To Walk With Dreams and Darkness
Chapter two up! For the perusal of the two of you who are actually seeing this and, presumably, reading it. Thanks, gatorkid509 and yami268!
Chapter 2: Goodbyes and Greetings
Piper pushed her eggs around her plate as she tried to decide how to tell her family about her being magical. "Hey, eat up," Robert told her as he deposited a pancake onto her plate and dusted it with confectioner sugar. "Florence said the train leaves at 11:00 sharp, with or without you on it."
"I'm just not very hungry," she told him as he gave Finn and Aaron each a pancake before returning to the stove to get a new batch from Agatha. She had barely finished her sentence before Finn snatched the pancake from her plate. "Hey!"
"What? You said you aren't hungry. I am!"
"Finn, we do not steal food off other people's plates in this house," Agatha chided from where she was pouring the last bit of batter into the pan.
"But she didn't want it!"
"Yes, I did!"
"You're only saying that because I took it!"
"It's a pancake! Of course I wanted it!"
"Then don't say you're not hungry!"
"You don't have to be hungry to eat a pancake!"
Beside Finn, Aaron just shook his head slowly as he quietly ate his own breakfast. Robert came back and gave her two pancakes, then added another one to Aaron's plate.
"What about me?"
Robert gave Finn 'The Look' and waited.
"May I please have another pancake?"
"Yes, you may, thank you for asking so politely," Robert told him, giving him one more. He added the rest to his own plate while Agatha came to join them with her own.
"Are you excited, Piper?" she asked.
"That's understandable. I think everyone is feeling a bit out of sorts this morning," Agatha said, looking at Finn, whose brow was furrowed in a frown as he shovelled food into his mouth.
"You're going to be just fine," Robert said. "People are going to love you."
She smiled at him, and breakfast finished up without any further arguments.
Ms Davies arrived a little after 9:00 and pulled her aside as Robert loaded her things into the boot of their car. "Have you told them?"
"Not yet. I didn't want them to think I was crazy, so I thought I'd wait until we get to King's Cross Station. If what Professor Skeelur told me about how to get onto the platform is right, then there's no denying that magic is real when they see it for themselves."
"Well, you're not wrong about that," Ms Davies agreed.
All six of them couldn't fit into one car, so they split up for the ride to King's Cross. She and Aaron went with Ms Davies, while the Wrights took Finn with them.
"Promise me you'll write," Aaron told her as they drove.
"Of course I'll write," she assured him.
"I'll do my best, as long as you do the same."
"I will. And if you have any problems with any of the other kids and you can't handle it, not that you won't be able to handle it, but if you can't, let me know. I'll come up there, and I'll deal with them!"
"I mean it!"
"I know you do. That's very sweet, but I don't think you're going to have to."
Once at King's Cross, they reunited with the others. "Where'd you put your ticket, Piper?" Robert asked her. "We need the platform number."
"Um, about that," Piper said, pulling her ticket out of the messenger bag she had slung over her shoulder. "There's something you need to know first."
"You're having second thoughts?" Finn asked.
"No. It's just the school I'm going to; it's no ordinary school."
"Pfft, okay, we knew that already. It's for super-smart kids like you," Finn said dismissively.
"Not exactly. It's, well, it's easier if I show you. We need to get to Platform 9 ¾."
She watched for their reactions. Robert and Agatha exchanged concerned glances before looking to Ms Davies for confirmation. Aaron looked confused while Finn laughed. "Good one, Piper. Seriously, is it platform 9 or 10?"
"Platform 9 ¾," Ms Davies confirmed. "You have to run at the wall that separates platforms 9 and 10."
"I'm sorry? Florence, we've known each other a long time, but this sounds absurd," Robert said.
"You want us to run into a wall?" Agatha asked.
"No, I want us to run through a wall."
The Wrights still looked rightfully sceptical, so Piper spoke up. "Let's just go, and then Aaron, Finn and I will show you."
Robert shook his head but gestured for her to lead the way. "Alright, but I really don't want to spend the rest of the day in hospital while the three of you get patched up."
