Dadycoool: Harry was described as scrawny for sure. I don't remember if canonically he was also shorter than average for his age. Either way, it was not enough for anybody besides Molly Weasley to comment on it out loud to him.

"Why Hufflepuff? She's so obviously a Ravenclaw!": Hazel's best fit was Hufflepuff rather than Ravenclaw for two reasons. First, Hufflepuff isn't just the house of loyalty, but of loyalty and HARD WORK. The latter is something Hazel excels at; this is, after all, the same girl who spent a year and a half exploring Europe just for scraps of knowledge about the magical world and has already resigned herself to spending as much as seven years adapting wizard spells to the magical tradition she created from first principles. Second, and as the Sorting Hat mentioned, a Ravenclaw would be content with "lesser knowledge" from reading all the books on a subject and calling their knowledge complete. Hazel will keep digging deeper and deeper until she reaches the true facts, even those that have been unknowingly or intentionally hidden.

"Was the Sorting Hat supposed to be this… creepy?": Yes, yes it was. I debated whether to change its nature and tone for this story, to the point that I restarted their discussion a few times to decide which one hit best. Ultimately I decided to go with this version because it fit better with the themes of this story so far, namely the discovery of lost and forgotten lore. The Sorting Hat just being a talking hat, yeah fine, we've seen that a thousand times before. The Sorting Hat being something fundamentally Other and everyone assuming it's just a hat? It pretending to be just a hat for its own reasons? Now THAT'S fun!

A dark snicker surrounded her. "Well, well, well. This is interesting. You wish to stay the course? You remain committed to the road before you? Then accept your fate, Hazel Potter. Become the lightning. Strike the tower. A home I doubt you will discover within these walls, but at least your resolve will remain hardened in—


Chapter 32
The Badgers

The Sorting Hat was lifted off Hazel's head, and for all that the students massed in front of her had fallen silent during her conversation with the Hat, their shock and surprise still slammed into her with enough psychic force that it physically pushed her backwards nearly off the stool. Applause started immediately afterwards, and she glanced up at McGonagall.

"Head over to your table, Miss Potter," she said with a strained, plastic smile. "A Hufflepuff? James and Lily's child, a Hufflepuff?! Merlin, he is no doubt rolling in his grave right now."

Hazel gave the woman a side-eyed glance before turning away so McGonagall would not see her frown. She was not sure just what McGonagall's connection to her parents was, but the witch had made no secret during their first meeting that she knew them well, or at least thought she did. Would her parents really have been that disappointed with her because of which House, which dormitory, she was put into of all things?

She could not help but think of just the previous day, when she sat in front of their graves and pondered how they would have felt were they alive to see her now. She assumed they would be proud of her because they were her parents, so they should be proud of her even if she was different. Not to mention that because they could not tell her their opinions and she had to assume, there was little reason to assume they would be disapproving. Was she wrong in making that assumption? Were her parents just as closed-minded as it seemed like so many people in this society were?

Morgan chirped reassuringly at her, and she reached up to brush her fingertips against his feathers as she stood up from the stool and started the short walk over to the table just to her right, the same one where the applause for her sorting had been loudest and Sally-Anne clapping even harder than the rest of her new housemates. You're right, she told him. Who cares whether she thinks they would be disappointed? This is the same woman who left me with Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon. She clearly is not a good judge of character, so why would she be any more correct about my parents' opinions?

Sally-Anne slid over to make room for her on the bench, and Hazel could not help but smile at the way the other girl was almost quivering with strained restraint. "This is wonderful! Just what I hoped would happen. I made a friend, and she's in my house, and everyone has been friendly so far. I-I'm glad we're both in Hufflepuff," the blonde told her with a wide smile of her own.

Shiny silvery movement flickered in the corner of her eye, and she turned her head to get a better look at the source. Another spirit was moving along the table, this one in the form of a man. It was hearty in build with the top of its head either balding or shaved clean to leave a ring of curly grey hair behind. It gave her a wide smile and moved closer, but a moment later its expression shifted to one that was almost disappointed. The spirit turned away and drifted back in the opposite direction.

Letting out a tiny sigh, Hazel forced herself to relax, and she was surprised when that also meant releasing her death-grip on the bench beneath her. When had she grabbed it in the first place? Her eyes swept over the room as a whole, seeking similar silver glows, and they widened when she finally looked up. In addition to the four ghosts that confined themselves to the tables on the floor, she would guess that there were at least another dozen spirits floating in the air. Was this all of them, or were there even more waiting elsewhere in this enormous castle?

