Chapter 2: The Sorting

The train slowed right down and finally stopped. People pushed their way toward the door and out on to a tiny, dark platform. Harry shivered in the cold night air. Then a lamp came bobbing over the heads of the students, and Harry heard a familiar voice, "Firs' years! Firs' years over here! All right there, Harry?"

Hagrid's big hairy face beamed over the sea of heads.

"C'mon, follow me," Hagrid continued, "any more firs' years? Mind yer step, now! Firs' years follow me!"

Slipping and stumbling, they followed Hagrid down what seemed to be a steep, narrow path. It was so dark on either side of them that Harry thought there must be thick trees there. Nobody spoke much. Neville, the boy who kept losing his toad, sniffed once or twice.

"Ye' all get yer firs' sight o' Hogwarts in a sec," Hagrid called over his shoulder, "jus' round this bend here."

There was a loud "Oooooh!"

The narrow path had opened suddenly onto the edge of a great black take. Perched atop a high mountain on the other side, its windows sparkling in the starry sky, was a vast castle with many turrets and towers.

"No more'n four to a boat!" Hagrid called, pointing to a fleet of little boats sitting in the water by the shore. Harry and Ron were followed into their boat by Neville, John Constantine, and Hermione.

"Everyone in?" shouted Hagrid, who had a boat to himself, "Right then… FORWARD!"

And the fleet of little boats moved off all at once, gliding across the lake, which was as smooth as glass. Everyone was silent, staring up at the great castle overhead. It towered over them as they sailed nearer and nearer to the cliff on which it stood.

"Heads down!" yelled Hagrid as the first boats reached the cliff; they all bent their heads and the little boats carried them through a curtain of ivy that hid a wide opening in the cliff face. They were carried along a dark tunnel, which seemed to be taking them right underneath the castle, until they reached a kind of underground harbor, where they clambered out onto rocks and pebbles.

"Oy, you there! Is this your toad?" said Hagrid, who was checking the boats as people climbed out of them.

"Trevor!" cried Neville blissfully, holding out his hands. Then they clambered up a passageway in the rock after Hagrid's lamp, coming out at last onto smooth, damp grass right in the shadow of the castle.

They walked up a flight of stone steps and crowded around the huge, Oak front door.

"Everyone here?" Hagrid called out making one last check, "You there, still got yer toad?"

Hagrid raised a gigantic fist and knocked three times on the castle door. The door swung open at once. A tall, black-haired witch in emerald-green robes stood there. She had a very stern face and Harry's first thought was that this was not someone to cross.

"The firs' years, Professor McGonagall," said Hagrid.

"Thank you, Hagrid," Professor McGonagall said kindly without changing her expression, "I will take them from here."

She pulled the door wide. The entrance hall was so big you could have fit the whole of the Dursleys' house in it. The stone walls were lit with flaming torches like the ones at Gringotts, the ceiling was too high to make out, and a magnificent marble staircase facing them led to the upper floors.

They followed Professor McGonagall across the flagged stone floor. Harry could hear the drone of hundreds of voices from a doorway to the right, the rest of the school must already be here, but Professor McGonagall showed the first years into a small, empty chamber off the hall. They crowded in, standing rather closer together than they would usually have done, peering about nervously.

"Welcome to Hogwarts," said Professor McGonagall. "The start-of-term banquet will begin shortly, but before you take your seats in the Great Hall, you will be sorted into your houses. The Sorting is a very important ceremony because, while you are here, your house will be something like your family within Hogwarts. You will have classes with the rest of your house, sleep in your house dormitory, and spend free time in your house common room."

"The four houses are called Gryffindor, Hufflepuff, Ravenclaw, and Slytherin," Professor McGonagall continued, "Each house has its own noble history and each has produced outstanding witches and wizards. While you are at Hogwarts, your triumphs will earn your house points, while any rule breaking will lose house points. At the end of the year, the house with the most points is awarded the house cup, a great honor. I hope 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," Professor McGonagall finished, "I suggest you all smarten yourselves up as much as 91 you can while you are waiting."

Her eyes lingered for a moment on Neville's cloak, which was fastened under his left ear, and on Ron's smudged nose. Harry nervously tried to flatten his hair.

"I shall return when we are ready for you," said Professor McGonagall. "Please wait quietly."

She left the chamber. Harry swallowed.

"How exactly do they sort us into houses?" he asked Ron.

