James’s stomach gave a lurch as he ran through the barrier to platform nine and three-quarters for the very first time. There it was, the famous Hogwarts Express, the same red steam engine that had taken members of the Potter family to school for over a century. The platform was a riot of excited, though at times rather tearful, students and their parents; the air rang with the sound of raised voices, mewling cats, croaking toads and hooting owls. Above that could be heard the wails of demonstrative mothers, lamenting the imminent departure of their little darlings; James felt very sorry for the small mousy-haired boy whose mother was sobbing dramatically on his shoulder. He was glad that his mother would not resort to such hysterics.
He turned to the barrier; his mother and father were walking towards him through the crowd, his father pushing the cart with James’s trunk and owl before him. James looked at the large clock that hung above the platform. It was ten to eleven. In ten minutes the train would be leaving for Hogwarts, with him on board. For as long as he could remember, James had been awaiting this moment. His name had been on the list from the day he was born (no Potter had ever been a Squib), and the anticipation had reached fever pitch when he’d finally received his letter. In fact, he’d destroyed a lot of the spacious kitchen in his euphoria. Luckily, Ketterleigh Castle (in Muggle terms, a rather run down yet architecturally interesting National Trust building visited by bus loads of pensioners; in Wizarding terms, the ancestral seat of one of the oldest, richest and most prestigious wizarding families), had been constructed with much more than bricks and mortar, and he had not inflicted any lasting damage.
During the subsequent trip to Diagon Alley to collect his school things, James’s mother had threatened to Floo him straight back home if he didn’t calm down, so excited was he at the prospect of his new robes, potion ingredients, books, owl and, best of all, his wand. He felt for it in his pocket now, just to check that he had it. Mahogany, 11 inches, pliable. Mr Ollivander had said it was good for Transfiguration. James hoped so.
He hadn’t really thought about his lessons, other than the amazing tricks he’d be able to learn. He didn’t know whether he’d be good or not. He’d better be good, he thought resolutely. He wanted to be a talented wizard, as both his parents were. As his father returned from hoisting his luggage onto the train, panic briefly welled up in James’ chest. What if he was hopeless? What if he didn’t make any friends? What if (horror of horrors) he wasn’t sorted into Gryffindor, where his parents and a long line of Potters had been? Then, James’s natural confidence reasserted itself. He was James Potter; he was not going to be hopeless. For the same reason, there would be plenty of people wanting to be friends with him, and just let them try to put him anywhere but Gryffindor.
Five minutes to eleven. The witch nearby was crying even more violently on her dazed, and now rather damp, son. James’s mother pulled him into a hug, which he wriggled out of after an acceptable amount of time had passed. He was proud of her for not crying, though.
“Goodbye, dear,” she said. “You’ll have a wonderful time; everybody does at Hogwarts.”
“Do try to do a bit of work, though,” added his father, a twinkle in his eye. James had loved hearing tales of his father’s trouble-making days at school. He, however, was going to do even better.
“And remember to be nice to your cousin, and to wear clean socks, and comb you hair,” his mother’s lip was trembling. James recognised the danger and hoped she wasn’t about to cry.
James tried not to look too eager as his father clapped him on the shoulder, and he accepted his mother’s kiss with good grace. He headed towards the train. Once more the rush of panic rose in his chest, and he turned back to his parents; for once in his life he felt hesitant and unsure. They were watching him, his father’s arm round his mother’s waist.
James Potter squared his shoulders, and boarded the train.
When he got to the free compartment where his father had stowed his trunk, James wasn’t entirely sure what to do. He gazed out of the window, and waved enthusiastically at his parents, who were standing with the Walkers, and who had noticed him. His mother’s eyes were red now. They beamed and waved back. James then thought it might be considered unmanly to be waving from the train, and shrank back out of view. He reached up to the luggage rack, and pulled from his trunk a bag which he had packed himself. The house-elf had done the rest. He was jolted back down into his seat, as the train suddenly started moving. Turning his head, he caught a last glimpse of his parents as the Hogwarts Express whooshed away from the platform. He was off.
Just then, the door opened. A tall, dark-haired girl stalked in, followed by an equally tall, blonde boy, who had held the door open for her. They looked very grown up. Both were already dressed in school robes, and both, James noticed, wore the green and silver colours of Slytherin House. Both also had silver badges with a P on them fastened over their chests.
