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"Come on, Cassie!" a laughing Harry called. "You're getting as slow as Ron and all he does is eat!"

"I am not!" I cried, acting insulted. "Now, you'll have to suffer the CONSEQUENCES!" I gave him a mock-angry glare.

"Oh now, I'm afraid!" he replied, sticking out his tongue.

"You should be!" I said, grinning evilly as I attacked him. I knew JUST where he was the most ticklish at -- his sides. I used my knowledge mercilessly.

"AH! No! Stop!" he cried in between laughter. I was so happy to see him out of his brooding mood; he seemed to be in one constantly since I had met him. Although, Hermione had told me that he was coming out of his shell more and more since he had met me. I was glad; I hated to see him upset about anything. Apparently, he used to be a normal, happy guy, but that was before I had met him, before he had learned of his prophecy, and before he had lost Sirius.

~*~


I had come to Hogwarts in my sixth year -- the same one Harry was in. I came from America, and despite moving almost constantly, I went to the same school for five years, the United States Wizarding Academy for the Gifted (or USWAG). My parents had abandoned me (or perhaps, they had truly died, although I was more inclined to believe they abandoned me; my social worker informed me that I was a depressed child when I announced this) when I was a child because I had spent most of my life -- all of it that I can remember -- in foster homes. It wasn't much of a life, and because of this, I loved my school.

It was supposed to be hard to be accepted, but somehow I had gotten in on my first year -- the other students suspected some form of trickery; I hoped it wasn’t anything of the sort, liking to believe that I had some kind of talent -- an almost unheard of accomplishment. They had subjected me to many tests, ones that measured my cleverness, bravery, ability to learn, ambition, loyalty, and finally my actual wizarding ability. Luckily, I had all of the requirements, if not in abundance, in moderation, making me a good candidate for the school. Schoolwork wasn’t too hard, although many other students found it so difficult that they left before they even completed two years. I was always humble about my ability in school (ok, so I tried to taunt the mean ones occasionally; wouldn’t you?) and had even tutored people when they asked, trying to be friendly. But I was always a bit of a loner (I was rather shy, actually) and other students seemed unconsciously to notice this, which made them shun me, although I never understood it at the time.

I could not be called ugly, I suppose, with long black hair to which I had recently added blood red streaks, and a pair of hazel eyes that I (usually) loved and were mainly green. On the other hand, paler skin than was labeled “lovely” graced my flesh, so I could not quite be portrayed as beautiful (and, unfortunately, I do not tan well, either, so it is not like I can fix this sort of thing). Although I could not reasonably be described as tall, I could be described as willowy if I acknowledged, in the back of my mind, that I had the slightest hint of curves hiding underneath my wizard’s robes (which I did my best to hide because guys were – not on my list of priorities right then; still aren’t, actually). I wasn’t gorgeous and I wasn’t ugly, but I could, perhaps, be described as striking, and a few described me as such in the course of my life. Maybe, I thought in the back of my mind when I wondered why those girls hated me with such a passion, they dislike me because of how I look?

Because of their rejection, I had not had any real friends until the Terrible Trio, as I liked to call them, let me into the group, making us the Fearsome Four. Finally, I had real friends, and, although it would take time for us to become great friends, I was optimistic. I found in time that I loved all of their quirks, like Ron's overeating, Hermione's obsession with learning, and even Harry's occasional temper.

I had run into Harry first -- literally running into him in Diagon Alley. He had blushed deeply, apparently believing the run-in was his fault when I had been the one not paying attention, and had stuttered a barely coherent apology. Amidst all of his apologies and mine, the two of us somehow managed to introduce ourselves. While he was speaking, I noticed that he seemed to be flattening his bangs nervously and I was a bit puzzled by the action. Once I realized what he was doing, of course, I ripped my gaze from his forehead and talked with him nonchalantly, thinking that he was probably trying to hide his scar. My swift thinking was correct and, as a result, he invited me to have lunch with him and his friends at the Leaky Cauldron. Thank Merlin for my occasional good sense, otherwise –-

But I am about to digress. Better to go on with my story in linear form, rather than confuse you more than I already have.

At that pub, I quickly came to know the people that Harry called family and I was glad to find that both they and I were staying there until the start of term, which was just a few days away. Everyone had a few key traits, in my mind, and I recognized them by those. Hermione I identified by her studies and brains, as many did, I would soon discover. Ron, I knew by his eating and his loyalty to Harry. Fred and George recalled to my mind unity and hilarity. Ginny was quiet strength and courage. Mr. Weasley was known for his curiosity and slight absentmindedness. Mrs. Weasley was a mother, strong and tender. They were a family and were still welcoming to outsiders. I loved it there.