"Some sort of test, I think," Ron replied, "Fred said it hurts a lot, but I think he was joking."

Harry's heart gave a horrible jolt. A test? In front of the whole school? But he didn't know any magic yet - what on earth would he have to do? He hadn't expected something like this the moment they arrived. He looked around anxiously and saw that everyone else looked terrified, too. No one was talking much except Hermione Granger, who was whispering very fast about all the spells she'd learned and wondering which one she'd need. Harry tried hard not to listen to her. He'd never been more nervous, never, not even when he'd had to take a school report home to the Dursleys saying that he'd somehow turned his teacher's wig blue. He kept his eyes fixed on the door. Any second now, Professor McGonagall would come back and lead him to his doom.

Then something happened that made him jump about a foot in the air, several people behind him screamed.

"What the-" Harry gasped when he saw what they were screaming about. So did the people around him. About twenty ghosts had just streamed through the back wall. Pearly-white and slightly transparent, they glided across the room talking to one another and hardly glancing at the first years. They seemed to be arguing. What looked like a fat little monk was saying, "Forgive and forget, I say, we ought to give him a second chance-"

"My dear Friar, haven't we given Peeves all the chances he deserves?" countered the other ghost, "He gives us all a bad name and you know, he's not really even a ghost… I say, what are you all doing here?"

A ghost wearing a ruff and tights had suddenly noticed the first years.

"We're here for the sorting," John spoke up as he stepped to the front, "Now let me ask you something, you spectral monsters. What the bloody hell is your business haunting a school?!"

"We are ghosts dear boy," said the one in the ruff and tights, "Our business is that we are the school ghosts. We have always been here since we died. Of course, staying is a choice."

"Don't you regret it?" asked Hermione, "I mean, it's got to be incredibly lonely."

"Sometimes my dear," the one in the ruff admitted, "Other times, we are glad cause we get to know that wizardkind survives long after our deaths."

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

"Move along now," said a sharp voice. "The Sorting Ceremony's about to start."

Professor McGonagall had returned. One by one, the ghosts floated away through the opposite wall.

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

Feeling oddly as though his legs had turned to lead, Harry got into line behind a boy with sandy hair, with Ron behind him, and they walked out of the chamber, back across the hall, and through a pair of double doors into the Great Hall.

Harry had never even imagined such a strange and splendid place. It was lit by thousands and thousands of candles that were floating in midair over four long tables, where the rest of the students were sitting. These tables were laid with glittering golden plates and goblets. At the top of the hall was another long table where the teachers were sitting. Professor McGonagall led the first years up here, so that they came to a halt in a line facing the other students, with the teachers behind them. The hundreds of faces staring at them looked like pale lanterns in the flickering candlelight. Dotted here and there among the students, the ghosts shone misty silver. Mainly to avoid all the staring eyes, Harry looked upward and saw a velvety black ceiling dotted with stars. He heard Hermione whisper, "Its bewitched to look like the sky outside. I read about it in Hogwarts, A History."

It was hard to believe there was a ceiling there at all, and that the Great Hall didn't simply open on to the heavens.

"Aye," Constantine agreed, "The sorting object is enchanted as well according to Hogwarts: A History."

"Do you know what the object is?" Harry asked.

"Don't know," Constantine shrugged, "But we're about to find out anyway."

Harry quickly looked down again as Professor McGonagall silently placed a four-legged stool in front of the first years. On top of the stool she put a pointed wizard's hat. This hat was patched and frayed and extremely dirty. Aunt Petunia wouldn't have let it in the house.

"I'm going to assume that's the sorting object," Constantine said when he too saw it.

Maybe they had to try and get a rabbit out of it, Harry thought wildly, that seemed the sort of thing, noticing that everyone in the hall was now staring at the hat, he stared at it, too. For a few seconds, there was complete silence. Then the hat twitched. A rip near the brim opened wide like a mouth, and the hat began to sing:

"Oh, you may not think I'm pretty,

But don't judge on what you see,

I'll eat myself if you can find

A smarter hat than me.

You can keep your bowlers black,

Your top hats sleek and tall,

For I'm the Hogwarts Sorting Hat

And I can cap them all.

There's nothing hidden in your head

The Sorting Hat can't see,

So try me on and I will tell you

Where you ought to be.

