though to keep me in place, squeezing tightly. My own arms were still clasped around my mother, unwilling to let go. That sudden quiet in the room scared me more than I cared to admit -- something was brewing, and I didn’t know what it was.
All at once, two voices shouted, “Petrificus totalus!” and my mother and brother both stiffened into planks, Mama’s arms clamping against her sides and trapping my own underneath them. Aindreas fell on top of me, perfectly petrified, and all three of us toppled over like lonely dominos. But what had happened? What sorcery had caused my mama’s and brother’s bodies to freeze up like this? They couldn’t be dead -- I refused to believe it, but…
Then I remembered that term I had dismissed as words from a crackpot -- witch. Loony Ginny and James weren’t as crazy as I thought they were, if my deducing was correct. Mama, I thought, feeling slightly ill as I listened for a heartbeat in her unmoving body. It was there. Thank goodness. She was still warm, she was still warm, and she would be fine, along with Aindreas. Just fine.
“Sorry about that, dear,” Ginny said apologetically, regret ringing audibly in her words. “Now, James, don’t worry about getting in trouble -- the Ministry are going to make exceptions for your underage magic. It was for a good cause.” Good cause? Good cause? Why, I would -- that malignant --
I must have made a furious huff because Ginny’s shoes clacked towards me, and she hauled me onto my feet. Where she grabbed hold of me felt twisted and raw -- this woman was manhandling me, and I didn’t want to go. Panicking now, I attempted to wrench my arm out of her grasp but just ended up whacking my other one on the nearby table. “Let go,” I whispered, debating between shouting at her and just going with the flow. Nutters couldn’t be reasoned with, after all.
“I don’t think so, dear,” Ginny said. “James, help me.” Her cool, smooth hands were replaced with heavy, calloused ones, and I was pushed unceremoniously towards the door. Struggling really made no difference.
“Let me go,” I tried again, attempting to grab James’ neck and dig my nails into it, but he just casually yanked on my long hair, sending a great jolt of pain down my own neck. Where were they taking me? What were they doing with me? “Mama, Aindreas, wake --”
“Oh, Merlin” -- and again, this “Merlin” term -- “forgive me, and I’m so sorry, child.”
So here I was, sprawled across a bed, in an unfamiliar room with unfamiliar scents and very unfamiliar sounds, with no Mama or Aindreas to help me out this time. Carefully standing up and running my hand along a wall, I followed the perimeter of the room, bumping ungracefully into a few things here and there, until I reached one side significantly different from the others.
The situation was dire. I could not tell whether this was a window or a glass wall. Who in the world even made a window this large? And in addition to that, who in the world even made a glass wall when one could have a window? And was this a way of dealing with anxiety, just avoiding the elephant in the room? And where was my family?
While I was pondering these questions, two consecutive thumps sounded from a room next door.
“James pushed me!” a girl -- the same girl from before -- shouted, the sound slightly muted by the wall between us.
“Come on, Mum, Lily’s just pinning it all on me when it’s all her fault,” James hollered over Lily’s words. I heard a scuffle, presumably in a mad dash to the door. “She took my book on Puddlemere! PUDDLEMERE.”
“I told you to support the Harpies,” Ginny practically sang from somewhere below.
Having had enough of this nonsense, I moved to the door and slipped out into the hallway, unsure of where to go. Sounds traveled from both directions, left and right, in this house, and I could not for the life of me figure out which direction the staircase could be. After a few seconds of “eeny-meeny-miney-mo”, I chose the left side and was beginning to set off when the door next to mine -- er, whoever’s it was, I guess -- opened suddenly.
“Oh, you’re awake.” James grabbed my arm and began hauling me in the opposite direction I was going in. Protesting that I hadn’t, in fact, been sleeping but knocked out, I tried to regain possession of my arm, but it didn’t work. Was this family just filled with aggressive idiots?
And then James began thumping loudly down the stairs, still dragging me along with him. Even after I nearly tumbled down when I misstepped (an instinctive grab to my left -- the banister, thankfully, was there -- probably saved a nasty knock to the head), he wouldn’t stop, and finally, I clung to the banister tightly, refusing to move.
“Slow down, stop pulling me, and let me walk by myself!” I insisted, angry that he had the audacity to act this way to someone he kidnapped, and he finally relented. That was how I made my way from the stairs into the kitchen of this huge house (seriously, it took five minutes and twenty seconds of walking to get here) with James’ guidance, where Ginny was humming at the sink.