And if they were that common, was she going to be startled and frightened every time she crossed one?

She had not always been so cautious around spirits. If she had, she never would have obtained the fairy lens she still wore over her right eye. Yet for all that she knew there were friendly spirits – the one in Shervage Wood as well as the nature spirit in Compiègne Forest being fantastic examples – she had also run into several that were not. The hungry ghosts in de Rais's tower, the vengeful spirit in the scoured clearing, not to mention a particularly insistent rusalka she made sure she stayed very far away from in Yugoslavia.

It was difficult to know from first sight which spirits were friendly and which were not, but as she considered what she had seen and experienced in the last couple of years, she could not help but notice a pattern. The more closely a spirit, or its manifestations in the case of the scoured clearing, resembled a person, the more dangerous and aggressive it was.

Was that why she immediately had a moment of panic when these ghosts came close? Because her brain saw a humanoid spirit and immediately assumed it was dangerous? It would fit, she decided, and when she considered how nervous she felt with the attention of the entire school upon her, that would cause her anxiety to feed on itself into ever-increasing heights.

A gentle nudge to her elbow pulled her out of her musings, and she looked first at Sally-Anne and then to the front of the room when she realized everyone else was looking that same direction as well. One of the professors was standing up from a large golden chair that was shaped almost like a throne. He was an old man with a long white beard held in a braid that reached halfway down his chest and equally white hair stretching past his shoulders, and his robes shimmered with silver stars and moons over a field of midnight blue as he stretched out his arms wide. A hush fell over the students.

"Welcome!" the man she could only assume was the school's headmaster, whatever his name was, said in a voice that carried throughout the room. "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!"

While the rest of the school cheered, Hazel could only stare at him in complete bemusement. That was… what? The headmaster wore a little grin and ignored the irritated scowl McGonagall shot him when she sat down in the chair next to his, so she could only assume he was not unaware of how his nonsense words would be taken. A joke, then, perhaps. Directed at one person, or at the entire school, or what?

"Lamb chops, Hazel?"

She turned around at Sally-Anne's question only for her mouth to fall open. The platters and plates that covered the table had been empty, but somehow they were now filled with food to the point she was worried they would overflow. The lamb chops in Sally-Anne's hands. Steaks. Bacon. Steaming chicken. Roast beef. Potatoes of many kinds, boiled and fried and roasted and mashed. Yorkshire pudding and salads and bowls of all sorts of beans.

Hazel took one chop from the platter her… friend? Friendly acquaintance?… was still holding out to her, glancing up and down both directions of the table. There was more food visible here on this one table than she had eaten in the last three months, maybe even the last six. How long could the table bear its weight?!

It did not take long for her to pile food upon her own plate, prioritizing meats of all sorts as that had consistently proven to be the hardest things for her to haul around or obtain fresh on her travels. Grilled and boiled vegetables and a roll quickly filled the spaces between said meats, and when she realized no one else had touched them yet she grabbed a couple of peppermint humbugs as well for afters. Tearing off chunks of several foods, she moved them to her napkin and laid it out over her lap. Morgan needed no encouragement before he dropped off her shoulder and started eating as well.

The cacophony of mental voices continued to bear down on her, but the fact they they were no longer directed at her or any other specific person diminished the pressure behind them significantly. Unfortunately, with everyone's minds on different subjects it also meant that she could barely hear any one person's voice through the din. Just trying to parse the sheer noise was giving her a headache as though an icepick was being driven behind her eyes. Had she ever been in the midst of this many people, all of them packed this tightly together? She could not say she had been.

There had been precious few times in her life when she cursed her ability to hear others' thoughts and wished to be rid of it. This was rapidly becoming one of them.

On the positive side, the prolific food meant conversation was short and broken, mostly apparent friends catching up with each other about their summer holidays and some of her fellow first-years engaging in 'getting-to-know-you' small talk. As for the professors…

She leaned backwards a bit to look past the rest of the Hufflepuffs at the staff table. Her eyes slid over the adults, all of whom where likewise talking quietly amongst themselves or focusing on their own food. At the very end of the table where she could see were two men, one wearing a wide purple turban and green robes while the other was dressed in nothing but black. They actually looked like they were speaking even more quietly to each other than the rest of the staff—

A searing flash of pain crossed her throat, and Hazel started coughing violently.

The sound of her cough caught Sally-Anne's attention, and the other girl looked over at her with wide eyes as she leaned against the table. Morgan likewise twittered worriedly and looked up from his spot on her knee. "Hazel, are you okay? Oh no, I hope she isn't hurt already."