For their parts, Aaron and Finn looked excited at the prospect of either running through or into a brick wall. When they got to the column between the two platforms, they backed up to give themselves a good running start. "Okay, on the count of three," Aaron said. "One."
"You're really not even a little bit hesitant?" she asked them.
"No, we trust you. Two."
"This is the stupidest thing we've done all week!" Finn said, grinning.
She glanced over to her foster parents. Agatha was shielding her eyes from what she must assume would be imminent disaster. Robert stood with a hand covering his mouth, looking perplexed.
They raced each other to the column, and when they reached the brick, there was a moment of darkness as they passed through, and then they were on the other side. The platform was packed with families seeing their children off to school. On the tracks behind them was the Hogwarts Express, an impressive-looking steam locomotive, all shiny red and black and looking brand new even though she had read that it was 150 years old.
"Awesome!" Finn yelled, drawing several eyes toward them. "This…this is magic! You're magic?"
"The school you're going to is a magical school?"
"That's so cool! And unfair! Why can't we be magic, too?"
"It's a rare gift," Ms Davies said from behind them. They turned to see that she and the Wrights had made the journey through the platform. The Wrights were looking around as if they thought they were having a shared nervous breakdown.
"By the way, the school isn't named Saint Cyprian's," Piper explained to the Wrights and Aaron while Finn was busy pouting. "It's called Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. When you write, just put my name and the school's name on the envelope and drop it into the post. Professor Skeelur said it will get to me."
"I don't understand. That professor didn't look like a wizard," Agatha said faintly.
"To be fair, Ag, Piper doesn't look like a witch," Robert replied.
"None of them do," Aaron said, looking around. "Aren't witches supposed to be green? With warts?"
A girl a few years older than them shot him a dirty look as she passed, shaking her head. "Bloody stupid Muggles," she muttered under her breath.
Piper crossed her arms, "That's just in the movies."
"They do dress kinda funny, though," Finn said, getting over his disappointment.
It was true. While everyone was wearing Muggle clothes, not everyone was doing a very convincing job of it. Most of the kids had managed to pull together a look that wouldn't raise too many eyebrows. The same couldn't be said for the adults. One woman in the crowd was wearing an elaborate ball gown, which wouldn't automatically be a problem except that it was 10:50 in the morning on a Wednesday.
"Well, they do have their own world that's separate from ours," Piper reasoned. "It makes sense they dress a little differently."
"As much as I'd love to stand here and discuss wizard fashion, we better get you and your luggage boarded," Robert said. "The train leaves soon."
Piper nodded and turned to Aaron first, hugging him. "I'm going to miss you," she told him.
"I'm going to miss you, too. But you'll be back for Christmas. And we're going to write each other all the time," he reminded her. "It'll be like you never left!"
She let him go and turned to Finn.
"Well, I'm not gonna miss you even a little," Finn said.
"Good, because I'm not going to miss you either."
"I suppose you expect a hug."
"This is the last time we're going to see each other for the next three and a half months, but I'm not going to twist your arm."
He scoffed and hugged her, surprising her a little with the fierceness of it. She hugged him back just as tightly, and he buried his face in her shoulder. She felt a bit of dampness seep through her shirt. "Are you crying?" she whispered, even as she felt her own eyes start to sting.
"No," he lied.
They broke apart after a long moment, and Aaron threw an arm around Finn's shoulders as she went to hug Agatha goodbye. She even hugged Ms Davies. Once her goodbyes were said, she and Robert went and got her trunk settled into the luggage van. After that, there was nothing left to do but board the train herself.
Students crowded the corridor, congregating to greet old friends or looking for a compartment to settle down in.
She picked her way slowly down the corridor, searching for a seat. The compartments were filling up fast, but she managed to come across one that carried only three occupants, two boys and a girl who all looked to be fellow incoming first years.
"Do you mind if I sit in here?"
The three looked at her appraisingly before exchanging glances, coming to an unspoken consensus. One of the boys, a stocky kid with shaggy brown hair, spoke, "Compartment's full."
She put her hands on her hips, frowning at the blatant lie. If they didn't want her around, the least they could do was have the guts to be honest about it. "It doesn't look full to me."