To my complete delight, I saw that Ron and Harry's room was to my left, while Hermione's was to my right. We became friends in those days, not particularly close right away, but still friends, exploring Diagon Alley and laughing the time away. While I was friends with the entire trio and the many Weasleys, I was closest to Hermione during that time. I mourned the day I had to go to Hogwarts, even though I had been looking forward to it since the start of summer, because I did not know if I would make it into Gryffindor.

I sat with the Terrible Trio on the fairly uneventful train ride aboard the Hogwarts Express. Unfortunately, it was probably the most boring trip I had ever been on, as the only two things that really made it interesting were a white-blonde haired boy named Draco Malfoy threatening Harry and when I told a cheesy joke that made Ron shoot pumpkin juice out his nose. Now, that was funny. Alas, it was also the only hilarious thing that happened, but such is life, no? Pfft. Yeah, right. Not when I’m determined to make it otherwise.

During the train ride, I found I was increasingly nervous about the Sorting. Normally, I would not have cared what house I was in, but my new friends were in Gryffindor and I could not see myself anywhere else. I supposed Ravenclaw or Hufflepuff would not be so bad, but I knew that if I was placed in Slytherin, I had no chance of keeping my friends. I had never had real friends before so I was not very keen on losing these.

When I arrived at the train station in Hogsmeade, I was directed to an extremely tall and burly man named Hagrid. He gave me the option of joining the first years in their trip across the lake, or the carriages with everyone else. I thought for a moment, and then grinned, saying that I wanted the experience of a lifetime with the rest of the new students. Hagrid smiled back and gestured towards the boats.

Once I had clambered aboard the boat, I looked at the castle for the first time. It was beautiful, a black majestic miracle, jutting towards the sky. Its many turrets seemed to be reaching for the very stars themselves. Its windows twinkled merrily against the darkness, making the castle a darker color against the light, all pressed against a midnight blue sky. I had never seen something so awe-inspiring and when I realized this was to be my home for the next two years -– it was nothing short of breathtaking. During my admiration of the castle, we had shoved off shore and were now coming to a sort of cliff. I sighed, still admiring the beauty of the place when Hagrid yelled for us to duck our heads. A curtain of what looked like ivy hid an opening in the seemingly solid rock face. We passed quickly through the opening and came to a sort of underground room, the floor strewn with pebbles and lighted by torches and, I have to say, I gaped like a fish at everything around me.

A short walk later, I was at the castle doors, staring up at what would become my new home. I did not know it then, but I would remember my first night in and around Hogwarts for the rest of my life, just because the place was so magical.

A very stern looking woman called my name, informing me that I would be Sorted first and be made welcome by the Headmaster himself. I knew of Dumbledore, having heard many great things about him and doing my own research. He was a great man and the best wizard known, or so I had been told and been led to believe. His popularity was only rivaled by Harry's, and that was saying something. The woman, Professor McGonagall, hurried me down a short corridor, flinging huge doors wide.

I took a small step into the newly opened room and stopped, mouth wide open. Inside was a room big enough to house comfortably more than four aircraft carriers. Instead of airplanes, however, there seemed to be four main tables seating the students and a slightly smaller table at the front of the room, holding what I assumed were the teachers. The four main tables, while having what seemed like thousands of candles floating above them, also had banners with the house names placed far above. While noting the banners, I happened to glance farther upwards. I gasped because, instead of a stone ceiling, there were stars. It looked exactly like the night sky that I had just left and, really, it was gorgeous. I had read about this phenomenon in Hogwarts, a History after I had found out about my impending transfer.

I tore my eyes away from the beautiful Great Hall to the sound of an impatient Professor McGonagall clearing her throat as she waited for me to follow her. I blushed slightly, and apologized for my distraction. (Oh-so polite in the presence of adults, I am and always will be.) She nodded and motioned for me to follow, which I did promptly, not wanting to embarrass myself again. Once I had reached the slightly raised table at the front of the room, she stopped me. She seemed to be getting a stool and a very ratty old hat. She placed the hat on the stool and stepped back, looking at it expectantly. I raised my eyebrow at this, thinking: Right. She’s staring at a hat as though it were going to do something. These people are battier than I thought. (No one ever said my thoughts had to be polite.) I glanced around and found everyone else was staring at it, too.

Shrugging, I decided to try a bit of their madness and stare at it too. Suddenly, I found out why they were, and realized that perhaps they weren’t as batty as I once thought. The hat began to sing.

I started violently, because, whatever I'd expected to happen, this wasn't it. I managed to catch the tail end of the song, something about needing to come together and dissolving house rivalries. Essentially, it was a "United we stand, divided we fall" idea. Apparently, this wasn't exactly expected by most; I noticed surprise on most people's faces, although the Trio seemed unaffected, as did that Slytherin, Draco Malfoy.

