Scowl fiercely in place, Faith stomped up the zillion steps from the front gate to the main entry at Hogwarts. All the magic available to them in the magical world, and they walked like the Muggles Faith hoped to leave behind forever. She hid how out of breath she was and peered upward to see how much farther she had to climb.
“Did you hear, Buff?” A nearby boy, hair falling into his eyes, waved his arms.
One of them nearly took Faith’s head off. She turned and shoved him hard enough that he stumbled down two steps, despite the flood of other First Years making their way to the top. “Watch what you’re doing, you bloody pillock!”
The girl he’d been speaking with suddenly loomed in front of Faith. “Keep your hands to yourself!”
Sensing that the argument might grow violent, the students on the stairs dove for whatever cover they could find. Faith clenched her fists. “Maybe you and your pet giant should do the same. Or did you miss the way he tried to fly a minute ago?” She mocked them both, wildly flapping her arms.
Unfortunately, Faith was outnumbered. The blonde girl and the kid who’d started it all banded together on the stairs. Then two became three when a skinny redhead joined in.
Faith refused to back down. “Can’t handle this yourself?” she snarled.
“That is enough!” a furious voice called from above. “Miss Lehane, Miss Summers!”
One of the teachers. Faith stayed in position, enjoying the way Summers flushed at the shout. “This isn’t over!” Spinning away, the trio melted back into the crowd of other students.
Smirking in victory, Faith eyed the kids closest to her. Most of them shrank back and didn’t meet her gaze. A few smiled back. Faith noted those as possible allies later.
The trek up the stairs resumed. Faith was glad the rest of the climb was short. They all clustered around the old woman in a pointy hat while she nattered on. “Welcome to Hogwarts. I am Professor McGonagall.” Faith tuned out the rest. She crossed her arms and leaned against a stone railing until a wave of whispers dragged her attention back. “… are Gryffindor, Hufflepuff, Ravenclaw, and…” Professor McGonagall paused, lips pressing together as if she’d bitten into something rotten. “Slytherin.”
The students who had enjoyed Faith’s near fight smiled at that while the Triad made faces.
With far less energy (but far more chatter) than before, the First Years trooped into a massive hall. Tables of food, row on row of older students with House colors, and a long table at the front with more teachers. Faith took it all in, hoping she didn’t look as nervous as she now felt.
Everyone looked like they belonged. Like they understood what was expected. Like they weren’t a Muggle thrust into a world of magic with no handbook.
Faith hunched beneath her robes as all the people in the hall stared at the First Years, at her. The staring continued as they stopped in front of a stool topped with a floppy hat. Faith barely heard another teacher – this one she remembered from her acceptance letter – gave another speech. Why couldn’t everyone shut up so they could sit down?
Who cared if the forest around the school was off-limits? Did people really want to hike?
“Now, let the sorting begin!” Dumbledore finished. He waved his hands at the stool.
As the first new student sat on that stool and put on the ugly hat, Faith heard one of the Triad, the redhead, say, “That’s the Sorting Hat. Do you know it can look into your mind and see which House you’re best suited for? I read A History of Hogwarts. Not even Dumbledore knows how it works.”
“We all know where you’re headed, Will,” the boy-giant said. “With all the smart people.”
A hat that could read your mind. Faith wanted no part in that. Except, she didn’t have a choice. Several students had already been sorted to cheers and smiles from their new House. She scanned the large hall. Even without the colored ties and banners, it was easy to see the separation in the older students.
Books and scrolls sat next to empty plates under the Ravenclaw banner. The smart kids? Another group sat stiffly. The few students Faith could clearly see under the Gryffindor banner had the look and feel of the students at Faith’s previous, Muggle school. The ones who’d been clear that Faith wasn’t good enough for them.
“Faith Lehane!” McGonagall brandished the hat at Faith.
Pretending not to care what happened next, Faith hopped onto the stool. The hat was surprisingly heavy and nearly covered Faith’s eyes as it settled into place.
“Mmmm. A difficult choice,” the hat said. Loudly. Loud enough for the First Years still waiting to be sorted could hear. “Perhaps Gryffindor. Yes.”
Gryffindor. The popular kids. The ones who never wanted to be around Faith. No. “No,” Faith actually whispered her rejection out loud.
And the hat heard her. “No? I sense great bravery in you. You would do well in Gryffindor. A place where nerve and valor is respected.”
Respect. Not likely, with that crowd of bootlickers. “Not Gryffindor,” Faith said with as much authority as she could muster in a barely audible plea. She wasn’t smart, so Ravenclaw was out. Her eyes sought out the other two Houses. There! Students who seemed bored with the sorting. Who were chatting with a few First Years who’d approved of Faith’s argument on the stairs. She squinted at the banner. “Slytherin!”
“Yeeesss,” the hat replied. “I suppose that would that would suit. You are not pure-born; however, you could rise to greatness…”
Faith didn’t want to hear anymore. Greatness? Faith wanted to get through her days at Hogwarts without getting the shit kicked out of her. She wanted to take off the hat and slide off the damned stool. “Slytherin,” she announced with more force and volume.
The hat remained stubbornly silent for several second. “Slytherin!” it finally bleated – and Faith sat straighter on the stool as cheers and smile broke out for her from the students at the Slytherin tables.