The group's spokesperson scowled, but it quickly shifted into a grin as he looked over her shoulder and waved to someone behind her. "Lark! Saved you a seat!"
Piper glanced around and spotted the girl from the wand shop. Their eyes met, but if she recognized her, she did a good job of not showing it. "How very thoughtful of you, Alex," she said dryly as she slipped past Piper to join them.
"You know me, always thinking," the boy said. "Besides, I haven't seen you since you've been back. We've got a lot to catch up on." He looked back to the doorway, feigning surprise that Piper was still there. "I thought I already told you that there's no more room. Find somewhere else to be. Oh, and close the door for us on your way out, would you?"
"Close it yourself!" Piper turned on her heels and stormed off. Her departure was met with a chorus of snickers from the group. In her annoyance, she failed to watch where she was going and ended up nearly bowled over a lanky boy with ginger hair.
"Whoa!" He reached out to take hold of her shoulders, steadying them both after their collision. "Are you alright?"
"Yes, I'm fine," she snapped and immediately felt terrible. "Sorry I ran into you," she told him more gently.
"It's okay. And are you sure you're fine? Because I might not be if I had to deal with that gang of tossers."
She looked up at him, wide-eyed. "You saw that?"
"Yeah. You're better off, honestly. You don't want to be friends with them."
"You know them?"
"Well, no, not personally," he admitted with a slight frown. "More by reputation. Come on, let's find somewhere to sit, then we can talk more."
She trailed along behind him until he found a compartment that was empty save for a blonde girl.
"Mind if we join you?" he asked her.
"Not at all. I'm Dierdra Macmillan."
"Bill Weasley. And this is," he paused to let Piper introduce herself.
"Piper Cochran," she said, sitting next to Dierdra. Bill sat across from them.
"Is this your first year at Hogwarts?" Dierdra asked. They both nodded. "Mine, too. I can't wait! What House do you think you'll be sorted into?"
"My mum and dad were both in Gryffindor," Bill answered. "It wouldn't surprise me if I'm put there."
"My father was in Ravenclaw, my mother in Hufflepuff. But I'm not sure where I'll be placed, honestly."
Piper's face grew hot as they spoke. She curled up in her seat and tried to stay out of the conversation, but Bill had other plans.
"I'd wager Piper is going to be sorted into Gryffindor. You should have seen how she had a run-in with a group of bullies and didn't let them intimidate her," he grinned.
Dierdra's face twisted as if she'd been force-fed a lemon. "Bet I can guess who you're talking about. Alex Nott and his friends? I saw them earlier."
"Do you know him?"
"Unfortunately. We're distant cousins on our mothers' sides. Not distant enough for our paths to never cross, sadly. He's always been an insufferable prat."
"Thank you. Anyway, I don't understand why the Ministry is even allowing the children of Death Eaters to attend Hogwarts."
Bill shrugged. "You can't really punish them for what their parents did, can you?"
Piper chewed her lip as curiosity warred with her embarrassment over not understanding what they were talking about. In the end, curiosity won. "What's a Death Eater?"
Dierdra looked at her in surprise before realization lit her face. "Oh, you're Muggle-born! Why didn't you say so? Death Eaters were followers of He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named."
Piper's lack of comprehension must have shown because Dierdra elaborated, "He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named was a dark wizard who believed Pure-bloods should rule the world. A lot of good people who disagreed with that died in the war against him."
Piper gaped at her, "There was a war? When?" How could there have been an entire war going on right under their noses, and they had never noticed?
"It went on for practically our whole lives. It just ended last October when He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named was finally stopped. As for his followers, a lot of them have been sent to Azkaban."
"And a lot of others managed to lie their way out of trouble," Bill added.
"Or buy their way out of it," Dierdra added with distaste. "And who knows how many others are out there who haven't been caught yet?"
"So those kids back there, you're saying their parents are Death Eaters?"
Dierdra shrugged, "The Ministry suspected Thaddeus Nott of being one. They even put him on trial, but in the end, they couldn't prove it. That's Alex's uncle, though. They never suspected his father, but as someone who has met the man, I can tell you that the odds are good that he was one, too. The apple doesn't fall far from the tree."