You might belong in Gryffindor,

Where dwell the brave at heart,

Their daring, nerve, and chivalry Set Gryffindors apart;

You might belong in Hufflepuff,

Where they are just and loyal,

Those patient Hufflepuffs are true And unafraid of toil;

Or yet in wise old Ravenclaw,

If you've a ready mind,

Where those of wit and learning,

Will always find their kind;

Or perhaps in Slytherin

You'll make your real friends,

Those cunning folk use any means

To achieve their ends.

So put me on! Don't be afraid!

And don't get in a flap!

You're in safe hands (though I have none)

For I'm a Thinking Cap!"

The whole hall burst into applause as the hat finished its song. It bowed to each of the four tables and then became quite still again.

"So we've just got to try on the hat!" Ron whispered to Harry, "I'll kill Fred, he was going on about wrestling a troll."

Harry smiled weakly. Yes, trying on the hat was a lot better than having to do a spell, but he did wish they could have tried it on without everyone watching. The hat seemed to be asking rather a lot; Harry didn't feel brave or quick-witted or any of it at the moment. If only the hat had mentioned a house for people who felt a bit queasy, that would have been the one for him.

Professor McGonagall now stepped forward holding a long roll of parchment.

"When I call your name, you will put on the hat and sit on the stool to be sorted," she said. "Abbott, Hannah!"

A pink-faced girl with blonde pigtails stumbled out of line, put on the hat, which fell right down over her eyes, and sat down. A moment's pause…

"HUFFLEPUFF!" shouted the hat.

The table on the right cheered and clapped as Hannah went to sit down at the Hufflepuff table. Harry saw the ghost of the Fat Friar waving merrily at her.

"Bones, Susan!" McGonagall called out.

"HUFFLEPUFF!" shouted the hat again, and Susan scuttled off to sit next to Hannah.

"Boot, Terry!" McGonagall called.

"RAVENCLAW!" the hat yelled.

The table second from the left clapped this time; several Ravenclaws stood up to shake hands with Terry as he joined them.

"Brocklehurst, Mandy" went to Ravenclaw too, but "Brown, Lavender" became the first new Gryffindor, and the table on the far left exploded with cheers; Harry could see Ron's twin brothers catcalling.

"Bulstrode, Millicent" then became a Slytherin. Perhaps it was Harry's imagination, after all he'd heard about Slytherin, but he thought they looked like an unpleasant lot. He was starting to feel definitely sick now. He remembered being picked for teams during gym at his old school. He had always been last to be chosen, not because he was no good, but because no one wanted Dudley to think they liked him.

"Constantine, John!" McGonagall yelled.

John Constantine had a grim expression as he headed towards the hat, and it if at all possible it grew grimmer when he saw Draco Malfoy sneering knowingly.

"Not Slytherin," John said, "Anything but Slytherin."

"Are you sure?" the hat asked inside his head, "Everything in your mind just speaks Slytherin. You have bravery yes, very intelligent, loyal to a fault, but your knack for using any means to complete your goals far outweighs any of that."

"Not Slytherin," John said stubbornly.

"Very well," the hat responded, "In that case, it better be…"

"RAVENCLAW!" the hat yelled which gave John a bit of a headache.

John stood up as he removed the hat, and after he placed it down on the stool he headed next to the Ravenclaw table. He saw Malfoy with a scowl, and that brightened his day. He then sat down next to an older man with glasses to his right and and asian woman to his left.

He was congratulated, but he ignored them as he focused on the sorting ceremony.

"Chandler, Chas!" McGonagall called.

A kid that had a fair amount of muscles walked over to the sorting hat and after a minute of waiting the hat announced its decision.

"GRYFFINDOR!" the hat shouted.

John watched Chas walk over to the Gryffindor table and set down next to the Weasley twins.

"Finch-Fletchley, Justin!" McGonagall called.

"HUFFLEPUFF!" shouted the hat.

Sometimes, Harry noticed, the hat shouted out the house at once, but at others it took a little while to decide. "Finnigan, Seamus," the sandy-haired boy next to Harry in the line, sat on the stool for almost a whole minute before the hat declared him a Gryffindor.

"Faust, Felix," McGonagall called.

John narrowed his eyes as he saw a kid with an evil expression on his face walk up to the sorting hat, and just before it was about to touch his head it shouted "SLYTHERIN!"

"Granger, Hermione," McGonagall called attracting John's attention.

Hermione almost ran to the stool and jammed the hat eagerly on her head.

"GRYFFINDOR!" shouted the hat. Ron groaned.