“You’re a first-year.” It was not a question. The girl’s voice was clear and authoritative. Both the boy and girl were eyeing him, taking in his good-quality clothes, the bulging moneybag at his belt, the monogrammed trunk on the rack, and the glinting cage which housed his large, sleek owl, Archimedes. James decided that if they were wearing Slytherin robes then he didn’t like them.
“Brilliant, we’re first-years, too. I’m Sirius, and this is my cousin Narcissa.” The rushed and enthusiastic voice startled James. For the first time, he noticed the two younger children standing behind the Slytherin prefects. Both were tall for their age. The boy was dark-haired, the girl blonde, but they had the same grey eyes that gave the curious impression of being both light and dark. Like the older students, they had a natural air of elegance and insolence, although the boy who had introduced himself as Sirius had marred the effect by bouncing on the balls of his feet.
“Shut up!” snapped the girl who had spoken before,
“What’s your name?” asked the tall boy, speaking for the first time. His voice was drawling and languid.
“James Potter,” James answered, a hint of aggression in his tone. He was not sure why he felt the need to defend himself, but he did. His name obviously meant something to the four people before him, yet their reaction wasn’t the usual one he got from members of the wizarding community. The elder girl looked disappointed and disapproving. The elder boy had drawn his face into a contemptuous sneer, as though he could smell something disgusting in the compartment. The younger girl drew herself up, and eyed him coldly, her expression one of disdain. However, the bouncing boy’s face contained a mixture of excitement and defiance.
“Another of the prestigious Potter line,” the sneering boy commented in his mocking voice. James bristled. The older children exchanged a glance.
“A pity,” murmured the girl, still eyeing James almost hungrily. As one, the Slytherins made to leave the compartment. The girl turned to follow. The younger boy did not move.
“Come, Sirius.” commanded the girl. Sirius was glowering, his chin stuck out.
“I think I’ll stay here, thanks, Bella,” he said in a decided tone. His expression was mutinous. Bella’s eyes seemed to flash. For a second, James thought she was attempting wandless magic. But then, she spoke in a collected voice that was as firm as Sirius’s had been.
“You are coming with us.”
“No, I’m not!”
“He can stay here if he likes!” James jumped up, and glared at the girl.
“Keep out of matters that do not concern you, Potter,” the sneering boy said in a smooth voice. “Sirius, you should know that it is only acceptable to mix with certain families.” James felt the contempt radiating from him. “Your cousin and I are merely acting for your own good by keeping you away from the wrong sort.”
“Why can’t I decide for myself which are the wrong sort?” Sirius demanded. “Andromeda does.”
“You would associate with a Potter, and tarnish the reputation of the House of Black?” screamed Bella, her eyes wide with rage. The mention of Andromeda, whoever she was, seemed to have unhinged her.
James understood. They were Blacks, a pureblood family as old and rich as the Potters. His father had told him about them. They were obsessed with blood, he’d explained, believing that magical blood should be kept pure by not marrying Muggles or Muggle-borns. They were always members of Slytherin House, just as the Potters were normally sorted into Gryffindor, and the rivalry was extended out of school. It was no longer a mystery why they had reacted to his name like that. There was a look of shame and hatred on the younger boy’s face. James found the fact that he was so ashamed to have tried to be friends with a Potter rather insulting. But then again, the boy was a Black.
The younger boy opened his mouth to say something, but before any words came out, a wand was pointing at his chest.
“Come along, Sirius,” the blonde boy said with a smirk on his face, using his wand to push Sirius towards the door. Bella stalked out of the compartment, closely followed by Narcissa, who copied the elder girl’s way of walking. The boys followed, Sirius still showing signs of unwillingness.
“D’you mind if we sit here?” The compartment door had not been long shut before it was opened again, and two boys entered. James eyed them with interest.
“Go ahead,” he said, glad to have some company. “I’m James Potter.” Maybe it was better to warn them.
“A Potter!” one of them squeaked in awe. James recognised the chubby boy from the platform; he still had the damp traces of tears on the shoulder of his jumper. The other boy was taller and thinner. He looked rather sickly, but had only reacted with mild interest when James had introduced himself. Perhaps he was Muggle-born.