"The Cyclonis' definitely were," Bill said. "It was a real shock when that came out after they died. Cyneric Cyclonis had a good reputation within the Ministry. My dad works there, too. He says a lot of people thought it was only a matter of time before he'd run for Minister for Magic and that he'd probably win."
"How'd they die?"
"No one knows. My dad says it was probably You-Know-Who," Bill answered. "He'd do that, sometimes, kill his own followers if they upset him badly enough."
"Was there never an investigation?"
"There was, but…"
"But they were Death Eaters. The Ministry wasn't going to put too much effort into solving the murder of a couple of Death Eaters, no matter how popular they may have been before their secret came out," Dierdra finished bluntly when Bill hesitated.
"A lot of awful things happened in the war," Dierdra said, in a tone that suggested that the story they had just told her was amongst the least of them.
Piper knew what it felt like to lose both parents. Dierdra may not feel any sympathy toward Lark, but Piper couldn't help it. But the way that Bill and Dierdra spoke made the Death Eaters sound more like terrorists than soldiers in a war. She couldn't make herself feel too bad for Lark's parents in that case. Still, it'd drive her crazy if her parents were murdered, and no one cared enough to find out who did it or why.
"You still with us, Piper?"
"Huh? Oh, yeah, sorry. I was just thinking."
"That was a lot of information we hit you with all at once," Bill said apologetically. "I'm sure the school library will have old copies of The Daily Prophet if you want to read up on the war. Some of the stories are pretty bad, though."
Piper nodded, "I'll take a look. I want to be able to understand what people are talking about, after all."
"You'll get used to the wizarding world pretty quickly," Dierdra assured her. "It can't be all that different from the Muggle one, can it?"
Piper laughed. Just from what she'd seen so far, she knew they were very different. "You have no idea."
"Anything off the trolley, dears?"
Piper looked toward the door where a kindly looking old woman stood with a trolley laden with sweets.
"I brought something from home, thank you," she said.
"Me, too," Bill said.
"What?" Dierdra sounded absolutely scandalized. "Piper, you at least have to get your first chocolate frog." She hopped out of her seat and handed the trolley attendant some money. "Three chocolate frogs, please."
She was handed three fancy looking boxes. She passed one to Piper, one to Bill, and retook her seat with the third.
"Thanks, Dierdra, but you really didn't need to buy us anything," Piper said.
"But I wanted to. Open it up! Each chocolate frog comes with a collectable card."
Piper pulled off the seal that held the box closed and flipped open the lid. As she did, the chocolate frog within leapt right out of the box. She made a grab for it, snatching it out of midair before it could hit the ground.
"Whoa, nice reflexes!" Bill exclaimed.
She held the squirming frog out at arm's length. "Is it supposed to do that?" she yelped.
Dierdra covered her mouth. She was trying not to laugh and not doing a good job of it. "Sorry! I know I should have warned you, but I really wanted to see your reaction."
"The frogs are enchanted," Bill explained with a grin. "They're fine to eat once they stop moving."
Piper tentatively opened her hand. Luckily, the frog's enchantment really had worn off, and she was able to put the now still frog back in the box after retrieving the card.
She looked down at the pentagonal card. A blonde-haired woman wearing an old-fashioned aviator cap and goggles smiled up at her. At the bottom of the card read the name Jocunda Sykes. As she watched, the woman waved and snapped off a little salute.
"Well, sure, why wouldn't they be?"
She flipped the card over. There was a little blurb about Jocunda's accomplishments printed there. She was the first witch the fly across the Atlantic Ocean on a broom back in 1935. Piper thought that sounded like a lot of fun.
"Are we going to learn how to fly on a broom at Hogwarts?"
"Of course! Not only that, but if you're any good at it, you can try out for your House Quidditch team."
"Quidditch? Oh! There was a shop in Diagon Alley that had that in its name, but I didn't think to ask what it meant."
Dierdra and Bill grinned at each other.
