This is a chapter I have wanted to write for a long time, for one simple reason; it contains a Sorting Hat song! I'm about 85% pleased with how it turned out; I'm definitely not a poet. Thanks are in order to Mrs. Norris for her invaluable aid. Also, just a reminder to anyone who wants to be placed on the mailing list; it's Agatha_OGrady(at) Be sure to put mailing list in the subject line. OK, enjoy! Harry couldn’t believe it, but there could be no mistake; the girl in the compartment, who was now standing up, her book abandoned on the red upholstered seat and a grey kitten gamboling around her skinny legs, was Ananda. “I take it this is where we’re sitting?” said Hermione testily behind him. Mute, Harry stumbled into the compartment. Nimbus rubbed up against his leg and purred. Ananda was the first to speak. “Well, look who it is,” she crowed, smug. “The Boy Who Lived!” Harry’s jaw dropped, if possible, even lower. “How…how did you know that?” “Thank you for introducing us, Harry,” said Hermione, rolling her eyes after shoving her trunk onto the luggage rack. “Oh,” said Harry, finally startled into courtesy. “Sorry. This is Ananda Hill. I worked for her parents over the holidays.” “And I know who you are,” she said, beaming up at the taller girl without a trace of shyness. “You’re Hermione. Harry told me all about you.” “Oh, he did, did he?” Hermione responded, her voice climbing as she looked at Harry severely. “And what exactly did he say?” Before Harry could answer, Ananda said, “Oh, don’t worry. Harry didn’t say anything that would conflict with the International Statute of Secrecy. You must be Ron,” she added. Ron nodded dumbly, his eyebrows hidden behind his red hair. “Why don’t we sit down?” Hermione took the seat by the window, while Harry sat down next to Ananda. A thousand urgent questions ran through his mind, but he couldn’t figure out which to ask first. Ron, luckily, voiced one of them. “So…if your parents are Muggles, how do you know about the International Statute and everything?” In response, Ananda indicated the book she had been reading, a copy of An Appraisal of Magical Education in Europe. “And I found out all about Harry in Contemporary Wizarding Developments in England and Scotland.” She turned to Harry, still gaping as though she were a fish that had grown fur. “Aren’t you a little happy to see me?” “Yeah, yeah, of course, I am! I’m just…surprised, is all. Have you ever done any magic things before?” “Whenever anyone picked on me, something bad would happen to them. I never knew for sure if it was me, but it was always just what I wanted them to get. I used to think I was crazy, for having powers no one would believe, but now I know it’s true. It was kind of fun, actually.” Harry thought back to Ananda’s behavior when the school bullies had shown up at the Boots. So that was why she had seemed so keen to provoke them. Ananda continued. “Then when we were on holiday this strange old woman stayed in the room next to us. She knocked on our door and said she had a letter for me. Turns out it was a letter for Hogwarts. My parents didn’t believe her at first, so she made the teapot turn into a jackrabbit. That convinced them. But they didn’t like it at all. I wasn’t even sure if I wanted to come either. I didn’t make up my mind until the day we had to go to London.” “Well, you did all right, didn’t you?” Harry said, smiling. He was just about to explain what Hogwarts was like, when all of a sudden their compartment door opened. “Um…hi, Harry.” It was Cho Chang, standing with the door half open and blushing fiercely. She had done something different with her hair; rather than the black silk curtain Harry had liked so much in the past, now it was short and angular. Harry didn’t think it suited her very well. After an awkward second, he responded. “Hi. Erm…how was your summer?” Stupid, stupid, stupid thing to say, he thought automatically. “Oh, all right. Listen, do you think I could have a word? I mean, out, um…” “Sure,” said Harry, wondering what in the world this was about. Hadn’t Hermione said she was going out with Michael Corner? If that wasn’t true, it might mean Harry had another shot, a thought which gave his stomach a ghost of the former leap it had made whenever she walked by. Still, he couldn’t get the memory of all their rows out of his head, and wondered if, even if he could, he would want to try dating her again. Out in the hallway, Cho closed the door. Looking up at Harry, she suddenly giggled. It was the same heart-stopping laugh she’d always had, and suddenly Harry felt himself go gooey on the inside all over again. Whatever had happened, she was still