A horrible thought struck Harry, as horrible thoughts always do when you're very nervous. What if he wasn't chosen at all? What if he just sat there with the hat over his eyes for ages, until Professor McGonagall jerked it off his head and said there had obviously been a mistake and he'd better get back on the train?

"Lester, Gary!" McGonagall called.

A shrimpy looking character that was scratching his arms and had obvious heroin needle marks all across his arm walked up to the sorting hat.

"Hufflepuff!" the hat called. John watched Gary Lester walk over to the Hufflepuff table and some of them looked to be lecturing him once they notices the needle marks on his skin.

When Neville Longbottom, the boy who kept losing his toad, was called, he fell over on his way to the stool. The hat took a long time to decide with Neville. When it finally shouted, "GRYFFINDOR," Neville ran off still wearing it, and had to jog back amid gales of laughter to give it to "MacDougal, Morag."

Malfoy swaggered forward when his name was called and got his wish at once: the hat had barely touched his head when it screamed, "SLYTHERIN!"

Malfoy went to join his friends Crabbe and Goyle, looking pleased with himself.

"Marie, Anne!" McGonagall called.

John couldn't take his eyes off of the brunette as she walked up to the hat. Unlike the others, she just captivated him. Her beauty was acting like a magnet does to metal. He didn't even hear the hat call out her house, but noticed that she was heading to his table once she had been sorted. She saw him looking at her as she passed by his seat. He didn't stop staring till she was out of his line of sight which was at the furthest point from his seat.

There weren't many people left now, "Moon" "Nott" "Parkinson" then a pair of twin girls, "Patil" and "Patil" then "Perks, Sally-Anne" and then, at last, "Potter, Harry!"

As Harry stepped forward, whispers suddenly broke out like little hissing fires all over the hall.

"Potter, did she say?"

"The Harry Potter?"

The last thing Harry saw before the hat dropped over his eyes was the hall full of people craning to get a good look at him. Next second he was looking at the black inside of the hat. He waited.

John and everyone else looked at the hat patiently as it seemed to be taking a long time.

"What house do you think he's going to get?" the asian woman next to John asked.

"Hundred Galleons says he's going to get into Gryffindor," John said.

"I'll take those odds," the older man next to John said, "Prepare to lose your money though."

"Since I've actually spent some time with the wanker," Constantine reasoned, "I'd say I have more of a chance of being right about him."

"Quiet!" hissed the Prefect, "No gambling at school!"

At that point the hat broke the silence.

"GRYFFINDOR!" the hat yelled.

John watched as Harry took off the hat and walked shakily toward the Gryffindor table. He was so relieved to have been chosen and not put in Slytherin, he hardly noticed that he was getting the loudest cheer yet. Percy the Prefect got up and shook his hand vigorously, while the Weasley twins yelled, "We got Potter! We got Potter!" Harry sat down opposite the ghost in the ruff he'd seen earlier. The ghost patted his arm, giving Harry the sudden, horrible feeling he'd just plunged it into a bucket of ice-cold water.

He could see the High Table properly now. At the end nearest him sat Hagrid, who caught his eye and gave him the thumbs up. Harry grinned back. And there, in the center of the High Table, in a large gold chair, sat Albus Dumbledore. Harry recognized him at once from the card he'd gotten out of the Chocolate Frog on the train. Dumbledore's silver hair was the only thing in the whole hall that shone as brightly as the ghosts. Harry spotted Professor Quirrell too, the nervous young man from the Leaky Cauldron. He was looking very peculiar in a large purple turban.

And now there were only three people left to be sorted. "Thomas, Dean," a Black boy even taller than Ron, joined Harry at the Gryffindor table. "Turpin, Lisa," became a Ravenclaw and then it was Ron's turn. He was pale green by now. Harry crossed his fingers under the table and a second later the hat had shouted, "GRYFFINDOR!"

Harry clapped loudly with the rest as Ron collapsed into the chair next to him.

"Well done, Ron, excellent," said Percy Weasley pompously across Harry as "Zabini, Blaise," was made a Slytherin. Professor McGonagall rolled up her scroll and took the Sorting Hat away.

John and Harry looked down at their empty gold plates unknowingly in unison. They had only just realized how hungry they were. The pumpkin pasties and magic pizza seemed ages ago. Albus Dumbledore had gotten to his feet. He was beaming at the students, his arms opened wide, as if nothing could have pleased him more than to see them all there.