"You might as well get your lunch out and make yourself comfortable; we've got a lot to talk about."
Talk they did, until some older students came along, walking down the corridor and knocking on doorframes. "One hour to Hogsmeade Station. Time to start thinking about changing into your robes."
Dierdra pointed a finger out into the corridor. "Out, Bill. We'll change first."
Bill went to stand out in the corridor, and Dierdra slid the door closed, pulling down the window shade.
They changed into their uniforms without much chin-wagging, so they didn't keep Bill waiting too long. Piper had to admit that she felt a little silly as she slipped her robes over her uniform.
Once ready, they swapped places with Bill. By the time they were all dressed, the older students were making their rounds again. "Half an hour to Hogsmeade Station! Make sure you have everything you brought with you! The train won't be coming back until the Christmas holiday!"
Before she knew it, the train was pulling into the station. They made their way to the exit and stepped out into the night. The station bustled with activity.
"All luggage and pets over there! They will be brought to your dormitories!"
"Second through seventh years, make your way to the carriages! Four students per carriage, please! We won't have a repeat of last year! Looking at you, fifth-year Gryffindors!"
"Firs' years? Firs' years this way, follow me!"
Piper and the others followed the sound of the last booming voice and discovered that it belonged to an immense man with long dark hair and a beard. He was broad, but more than that, he was tall. Taller by far than anyone she had ever seen before. Twice her height, easily, and then some!
Looking around, she saw many of the others openly gawking at him. So, some things took even wizarding children by surprise. Good to know.
He led them to the edge of a lake, where a small fleet of rowboats waited.
"Alrigh' then, in the boats yeh go!" he told them, overseeing them all. They sat four to a boat. Piper, Bill and Dierdra were joined by a boy who introduced himself as Liam Logue.
Once all the first years settled into their boats, the giant man stepped into one of his own. It creaked loudly under his weight but stayed afloat. His boat moved of its own accord, pulling out in front of all the others, and all the other boats followed.
She looked out over the lake to their destination and inhaled sharply. An expansive castle rose from the craggy shores at the far side of the lake. A gibbous moon rose into the clear, starry skies behind it, casting its glowing reflection into the lake in front of them. It was beautiful. A low murmur of appreciation rippled through the fleet of boats at the view.
As they drew nearer to the castle, the man called out, "Watch yer heads!"
She ducked slightly as the boat glided through an ivy-covered opening in the cliff. They sailed on through an underground tunnel before coming to a stop on a rocky shore. They climbed out and followed the man up a flight of stone steps to a heavy wooden door. The man knocked three times, loudly, and the door swung open.
They followed him into a large entry hall, coming to a stop in front of a strict looking woman with her black hair pulled into a tight bun.
"Professor McGonagall," the man greeted. "The new firs' years for yeh."
"Thank you, Hagrid," the woman replied. "Follow me," she said to them. She led them across the large entrance hall, stopping before another large door.
She turned to address them. "The Sorting Ceremony is about to begin. But first, there are a few things you should know. There are four houses at Hogwarts: Gryffindor, Hufflepuff, Ravenclaw, and Slytherin. Each of you will be sorted into one of these houses, where you will remain throughout your years here. Over the course of the year, you will have many opportunities to win your house points. Any misbehaviour, however, may lead to the deduction of points. At the end of the year, the house with the most points will win the house cup. Now then, are you all ready?"
They all nodded, and Professor McGonagall pushed open the doors, striding into the Great Hall beyond. They trailed after her, and Piper stared in wonder. Four long tables stretched along the length of the hall, two on each side of the walkway they followed the professor down. Dozens of kids already sat at each table, watching them. At the head of each table hung a banner depicting what she assumed was each house's crest. Green and silver emblazoned with a serpent, blue and bronze with an eagle, scarlet and gold with a lion, and yellow and black with a badger.
Hundreds of candles floated in midair above them, casting a soft flickering glow throughout the hall. The ceiling, well, she wasn't sure there was a ceiling. It looked exactly like the night sky had outside. Even the phase of the moon was the same.