I was pulled out of my reverie to hear my name being announced by Professor Dumbledore. "...Cassandra Shanahan. She has transferred from the United States Wizarding Academy for the Gifted. She, because of this, will be Sorted first. Cassandra, if you would..." he said, gesturing towards the Sorting Hat. I nodded and placed the hat on my head.

"I was wondering when I'd be seeing you, Miss Shanahan," I heard a voice in my ear. "With you here, it changes everything."

Wha? First of all, there’s something talking in my head. Second of all, what’s ‘everything’? I was a bit shocked by the Hat as a whole. USWAG most definitely had not had anything like this, as our dormitories had been assigned to us when we had arrived. Voices in our heads were not normal things.

"Don’t worry; the voice in your head is me, the Hat. As for the rest, you'll see all in good time, my dear." I started once more when I realized the Hat had answered my question. "Now, where to put you? You've got courage, oh yes, and lots of it -- speaks of Gryffindor. A very well trained mind -- most definitely a necessary Ravenclaw talent. And you also have ambition, with almost a desperation to use anything necessary to achieve your means -- something from Slytherin. I have to say, you're one of my hardest to place.... Let's take your opinions, shall we? Well, what do you think of Slytherin?"

They seem a bit – unpleasant -- to me, I thought to the Hat.

"Not Slytherin? You'd do well in there, I have to say. But it is our choices in life that make us who we are. Ravenclaw?”

I thought for a moment, considering. Really, there was nothing wrong with Ravenclaw that I could think of, other than the fact that my friends were not in there. When I could not think of a suitable excuse, I closed my eyes and fought down nausea, determined to do what was right.

I suppose -– there’s nothing -– wrong with Ravenclaw....

"Quite right,” the Hat replied decisively. “Glad you agree. Better be RAVEN--" the Hat stopped suddenly. "No, almost made a mistake, you'd suffocate in there." Exhaling, I realized I could hear people muttering, more so than when they had seen what my hair looked like. (Honestly, it did stand out a bit in a crowd, with the fake fire-engine red amid the real black. I shudder to think of it now.) "I do believe that was almost my first mistake ever. So sorry for alarming you. You'd do much better in GRYFFINDOR!" Pulling off the Hat, I gave it a half smile in thanks before beginning my trek to the Gryffindors.

While walking to my table, I breathed a sigh of relief; I had really wanted to be with my friends. The Sorting went by uneventfully, and even though I was interested at first, after the M's passed by I was very bored. After the last name was called ("Nicole Zediah!") and Sorted ("RAVENCLAW!), I was getting extremely hungry.

"So, what's for dinner?" I asked Harry, smiling as my stomach growled.

"You'll see," he said. (He was always a prat. Still is.)

"Do you have a problem with a straight answer?" I asked, raising an eyebrow.

"Maybe," he said infuriatingly, laughing aloud when he saw the expression on my face.

Hermione shushed me when Professor Dumbledore began to speak. "...say a few words before we begin eating our delightful feast! One: be kind to others, two: smile, it always makes you feel better, and three: TUCK IN!" he cried, smiling down on all of you with the air of a grandfather watching his favorite grandchildren. I smiled at the old man; he seemed truly kind, and that was rare, as I knew.

"Uh, Cassie?" Harry said. (I had told them to call me Cassie instead of Cassandra, it made me feel old when called by my full name.)

"Yeah?"

"Are you going to eat or are we going to have to listen to your grumbling stomach forever?" he asked, laughing at my shocked expression when I looked at the table.

Food was everywhere. Steaks, soups, chicken, turkey, all kinds of fruit, vegetables, pasta, sweets -- you name it, it was there. I ate until I couldn't eat anymore for fear of losing all of it. When I was done, I sat back, smiling at the world and completely content. The only thing that would make life any better at the moment was if I was either taking a hot bath or in a soft bed.

I yawned, making Harry chuckle at me. "Don't worry, Dumbledore is going to give us his traditional warnings about the Forbidden Forest and Filch's rules and then you can go to bed," he told me, smiling at my slightly glazed expression.

"Goo---ood" I said during a particularly big yawn. As predicted, the food disappeared after everyone was done eating and Professor Dumbledore did give his annual speech. I don't remember most of it, as I was trying not to nod off to sleep, which would cause me to fall off the bench and would have probably served for amusement for most of the school for a long time. (Hell, it would have amused me for a long time.)

Luckily, the lecture was quick and soon Harry was leading me to the common room. I didn't even glance around, just muttered a "good night" and tottered off to bed. I lied down, thinking, Not a bad first day and was asleep almost as soon as my head hit the pillow.

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