"Welcome," he said, "Welcome to a new year at Hogwarts! Before we begin our banquet, I would like to say a few words. And here they are. Nitwit! Blubber! Oddment! Tweak!"

"Thank you!" Dumbledore said before he sat down.

"Geezer's a bit mad isn't he," snorted Constantine as everyone clapped and cheered.

"Mad? said the older man next to him airily. "He's a genius! Best wizard in the world! But he is a bit mad, yes. Potatoes, John?"

John's mouth fell open. The dishes in front of him were now piled with food. It's not so much the magic, but the volume of food. He had never seen so many things he liked to eat on one table: roast beef, roast chicken, pork chops and lamb chops, sausages, bacon and steak, boiled potatoes, roast potatoes, fries, Yorkshire pudding, peas, carrots, gravy, ketchup, and, for some strange reason, peppermint humbugs.

John had never exactly starved during his life as a homeless person, but he'd never been able to eat as much as he liked. Not even his magic trick could satisfy him. As much of the magical food he ate, he was always hungry. At a nutritional value that is. At the Gryffindor table, Harry piled his plate with a bit of everything except the peppermints and began to eat. It was all delicious.

"That does look good," said the ghost in the ruff sadly, watching Harry cut up his steak.

"Can't you-" began Harry sympathetically and confused.

"I haven't eaten for nearly four hundred years," said the ghost. "I don't need to, of course, but one does miss it. I don't think I've introduced myself? Sir Nicholas de Mimsy-Porpington at your service. Resident ghost of Gryffindor Tower."

"I know who you are!" said Ron suddenly, "My brothers told me about you… you're Nearly Headless Nick!"

"I would prefer you to call me Sir Nicholas de Mimsy…" the ghost began stiffly, but sandy-haired Seamus Finnigan interrupted.

"Nearly Headless?" Seamus asked skeptically, "How can you be nearly headless?"

Sir Nicholas looked extremely miffed, as if their little chat wasn't going at all the way he wanted.

"Like this," he said irritably. He seized his left ear and pulled. His whole head swung off his neck and fell onto his shoulder as if it was on a hinge. Someone had obviously tried to behead him, but not done it properly. Looking pleased at the stunned looks on their faces, Nearly Headless Nick flipped his head back onto his neck, coughed, and said, "So… new Gryffindors! I hope you're going to help us win the house championship this year? Gryffindors have never gone so long without winning. Slytherins have got the cup six years in a row! The Bloody Baron's becoming almost unbearable… he's the Slytherin ghost."

Harry looked over at the Slytherin table and saw a horrible ghost sitting there, with blank staring eyes, a gaunt face, and robes stained with silver blood. He was right next to Malfoy who, Harry was pleased to see, didn't look too pleased with the seating arrangements.

"How did he get covered in blood?" asked Seamus with great interest.

"I've never asked," said Nearly Headless Nick delicately.

When everyone had eaten as much as they could, the remains of the food faded from the plates, leaving them sparkling clean as before. A moment later the desserts appeared. Blocks of ice cream in every flavor you could think of, apple pies, treacle tarts, chocolate eclairs and jam doughnuts, trifle, strawberries, Jell-O, rice pudding…

Back at the Ravenclaw table, John helped himself to a treacle tart, the talk turned to their families. He really just tuned them out because he didn't really care, however he was forced into the conversation.

"So John," asked the older man as he put some jello into his mouth, "What about your family?"

"Not much to say," Constantine shrugged avoiding the question, "Never did get your name anyway. What is it?"

"It's Sitchie Simpson," Ritchie answered, "I'm a third year. Now, answer the question."

"Dad's a preacher and mum was a witch," Constantine said bluntly, "I'd rather not talk about my sister. Might not go well with some folk here."

"Oof," Ritchie said understandingly, "Well, I'm muggle-born myself. They're teachers at Oxford. If I ever teach, I'd prefer to do it in America. At least there I don't have to have a license to watch tv."

With Harry…

Harry listened with great interest as his schoolmates told of their families and whatnot. He then turned his full attention to Ron when he spoke up.

"What about you, Neville?" said Ron.

"Well, my gran brought me up and she's a witch," said Neville, "but the family thought I was all Muggle for ages. My Great Uncle Algie kept trying to catch me off my guard and force some magic out of me...he pushed me off the end of Blackpool pier once, I nearly drowned, but nothing happened until I was eight. Great Uncle Algie came round for dinner, and he was hanging me out of an upstairs window by the ankles when my Great Auntie Enid offered him a meringue and he accidentally let go. But I bounced… all the way down the garden and into the road. They were all really pleased, Gran was crying, she was so happy. And you should have seen their faces when I got in here… they thought I might not be magic enough to come, you see. Great Uncle Algie was so pleased he bought me my toad."