Cho. “I’m being stupid, to be nervous about talking to you. It’s not like we haven’t talked before, like last year, when we were going to Hogsmeade, and at DA meetings and all, though you talked to a lot of other people then too, I mean, not just me, and that was okay…” “Cho,” said Harry gently, “you’re babbling.” She stopped up short. “I guess you’re right,” she said sheepishly. “Harry, what I wanted to say was…I’m sorry. About all the fights we had last year. I was just a little messed up.” “So was I,” said Harry. Remembering some of the balderdash Hermione had spouted off when he had last tried to puzzle out Cho’s bizarre behavior, Harry said, “I guess I wasn’t very…I mean, I should have tried to see how you felt, or something.” Cho’s face lit up. “Thanks, Harry,” she said. She took a deep breath. “Anyway, I didn’t think we should go out anymore.” Harry blinked. That was not what he expected to hear. If she didn’t want to go out, what had she come to his compartment for? Without his asking, Cho answered that question. “I mean, I just think you and I do better as friends, you know? You’re still the only person I can talk to about…Cedric,” she said with a hard swallow, “and I really like you. I just don’t think we should mess that up again. Don’t you agree?” “Yeah, I guess so,” said Harry automatically. Actually, he didn’t know if he agreed or not. On one hand, he had barely given Cho a thought over the whole summer, so preoccupied had he been with other things. But hanging out with Cho in the library, playing Exploding Snap with her on breaks, racing broomsticks on weekends? He couldn’t imagine engaging in any of those activities without wanting to hold her hand. Cho didn’t notice his discomfort, however. “Oh, that’s great, Harry. I knew you’d understand. You’re such a nice guy.” Inwardly, Harry grimaced. Until then, he hadn’t realized just how awful the words “nice guy” could be. Cho was looking over her shoulder. “Well, I’d better get back to my compartment, Mike’s probably looking for me.” Mike??? thought Harry. He wondered what she would have done with his name if they’d dated long enough. “All right. Um…see you at school then.” “See you,” replied Cho, leaning over to kiss his cheek. Unfortunately, she did so just as Harry stuck out his hand to shake, resulting in Harry striking her softly in the stomach. Blushing, Harry pulled his hand back quickly and leaned over to kiss her cheek, since that was what she’d expected. But she’d pulled her face away and was now sticking out her hand, so it was Harry’s turn to get punched. Awkwardly, they settled on a brief hug. Right before she opened the door to her compartment Cho turned back. “By the way,” she called, “I like your new glasses.” “My new wha—?“ asked Harry, putting his hands to his face, expecting to feel the round, metal, government-issue glasses he’d worn since he was seven. But instead, he felt…square plastic. He hadn’t realized it in all the commotion, but Tonks had never changed his glasses back from her slapdash disguise when they traveled to Hyde Park. “Thanks,” he called, wondering what they looked like. “Um…your hair’s nice too,” he lied. Cho beamed, then ducked out of the hall. His hands still on his glasses, Harry went back into the compartment. “So you finally noticed, did you?” asked Hermione by way of greeting. “Here,” she said, tossing a round mirror his way. Harry looked at himself, flattening his flyaway hair out of habit. The frames were more rectangular than square, light brown and not much thicker than wire, the glass part much smaller and lighter than they had been in his old ones. Harry didn’t know how he felt about them. “Do you know how to disenchant these?” he asked Hermione. “Yes, but …” “What?” he asked. “But I think they look good,” she said carefully. He looked at Ron, who was deeply engaged in a chess game with Ananda on her portable magnetic chessboard. “What do you think?” Distracted, Ron looked up at Harry’s face. “About what?” he asked, his moustache wiggling like strands of saffron glued to his upper lip. Hermione sighed. Harry decided he’d keep the new frames for a while. “Who was that?” asked Ananda. “Cho. She’s just this girl I know.” Ron smirked. “Yeah, just this girl…so you two going out again, or what?” “She’s your girlfriend? You never told me about her!” “She’s not!” Harry insisted, annoyed at Ron, who looked very superior. “We’re just good friends.” “I didn’t like her,” Ananda said immediately. “I thought she was ugly. Her hair looks like a box hedge.” Harry turned to Ananda in shock, but she had turned her attention back to the chessboard and was no longer looking at him. Hermione snorted. The