The final student was sorted. Professor Adleburgh picked up the hat and stool and left through a door behind the staff table, returning a few moments later and sitting to the right of the headmaster. The tables were full of muttering but Michael stared down at the empty plate in front of him, fiddling absent-mindedly with the knife.
Why was he sitting at this table? Why? He didn’t want to look up and see the faces of his oldest and newest friend staring back at him, having the time of their lives. The voices all died down and Michael turned to look at the staff table. The headmaster was now standing up, arms outstretched.
“Welcome, everybody, to Hogwarts,” he said. He was probably in his early sixties, had a short grey beard and a pointed navy blue hat. “I am Professor Stumblewood, your headmaster. I know you’re all keen to get eating, so I shall give my proper speech after the food. I just wanted to say we are so happy to have you all here with us. Now, let’s eat!” He sat back down and Michael turned back to the table where great mountains of food appeared on the plates before them. Despite himself, Michael finally raised a smile and began forking thick slices of ham, crispy roast potatoes and succulent sausages onto his plate.
Conversation started up again on the table and Michael soon found himself caught up in it all. The girl next to him, Kayleigh with the red hair, was demonstrating her abilities as the tips of her roots shone gold and then she made her eyes glow Gryffindor colours too.
“How do you do that?” said Michael with awe.
“I’m a Metamorphagus,” said Kayleigh, a thick Leeds accent tinting every word. “It means I can alter my features as I want. My mum is one too, it runs in the family.”
“When do we get to learn that?” said an eager-faced girl with light brown hair framing her face sat opposite.
“Oh, you can’t learn it,” said Kayleigh, flicking her hair back and spearing a carrot. “It’s a genetic thing. Transfiguration can only go so far. What did you say your name was?”
“Amy,” said the girl, blushing a little. “You?”
“Kayleigh,” came the reply.
“I’m Martha,” said a girl with a vast amount of bushy chocolate-coloured hair next to Amy.
“And I’m Michael.”
“Cheer up a bit,” Amy offered. “You don’t look very happy.”
“I’m just a bit miffed,” said Michael, laying his fork down. “I didn’t think I’d be in Gryffindor. Sure, Dad will be really proud, but I had my heart set on another house.”
“Don’t you like us?” said Martha, half a boiled potato still being chewed.
“Oh, no, you all seem great, you know it’s just…” Michael stalled and return to his ham. “Never mind. Hey, what wand does everyone have?” Amy moved like lightning, diving into a pocket to extract a wand more than a foot in length.
“Hornbeam, thirteen and three quarter inches long,” she beamed, holding it out in both hands for everyone to admire. “It’s got a phoenix feather in the core.”
“Just like Harry Potter’s,” nodded Kayleigh. “Can you believe his son got put in Slytherin?”
“His other son is a Gryffindor,” said Martha, pointing a knife up the table to where James Potter was laughing raucously with his friends, charming mashed potato across the table into the prefect’s hair. “And my wand is apple with unicorn hair.” Michael nearly choked.
“Apple and unicorn,” said Martha, quietly. “Is that wrong?”
“No, it’s just…” Michael reached into his robes and pulled out his wand. “Mine is apple and unicorn too.” Martha looked in awe and grabbed her own. They reached across the table and put the tips together. Both lit up like a sparkler for a few seconds before dying down.
“That makes you Bark Brothers,” said an older boy sitting the other side of Kayleigh who had obviously been listening. He introduced himself as Martin Sloper before carrying on. “When two people have wands of the same wood and core, they become bonded, so some say. You’d never be able to kill each other.”
“I wouldn’t want to kill her,” said Michael.
“No, I’m not some Dark witch,” protested Martha, although Michael felt that with her huge hair she bore more than a passing resemblance to a witch he’d read about from the Wizarding War – Bellatrix someone-or-other. He decided not to mention that and finally risked a glance up at Chris and Ellie.
They were engaged in conversation with two other first years whose names he already couldn’t remember. The sorting had been a bit like a blur, and while he was enjoying the company of these people – Amy, Martha, Kayleigh, Martin – he couldn’t envision himself staying with them forever. He belonged on the table of blue. First thing in the morning, he would talk to Professor Longbottom about being moved.
Verity staggered out of the library, laden with books on Flying theory, broomstick maintenance, Quidditch history and calculating wind speed velocity. Above anything else, she was terrified of learning to fly. She knew, just knew that the broomstick would never listen to her, and she’d have to sit out while everyone else whizzed around above her head like it was the easiest thing in the world.
It would be netball all over again.