Upon a raised dais, at the front of the hall, sat another long table where the teaching staff sat. She spotted Professor Skeelur amongst them and tried not to gawk. His hair was styled into a tousled quiff; the long top section dyed green while the shorter sides were purple. Even his goatee was purple. He was dressed in robes, black with silver trim on the outside, but with a violently fluorescent lime green lining that glared out from the inside of his hood and sleeves. She could just imagine the look on her foster mother's face if he had shown up to their house looking like that. Aaron and Finn would think it was the wickedest thing ever, though. She felt a twinge at the thought of them. She really wished they could be here, too.
In front of the table, right in the centre of the dais, sat a stool with a wide-brimmed, pointed hat sitting atop it. The hat looked ancient and worn, and she wondered what purpose it served in all of this.
Professor McGonagall led them right up to the steps leading up to the dais before climbing the steps herself to stand behind the stool.
An expectant silence fell over the hall, and after a moment, the hat began to sing. Because, of course it did.
Before I Sort you all tonight, there's one thing to make clear,
A note to both the tall and small that I find apt this year.
When Godric, Helga, Rowena and Salazar began,
They joined forces to achieve their illustrious grand plan.
For all four were well aware that they could not unaided,
See their great ambition reached; they were not yet so jaded.
So all together they succeeded in their common quest,
To build a school that the wizarding world would name the best.
And while it's true that each had certain values that they sought,
When it came time to fill these halls, it's everyone they taught.
So, while it is my job to place in Ravenclaw the wise,
And make sure that it is the true that Hufflepuff comprise,
And while in Gryffindor it is that boldness must reside,
And into Slytherin go those whose aspirations guide,
I bid you to remember that united we are strong,
And don't forget that each and every one of you belongs.
"When I call your name, come up and take a seat on the stool," Professor McGonagall said once the hat fell silent. She retrieved a scroll of parchment from a pocket in her robes, unrolled it, and called the first name.
A nervous-looking boy wearing a black turban climbed the steps and took a seat, and Professor McGonagall placed the hat on his head. They all waited in eager anticipation to see what would happen next. They weren't kept waiting long. About fifteen seconds later, the hat called out, "Hufflepuff!"
The kids at the yellow and black table broke into applause, and the boy smiled and hopped off the stool to join them.
She watched as the same scene played out for a couple more kids, and then the professor called out, "Avery, Josephine."
Piper frowned. She recognized the plump, bespectacled girl as part of the group that had rebuffed her on the train.
Less than ten seconds went by before the hat yelled, "Slytherin!"
The green and silver table burst into loud applause as she joined them.
"Boo!" someone called from the scarlet and gold table, and Professor McGonagall shot them a look that Piper was very happy to not be on the receiving end of.
"Decorum, ladies and gentlemen," the professor said sharply. "This is your one reminder! Brimble, Claudia."
That was met with riotous celebration by the scarlet and gold table.
Bryne, Elliott and a pair of twins by the name Cadwallader all went to Hufflepuff. And then...
She slowly mounted the steps and sat on the stool. Professor McGonagall placed the hat on her head, and the brim slipped down over her eyes, obstructing her view of the Great Hall.
She nearly jumped when a voice spoke to her. 'Let's see what's in this head of yours, shall we? Hmmm, interesting. You're quite intelligent, aren't you? I see a great deal of curiosity. You're studious and creative. You'd do very well in Ravenclaw. Very well, indeed.'
She waited for the hat to shout that out to the rest of the room. Instead, the hat spoke again.
'Not so fast. I'm not done with you yet. There's more here. I see bravery. I see a desire to do the right thing. You're someone who won't tolerate injustice when you see it, who won't back down from a fight. Fine traits in a Gryffindor.'
Again, she waited for the hat to make its announcement, and again it did not.
'I haven't decided yet. You're a difficult case. I believe you'd excel in either house. But what about you? What do you think?'
'I don't know,' she thought to the hat. 'I don't know enough about either house to decide.'
'You don't need to know anything about them. You just need to know yourself. What matters to you?'
'I don't know!' she thought, frustrated. 'I want...'