“I’m Remus Lupin,” said the boy, sitting down on a seat opposite James. “And this is Peter Pettigrew.” The plump boy still seemed rather awestruck, but smiled shyly at James. He, too, sat down, and James was just about to ask whether either of them supported Quidditch when the door burst open.
“Ha! I escaped!” The boy from before was breathless, but triumphant. “Sorry about that,” he said, turning to James. “Bellatrix and Malfoy” (his eyes narrowed) “are seriously evil.” James grinned at him. He might be a Black, but he didn’t seem to like the others very much, and he looked like fun.
“Shall we start again?” he asked, standing up and holding out his hand in mock formality. “James Potter, pleased to meet you."
“Sirius Black,” said the other boy, seizing James’ hand and shaking it violently. “Very pleased to be away from that lot.”
As if to prove it, he flung himself into the seat beside James. Remus and Peter introduced themselves, and Sirius insisted on shaking their hands too.
“So...” Sirius said, after Peter had been released and had sunk back down into his seat, massaging his right hand. “Do any of you like Quidditch?”
James and Sirius’ discussion of the Falmouth Falcon’s Beaters ended only by the arrival of the witch who sold sweets up and down the train.
“Anything off the trolley, dears?” she asked, beaming at them.
James and Sirius leapt up eagerly, each producing bulging moneybags. Remus’ pale cheeks turned slightly pinker as he muttered something about having eaten a large breakfast, while Peter looked sadly from his handful of Knuts to the large range of sweets available. Once James and Sirius had made their selections, however, the trolley appeared considerably emptier. James saw Peter staring at his mountainous pile of sweets.
“Help yourself,” he said, through a mouthful of pumpkin pasty. Next to him, Sirius nodded, his mouth too stuffed with the three cauldron cakes he’d managed to fit in at once to say anything intelligible. Peter cautiously reached for a chocolate frog, and after a few nibbles gathered momentum, eating more and more. A minute later, the effects of Remus’ large breakfast seemed to wear off, and soon a contented silence descended on the carriage.
A dark head poked cautiously through the door.
James took in the greasy, long hair, sallow skin, hooked nose and bad-tempered expression with increasing dislike.
Sirius made a mammoth effort, and swallowed.
“Get lost, Snape.” he said, thickly.
The head didn’t move.
“He told you to get lost,” James said, annoyed.
“Sirius, Bella says you’ve got to come back, or she’ll report you to your mother.”
Sirius ignored the boy, who looked to be a first-year, too, and continued to eat, mechanically, stuffing food into his mouth so that he could not answer.
“She’ll send Lucius in to hex you again.” The face sneered in imitation of the blonde Slytherin boy. Sirius unwrapped a chocolate frog. Peter looked rather afraid, while Remus was watching the greasy-haired boy with disdain.
“Or we could hex you. Now,” James replied, deciding he really did not like this boy. The boy laughed maliciously.
“I’d like to see you try, Potter!”
Sirius’ mouth had stopped chewing. James turned to the others.
“Which one shall I try?” he asked. He was standing up now, and had pulled his wand from his pocket. Behind his back he reached into the bag he had taken from his trunk earlier.
“I don’t know.” Remus pretended to be thinking hard. “There are several quite nasty ones.”
“You don’t know any hexes,” the boy jeered. James thought he looked rather worried, though.
“Oh, don’t I?” He swished his wand in the boy’s direction, at the same time hurling an exploding firecracker at him, so that it blew up in the boy’s startled face.
“He’s hexed me, Potter’s hexed me!” wailed the boy, and they heard him running off down the train.
Sirius’ hand had dropped to his side, holding a half eaten pumpkin pasty.
“Good riddance.” piped up Peter.
“Who was he, anyway?” asked Remus.
“Severus Snape,” Sirius answered. “He’s one of the right sort, according to my family.” His voice was heavy with contempt.
“Looked a right wimp to me,” James said. “He was crying like a baby.”
Suddenly, a blissful expression crossed Sirius’s face. “Snivellus,” he breathed.
As the four of them got off the boats which had carried them across the lake, James began to feel nervous. The view of the castle had been breathtaking. He couldn’t believe that he was here at last. The rest of the journey had passed without further incident. On descending from the train, he, Remus and Sirius had been delighted, and Peter rather unnerved, to be met by a huge giant of a man, who’d grinned at them cheerily. He had made three friends, and he thought, smirking at Snape, had found someone to be the target of his pranks. Sirius, it seemed, also planned to wreak havoc at Hogwarts, and James was sure that they could cause some serious mischief together. But first, the sorting was coming up, and he had to be put in Gryffindor.