As she walked carefully forward, barely able to see over the tower of books in her arms, she felt her bag slip on her shoulder and down to the crook of her elbow. As she tried to reach and put it back up, she trod on the hem of her robe and stumbled forward, a copy of Quidditch through the Ages tumbling to the stone floor. Righting herself again, her hair fell forward over one eye and she tried to blow it out the way again. While trying to do that, Peeves then flew overhead and dropped a cauldron noisily to the floor, making her jump. The rest of the books tumbled to the floor and her bag slipped to her wrist and landed with a clunk next to them.
Her upper lip wobbled as she looked at the mess at her feet, but she did her best not to cry. She wondered for the umpteenth time that week why she had been put in Slytherin. How did she have the right to share a house with wizards who are known across the world for their deeds when she couldn’t even walk in a straight line.
She bent down to pick up the books, fighting back tears as she did. Her blonde hair fell across and hid her face from view, and it took her a while to notice that she was not the only person picking up textbooks.
Verity looked up and sniffed. A boy with uncombed hair and sleepy green eyes was tucking fallen pages back into books and stacking them next to her. She noticed the flash of red on his chest.
“Come on, let’s get you back up,” he said, more to the books than to her, she felt. She gathered up a few and he picked up the rest.
“Where were you going?” he said. “I’ll carry these for you.”
“S… Slytherin common room,” she puffed.
“That’s in the Dungeons isn’t it?” he said, frowning. “OK, lead the way. I don’t really know where I’m going.” Verity tried to thank him, but she still couldn’t speak. Her mouth felt dry.
“I’m Michael,” said the boy. “I’m a Gryffindor. Who are you, Miss Slytherin?”
“Verity,” she squeaked, finally. “Thank you.”
“Ah, not a problem,” Michael smiled. “I’m not doing anything else.” They walked in silence for a little longer, before she noticed he was looking at the titles on the spines of her books.
“You’re either really excited or really nervous about flying,” he said. “I didn’t think Slytherins ever felt nervous.”
“This one does,” said Verity. “I’ve never been on a broomstick before.”
“I don’t reckon any of us have,” said Michael. “Don’t worry about it, you’ll have us all to look out for you. No one’s going to be mocking you.”
“Albus was telling us a story the other day,” began Verity, but Michael interrupted. “Albus?”
“Albus Potter, of course,” said Verity.
“Oh, yeah, him,” said Michael, doing a very bad impression of someone feigning disinterest. “Go on.”
“Well, he was telling us that in his dad’s first flying lesson, he had to fly up and catch something that someone had thrown,” she said. “He couldn’t remember the whole story, and Scorpius Malfoy said his dad had never talked about flying lessons. I guess we all have to catch stuff to prove we’re fast and agile on a broomstick. I can barely travel safely on the ground.”
“I’m sure it’ll be fine,” said Michael. “When is your first class?”
“Oh, awesome, same as ours,” he smiled. “Look, meet us in the courtyard about ten minutes before and we’ll walk down together? It’ll be me and some of the Gryffindor lot, but they’re cool.” Verity nodded agreement and said she’d see him there. They had almost reached the Slytherin common room and Verity wanted to think of an excuse for him to stay a bit longer, but she was pretty sure he couldn’t enter the common room.
“Well, this is you,” he said. He handed her the books carefully and she gripped them tightly. “You’ll be fine with them from here now, won’t you?”
“Absolutely fine,” she said, her eyes peeking over the stack of books, pleased that he couldn’t see her cheeks flushed red. “See you Monday then?”
“Monday,” he smiled and winked, cheekily. “Enjoy your light reading until then. I better get off and do my Charms homework or Professor Kingsmoor will be on my case. Been here a week and I think she already hates me. Oh well, night.”
When he’d gone, Verity spoke the password – “giant squid” – and stepped into the cool common room. The water of the lake lapped against the windows, casting a green light over the whole room. She dropped the books on an empty table by the fireplace and settled down to read A Brief History of the Holyhead Harpies, ignoring the cackles of laughter that came from Lucy and Naomi on the sofas on the other side of the room.
She began counting down the hours until Monday’s flying lesson.
Tori felt something small and slimy hit her cheek and, looking up, she saw a boy with a messy fringe staring at her with a half-smile. He had a red Gryffindor emblem on his jumper.
“Did you just throw something at me?” she said.
“No,” said the boy. She recognised him vaguely from a few of her classes, but they’d never spoken in three weeks. She returned to her scales and weighed out salamander blood carefully but it didn’t take long for something else to hit her, this time landing on her neck. She slapped her hand to her neck and pulled it off – a tiny bat spleen. She looked around again, and found the Gryffindor boy still looking at her.
“You are throwing spleens at me aren’t you?” she said, crossly.
“No,” he said again. “Not throwing. Flicking, yes, but certainly not throwing.”
“Why are you doing it? Shouldn’t you be making your potion?” His insolence annoyed her greatly.