“Here, Mu -- ew, please tell me I don’t have to eat that before I go,” James pleaded. “You’re not cooking, are you?”
“Don’t be ridiculous, James, my cooking is -- oh, hello, dear.” Ginny shuffled towards me with a pot of something that smelled warm and very, very filled with disagreeable ingredients. “I hope you’re feeling alright?”
This was where it hit me that I had been kidnapped by these people, and, all at once, I stumbled backwards, immediately crashing into a table and a few chairs. A bruised back smarting, I whispered, “My mother and brother are both fine, right? What are you doing with me?”
Ginny set the pot down on the table with a dull clunk. “Taking you to Hogwarts, of course.” There was a question hidden in there somewhere, however, as though the answer should have been obvious. “For some reason, you didn’t get a letter, so we need to rush you over there immediately. We’ve missed the train already.”
Being confused was not a pleasant feeling. She sounded fairly certain of herself, but then again, most nutters did, right?
“Please tell me that nasty woman told you that Hogwarts was a good place and not a bad one. She couldn’t have filled all of your head with lies, am I right?”
“Or do you believe in that Pureblood nonsense through and through?”
“MUM!” There was an uneven pattern of thuds going down the stairs -- Lily, perhaps? “The girl’s awake, and I don’t know where she is, and --” All of a sudden, she cut herself short. “Oh.”
See, this was what always confused me in life. There was some advantage most people had that I did not that enabled them to sense where the positioning of everything and everyone was in the room without having to feel or listen, and as hard as I tried to imagine what it could be like, I never could.
“While you were leafing through my book, I brought her downstairs,” James said smugly. “Serves you right, you little dev --”
“Oh, shut up, you overgrown toad.” Stepping delicately towards me, she leaned closer to me, and I could feel the heat coming off of her body and the breaths she took. Ew. “Well, she looks normal. What are we doing with her again?”
“I am taking her to Hogwarts, while Dad is taking you two via a specialized Floo system they’ve set up for you two. Hurry up, now, you’re running late -- have you two packed?” A stern tapping of Ginny’s foot followed. “Oh, honestly, you two. Go up, and hurry, otherwise I’ll have your hair shaved and twisted into mocking puppets to display at Hogsmeade. You were meant to leave with Albus more than a few hours ago. HURRY.”
Both scurried off immediately, leaving me slightly befuddled as to what she meant.
“Now, we will have to go now, otherwise the Headmistress will alert the Ministry, and you don’t want to cause all of that trouble, do you?” Grabbing my arm for the second time today, she muttered, “Hermione had better be there, otherwise I’m switching my threat target onto her.” And, with that, there was a terribly uncomfortable suction-cup feeling at the base of my stomach as my head whirled, my mind scattering in all sorts of directions before piecing itself back together. Immediately, I knew we were in a different place.
The air here felt free and not stuffy like Ginny’s home, and there was sunlight on my face with the birds chirruping cheerfully in the sky somewhere. Much better. I relaxed.
“Ginny! Is this her? Well, she’s going to have to buy her robes and school supplies later since Diagon Alley is closed for restocking, and what are you still doing here? Go, go, go -- McGonagall is going to throw a fit if she doesn’t arrive within the next five minutes, so hurry up!” A shrill voice rang out, piercing my eardrum sharply. Ouch.
“Calm down.” Her hand still on my arm, Ginny gave me a tug and pulled me along, and any resistance I tried to put up at the unwanted control was futile. “Where’s the flying car, Hermione?”
Flying car. She was going to stuff me into a flying car. First chance I got, this lady was going to be shipped off to an asylum -- this was hazardous.
“I’m sorry again, dear, but we really need to move quickly and we can’t with you struggling like this. Petrificus totalus.”
I felt my body become that stiff and board-like figure. All connections between my brain and the rest of my body were severed, and I couldn’t move. Panic flowed through my veins as I attempted to wriggle, just to prove that my body could move and that there was nothing permanently wrong with me.
In the meantime, Ginny and Hermione had each picked one end of me to lift up as though I were a table, and they heaved me into the backseat of a car after much grunting and muffled curses; my paralyzed body actually made a few things more difficult for them as they tried to toss me into the back without bashing my head against the doorframe.
And once I was in, the driver’s door opened and the car started up.
To say that it was a painful ride full of bumps from turbulence would be an understatement. About five seconds in, I was beginning to fear for my life and winced inwardly every single time I heard Ginny muttering to herself. For example: “What does this knobbly thing here do?” A second later, there would be a massive jerk as she probably lost control over the wheel, thanks to whatever the “knobbly thing” did.