“If I get put into Slytherin, I’m going home,” he whispered to Sirius.
“Almost my entire family’s in Slytherin,” Sirius muttered. Around them, many of the first years look terrified, Peter included. James nodded to his distant cousin Alice, a round-faced blonde, who was biting her lip so hard that she’d drawn blood, while the girl next to her chewed at her pigtail. Another group of boys were talking in half-horrified, half-enthralled whispers of the gruelling tests that they would have to undergo, and a tall boy was pacing, as though unable to stand still. The stern-faced professor who had met them arranged them into alphabetical order, and, quaking, the line processed into the Great Hall.
There were gasps along the line as the new students entered the room. There were four house tables, and one staff table, all crammed with students and teachers. The ceiling was a stormy grey.
“It’s enchanted to look like the sky outside,” a girl further up the line informed them in a hushed voice.
James craned his neck to see who had spoken: the girl who had been chewing her flaming-red pigtails. The line advanced. A teacher appeared with a hat on a stool. James’s parents had explained to him about the Sorting Hat, and he was rather disappointed by its bedraggled appearance. Suddenly a rip in the brim began to move.
“Over one thousand years ago, when my cloth was new…”
His parents hadn’t told him that the hat sang. James listened, enthralled, and for a few seconds forgot about the imminent Sorting.
“Then Gryffindor enchanted me so I could help them see
In which of all four houses, a pupil ought to be.
For those who delight in labour were dearest to Hufflepuff,
Whereas for gallant Gryffindor, great courage was enough.
Ravenclaw liked intelligence, and those who loved to test,
But in the eyes of Slytherin, the ambitious were the best…”
The mention of Gryffindor made James feel huge pride in his family, who had proven themselves of “great courage,” but also made him even more fearful that he would fall short of his family tradition. He decided that the Sorting Hat’s song was incredibly stupid, and concentrated on looking suitably nonchalant.
“Alden, Rebecca” was the first name to be called. She shuffled up to the hat and pulled it over her head, where it fell down over her nose. There was a pause.
“Hufflepuff,” the Hat announced, and the room exploded into applause, as Rebecca scuttled off to join her new house.
“Bassett, Terence” became a Ravenclaw, before “Black, Narcissa” was announced. The blonde girl who James had last seen marching off after Bella approached the stool. He glanced at the Slytherin table. Bella was staring at the pale girl intently.
Sirius watched Narcissa saunter up to the hat. Her air was deceptive; he knew how fervently she wanted to be in Slytherin. He knew without looking that Bellatrix was watching like a hawk. However, she didn’t have long to wait. The hat had only come within an inch of Narcissa Black’s head before it shouted “SLYTHERIN.” Bellatrix’s fond smile, as she proudly welcomed her little sister to the house table, made Sirius’ stomach churn.
“Black, Sirius.” Ice tingled down Sirius’s spine. He pulled himself together. His cousin Andromeda had avoided being a Slytherin, to the fury of the family, so why shouldn’t he? He stuck his chin out, and strode towards the hat, trying to ignore the warning look in Bella’s eyes.
Sirius was walking up to the hat, face set. James held his breath. ‘Please let him be in Gryffindor,’ he willed.
The Hat descended around Sirius’ eyes, surrounding him in darkness.
‘Please let me be in Gryffindor,’ he thought.
“Gryffindor, eh?” came a voice in his ear, making him jump. “Well, you’re a Black, which would normally mean Slytherin, but there are exceptions.”
‘Not Slytherin; I’ll go anywhere, but please not Slytherin.’
“Not Slytherin?” The voice sounded amused. “But you do have such a thirst to prove yourself. Ah, but you want to be different, you want to break away from your family. You possess great loyalty…”
‘Not Hufflepuff!’ Sirius thought in a panic. The Hat did laugh this time.
“No, Hufflepuff is not the place for you. GRYFFINDOR!”