“I am making my potion,” he said, snatching up his spoon and stirring the potion anti-clockwise. It bubbled rather noisily and he looked down at it, swore and sprinkled black beetle eyes into his cauldron, calming the solution down again.
“Your name’s Tori, isn’t it?” said the boy, once he was sure he had his cauldron under control. “Short for Victoria, I suppose?”
“Yes,” she said. There was something endearing about him, even if he had flicked bat spleens at her. “Who are you?”
“I’m Michael,” he smiled. “I was supposed to be in Ravenclaw too.”
“Well, if you were supposed to be, then you would be, wouldn’t you?” she reasoned.
“I guess,” said Michael, stirring his potion carefully. He tapped his wand to the rim of the cauldron and a pink cloud of gas evaporated up. He caught it in a crystal phial and tucked it into his pocket. Tori watched with interest.
“What was that?” she asked.
“What was what?” Michael looked genuinely bemused.
“That gas? You just took it in a flask?”
“So? So, what was that all about?” Tori was cross with him again now. “We’re supposed to be making a stomach-calming potion, how did you make your cauldron do the pink gas thing?”
“Mum taught me,” he said. “Try it.”
“No,” said Tori. “It’s not what we’re meant to be doing. Professor Adleburgh will have you in detention for messing around.” Michael merely shrugged.
“I’m experimenting,” he said. Tori stirred for a little longer, her potion taking on the correct shade of burgundy, but she was now curious as to what Michael had done. She picked up her wand and tapped it gently on the cauldron and, as she’d seen before, a pink gas erupted slowly from the centre of the mixture. She fumbled for a phial and collected as much as she could before stoppering it with a little wooden cork.
She looked up at Michael who was already grinning wildly at her.
“What do I do with it now?” she said.
“I don’t know,” he shrugged. “It’s a sinus-clearer. Are your sinuses clear?”
“Then don’t use it.” He returned his full attention to his potion now and scooped up the burgundy mixture into a flask as Professor Adleburgh arrived at the table. As if caught with contraband, Tori smuggled the phial into her pocket. Adleburgh was looking at Michael’s potion.
“A wonderful colour there, Mr Ritchie,” he said. He turned to the other people on the table and one by one commented on their potions. “A bit too bright there Miss Mayhill, did you add enough beetle eyes? Mr Melvin, that’s astonishing! One of the best I’ve ever seen, you’re a natural. Are either of your parents potioneers at all?”
“Dad dabbled a bit,” said Chris. “I had a potion kit as a kid though, only little things. I’ve always had a knack for it.”
“I can certainly agree with that,” said Adleburgh. He dipped his wand into the mixture and stirred gently. “The perfect colour and texture, that’s remarkable.” He moved around the table to where Tori sat.
“This is good,” he said, although the enthusiasm had left his voice since talking to Chris. “Maybe a little heavy on bat spleens, going on the way it’s foaming a little in the corner there, but otherwise it looks good. A remarkable first try.”
When Adleburgh had left the table, Tori turned and looked at Michael who was sitting on his stool doing his best to look innocent.
“Too many bat spleens?” he said. “Oh. Maybe my aim isn’t quite as good as I thought it was.” He smiled widely and Tori distinctly heard Chris stifle a giggle.
At that moment, she decided she hated Michael Ritchie, the arrogant Gryffindor.
The Great Hall watched with bated breath as Albus Potter stepped up to the stool. Michael knew, as indeed Albus must have known, all eyes were on him. Professor Adleburgh dropped the Sorting Hat onto his head and stepped back.
No one else in the room heard what the Sorting Hat said to Albus, but everyone would later agree that it took a long time to decide. He was a hatstall. Finally, a rip opened in the hat and its voice boomed across the hall.
The following silence was louder than the applause. Professor Adleburgh slowly removed the hat from Albus’s head, the young wizard beneath looking sweaty and terrified. A few of the teachers began to clap, followed by the student body. Even the other Slytherin students looked a bit confused by the whole thing. Michael had the distinct feeling that he had just witnessed something very unusual and unexpected. Professor Adleburgh eventually woke from his stupor and called up “Powell, Kayleigh”.
Michael realised it would nearly be his turn, and soon he would be sat with Ellie and the Ravenclaws on the far right table. Kayleigh was assigned Gryffindor, and rushed to sit down, her hair appearing to turn a bright red colour the closer she got to the table. “Proctor, Ben” was called up next and the hat thought for just a few seconds before assigning him Slytherin.
Finally. Michael stepped up to the stool and the hat was dropped on his head, covering his eyes from the events in the hall. It was just him in the darkness, before he noticed a small voice humming thoughtfully just behind his ear.
“A good mind, very creative,” said the voice. “Would be a good Ravenclaw, I feel. But there’s cunning here, a streak of selfishness and self-preservation for Slytherin. But there’s loyalty in here too.”
