Ruby Runcorn was not very excited to go to Hogwarts.

"Firs' years!"

This whole insane situation went against everything she learned from the day she moved into the Pastor's house. The Pastor always made sure to tell her that Capes were satanic beings every time the King's Men or Protectorate featured in the newspaper. Whenever she accidentally used her power, he would lock her in a room until whatever she had done was resolved by the sworn-to-silence cleaning team, and would then make her go to confession and admit to worshipping the Devil. Not once in all five years she lived with the Pastor did ever she consider using her power, Lord forbid, on purpose. To train and learn to hone that power was not only blasphemous, but ridiculous.

"Firs' years over here! All right there, Harry?"

Of course, the choice was totally out of her hands the moment she'd seen the green-robed lady waiting for her with a letter outside the Pastor's office. She had cried that day, not out of gratitude, but out of fear. If using her power accidentally got her sent to confession, then it followed that using it on purpose would send her straight to Hell.

"C'mon, follow me - any more firs' years?" bellowed the extremely large, hairy man with the lamp. "Mind yer step, now! Firs' years follow me!"

Shivering in the dark, Ruby followed behind the other first years down a steep, dark, narrow path. Once or twice, she stumbled a bit, but caught herself before actually tripping. Her glasses did not reveal much of the path, especially when the only light source was the one held by the man much further in front.

"Ye' all get yer firs' sight o' Hogwarts in a sec," he bellowed, "jus' round this bend here."

The kids up in front gave a loud "Oooooh!" and everyone behind them started to rush forward and see what all the fuss was about.

Despite her initial lack of enthusiasm, Ruby joined the rest of the kids in awe when the path opened up to reveal a beautiful black lake larger than any she'd seen in her life. An expansive castle, turrets and towers poking out of every wall, was perched on a mountain on the other shore.

The man interrupted Ruby's train of thought by pointing a gigantic hand at a row of boats bobbing in the water near the shore.

"No more'n four to a boat!" he yelled. Ruby silently followed behind the other kids, joining three others she had never met before. "Everyone in? Right then - FORWARD!"

As soon as he called out, every boat shot across the surface of the lake, leaving nary a ripple as they travelled. No one dared to speak, totally enthralled by the sight of the huge castle towering over them. Its windows glittered in the darkness.

The boats approached an opening in a cliff on the other shore, and the hairy man shouted for everyone to keep their heads down.

The boats took the children through an underground tunnel that went right underneath the castle. It opened up to reveal a small underground cove, and the kids all scrambled out until the trip was momentarily halted by their escort discovering a toad left in one of the boats. The toad hastily returned to its owner, Ruby followed everyone else out up a passageway leading to the front door of the castle.

"Everyone here? You there, still got yer toad?" confirmed the man. Seemingly happy with whatever silent answer was given, he raised his fist and knocked on the oak door three times, revealing the same woman who had visited the Pastor's home only a few short weeks ago.

"The firs' years, Professor McGonagall," said the man.

"Thank you Hagrid. I will take them from here," responded McGonagall.

The man, who Ruby now knew as Hagrid, stomped in the opposite direction of the children as McGonagall opened the door wide. The entrance hall alone was bigger than any single room Ruby had ever seen, with torches lining the stone walls and a ceiling that gave her slight vertigo just to look at.

Luckily for Ruby's incoming nausea, they did not stay there for very long. Professor McGonagall marched them over to a small side chamber, passing by a doorway with voices coming out of it. Almost everyone packed themselves together tightly to hear the next words she would say with nervous eagerness.

Ruby, for her part, was too busy internally panicking able to pay attention to McGonagall's speech. She could only catch the barest information about the four Houses and the tournament they participated in.

She managed to fully focus in time to hear McGonagall finish up her speech: "...each of you will be a credit to whichever house becomes yours.

"The Sorting Ceremony will take place in a few minutes in front of the rest of the school. I suggest you all smarten yourselves up as much as you can while you are waiting."

The professor glanced at some of the students in particular, then continued. "I shall return when we are ready for you," she said. "Please wait quietly."

She left the chamber, leaving Ruby only to her own thoughts. Most of the others looked terrified, which was reassuring in an odd way. One girl in front was whispering something Ruby couldn't make out.

Gryffindor, Hufflepuff, Ravenclaw, and Slytherin. "What's the difference between the houses?" she wondered aloud.

"Well, I heard that Slytherin are the bad guys," responded a girl standing next to her. It was Lisa Turpin, one of the people she had shared a compartment with on the Hogwarts Express.

"Bad guys?" Ruby was honestly shocked.

"Yeah. Rumoured highest turnout of Dark Wizards of any House, their founder was a loony who caused a civil war within Hogwarts, and, I mean, come on. Snake imagery? If you wanted to be more classically evil, the only thing you could have done was put little devil ears on the House Animal," stated Lisa casually, wagging her pointer fingers behind her head to accentuate her words.