She waved the other girl's concern off as the coughs finally started settling. 'It's nothing. I think I just tried to swallow some food wrong.' She gave the chicken thigh she had been chewing a mild glare and resolved not to eat any more of it if it were going to cause her that much discomfort going down. It was drier than she liked her meat, anyway, and with all the food on the table it was not as if she had to eat it because it was this or nothing.

Her glowing words distracted other nearby students from their conversations, various confused questions running through their heads. "That's so weird… a neat trick," an older boy asked from several seats down. "I don't think I saw her wand at all. How did you learn it, and why? I wouldn't think the Girl-Who-Lived would be the kind of person who needed to draw attention to herself at every opportunity, but with that and her clothes, well…"

'Necessity,' she wrote back, answering his real question rather than the one he asked aloud. 'When you can't talk, you have to find other ways to get your point across.'

"You can't talk?" the boy asked, confusion filling his mind. "How could she not be able to talk? But if you can't talk, how would you cast spells? And that just makes her writing thing all the more confusing."

'I use magic differently than you,' was all she said in response before turning back to her food. Now was not the time to try explaining just how her mental constructs worked, especially when she did not know enough about how wizard magic worked even to begin making worthwhile analogies. She barely knew enough about the mechanics about her own magic, for that matter!

She had not forgotten her underlying goal, after all. If the library here happened to tell her how to get in touch with a school for druids, she would be gone from this place the very next day. Learning from other druids would progress her abilities faster than a hundred years experimenting on her own.

…Sadly, she expected that at this point the chances of that happening were slim to none. But considering they absolutely existed once upon a time but seemingly did not exist now, she had to wonder: what in the world happened?!

That thought, and other thoughts overlapping with it, curbed her appetite somewhat. The rest was likewise affected by a more mundane concern, namely her stomach being filled nearly to bursting. By the time she forced the last mouthful of food from her plate down her gullet, she closed her eyes to center herself through the wave of nausea that followed. She could not eat another bite if her life depended on it, or at least not without it all coming right back up. And yet there were people who were still eating! She almost wanted to know how they were managing it.

Sticking one of the humbugs she grabbed earlier into her mouth, she sucked on it for several minutes as everyone finished off their own meals. The remains of the food – and it was shocking how much food was left behind! If this was supposed to be dinner for another two meals, she would not be surprised at all – faded away like mist in the light of the sun, leaving only polished gold dishes behind.

A moment later, those platters filled themselves up with treacle and eclairs and gelatins and buckets of ice cream, and vomit rose in her throat and threatened to pour out of her mouth all over the table. How, in the name of anything that was holy, could anyone possibly eat any more?!

Hazel hastily waved off everything anyone offered her and closed her eyes so she would not have to look at it. If only she could do the same with her nose.

The last nooks and crannies in people's bellies had to have been crammed full of dessert when the sweets faded away in the same manner as the entrees, and the old headmaster rose to his feet again. He cleared his throat, the sound echoing loudly as every voice had fallen silent the moment he stood. "Now that we are all fed and watered, I have just a few start-of-term notices to give you.

"First years should note that the forest on the grounds is forbidden to all pupils. And a few of our older students would do well to remember that as well." At first Hazel thought he was giving a meaningful look at the table where she sat, but following the gazes of the rest of the Hufflepuffs it quickly became clear at he was instead focused on some people at the table between theirs and the nearest wall, the one beneath the banner of a lion. 'Weasleys', if she heard her dorm-mates' thoughts correctly.

"I have also been asked by Mr. Filch, 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. Anyone interested in playing for their House teams should contact Madam Hooch."

The headmaster paused, just long enough to draw further attention to him. "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."

Some people laughed, mostly the older students, but even that sounded forced and uncertain. Confusion rippled throughout the student body, everyone's thoughts worded differently and yet echoing the same sentiment.

"Painful death?!" Sally-Anne squeaked. "Why? Why not just close that hall or something if it's so dangerous?"

"I don't know," the older boy who asked her about her lack of speaking said. "This is unusual. Normally weird stuff starts happening later in the year, not right at the first feast. That's where the Muggle Studies classroom is, but I don't remember anything else down that hallway. There shouldn't be anything all that dangerous in the area. And while Professor Dumbledore rarely tells anybody anything useful, this is vague even for him.

"I'm Cedric, by the way. Cedric Diggory."