“Come on, just say Ravenclaw,” Michael thought. The hat seemed to notice and said, “Oh, Ravenclaw is it? Yes, I can understand that but, no, the whole thing is obvious … GRYFFINDOR.”
Michael didn’t move, even though the Gryffindor table had now exploded in applause and it was time for someone else to be sorted. Professor Adleburgh lifted the hat off his head and gave him a shove towards the middle table decked in red. He walked slowly down like a condemned man and sat next to Kayleigh with the red hair. He spun round and saw Ellie and Chris looking at him from the Ravenclaw table with complete bemusement.
Ollivander’s was dark and dank with narrow boxes piled high up on endless shelves that stretched up so high Michael could barely see the ceiling in the gloom.
“Ah, another Hogwarts student I presume?” said a quiet voice from a corner. It was a voice like a matchbox being shaken. Mr Ollivander emerged from the dark and smiled his white smile, his pale blue eyes boring deep into Michael. He looked even older than Herman had described. “And you are?”
“Michael Ritchie,” said Michael, stuttering. “These are my parents.” He indicated behind him. Herman and Imogen nodded in greeting and gave small smiles.
“Herman Ritchie and Imogen Cornwell,” smiled Ollivander. “How lovely to see you again – married now I see? How lovely. I remember both of your wands of course. Herman, still using the pliant hazel with phoenix feather? And Imogen, the rowan with dragon heartstring – seven inches if I remember correctly?”
“Spot on, with both,” said Herman. “How are you keeping, Mr Ollivander?”
“Well enough,” nodded Ollivander. “I’m sure you know of what happened to me during the last war, but I have recovered enough now. And here I stand to find a wand to choose your son.”
He turned quite suddenly and waved his hand to bring a wand down from a very high shelf. He extracted it gently from the box.
“Here, try this. Willow, phoenix feather, twelve and a quarter inches,” he said. Michael took it in his hand but dropped it almost instantly as it seemed to burn his fingers.
“No, clearly not,” said Ollivander, reaching under the counter for another box. “Eleven inches, sycamore, phoenix feather. Try that.” Michael took the second wand but that one seemed to freeze his fingertips. The third – a chunky, solid red oak wand – almost jumped out of his hand again. Michael began to fear that no wand would ever choose him.
Ollivander kept handing over more wands, but they all rejected Michael, some more violently than others. The sixteenth wand handed over was fir, some nineteen inches in length with a dragon heartstring. It seemed to settle for a moment before producing bubbles, red sparks and a raspberry noise.
“Probably just as well,” Michael tried to joke. “Bit big to lug around, that one.” Ollivander seemed to be enjoying the challenge and bustled across the shop to where Herman and Imogen stood. He extracted a wand box from a low shelf behind them and handed it to Michael.
This time Michael felt his hand warm up again, but in a good way, like he’d just slid into a warm bath. The feeling flooded his whole body and he waved the wand gently – the dying flowers in the vase on Ollivander’s counter sprung back to life and full colour.
“Well, that’s certainly a match,” smiled Ollivander. Michael grinned and looked at the wand in his hand. He asked, “What is it?”
“Apple,” said Ollivander. “I don’t make many of them. They’re powerful though, mind. It is ten and three quarter inches long, and you’ll notice, surprisingly swishy. The core is unicorn tail hair. That will be seven galleons, then.”
- Baldrick: The way I see it is that there's a war on now, and ages ago there wasn't a war on. So there must have been a moment when there not being a war went away and the being a war came along. So, what I wanna know is how did we get from one case of affairs to the other case of affairs?
- Blackadder: Do you mean, "How did the war start?"
- Baldrick: Yes.
- Sayful: I didn't know you had Facebook.
- Me: Of course I have Facebook! Everyone does, don't they?
- Sayful: Yeah, but not all the older generation do.
- Me: I'm 23! I'm four years older than you!
All this time I figured I’d be Ravenclaw, or perhaps Slytherin at a stretch, always claiming I was about as un-Gryffindor as you can be. But let’s look at the facts here.
I was arrogant enough to assume that I would be instantly plumped in the house of my choice, ignoring what the hat actually wanted to do.
Once I found out, I decided to see if there was a way to bend the rules, somehow redo the test and get myself to the house I wanted to call home.
Arrogance and a disregard for the rules are both intrinsic Gryffindor traits (see Cormac McLaggen for the former, Fred & George Weasley for the latter), although perhaps the more negative ones.
However, it means that me being un-Gryffindor wasn’t exactly true.
It seems wholly appropriate that I’m there now. I won’t pretend I’m not sad about missing out on being where I really wanted, but the Sorting Hat is never wrong, so I must trust its judgment and accept my fate.