Twenty-eight minutes later, after breaking a few dozen speed limits, there was a jolting landing that sent my body bouncing on the seat.
“We’re here,” Ginny announced, and, all of a sudden, I could move again. “Now, come on. You need to get to the Headmistress.” This time, she opened the car door and stalked off without me. To follow, or not to follow? If I didn’t, she could leave me here, but if I did, then I would have to risk whatever she had in store for me.
…Well, sticking with her would be loads better than starving to death out here on my own.
A door creaked open slowly, and I hurried in with Ginny. After sixteen minutes of clomping up stairs, passing through drafty hallways, stumbling into too many doorframes, and basically getting distracted from Ginny’s footsteps by the random sounds and smells that reached my senses, we finally reached our destination, upon which I ran into Ginny.
Gentle murmurs seeped through the cracks in the door (at least, it made more sense than a wall), with a louder voice ringing out over it all. I couldn’t quite make out the words.
“Sorry it took so long,” she said sheepishly. “I accidentally took a staircase, and the staircase took us to the wrong landing, so I had to make a long detour back downstairs to the ground floor.” Huh. So all of that painful walking for nothing. “Now, the whole of Hogwarts is waiting for you inside, so go and put that --”
“Well, yes, but could you actually explain this to me instead of kidnapping me, leading me along to wherever suited your whims for hours, and now dropping me off at some strange building?” I interrupted, tired of humoring the insane lady. “I don’t know where I am, or what you’re going to do with me, and all I want is to go back home to Mama.”
“Come on.” Without even bothering to answer me, she opened the doors to this hall, and even though she was very quiet about it, conversation immediately subsided and whoever was making the announcements before stopped talking. Taking a deep breath, I hesitantly followed her, silently cursing her in my head. Every sound my shoes made were swallowed up by the breathing coming from all corners of this huge hall, which did nothing to reassure me. How was I meant to know whether someone would stick their foot out at the last second to see me trip and sprawl across the floor?
This aisle seemed to be a long one. From what I could gather on this walk, there were at least two rows of students stretching from one end of the hall to the other.
“...don’t really…understand,” I heard faintly from Ginny as I neared the last quarter of the length of this hall. “She…not be a…” Suddenly, I stepped on something that was most definitely not the floor, which turned out to be someone’s hand (I figured it out after they retracted it and hissed, “Ow”). And, by my feet, were other students who I had to wade through, and --
Why didn’t they warn me that there would be stairs here? It was a miracle that I didn’t trip over the first step.
“Miss Bràigheach.” The voice was sudden, nearly causing me to jump backwards instinctively and lose all of my progress on the stairs. It didn’t help that she pronounced my name correctly. “Please step up and allow me to explain.” Her tone was commanding and stern, but she could’ve spoken at a kitten’s mewl and everybody would still hear her.
“You all are --” I began speaking resolutely but was cut off by a sharp sniff of disapproval.
“Miss Bràigheach, this is the Hogwarts School for Witchcraft and Wizardry.” Now her voice was softer than a kitten’s mewl, but the sternness didn’t waver. “You are being given the privilege of being able to study here, learning about magic, and experiencing wonders that those muggles with their lemon drops will never be able to. And so, you must place the Sorting Hat on your head so that you may sit with one of the four Houses.”
This was ridiculous. What Sorting Hat? She couldn’t expect for me to promptly understand her without further explanation. “Alright, brilliant, but what if I want to go home?” I quipped, clenching my left hand.
“You may not.” Terse, firm, and spoken quickly.
Something inside of me deflated, but something else grew. If they were going to keep me here, fine. Mama would come, and so would Aindreas.
I straightened. “Fine. Fine.”
So, within the next six minutes, I was plopped onto a stool, and the stupid hat was shoved onto my head.
And here I was, tapping my foot impatiently on one of the legs of my seat, waiting for the Sorting Hat to make up its mind. From its mutterings, I had finally figured out that the Houses were, more or less, huge teams that the school was split up into, which sounded fairly idiotic to me.
Eeny, meeny, miney, moe. Well, that was that. This hat had finally lost it. Catch a tiger by its toe. If he hollers, make him pay -- fifty euros every day. This is impossible. How did you manage to make it into this school if you didn’t even have enough qualities to distinguish yourself properly? There was a beat of silence before a thundering roar filled the hall and bounced off each surface. “SLYTHERIN!”
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