Blank glances were exchanged around the hall; at their table the Slytherins looked menacing. Bellatrix’s look could have melted the golden cutlery before her. The murmuring began. It took Sirius a moment to realise that clapping was coming from the centre of the staff table. More members of staff joined in, as did the Gryffindors, Hufflepuffs and Ravenclaws. A girl on the Ravenclaw table had stood up, and was cheering at the top of her voice, to the surprise of her friends. Sirius glanced gratefully at Andromeda, the only other Black since Uncle Alphard not to be sorted into Slytherin. The Slytherins remained silent, arms folded.
Bellatrix was livid, and Mother would probably never speak to him again, but he was in Gryffindor House. Sirius didn’t care that the Gryffindors were also regarding him warily. He slid into a seat, legs shaking with relief, as “Boot, Richard,” was sorted into Ravenclaw. He was a Gryffindor now, he thought happily, watching the sorting with interest, and clapping with enthusiasm when “Evans, Lily” joined their table.
James was clapping, too, even though the unsorted first years hadn’t clapped any of the others. He’d better be in Gryffindor now, he thought.
Remus Lupin approached the front of the line. His parents were not of great consequence in the wizarding world, and he had grown up in a remote area. ‘Which was because of me,’ he thought, knowing that his father had given up a good position in the Ministry in order to lead the out-of-the-way existence they thought their son required. Still, he had read that all Blacks went into Slytherin, and all Potters into Gryffindor. Now that Sirius was in Gryffindor, he decided that was where he wanted to be. With his friends. He savoured the word. His secluded life so far hadn’t included friends, or even siblings. Now he was at Hogwarts, a place he never thought he’d be, surrounded by people of his own age, amongst which three, he hoped, were going to be his friends. Longbottom, Frank was walking proudly to the Gryffindor table. Remus felt a pang of jealousy. He approached the hat.
“Ah, now where shall we put you? Slytherin is probably where a werewolf would find most acceptance. No, I can tell you don’t like that. Eager to work hard, and lots of talent. Ravenclaw would help you with that.”
Remus focused his thoughts on Gryffindor.
“Yes, Gryffindor. There’s no need to show me, I already know. Yes, I think perhaps, that would be best.”
Applause broke out.
“I bet they don’t have anywhere for me.” Peter whispered to himself as he shuffled gloomily forward, as “McKinnon, Marlene” became a Gryffindor. Sirius and Remus were already in Gryffindor, and James was bound to get in. But it was a surprise he was at Hogwarts at all; even now he had shown only a few signs of magical abilities. The line of students in front of him diminished.
He heard James wish him luck behind him, before making his way up the hall, and pulling the hat on.
‘Go on, tell me I’m not good enough,’ he muttered. The voice made him jump.
“All are good enough; each has a place, Mr Pettigrew. Let me see…”
‘Bet I’m in Hufflepuff.’
“No, you do not have the qualities for Hufflepuff.”
Peter felt put out. He thought Hufflepuff was the one where all the leftovers were put. If he couldn’t even get in there…
“You might do quite well in Slytherin…”
Slytherin! He thought of the mean looking students on the Slytherin table. They’d eat him for lunch.
“No? Well, I’m afraid it’s not going to be Ravenclaw. Better be GRYFFINDOR.”
In a daze, Peter walked toward the table, remembering to remove the hat after a few steps. Gryffindor. He was in Gryffindor, the bravest house! He couldn’t wait to tell his mother.
James stared. He hadn’t really expected Peter to become a Gryffindor. In that case, he should be all right. He walked forward, all of a sudden feeling very conscious of his limbs. Sirius, Remus and Peter were smiling at him with easy confidence from the Gryffindor table. He fervently wished he were joining them already. He sat down, the hat in place.
“A Potter. It doesn’t seem long since I Sorted your father. He had the same concerns you do. But there is no need to worry; you are a typical Potter and a true GRYFFINDOR.”
Well, he couldn’t imagine why some people got so worked up about the Sorting. He glanced at the trembling line of students yet to be Sorted and shook his head indulgently, beaming as he sat down and was clapped on the back by Sirius, and congratulated by his new housemates.
They watched as the Sorting continued, getting ever hungrier, booing when “Snape, Severus” became a Slytherin, and cheering as “Walker, Alice” became the last new Gryffindor.
The Headmaster stood up. Albus Dumbledore, the best thing that’s happened to Hogwarts in a long time, as James’s father described him, thankfully kept his speech down to five words.