On Harry's other side, Percy Weasley and Hermione were talking about lessons.

"I do hope they start right away," Hermione said, "there's so much to learn, I'm particularly interested in Transfiguration, you know, turning something into something else, of course, it's supposed to be very difficult-"

"You'll be starting small," Percy interrupted her, "just matches into needles and that sort of thing…"

Harry and John, who were starting to feel warm and sleepy, looked up at the High Table again once again in unison. Hagrid was drinking deeply from his goblet. Professor McGonagall was talking to Professor Dumbledore. Professor Quirrell, in his absurd turban, was talking to a teacher with greasy black hair, a hooked nose, and sallow skin. It happened very suddenly. The hook-nosed teacher looked past Quirrell's turban straight into Harry's eyes… and a sharp, hot pain shot across the scar on Harry's forehead.

"Ouch!" Harry clapped a hand to his head.

"What is it?" asked Percy concerned for himself only.

"N-nothing," Harry lied.

The pain had gone as quickly as it had come. Harder to shake off was the feeling Harry had gotten from the teacher's look… a feeling that he didn't like Harry at all.

"Who's that teacher talking to Professor Quirrell?" he asked Percy.

"Oh, you know Quirrell already, do you?" Percy replied, "No wonder he's looking so nervous, that's Professor Snape. He teaches Potions, but he doesn't want to… everyone knows he's after Quirrell's job. Knows an awful lot about the Dark Arts, Snape."

Harry watched Snape for a while, but Snape didn't look at him again.

Unlike Harry, John got a bad vibe off of Quirrell as he watched him talk with the pale faced oily haired man.

"Oi, Ritchie," John said as he picked up a gummy worm, "Who is turban boy over there?"

"That is Professor Quirrell," Ritchie replied as he sipped on a vanilla shake, "He teaches Defense Against the Dark Arts, why do you ask?"

"I just have a bad feeling whenever I look at him is all," Constantine replied.

As John was chewing his last handful of gummies, the desserts too disappeared. Professor Dumbledore got to his feet again stopping any more chances of conversation. The hall fell silent.

"Ahern… just a few more words now that we are all fed and watered," Dumbledore said, "I have a few start-of-term notices to give you."

"Better not be bippity boppity boo," John muttered rolling his eyes, "I'm too tired for pointless gibberish."

"First years should note that the forest on the grounds is forbidden to all pupils," Dumbledore said, "And a few of our older students would do well to remember that as well."

Dumbledore's twinkling eyes flashed in the direction of the Weasley twins.

"I have also been asked by Mr. Filch," Dumbledore continued, "the caretaker, to remind you all that no magic should be used between classes in the corridors."

"Quidditch trials will be held in the second week of the term," Dumbledore continued, "Anyone interested in playing for their house teams should contact Madam Hooch."

"And finally, I must tell you that this year, the third-floor corridor on the right-hand side is out of bounds to everyone who does not wish to die a very painful death," Dumbledore finished.

"Looks like I've found two places to put on my to do list," Constantine grinned.

"You do know that if you do go into those areas there are chances of being expelled," Ritchie warned John.

"Oh, come on Ritchie," John grinned, "What's life without a little risk, besides you can't tell me that you're not itching to know."

"Everyone knows there are dangerous beasts in the Forbidden Forest!" Ritchie countered.

"What about the third-floor corridor on the right hand side?" John asked, "I doubt that they'd tell the students that."

"They wouldn't," the Ravenclaw prefect said, "They'd normally tell the Prefects though, so I have to agree it is enticing to go on such an adventure. However, rules are rules."

"And now, before we go to bed, let us sing the school song!" cried Dumbledore. John noticed that the other teachers' smiles had become rather fixed.

Dumbledore gave his wand a little flick, as if he was trying to get a fly off the end, and a long golden ribbon flew out of it, which rose high above the tables and twisted itself, snakelike, into words.

"No," Constantine said decisively, "I'm not singing this stupid song."