Sally-Anne introduced both of them, anxiety still eating away at her. Hazel, however, was curious about what he didn't say out loud. 'Do things like this happen often around here? Dangerous things?'

"I don't know about dangerous," chimed in another boy from further down the table, "but something strange is always going on in Hogwarts. Last year there was a massive school-wide prank war, although no one knows for sure who started it even if we are all pretty sure anyway. The year before that, the whole school got filled up with icebergs or something. Basically everything got frozen at one point or another, and you couldn't melt them. They had to go away on their own."

"You missed the strangest one," a girl sitting next to Diggory said with a grin. "My first year, everyone relived the same day in February over and over and over again. Well, not everyone; the professors had no idea what was going on. It drove everybody a little crazy, and the OWL and NEWT students were even more anxious than they had been already. It's a good thing that sorted itself out because I don't think anybody had any clue what to do to make it stop."

"That sounds… maybe not all that terrible," a boy from towards the other end of the table said.

"Maybe not now, but after weeks of the same lessons and everything again and again?" challenged the older girl. "We don't know how long we were stuck – can't know, really – but the Ravenclaws said that we must have lived that one day over again for at least three months."

If the older students were in such a sharing mood, Hazel suppose they wouldn't mind answering one of her questions. 'Why can't we go into the forest?' Forests and trees were some of her favorite places to be, so to hear that the massive forest right outside the school was off-limits was frustrating. If there was not an excellent reason for it, she knew which school rule was going to be broken almost immediately.

"It's a dangerous place," Diggory said. "There are all sorts of monsters that are said to live there, like trolls and werewolves. Why the Gryffindors would want to go in there, I will never understand."

Her ears perked up at that. Trolls she has never met, but news that there might be a commune of werewolves nearby was interesting. Interesting and concerning, actually, though not for the same reason other people might be worried. If werewolves lived this close to the school, were they allowed to buy wands and learn magic like everyone else? Or were British wizards just like their French cousins and denied werewolves the magic that was the wolves' birthright?

People nearby suddenly broke out in song, everyone singing at different speeds, and they all looked around from the small cluster of conversation to find that the rest of the school had started singing along to words as directed by the headmaster. Professor Dumbledore waved his wand like a conductor's baton, but even more interesting than that was the ribbon that floated in front of him and twisted itself into lines of song lyrics. It was not the same as the fire-writing Marcel had taught her back in France, but the way he used that spells was to write one letter at a time. The ribbon, however, was more similar to how she used the fire-writing spell now with the aid of her ring, to create entire sentences at once.

If there were that many similarities, then it was highly likely she would find other things she could convert to her own style or imitate. Maybe she had made the right decision coming here for school after all, she decided.

"Ah, music," the headmaster said with a distant smile. "A magic beyond all we do here! And now, bedtime. Off you trot!"

Everyone stood from the tables as pairs of students of each house called for their respective members to follow them. Hazel and Sally-Anne followed the crowd of Hufflepuffs as they left the Great Hall and made their way down a staircase and several hallways. Past portraits and paintings they walked, until they reached another hallway with alcoves filled with barrels and boxes and stacks of sacks. The older girl who was in the lead moved to the nearest collection of barrels. "First years, listen up! I am Aurelia Miller, one of your prefects. Every common room and dormitory in Hogwarts is hidden so we can have privacy from people in the other houses. Ours is not protected by passwords or riddles, though. There is no trickery. Quite the opposite, actually."

She reached out and laid her hand flat against the lid on one of the barrels, specifically the barrel that sat in the middle of the second row from the bottom. "I'm letting all the house inside."

Something that sounded big and heavy clicked behind the barrels, followed by many more just like the first. The barrel lid beneath her hand spun around until it was upside down, then the loudest click yet made itself heard. Both that barrel and the one beneath it fell quickly downwards and out of sight, and from Hazel's position at the edge of the crowd she could see darkness that was suddenly replaced by flagstones that appeared without preamble. There was no transition, just one moment there was shadow and the next stone.

"Everyone head on in," Aurelia said, moving to the side so they could see a tunnel with a brightly lit room at the other end. "To get into our common room, all you have to do is say why you are trying to enter. If you tell the truth, you get to pass. If you lie… Let's just say there are consequences. People from other houses have to have a valid reason to enter as well, such as if one of us invites them. And when they don't…" She trailed off, her meaning clear.