Ruby swallowed. She had agreed to come to Hogwarts for three reasons: to learn to control her powers, her tuition had already been paid, and because McGonagall had repeatedly assured her no Satanic worship occurred within the halls of the castle. This "Slytherin house," on the other hand...

"Do you think you go to Hell if you're in Slytherin?" asked Ruby, barely a whisper.

Lisa turned to make full eye contact with Ruby. "Oh, I know you do."

Ruby's eyes brimmed with tears. This was not what she was promised. A whole group of Satan-worshippers at Hogwarts, almost a quarter of the school? Lisa was saying something else, but Ruby had stopped listening by then.

No matter what, decided Ruby, she would not be sorted into Slytherin.

Immediately after she resolved herself to this new goal, about twenty pale-white figures floated above her head. She screamed. So did a few kids around her. Were these ghosts? If these godless people performed true necromancy, then they were sinners nearly beyond repentance.

The satanic spirits argued amongst themselves until one suddenly took notice of the small children standing below them.

"I say, what are you all doing here?"

Nobody answered the deceased man wearing a ruff and tights.

"New students!" said one, smiling in a way Ruby hoped wasn't a sign it was about to eat her soul. "About to be Sorted, I suppose?"

A few of the more courageous nodded silently.

"Hope to see you in Hufflepuff!" it said. "My old house, you know."

The spirit was interrupted by a familiar voice. "Move along now. The Sorting Ceremony's about to start."

The spirits flew through the opposite wall, and when they were all gone Ruby let out a breath she had only been barely aware she had been holding. It really did sound like they were ghosts, she worried.

"Now, form a line," Professor McGonagall told the first years, "and follow me."

Obediently, the students did as they were told. Ruby was behind the boy who had lost his toad earlier. They walked out of the side room, back through the hallway, and into the double doors they had passed earlier.

The Great Hall was certainly deserving of the name. The room's main source of light was thousands of candles hovering in midair, spread somewhat randomly above the room. Four extremely long tables housed hundreds of students, who stared at the first years with something like hunger. The front of the room featured a long table, where people Ruby assumed were some form of clergy sat. McGonagall led the first years down the middle aisle, so they were roughly spread out in front of the clergymen.

The room seemed to have no ceiling at all, and instead only stretch to the stars.

Once everyone was in place, McGonagall set a four-legged stool down in front of the new students. On top was an ancient-looking wizard's hat. No self-respecting member of the clergy would wear something like that, thought Ruby, it's much too dirty. Even a Cape would hesitate before donning something like that.

Of course, that was the moment it opened its mouth and began to sing.

Ruby could only stare wide-eyed as the talking hat sang a song about the differences between the houses. The Gryffindors were brave, Hufflepuffs loyal, Ravenclaws wise, and... Cunning, the hat had called the Slytherins. Wasn't that what the Serpent was said to have been? It used Eve as a way to meet its ends, to tempt Humanity to sinfulness.

This only confirmed Ruby's suspicions. If you went to Slytherin, you went to Hell. Truly, it was lucky Lisa had warned her. Now, she knew what to do.

Professor McGonagall held up a long roll of parchment and invited up "Abbot, Hannah!" to sit on the stool and put on the hat. After only a moment's pause-

"HUFFLEPUFF!" the hat shouted. Hannah took a seat with her new fellows.

This continued on for some time. "Bones, Susan" joined Hannah in Hufflepuff, "Boot, Terry" was the first Ravenclaw, "Brocklehurst, Mandy" sat down next to Terry, and "Brown, Lavender" became the first Gryffindor, much to the joy of the far left side of the room.

The first Slytherin was "Bulstrode, Millicent!" Ruby could only shake her head in honest pity.

"Corner, Michael" became a Ravenclaw, joined shortly by "Cornfoot, Stephen!" "Crabbe, Vincent" became a Slytherin, and "Davis, Tracey" sat a respectful distance away at the same table. "Entwhistle, Kevin" and "Finch-Fletchley, Justin" became Hufflepuffs. "Finnigan, Seamus" was the second Gryffindor, "Goldstein, Anthony" sat with Ravenclaw, "Goyle, Gregory" joined the legion of Satanists, and so it went.

Ruby stopped paying attention after "Granger, Hermione" took more than a few minutes to get sorted. Instead, her mind began to loop a few thoughts over and over.

Gryffindor, Hufflepuff, or Ravenclaw. No exceptions.

I want to be a good Christian.

Gryffindor, Hufflepuff, Ravenclaw.

I don't want to go to hell.

Gryffindor, Hufflepuff, Ravenclaw.

McGonagall lied to me.

Gryffindor, Hufflepuff, Ravenclaw.