"Everyone pick their favorite tune," said Dumbledore, ""and off we go!" And the school bellowed:

"Hogwarts, Hogwarts, Hoggy Warty Hogwarts,

Teach us something please,

Whether we be old and bald

Or young with scabby knees,

Our heads could do with filling

With some interesting stuff,

For now they're bare and full of air,

Dead flies and bits of fluff,

So teach us things worth knowing,

Bring back what we've forgot,

Just do your best, we'll do the rest,

And learn until our brains all rot.

Everybody finished the song at different times. At last, only the Weasley twins were left singing along to a very slow funeral march. Dumbledore conducted their last few lines with his wand and when they had finished, he was one of those who clapped loudest. John was the only one that had plugged his ears with his fingers.

"Ah, music," he said, wiping his eyes when the clapping had subsided, "A magic beyond all we do here! And now, bedtime. Off you trot!"

"Music ain't magic," John said irritably, "It's just really annoying."

The Ravenclaw first years followed the prefect now known as Robert Hilliar through the chattering crowds, out of the Great Hall, and up the marble staircase. John's legs were like lead again, but only because he was so tired and full of food. He was too sleepy even to be annoyed that the people in the portraits along the corridors whispered and pointed as they passed, or that twice Robert led them through doorways hidden behind sliding panels and hanging tapestries. They climbed more staircases, yawning and dragging their feet, and John was just wondering how much farther they had to go when they came to a sudden halt.

A bundle of walking sticks was floating in midair ahead of them, and as Robert took a step toward them they started throwing themselves at him.

"Peeves," Robert whispered to the first years, "A poltergeist."

He raised his voice, "Peeves… show yourself."

A loud, rude sound, like the air being let out of a balloon, answered. John in irritation stepped forward.

"John get back," Robert ordered, "Peeves is dangerous."

"Oh don't you worry Robert," John said as he looked around, "This ain't my first poltergeist."

"Not his first poltergeist?" asked several of the Ravenclaws.

"Peeves is it?" John asked, "Why don't you come down here and face me yourself instead of sending tricks my way like a bloody coward?"

There was a pop, and a little man with wicked, dark eyes and a wide mouth appeared, floating cross-legged in the air, clutching the walking sticks.

"Oooooooh!" he said, with an evil cackle. "Ickle Firsties! What fun!"

He swooped suddenly at them. They all ducked.

"What do you want?!" John demanded as he held his arms to the side, "Other than to generally cause mayhem and anger everyone around you."

"What does Peeves want?" Peeves asked genuinely shocked that someone asked him that, "Peeves wants… Peeves doesn't know what he wants."

"Then why don't you go figure that out mate," John advised, "However, if its a danger to the people at this school I'll have to exorcise you from the castle."

As soon as Peeves left everyone looked at John. some with admiration, some with irritation, and others just looked at him.

"That," Robert said, "was reckless. You could've gotten yourself seriously injured."

"I told you," John said, "That wasn't my first poltergeist."

"Just who are you?" Robert asked what everyone was thinking.

"John Constantine," John replied, "Demonologist, Exorcist in training, and, as of tomorrow, wizard."

"You want to watch out for Peeves," said Robert to the other students, as they set off again. "The Bloody Baron's the only one who can control him, he won't even listen to us prefects. Actually, I guess he will listen to John here… anyway, here we are."

They stopped in front of a door without a doorknob or keyhole, but a bronze knocker in the shape of an eagle.

"Unlike the other common rooms this door requires one to answer questions instead of using passwords," Robert explained as he turned to the first years, "If you answer incorrectly, you'll have to wait till someone else gets it right. Observe."

"Under pressure is the only way I work…" the knocker asked, "and by myself is the only way I hurt… What am I?"

"The answer is," Robert replied, "A diamond."

With that, the door opened revealing a room. It is a wide, circular room with a midnight blue carpet, arched windows hung with blue and bronze silks, and a domed ceiling painted with stars. During the day, Ravenclaw students have an excellent view of the school grounds, including the lake, Forbidden Forest, Quidditch pitch, Herbology gardens and the surrounding mountains. The room is furnished with tables, chairs, and bookcases; and by the door leading up to the dormitories stands a tall statue of Rowena Ravenclaw made of white marble.

Robert directed the girls through one door to their dormitory and the boys through another. At the top of a spiral staircase, they were obviously in one of the towers, they found their beds at last. Five four-posters hung with deep blue, velvet curtains. Their trunks had already been brought up. Too tired to talk much, they pulled on their pajamas and fell into bed. John was just too tired to speak, and conked out the second he hit his bed.