'I want to feel like I'm part of something, like a team or a family. I already miss mine. Don't get me wrong, I'm excited about learning magic. Really, really excited! But I worry I'll end up too homesick to enjoy it.'
'I see. Each house is like a family to its members, but it is true that some form closer bonds than others. Of the four, Ravenclaw is the most individualistic. And so, I believe, the matter is settled.'
The hat was pulled off her head, and she made her way to the cheering Gryffindor table.
"I told you!" Bill said as she passed him, and they grinned at each other.
She found a place to sit at the table, getting handshakes and backslaps from everyone within arm's reach. She couldn't stop smiling as she turned her attention back to the sorting.
That did make her smile falter a bit. The scrawny kid with dark, curly hair who took his place on the sorting stool was the other silently judgmental boy from the train. It came as no surprise to her when the hat called out, "Slytherin!"
"Everyone is getting sorted so fast," she commented to an older girl who sat next to her. "When I was up there, it felt like it took forever!"
"You actually were up there for a while," the girl told her. "Close to two minutes. Some people aren't as easy for the hat to figure out as others. It's not a bad thing. The hat wants to make sure you end up in the house that's right for you. I don't think I'd trust it if it sorted everyone in five seconds."
"I suppose that's true," Piper conceded as she turned her attention back to the ceremony.
Piper expected her to be sorted as quickly as the Coventry boy, but ten seconds passed, and the hat remained silent. Fifteen seconds. Thirty. A minute. It was a minute and a half before the hat made its decision.
"See?" the older girl told her reassuringly. "It's not uncommon."
The sorting went on for some time. Their boat mate Liam went to Hufflepuff. Dierdra ended up in Ravenclaw. Alexander Nott landed in Slytherin. Eventually, the group was whittled down to three.
The hat had scarcely settled on his head before it declared, "Gryffindor!"
He took a seat across from her and smiled. "Mum and Dad will be happy."
Winters, Gideon was sorted into Hufflepuff and Woodlock, Aisling into Ravenclaw. And with that, the sorting was complete.
The stool and hat were replaced with an elaborate owl lectern, and a man stepped up to address the room. He looked exactly how she expected a wizard to look. He was a tall, thin man draped in midnight blue robes, with long white hair and a long beard. He studied them through gold-framed, half-moon glasses.
"I'd like to start with a brief announcement. As many of you may have already noticed, Professor Skeelur has returned to us. He will not be resuming his role as Divination professor, however, as Professor Trelawney will be staying on in that position. Instead, he will be taking over the teaching of Defense Against the Dark Arts."
Professor Skeelur stood and gave a jaunty bow as the students applauded.
"Now then, for those of you who may not know, I am Professor Dumbledore, Headmaster of this school, and it is my pleasure to welcome you all to a new year at Hogwarts. You know, I've always found the beginning of a new school year to be a magical time, a time of new beginnings and new possibilities. And this year, I feel it even more keenly. We have been through tumultuous times in recent years. For some of you, that is all you've ever known. But we have weathered that storm. Those days are behind us now, and we are free to look to the future with a renewed sense of hope. And that is what I feel when I look at all of you now. Hope. The hope that we can help guide you into becoming the best possible versions of yourselves. You are the future of the wizarding world, and it is my fervent wish that your future is a bright one, one full of peace, and prosperity, and progress. That is the world you deserve to know."
He paused, letting his words sink in as his gaze slowly swept across the hall.
When he spoke again, his tone was more light-hearted, "But that's enough talk for one night. Enjoy the feast!"
With those words, a multitude of steaming serving bowls and platters laden with food appeared in the centre of the table.
She helped herself to a slice of roast beef and one of baked ham, roast potatoes with garlic and rosemary, Yorkshire pudding, peas and glazed carrots and tucked in for a night of good food and conversation.
She discovered that the older girl she had spoken to during the sorting was a fifth-year prefect named Cathy Wells. She assured Piper and the other first years within earshot that they could come to her with any questions or concerns.