The crowd streamed through the tunnel into what Hazel assumed was the common room. It was full of low armchairs and wide sofas, thick rugs covering nearly every inch of the stone floor. It reminded Hazel in all honesty of the multitude of moss-covered rocks she had encountered throughout her journeys. Imagining the room as filled with fuzz did not change it too much from what she saw with her own eyes, and she snickered silently to herself.

"For all the firsties, this is our common room," Aurelia told them. "After curfew and on days with bad weather, this is where you will probably find everyone, and a good chunk of us at most any other time, too. Curfew is at 10 o'clock at night until 6 in the morning unless you have Astronomy class that night. When you go to bed is up to you, but if you stay up all night and miss class or can't pay attention, the professors won't cut you any slack." She pointed over to one wall, and Hazel along with the rest of the new students followed her finger to see a brass bell hanging from a bar that was shaped like a badger. "If you ever need Professor Sprout, who is our head of house, anyone can ring that bell. She will be able to hear it no matter where she is. Obviously, don't ring it if there isn't an actual emergency. She won't be too pleased to be woken up for nonsense, but so long as you really need to talk to her about something, she'll always be happy to make time for us."

Pointing now to two hallways that curved downward and out of sight, she continued, "Those corridors lead to the dorms. Boys on the left, girls on the right. You'll know which room is your dorm because it has the number of your year on the door." She glanced over their faces and nodded to herself. "Like I said earlier, none of us have an actual bedtime, but you all look pretty tired. I think you should head off to bed so you can be ready for classes tomorrow."

A hand grabbed Hazel's own, and she looked down to find Sally-Anne grasping onto her before she was pulled along by the other girl towards the girls' dormitory hallway. "That sounds like a marvelous idea, and Mum did say I should listen to the prefects when they told us to do things."

Considering the other's girls thoughts sounded as sleepy as her voice likely would, Hazel chose not to put up a fight about it.

The first year girls' room was, perhaps appropriately, the first one they came across as they walked down the hallway. The room was incredibly spacious with six beds pressed against opposite walls, each bed larger even than her aunt and uncle's and with canopies and yellow curtains hanging down to provide privacy from other people in the room. Despite the size, there was plenty of room for each bed to have its own nightstand and still be a reasonable distance from the next. Five of those beds had luggage of some kind sitting at their feet, but the one closest to the door on the right had an entirely different addition.

As Hazel and Sally-Anne fully entered the room, a short green figure wearing a tunic that might have been made out of a pillowcase hopped off the end of the one bed without a trunk or suitcase and pattered over towards them on bare feet. "Hazel Potter," the creature said in a squeaky voice, its – her? – tennis-ball-sized eyes roving over Hazel's clothing. "Mipsy bes sorry, but we not finds your trunk on the train. We looks all over. If she not knows where it bes, Wellsy and Mipsy needs look in the Come and Go room for clothes for miss. Might looks for new clothes for miss anyway."

"What in the world is that thing?!" Sally-Anne thought in fright, now fully awake once more and trying to tug Hazel backwards and away from the figure.

Hazel gave Sally-Anne's hand a squeeze to reassure her before pulling free so she could use her fire writing ring. 'It's okay, Mipsy. I keep all my belongings in my bag.' She gave her handmade satchel a pat for emphasis. 'I appreciate you looking for my stuff, though.'

"Miss is welcome. Hazel Potter thanks Mipsy? Few witches thanks Mipsy, but miss bes a good witch to defeat the Dark One. Miss bes a true Hufflypuffly."

'If it is not rude to ask, what are you? I have never met someone like you before.'

"Mipsy bes a house-elf, miss!" answered Mipsy with a wide smile. "We takes care of chores around the castle. Cleans clothes, cooks, sweeps, dusts. All things that needs doing, we does. Oh! Sorry, miss, but Mipsy bes needed back in the kitchens. Good night!"

The house elf snapped her fingers, and through Hazel's fairy lens she saw the space behind Mipsy explode outward. In less than the span of a blink, Mipsy was replaced with a wisp of smoke that diffused into nothing.

She blinked now that there was nothing to miss, and a moment later a thoughtful frown slid over her face. Now that was interesting. Thanks to her essentially moving into Diagon Alley after she received her Hogwarts letter, she had been able to watch wizards teleporting into and out of the Leaky Cauldron pub. They teleported by scrunching themselves up so small that she could not see them even with her fairy lens, and while she was obviously unable to see what her method looked like, her first style of jumping felt such a way that she could easily see it being similar or identical to the wizards' style. But this? Whatever method Mipsy had just used to teleport out of the room was something entirely different, and it had her intrigued.