And so it went, until "Roper, Sophie" was placed in Hufflepuff. Ruby was startled out of her inner turmoil by McGonagall's loud shout of "Runcorn, Ruby!"

She walked to the stool.

Gryffindor, Hufflepuff, Ravenclaw.

She sat down.

Gryffindor, Hufflepuff, Ravenclaw.

She put on the hat.

Gryffindor, Hufflepuff, Ravenclaw.

"Oho," whispered a voice. "You're an interesting one. Born to a pair of Muggles, raised by your local Pastor. And yet, I sense something within you. A potential for… what? Oh, hello, there."

Gryffindor, Hufflepuff- what?

"Nice to meet you too. Us semi-sentient beings should really organize a convention of sorts, I never have any company. So, am I Sorting the two of you as one?"

Ruby was trying to understand what the Hat was talking about, but couldn't follow the train of logic.

"No? Haven't bonded fully, you say. Well, that's a shame. You see, you'd be a perfect Slytherin, if so."

...Slytherin? Oh, no.

"Truly cunning, hitching a ride in her brain. The mark of a true heir of Salazar, at least, in spirit. Do you do that to anyone else?"

Ruby had stopped listening to the Sorting Hat. "You'd be a perfect Slytherin?" she thought. No, that- that can't be true! I'm a good Christian!

"Ah, so you'll be bonding with her shortly, then? Well, it's been nice speaking, but I must get back to my job. Ms Runcorn, sorry for the delay, but I just had a lovely chat. Do you have a preference of House?"

Gryffindor, Hufflepuff, Ravenclaw, Slytherin?! Ruby's thoughts were becoming clouded with panic.

"That excited about Slytherin, hmm? Well, if I were to count you and your friend as one being, which I insist I do, as the point will be moot soon enough anyway, I would place you both in SLYTHERIN!"

Ruby could only dimly hear the hat shout the last word. Her eyes were wide with mortal panic.

I can't go to Slytherin.

I don't want to be-

This is exactly what I didn't want.

Gryffindor, Hufflepuff, Ravenclaw.

I don't want to go to Hell!

McGonagall lied to me.

I don't-

She saw something vast.

-want to be me!

The vision faded. Ruby couldn't care less about it's contents, because her anger at McGonagall suddenly consumed her. That witch had damned her to Hell, and Ruby was going to make her pay.

Following an instinct she didn't even know she had, something within her shifted, and suddenly, eleven-year-old Ruby Runcorn was a ferocious lion. Ignoring shocked whispers from around the room ("an animagus? At so young?"), she followed her newfound feral instincts and pounced.

It was only thanks to McGonagall's years of experience that she turned into a housecat right before Ruby could catch her. The tiny cat scurried away, and in her haste Ruby bumped her muzzle into the clergy's desk. One of the clergymen, a black-robed man with greasy hair, stood up, took his wand out of his robes, aimed it at the momentarily-stunned lion, and shouted, "Kilobel!"

A directed wave of sound so loud it was practically a physical force hit Ruby, bursting her sensitive eardrums and sending her tumbling into a few of the remaining, screaming first-years. Scrabbling to her feet, in her fear, all she could think was, I want to get away from that man.

And suddenly, she knew how. Following the same instinct as before, she shifted, and where moments before there was a large lion struggling to stay on its feet, a tiny badger began to scurry away from the front of the room as fast as possible. She weaved under the tables, causing a few screams from people who felt something quickly brush against their legs, and generally tried to stay out of sight of anyone who could hurt her.

The Great Hall wasn't safe. Where was safe? Not the Great Hall. Must leave the Great Hall, concluded Ruby. Unfortunately, someone must have deduced her path, because blocking the door was the same giant man who had brought the First Years into the castle. Ruby shrieked in her tiny little badger voice and all her suddenly consumed with have to get out have to get out have to get out oUT OUT!

Ruby frantically looked around for escape routes. The windows were probably locked, and any other doors were blocked. Was there a trapdoor in the ceiling, like certain buses had for emergencies?

Wait. There was no ceiling!

The tiny badger looked up and saw only freedom. I want to get out, she thought, and as she looked up Ruby felt her badger form shift into one far more aerodynamic.

Where there was once a tiny badger now stood a large brown eagle. She spread her wings, and pushed herself into the air. Ruby didn't allow herself time to even get to enjoy flying, because she could see the sky above her. It was so close, all she had to do was keep flying just a little bit more and-

The bird cracked her beak on the definitely still-there ceiling. As she hurtled back down, quickly losing consciousness, Dumbledore stood up from his seat and pointed his wand at her. Her momentum arrested in midair, turning back into a physically unharmed yet unconscious little eleven-year-old girl. The wizard slowly lowered her down before she landed softly on top of the Hufflepuff table.

"Merlin's beard," muttered Dumbledore, "a parahuman."