She also learned that two other first years at the table were Muggle-born and just as excited as she was to be here learning real magic. Connor Monohan was from Wexford, Ireland, while Edgar Grant was from Leeds. When they found out that she was from Brixton, they wanted to know all about her experience with the riots from the previous summer. Her foster parents had kept her and her brothers well clear of the violence, but she told them what she could of those days and their aftermath. The conversation fascinated the wizarding kids, who didn't seem to grasp the concept of racial tension until one of the older Muggle-born students compared it to Pure-bloods versus Muggle-borns. That had everyone chiming in with their own stories from that same summer. Apparently, the Death Eaters had been particularly emboldened in the months leading up to You-Know-Who's downfall.
Cathy only let the conversation get so far before she steered it away from the grim turn it had taken. No one complained.
The dinner dishes vanished as Bill told them funny stories of his five little brothers and baby sister. In their place, an entire spread of pudding appeared. Being stuffed from dinner didn't stop her from taking a slice of Victoria sponge cake.
About half an hour later, all the plates disappeared. Professor McGonagall, who Piper had learned was both Deputy Headmistress and the Head of Gryffindor, announced that it was time for the prefects to lead their houses to the dormitories.
Piper followed Cathy out of the Great Hall and off to the staircases. "Pay attention," Cathy instructed them. "The staircases change, and you don't want to get lost on the way to Gryffindor Tower later when you're all on your own."
Sure enough, as Piper watched, some of the staircases overhead shifted from one landing to another. "We're this way," Cathy pointed out before mounting the steps. "Seventh floor."
She led them up several flights of stairs and down a hallway to another spiral staircase that led to a large landing where a portrait of a large woman hung on the wall.
"The Fat Lady guards our common room entrance," Cathy explained.
"Password?" the portrait requested.
"Callooh! Callay!" the Fat Lady replied with a delighted laugh, and the portrait swung open to reveal a round door that opened into a circular common room. The room was warm and cosy, with a fire roaring in a large fireplace. A lion portrait hung above the mantle, and the walls were lined with paintings and tapestries in varying shades of red and gold. Overstuffed scarlet chairs and sofas dotted the room. Several long tables could accommodate multiple students for studying, along with smaller side tables that held books or chessboards. Tall windows were spaced in even intervals along the walls. During the day, the common room was sure to be bathed in sunlight. A few nooks and alcoves were cut into the walls, which would lend a small amount of privacy to the few occupants they would allow. Near the door stood a message board. Cathy explained that they could find announcements such as Quidditch tryouts, club meeting schedules, and changes to the common room password posted there.
"First-year girls, follow me. I'll show you to your dorm," Cathy said. "First-year boys, follow Matthew. He'll show you to yours."
She pointed to a blond boy who looked about the same age as Cathy. The boy saluted, "Matt Higgins, at your service."
Bill and the other boys broke away from the group to follow Matt while Piper and the girls followed Cathy up a side staircase to a room that housed five four-poster beds in a circle around the room, each bed draped with heavy scarlet curtains. Their trunks were placed at the end of the beds for them, and they each had a plain wooden chair and nightstand of their own.
"Breakfast is served in the Great Hall from 6:30 to 8:30. You'll get your class timetable at breakfast tomorrow. Classes begin at 9:00. Whatever you do, don't be late! We don't want to start the year with negative house points. Curfew is between 9:00 PM and 6:00 AM, except when you have astronomy. Other than that, no wandering the castle in the middle of the night. It's against the rules, but besides that, it's dangerous. Lights out at 10:00. Bathrooms are one flight up the stairs we took to get here. Any questions?"
They all shook their heads no.
"Well then, sleep well!"
With that, Cathy left them to their own devices. They chatted as they prepared for bed. Her dormmates were Claudia Brimble, Maeve McCarver, Catriona Taggart, and Jocasta Erskine. None of them were Muggle-born, although Claudia and Catriona both had one non-magical parent, so the Muggle world wasn't a completely foreign concept to them. They all seemed friendly, and Piper thought they would probably get on well enough during their time here.
"We should probably get to sleep soon," she said as she laid out her uniform for the following day. "Like Cathy said, we don't want to be late."
The others agreed, and soon they were all tucked snugly into bed for the night.
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