trip was uneventful after that. Hermione and Harry let out Crookshanks and Serious; though the older cat regarded the kittens suspiciously at first, within a half hour they had fallen asleep on his back. Disgruntled, he flicked his tail around, but eventually just fell asleep along with them. Ron played three chess games with Ananda, two of which ended in a stalemate. Ananda and Hermione discussed all the books they had both read, which made up a significant list, both of wizarding books which Hermione had pestered Harry and Ron to read for years with no success, as well as Muggle fiction books Hermione remembered from grammar school. Harry couldn’t get a word in edgewise until the witch who pushed the food trolley came by. As usual, he stocked up on a large supply of everything the trolley contained, on the pretext of introducing Ananda to wizard sweets but actually to keep Ron from spending too much of his scarce pocket money. Ananda’s favorites were the Chocolate Frogs; she opened them on the floor, enjoying watching Nimbus and Serious pounce on the animated candy, then look confused when it failed to escape. While Ananda was busy with the Frogs, Harry asked, “So, how was your parent’s house?” “Oh, all right,” said Hermione. “A bit boring, really, but it was nice to see them. The worst part is they made me work in their office again. I hate that.” “Why?” “Well, everything’s on the computer and it’s really inefficient, and they get all uptight any time I suggest doing something better. Plus, it’s awful not to be able to use magic for things.” Harry turned to Ron. “Did you work?” Ron shook his head. “Nope. Hermione’s mom and dad wouldn’t let me in the office. I think they were afraid I’d go crackers and start hexing the patient’s teeth off.” “Oh, please,” said Hermione, elbowing him in the ribs, “you know that’s not what they meant.” She turned back to Harry. “They just didn’t want to treat a guest badly.” “Oh. So what did you do all day then?” “Oh man, loads of stuff! Why didn’t you ever tell me how great television was? It’s like a cinema you can watch all day.” Hermione rolled her eyes. “Ron got a little addicted,” she said in a mock whisper. “I did not! I only watched three shows—“ “More like three hours—“ “Maybe four at the most—“ “Yeah, before breakfast—“ “Are they always like this?” Ananda asked quietly, her attention diverted from the Chocolate Frogs. “Worse, usually,” Harry answered, stifling a grin. Ron and Hermione looked appalled. “We are NOT!” they said in perfect unison. Harry and Ananda laughed. The trip wore on, and the small mountain of junk food on the floor in the middle of the compartment gradually transformed into a thick snowfall of foil wrapping, plastic bags, and crushed cartons. Ananda began piling it all into the corner, where Nimbus and Serious immediately dove into the twists and made a bigger mess than before. In the process, they knocked the Chocolate Frog cards out of their wrappers. “What’s this?” Ananda asked, picking up the card. “Didn’t you tell her, Harry? There’re cards in the wrappers of famous witches and wizards. If you wait long enough—“ Ron chuckled as Ananda shrieked and dropped the card, “—the picture moves.” “Oh,” she said shakily, picking up the card. “I didn’t know that part.” Harry said, “You should start collecting them, some of them are valuable. Which one do you have there?” Ananda passed Harry the Chocolate Frog card of Albus Dumbledore. “Oh, that’s the school headmaster. You’ll meet him tonight.” “Really?” Ananda turned the card over, and read. “’Albus Dumbledore is currently Headmaster of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. One of the most powerful wizards of the twentieth century, Dumbledore is credited for defeating the Dark Wizard Grindelwald in 1945, for his discovery of the twelve uses of dragon’s blood, and for his work in alchemy with his partner, Nicholas Flamel. Professor Dumbledore enjoys chamber music and tenpin bowling.’ Huh,” she said, flipping back to the picture and looking carefully at Dumbledore’s crooked nose and half-moon glasses. “So, what is all that anyway?” “What?” asked Hermione, trying to bat Crookshanks away from the salmon Every-Flavour Bean Ron had spat into the ashtray earlier. “All those things. Who’s Nicholas Flamel? What do you use dragon’s blood for? And who’s Grindelwald?” Harry, Ron, and Hermione smiled reminiscently, remembering the adventures they’d had tracking down the Sorcerer’s Stone their first year. “Um…Nicholas Flamel was an alchemist,” said Hermione finally, “who lived to be six hundred. And I only know eight of the uses of dragon’s blood off the top of my head, but I’ve heard you can clean ovens with it.” “Ah,” said Ananda, trying to digest the idea that a person could live to be six hundred and clearly having a rough time with it. She looked at Harry. “So…who’s Grindelwald then?” “No idea,” answered Harry promptly, turning to Ron, who shook his head. Hermione, surprisingly, looked baffled as well. “I’m sure I read about him somewhere, but I can’t remember where. I think he was a German wizard, but I can’t remember what he did or how he died. We’re only getting started on the twentieth century in History of Magic this year…at least, I am,” she ended smugly, as though she were receiving a treat that had been denied to Ron and Harry. “Well, lucky you,” Harry said sardonically, sharing a grin with Ron. As far as he was concerned, getting out of the boring hours he spent trying to keep his head up in Professor Binns’ class was treat enough. Professor Binns was a ghost, and sitting through his lectures on goblin rebellions gave Harry a mind-numbing foretaste of what being undead must feel like. But something else Hermione said was sticking in his head. She had mentioned Grindelwald being a German wizard…Harry knew he had heard something about Germany recently, but he couldn’t remember where. He was trying to replay conversations in his head when their compartment door was opened for a second time, by Ginny, Luna, and Neville. After being introduced to Ananda, Harry asked them, “What’s up?” “We were just wondering if any of you had seen Malfoy and Company skulking around here lately.” Hermione pulled a face. “Ugh, no, and if I never see him again, it’ll be too soon.” “True, but come to think of it, they are a little late for their yearly rendezvous,” said Ron. “Perhaps he doesn’t feel like starting off the year with a hex again. Can’t say I blame him. Why, did he bother you?” “No, that’s the thing,” said Ginny. “He hasn’t come by our compartment either. We checked, and we don’t think any of them are on the train.” “What? Where is he then?” asked Ron, standing up and upsetting the chessboard. “Take a wild guess,” muttered Neville sarcastically. He and Luna exchanged dark looks. “We think they’re taking a term off, if you know what I mean,” added Luna significantly, her eyebrows arched. “What are you—“ Then it dawned on him. Of course! Draco and his cronies were probably off trying to set their parents free. Harry snorted. Every time Draco and he had dueled, Draco had come off worst; he’d like to see the bullying coward face the Ministry’s finest at Azkaban. It would serve him right. Ananda was looking back and forth curiously, so Neville quickly said, “I think we’re almost here. We’re going to head back and pick up our trunks. Let us know of you see any of them.” They slid the compartment door closed. Harry, Ron, Hermione, and Ananda pulled down their trunks and worked their way to the compartment door as the train ground to a slow stop. “Who’s Malfoy?” asked Ananda as they stumbled along the school platform. “He’s a Slytherin,” answered Ron with distaste, “and the hates us. Feeling’s mutual, come to that.” “A slithering what?” “Not slithering. Slytherin. It’s a—“ But at that moment, the booming voice of Hagrid cut across the thick night air. “Firs’ years! Firs’ years over here!” Ananda turned toward the sound of the voice and all the color drained out of her face. “He’s huge,” she breathed fearfully. “Oh, Hagrid’s all right. Hurry up or you’ll miss the boats.” “Boats?” “Yeah, they’re gonna row you across the lake. Watch out the giant squid doesn’t get you!” “Harry!” said Hermione repressively as Ananda tiptoed off with the other small first year students, looking like a condemned felon ascending an executioner’s platform. “What?” Harry asked as they climbed into one of the Thestral-pulled carriages. “I was only kidding.” Hermione shook her head and was quiet for the rest of the trip up to the castle, until they climbed out at the massive double doors leading to the castle entrance hall. Harry at last caught her eye as a strange look of sadness passed over it. “What’s wrong?” he asked. “Oh,” she said, looking at Ron quickly, “it’s nothing.” “No, really.” “Well,” she said slowly, “it’s just…we can see them now. We didn’t want to say anything.” “See wha—?” suddenly Harry looked over his shoulder at the Thestrals, which could only be seen by someone who had seen death with their own eyes. Harry sighed. He shouldn’t be surprised, he supposed, but now that they’d seen it, he couldn’t help comparing this entrance into Hogwarts with the one he had made last year, when Sirius had been alive and his biggest worries had been why Dumbledore wouldn’t look at him and