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The Great Hall is even more beautiful than I imagined. Candles dot the room, floating in the air, the ceiling is enchanted to look like the night sky, and there are so many people. 

So. Many. People. Gulp. 

Luckily, they're just quiet enough to handle. I wish my headphones still worked, but for now I guess I'll have to hide them. Will they fit in my pockets?

...hmm...

Nope. Well, I doubt anyone will notice. I loop them around my neck, hoping to make it look as if I did it for fashion or something. 

I take a seat at the first-year table, making sure to stay as far away from Luna as possible. Maybe I'm being too hard on myself, but I just can't believe that I would lose my first friend to something so stupid. I mean, I HIT her! There's no way she'll still want to be my friend after that. 

An old man with a long white beard stands up and calls for silence. 

"Welcome, first years, to another year at Hogwarts," he says. His voice is deep and musical. It reminds me of what my dad used to sound like. "Now, I know that last year was exceptionally strange and scary. But I promise that this year will be nothing like it." 

Huh? What happened last year? 

"You are all safe this year. It will be much different. I'm sure you've all heard rumors-" he glances at two red-headed boys, twins from the looks of it, who are smiling mischievously- "of last year's events, but let me tell you that they have been greatly exaggerated. But I am off track. It is time for the Sorting!" 

A great cheer comes from the four House tables. I've never heard of the Sorting. My mum never told me much about Hogwarts, only that it existed and she didn't want to discuss my father at that time. She never does want to discuss my father. I wonder what the Sorting is, but I think I can take a guess. 

A short man brings out a stool and an old, brown, frayed hat that has... a face? And it's moving?!?! Magic is insane. 

Suddenly, the hat starts... SINGING!!! (Honestly, I'm not sure what I really expected from this place. I mean, it is HOGWARTS. And it is a literal SCHOOL of MAGIC. )

 

"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!

 

Everyone bursts into applause. I clap along. That was brilliant.

I picked up some useful information in that, too. I bet I'll be in Hufflepuff, or maybe Gryffindor. I DON'T want to be in Slytherin. It's strange, but something about the students at the Slytherin table make me uncomfortable. I could get Ravenclaw, but I would probably have to face Luna if I did, since she's bound to be in Ravenclaw-

You know what? I'm being stupid. She never said she didn't want to be my friend, after all. I've been making up a whole drama in my head this whole time. I hope I get Ravenclaw so I can talk to her again. I need to set things right. 

Professor McGonagall goes over to the Hat with a scroll of paper and starts calling out names. "Adams, Harriet!" A small brown-haired girl sitting three rows down from me scampers up to the stool and sits on it, fidgeting. Professor McGonagall sets the Hat on Harriet's head. The Hat makes some faces (again, how does the Hat have a FACE?!) and shouts out, "GRYFFINDOR!" The Gryffindor table goes wild. Harriet beams and runs over to the Gryffindor table. 

From there, the Sorting goes on and on and ON. That Colin kid is sorted into Gryffindor. Good for him. Luna is given Ravenclaw, just as I predicted. 

Then it's my turn. "Luz, Claire!" Professor McGonagall shouts. It's CANTALOUPE. But I suppose I can't tell anyone that. At least not the teachers. 

I take a deep breath and trod up to the front of the room. I sit on the stool, which is lumpy and uncomfortable. I shift and twist in my seat before finally finding a semi-comfortable position. 

Professor McGonagall lowers the Hat onto my head. A voice fills my head. I'm confused before I realize it's the Hat talking to me. 
"Well, you certainly are a strange one, aren't you?" it says. "Never had anyone like you in this school." I frown. I suppose, I think. And what, may I ask, is the problem with that? 

"Oh, nothing," the Hat says, making me jump. Apparently it can read my thoughts. "It just makes it difficult to Sort you. You have strong aptitude for all four Houses. Now it's just a question of where to put you..." 

The Hat is silent for an excruciatingly long time, until finally it shouts: "RAVENCLAW!!!" 

Yes!!! I knew it!!!! The Ravenclaw table screams and whoops. I'm so excited to be accepted, that I feel like I'm going to stim. But I'm not going to do that here. I will not stim. I will not will not will not- 

       Flap

                 Flap

                           Flap. 

Darn it. I hope no one noticed. It doesn't matter, anyway. If they don't like it, that's not my problem. I put on a brave face and skip over to the Ravenclaws. I sit down next to Luna, who looks surprised but pleased. 

"H-hi," I say sheepishly. "I'm sorry for what happened earlier. Do you... still want to be my friend?" 

Luna smiles brightly. "Of course," she says. My face splits into a grin. 

"Thank you," I say. "It's just... I've never had a friend before, and I thought I had messed everything up."

"Oh, of course not," Luna exclaims. "I'd be friends with you no matter what." 

I stare at her for a while, trying to figure out what to say now. "Um, thank you," I finally say. "Heh." 

We watch the rest of the first-years get sorted (Gingersnaps is sorted into Gryffindor), and then Professor Dumbledore announces the feast. All sorts of delectables (hehe, isn't that a funny word?) pop up on our table. They look delicious. I fill my plate to the brim with food: stringy macaroni and cheese, fish and chips, warm shepherds' pie, juicy pieces of fruit, salad with crispy lettuce and crunchy vegetables, and too many desserts to even count. Everyone gobbles up the delicious food. 

When the feast is done, the empty plates are conjured away and we are all taken to our dormitories. We have a really nice Head Girl, Penelope Clearwater. She shows everyone the ropes and how this place works. And let me say, it's bloody insane! The staircases move, and to get into our dormitories, we have to answer a riddle. I feel right at home, although I wonder how long it's going to stay that way...

Luna and I decide to pick beds next to each other so we can talk all night if we want to. After all, there's so much to talk about. But some of the other girls start to ask questions about me. 

"What's that thing around your neck?" a first year with long platinum-blonde hair asks me, pointing at my headphones. I'm not really listening. She seems like a rude person, though I suppose I shouldn't make assumptions. 

She asked me a question, I remind myself. You have to answer. "Erm, they're headphones," I explain, feeling a bit embarrassed. "But they don't work here at Hogwarts." 

"And of course, I'd LOVE to know what they do, wouldn't you, girls?" the girl says, turning to her crowd of girls. They all nod (a bit exaggeratedly, I notice). I perk up. Maybe I really will fit in here!

"Yeah, sure!" I exclaim. "So, the music comes out of here-" 

The girl's face contorts. "I was being SARCASTIC," she scoffs. Oh. 

"Oh, um, sorry," I mumble. The girl flips her hair and sashays away, her jockeys following along behind her. Well, THAT was a mistake. I've never been very good at discerning sarcasm. I wish I was. It would spare me a lot of humiliation. 

Luna comes up to me. "Are you okay?" she asks me kindly. "Yeah," I sigh. "I just wish I was better at this kind of stuff." 

"Well, I would personally love to learn about headphones," Luna assured me. "I've heard of them, but I've never seen them in real life. So what do they do?..." 

 

***

 

I wake up, having no idea where I am. Then I remember: I'm at Hogwarts! My DREAM school! 

I rub my eyes and look around. I must have fallen asleep in the common room, because I'm laying on one of the couches, not my bed. It's not morning yet; the sky outside is midnight black and covered with shining stars. I tiptoe back to the dormitories and climb into bed. 

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