Now that it was just the two girls in the room, Sally-Anne's anxiety quieted down and the girl walked over to the left side of the room where her pink suitcase sat. "Why couldn't they have put my bed closer to Hazel's?" Sally-Anne thought. "I-I'm going to get ready for bed. Good night."

'Good night, Sally-Anne.' Hazel wrote out before she walked closer to her own bed. Summoning her ghost hand, she pulled the curtains free from their sashes and quickly covered all the open spaces. Only then did she crawl in and sit in the middle of the bed. The curtains were nice and thick, turning the candlelight from within the room into nothing more than spots of soft glow, and she could already imagine that in the depths of winter they would add another layer of warmth to keep her comfortable.

Flopping down on the bed, she rebounded slightly and giggled silently to herself. She had never been in a bed this fluffy or bouncy! She kicked off her boots and pulled off her satchel to lay beside her, and then she curled up and closed her eyes.

Other girls came into the room and went to bed. The candles dimmed themselves. Footsteps echoed through the hallway and then went silent. And through it all, Hazel twisted and turned, her eyes never closing for more than five minutes at a time before she was shifting around again.

This bed was objectively nicer than any she had ever seen before. It was soft as a cloud, and whenever she became still she could imagine herself sinking deep into it and out of sight. And yet, for all that she knew this was the kind of bed she should like having for herself…

She sighed to herself and pushed herself upright. How was she supposed to sleep on something like this?! That sinking feeling was more disturbing than she could put into words. It was as she was not laying on something solid but instead was being swallowed up by fluff. There was not even a hint of support to be found.

She was used to sleeping on floors or the hard-packed ground. While she had stayed in homes before, crashing with hags and werewolves, the formers' beds were straw pallets on the floor while the latter all slept on rigid cots. Even when she lived in a cupboard beneath the stairs, back when she was stuck with the Dursleys, she had only an old hard mattress placed on the bare floor.

This bed, luxurious as it no doubt was, was just too soft for her to find comfortable. Add to that the feeling of her stomach being stuffed to the brim with food, and it was no surprise to her that she could not fall asleep. Glancing over to the side, she easily found a patch of blue and green feathers sitting next to the pillow. Are you awake, she asked her companion.

A moment passed, and then the feathers rustled followed by a sleepy chirp.

Lucky bird. Hazel slid the robe of her satchel over her head and reached around until her questing fingers landed on her boots. I'm going back to the common room if you want to join me.

Morgan chirped again and moved around more until she picked him up and plopped him on her shoulder. The room was completely silent except for the sounds of muted breaths and gentle snores, and she crept as quietly as she possibly could so as not to disturb her new roommates. It was not their fault she could not sleep, and it would be poor manners indeed for her to rouse them.

Digging in her bag for just an instant, she pulled out her staff and gave the smooth wood a squeeze. It was astonishing how comforting it was to have her staff back in her hands; for the last year or so it had always been in arm's reach, and while having it in her bag made sense in the boat and during the feast, its absence had left her with a feeling of insecurity that was only now fading away.

The butt of her staff tapped ever so quietly against the stone floors when she entered the empty common room. Everyone else had clearly decided against any late-night adventures and gone to bed already, leaving only embers glowing fitfully in the fireplace behind. Those embers were barely enough for her to see the shapes of the couches and armchairs in the dark, but barely was fine by her. She walked past them, hesitating only briefly at one couch in the middle of the room before continuing on. Those chairs and couches were all overstuffed, and she had little hope that they would make for a more comfortable sleeping place than the bed she had already left.

Instead, her destination was a little further on. Her fingers bumped into a hard stone wall, and then she walked to the side until her hand met a second wall. It was not at a right angle to the first wall the way most buildings were arranged, but since the common room had looked mostly circular at first glance, that was no surprise. This corner was good enough.

She pressed her back against the second wall she had found and slid down until her rear pressed against the thick carpet. For all the fluff of the carpet, she could still feel the floor beneath it, and that was what she really wanted. Hazel rested the side of her head against the first wall and closed her eyes. Her belly was still uncomfortable, but it was not so distracting now that she was upright, and she did not feel afloat and suffocating now.

Other people might disagree with her, but she did not care. This was so much better.

And the culture shock begins…

Regarding the entrance to the Hufflepuff common room, I know I've changed it from how it's described in Pottermore. Primarily because their 'security measure' of knocking five times is BEYOND idiotic. Ravenclaw's isn't great, either, but at least it actually resets and succeeds in keeping some people out.

Silently Watches out.