why he hadn’t been chosen as a Prefect. With a heavy heart, he crossed the massive granite threshold, feeling as though he was in for another long year. It was inevitable, staring at his feet and paying no attention to who was in front of him, that Harry should bump into someone. Unfortunately, that someone was Nearly Headless Nick, who was a ghost, and as such, offered no resistance to Harry’s passage at all, but simply made his whole body feel as though it were flash-frozen. He stopped short, his skin crawling. “So sorry,” said Nearly Headless Nick, turning around to see why he had passed through. “Oh, it’s you. Hello, Harry.” “Hi Nick. How’ve you been?” “Better than you, to judge by the look on your face. Are you…doing all right?” The reminders of Sirius were beginning to irritate Harry. This was not what he needed his first day back. “Swell,” he said sourly as the rest of his schoolmates streamed past him into the golden light of the Great Hall. “Apparently I shouldn’t have asked. One would think five hundred odd years would be enough time to master sensitivity, but I never cease to amaze myself with my own ineptitude.” Harry looked at Nick. “Sorry,” he said. “What’s eating you?” “Nothing, fortunately, as I would be singularly lacking in nourishment,” said Nick, staring off into the distance. “It’s a personal matter, Harry. Think nothing of it.” “All right. Don’t feel bad. You’ve probably got another thousand years or so to get good at it.” Harry looked at Nick questioningly. “Isn’t that right? How long do ghosts stick around anyway?” “Not too sensitive yourself, are you?” asked Nick, his translucent eyebrows raised. “But you’ve hit the core of the problem.” He sighed. “Aloysius has passed on.” “Aloysius?” Harry had never heard of anyone by that name. “Aloysius, my dear boy. Your teacher. Aloysius Binns.” Harry digested this. “Professor Binns…is gone? You mean for good?” “Poker night hasn’t been the same since July,” Nick said wistfully. “What happened?” “His event transpired.” This was obviously gibberish to Harry, so Nick explained. “A ghost only remains in this world until some event, which they remained to witness, transpires. Often it’s the death of a loved one or an enemy. Once that event transpires, they no longer have a purpose and they pass on. Apparently, this year some bluestocking got a perfect score on their History of Magic OWL paper. That was enough for Aloysius.” Harry knew of only one person likely to get a perfect History of Magic OWL. He made a note to keep Hermione and Nick apart. “I’m…really sorry,” said Harry, hoping he sounded somewhat sincere. Nick was looking over Harry’s shoulder. “You’d better hurry. I think that’s the first years entering now.” “All right. See you at the feast, Nick.” “Thank you, Harry,” said Nick, drifting gravely through a wall. Harry ran into the hall and took a seat between Ron and Hermione just as Professor McGonagall was leading the first years in front of the long, darkly polished House tables. “What kept you?” Ron asked out of the corner of his mouth, scanning the crowd. “Nick. I’ll tell you later. Where’s Ananda?” “I don’t know yet…there!” Ron pointed to a small dark braid barely visible behind the elbow of a chubby blond boy. “Tiny thing, isn’t she?” “I guess so.” Harry was scanning the staff table. There seemed to be many more people than usual. In addition to Lupin, who was sitting to the right of Professor Sinistra and waving at Harry with a half-empty water goblet, Professor Grubbly-Plank, the substitute Care of Magical Creatures teacher, was seated and running her fingers across her short grey fringe. Yet, Hagrid was there as well, taking up his usual cubic meters at the far end. So what was she doing here? Surely they weren’t both going to teach? Next to Professor Grubbly-Plank, Professor Trelawney had chosen to come down from her tower room and was examining her spangly reflection in the water goblet with a look of rapt attention, while Professor Firenze was standing below the dias, which was a convenient arrangement, as he was a centaur and thus not anatomically suited for chairs. His outlandish appearance was attracting just as many apprehensive stares from the first years as Hagrid. Hermione said, “Look! It’s starting!” The rip in the brim of the Hogwarts Sorting Hat, which McGonagall had placed on a stool, opened up and the Sorting Hat began its traditional introductory song. So well known is the story That I will speed its course: Two wizards pure, two witches more Together joined in force. The first was Godric Gryffindor, A mage of wide repute. For courage, luck, and roguish pluck, He’s famed beyond dispute. A strong