Chapter Six: The Sorting Hat Ceremony

The train ride to Hogwarts was semi-torturous for Draco. Everyone had heard about his father's arrest and subsequent death by now, and the pitying looks and whispers Draco heard as he traversed the corridors of the train gave him a splitting headache before the Hogwarts Express even left the station. He bumped into Hermione and Ron at one point and both of them offered their condolences with true sincerity, which surprised Draco in light of what they knew about his father, the Death Eater, and the way Draco himself had always treated them. He would never understand Harry's friends.

In the train compartment, things weren't any more pleasant. Crabbe and Goyle seemed not to know how to behave. Draco suspected that their parents told them they didn't have to suck up to him any longer, or maybe even to avoid him completely so as not to get in He-Who-Would-Soon-Be-Dead's bad graces. Pansy Parkinson, however, spouted sympathy with all the gentleness of a rhino dancing ballet. She glommed herself to Draco immediately upon entering the compartment, jabbering non-stop in her nasal whine in his ear, until he muttered under his breath, "Silencio."

Pansy's mouth kept moving with no sound coming out for a moment before she realized she was voiceless. Crabbe and Goyle began laughing like buffoons at her as she frantically attempted to garner help. Draco closed his eyes and tuned them out before he either hit them, or started crying.

The lightly tanned Malfoy held his head high when they arrived at school. The triphammer pounding at his temples provided something to focus on rather than the stares, whispers, and false sympathy that tripled when he reached the Great Hall.

He took his usual seat at the Slytherin table and reflexively looked past the Hufflepuff table to the Gryffindor's. His seat had always been in direct line with Harry's, whether by fate or design was questionable. Harry's seat was still empty, although Ron and Hermione were in their usual spots as were the other fifth year Gryffindors.

Draco glanced around at the other tables and noticed many of the students were wearing yellow and black arm bands. It took him a moment to realize they were in memory of the Hufflepuff, Cedric Diggory. It was no wonder Harry was not in the Hall.

The professors at the head table eventually called for attention and the Hall quieted. Albus Dumbledore entered through a side door and moved to his place in the center of the table. "Hello. Hello," he greeted jovially. "Let's bring the new first years in, shall we?"

The main doors opened and the first years followed Professor McGonagall into the Great Hall. They looked very young and tiny. Draco watched them file in and wondered if he ever was that small. He recognized the two he'd met at Madam Malkin's and smirked evilly when the Gryffindor-wannabe caught his eye. The eleven-year-old paled considerably and clung fast to another first year.

Draco turned his attention to the front of the Hall. Professor McGonagall set the Sorting Hat on a worn stool and stepped back. The first years held their breaths nervously, the older students in anticipation, waiting for the Sorting Hat to open its 'mouth' and sing.

Draco spotted Harry just as the Sorting Hat began to twitch. Harry was leaning against the doorframe of the side room Dumbledore had come from. Harry's expression was blank as he surveyed the first years. He held the same air of indifference that had surrounded him all summer.

Across the Hall, Draco and Harry's eyes met, and Harry acknowledged him with a slight nod. Draco's headache pounded a little less, and he turned back to the Sorting Hat just as it began to sing:

Oh, I am the Hogwarts Sorting Hat
though I look rather worn
I have been sorting students
since well before you were born.
You might think I'm ugly;
yes, pretty I am not
but if you wish to school here
I'm the only choice you've got.
So slip me on your noggin'
and let me look and see
in which of our four Houses
are you supposed to be.
If you're brave and chivalrous
and are a fierce protector
there's nowhere else to place you
but into Gryffindor.
Those who think they're smart
and possess a clever wit
at the Ravenclaw table
is where they'll always sit.
If you are a hard worker
and have a lot of patience
it is without question that
Hufflepuff is your station.
At the heart of every Slytherin
is a love that's deep and pure
if magic is what you want to do
I'll place you there for sure.
So step right up, one by one,
and put me on your head
and let me learn where each of you
will be making up your bed.

The Sorting Hat finished its song and the ceremony continued. Professor McGonagall read each first year student's name and they were sorted into the four Houses. The two from Madam Malkin's ended up in the exact opposite House that they wanted, which brought an amused curve to Draco's lips.

When the first years were all seated and the Sorting Hat and stool put away, Dumbledore stood and addressed the students. "I have several first of term notices: first, the Forbidden Forest is, as always, off limits to students. Secondly, students are not to be out of their dormitories after 9:00 p.m. without permission. There is to be no magic in the corridors between classes. Also, if you see certain students in a physical or magical altercation, do not become involved, but rather inform a professor and allow them to handle the situation.

"Finally," Dumbledore said ominously, "because of the dark times ahead, Quidditch... will resume immediately." Cheers filled the Great Hall. Dumbledore raised his hands after a moment and continued when it quieted. "Prior teams are to meet here tomorrow at 3:00 p.m. to choose new captains, set tryouts and practice times, and receive the game schedule for the term." He smiled benevolently. "And now, let the feast commence."

Food appeared on all the tables with Dumbledore's words. Despite the delicious sight and smell of the food, Draco wasn't hungry. He poured himself a goblet of pumpkin juice and sipped slowly as conversation and feasting went on around him. He heard his name mentioned several times along the Slytherin table, but he ignored the content of the discussions. Twice, he caught the professors looking at him as they whispered to one another. The pounding in his temples had picked up again, adding a calypso beat.

Draco lasted a half-hour. Without excusing himself, he rose and walked stiffly from the Great Hall. Thankfully, no one stopped him on his way to the Slytherin dormitory. He didn't know the password but that didn't hold him up. "Repetica password."

Glowing green words appeared on the stone wall guarding the Slytherin entrance: Slytherin pride.

Draco rolled his eyes and said, "Slytherin pride."

The wall swung open, and he entered the common room. A fire was burning in the fireplace, dispelling the cold gloom of the dungeon. Draco flopped into one of the chairs in front of the fire, leaned his head back, and stared up at the ceiling for a very long time.

Chapter 7