and steady helpmeet Was Madame Hufflepuff. She darkness foiled with work and toil; For her, this was enough. And next a wise enchantress Renowned and loved by all, With musings deep, in wisdom’s keep, Rowena Ravenclaw. A sage and crafty wizard Completed this quartet, From depths within, this Slytherin His cunning skill did get. From four separate viewpoints One future did they see; In a flash, of sorts, they built Hogwarts —the rest is history. And still, an eon later Their vision waxes bright; Through trials and pains, Hogwarts remains To light the coming night. So, put your heads together And try me on for size! I swear to see what quality Resides behind your eyes. I’ll know within a heartbeat Which house you belong in, Be it Gryffindor, Ravenclaw, or Hufflepuff, or Slytherin. But in these times of trouble, It’s up to us to hold the fort. From Houses four, it matters more To battle Voldemort— It was immediate pandemonium; at the mention of Voldemort, from such an unexpected place as the Sorting Hat, most of the students seated at the House tables shrieked with fear, some actually falling off their wood benches and onto the stone floor below. The first years looked frightened as well, either because they were equally startled by the name of Voldemort or simply because they couldn’t imagine what might cause their fellow students to react with such panic. Professor McGonagall had marched up to the stool and was crushing the Sorting Hat in her hawklike fist. “That was NOT appropriate!” she shouted. “Enough singing for this year. Get on with Sorting the students!” “But I had sixteen more verses!” whined the Hat, wriggling in McGonagall’s firm grip. “They will have to wait until next year,” she hissed, jamming the Hat back into the stool, where it sighed peevishly. When it called out the House of the first new Hogwarts student, “Abington, Gloria” (Gryffindor), there was a noticeable drop in its enthusiasm. Harry tuned it out and resumed his scan of the Staff table. “Who’s that, I wonder?” Hermione mused, indicating the last foreign face at the staff table. It belonged to a woman about the age of Bill Weasley. Looking at her, Harry felt as though he was staring at a photographic negative of last year’s disastrous Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher, Professor Umbridge. Like Umbridge, she was plump and short, though without Umbridge’s toadlike bulk. But there the similarities ended; whereas Umbridge had an unhealthy, pallid complexion and dark, severe hair, this woman had tan skin and blond hair set into curls. But there was something wrong with that hair… “Ugh, you’re right!” Harry heard Lavender whisper to Parvati at the other end of the table as “Cadwallader, Robert” was made a Hufflepuff. “It IS dye, I’m sure of it.” “Gross,” Parvati replied. “Why doesn’t she just use a Dechromatus Charm like I did?” “Well, at least the curls are nice…” Harry didn’t think her hair was particularly gross, though they were right; it was odd to see dyed hair in Hogwarts. Certainly Parvati made an odder-looking redhead, though he’d never say that in front of Ron. Otherwise, the woman was rather ordinary-looking, except for the vaguely bemused expression on her face as she stared at the enchanted ceiling and floating candelabras. There was still something off with her appearance though, and once again, it was Lavender who noticed it. “Wild outfit, though. I’ve never seen anything like it.” “Oh, I visited Gladrags in Paris this summer, it’s everywhere over there. They’re calling it Muggle chic,” answered Parvati as “Fleischman, Reginald” became a Ravenclaw. Apparently, Muggle chic meant suit, because that was exactly what the woman was wearing; an ordinary navy suit, of a kind which would blend in any street in the world but which made her stand out like a sore thumb amongst the robed professors at the staff table. Harry was about to comment on it when Ron asked, “What were you saying earlier, Harry? About Nick?” “Oh, I ran through him and he said…” Harry trailed off because Hermione was staring, and also because he wanted to pay attention to the Sorting. It took McGonagall almost no time to call out “Hill, Ananda.” She walked up to the stool, trying to look like she wasn’t intimidated in the slightest, sticking out her chin to keep the Hat from sliding right down to her shoulders. The Hat seemed to take a long time deliberating with her. Harry couldn’t figure out why; as far as he was concerned, she was a textbook Gryffindor, though he could see her fitting in well in Ravenclaw too. But then, the Hat finally opened its brim. “SLYTHERIN!”

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