I had expected my first view of Hogsmeade station to be some sort of quaint country train depot. It was, instead, somewhat obscured by the lithe figure of my new and exceedingly odd acquaintance, Holmes, launching himself from the still-moving train onto the platform, earning himself a prompt detention in potenia, a crowd of onlookers and instant contempt from the upper forms.
"I say – do we have to ride in boats?"
I confess, I saw the nose before I saw Holmes – he reared up behind it contemptuously and sniffed.
"Yes," I said, eagerly, glad to be of use to someone, "my brother Harry's in the fifth form, and he… said there'd be boats" I finished up not sure what else to say.
"Och! Oi e'spect yer talkin' o' Harry Watson. Glad Oi'm no' transportin' him – very unsteady on his feet, was young Harry. An' the greatest troublemaker at Hogwart's curren', if oi can be perfec'ly Francis with you."
We turned, my companion quicker off the mark than I, to see – not the robust, earthy fellow I'd expected from his voice, but rather a thin, reedy sort of man with unfortunate presence of ears and a rough oak cudgel, peering at us through the half light given off by the gas lamps.
"Ye two'd be firs' years?"
"I beg your pardon?"
Barty appeared with his disgruntled looking owl, as well as Lestrade and Stanley. Holmes gave the owl a sharp glare, as if to suggest it was not welcome.
"I say!" Barty exclaimed, apparently oblivious to Holmes's disdain for his pet. "Did I hear someone has a fever? I got a fever once! From bad cheese, if I recall correctly."
Holmes' glare shifted from Barty's owl onto Barty himself. "I'm sure you don't."
No one, however, appeared to have heard this as the man had just jumped up onto a bench and was bellowing at the top of his oddly accented lungs.
"Firs' years, firs' years, follow me!"
We followed him over to the boats, on which we embarked five apiece and all of a sudden found ourselves in the midst of a lake.
"Er… The Great Lake, I think you'll find." said Holmes.
"Are you sure?" I asked.
"Isn't there supposed to be a squid?" asked Barty, looking over the side of the tiny vessel.
All of a sudden Hopkins wasn't there anymore – though there was a bit of a yelp and a splash, accompanied by a gurgling sound.
Lestrade jumped up in the boat, rocking it dangerously as we yelled remonstrances at him.
"See here, Lestrade, what do you think you're doing?" Barty cried, gripping the edges of the boat. Holmes leapt up to tackle him, which had the unfortunate consequence of capsizing us all into what we soon discovered really was a Great Lake.
Hopkins, it turned out, was quite unscathed, if rather shocked, and had been carefully deposited by his new and rather slimy acquaintance on the other side of the bank.
We, on the other hand, all now resembled small drowned rodents - particularly Lestrade, as he resembled a rat even in the best of times.
"Och, oi should've known ye'd be just like yer brother!" the gamekeeper, despite his small stature, lifted us each heartily by the scruff of our necks into his own boat and took us ashore where he ushered us, dripping and mildly put out, into yet another Great… in this instance, a Great Hall, with four tables filled with students all wearing different coloured ties and a ceiling which appeared to show the night sky outside.
We were deposited with the rest of the terrified looking first years at the front of the hall, some of whom eyed us curiously, and others of whom began to snigger.
The Great Hall was greater and more imperious than any hall I'd ever seen, although the honour of the most awe at the sight of it went to my friend Barty, who pointed out "I suppose I'd be less impressed if I weren't from the country, but as it is I've more experience with barns than halls."
Compared to the Great Lake, however (as my companion insisted in pointing out) it wasn't very great at all.
"Just showy, in my opinion. A hall that tries too hard is not great – it's earnest. There's nothing more middle-class than earnestness. This should be called the Earnest Hall, if it requires a title at all."
Fortunately my companion was distracted from his rant by a rather elderly wizard ascending the podium, coming to stand beside a very old, battered hat. He unrolled an impractically long scroll.
"Abernathy, Timothy John!" he announced in a voice that I suspected had been magnified by magic (and diminished somewhat by excessive smoking).
This was the Sorting, it seemed. And I told Holmes as much.
"I had perceived as much," he said. "My brother Mycroft told me all about this. He never had any friends, and Papa did tell him he was never to darken the doorstep again. And, well, you know Mycroft; he must have someone to confide in."
Holmes appeared to be suffering from homesickness.
"Adler, Irene Laura!"
A girl with a curiously unreadable expression sauntered up to the Hat. Holmes leaned over to me and whispered so piercingly I was sure that everyone, even the Slytherin students on the far left of the Hall, could hear 'There are girls here? I thought this was a public school!'
"Holmes!" I hissed back "Of course there are! Two of the Founders were women."
He looked ready to say something else, but luckily was interrupted by the Hat shouting 'Slytherin!'.
We clapped as Irene made her way to the Slytherin table. "We'd best be quiet" I murmured to Holmes "We might miss our own names being called."
Another girl (much to Holmes's disgust) made her way to the platform. She was strikingly beautiful and intelligent-looking, I noted, but bore unmistakable signs upon her features of her American Indian descent.
"Watson, that is ridiculous. We're still only on the 'A's'."
"Well, yes, but…you never know."
We passed the B's and C's without incident, until the man calling got to "Dumbledore, Percival Pellinore Wulfrun…Donald."
There was a gentle chuckle about the Hall, and a boy with a shock of auburn hair and robes that were practically off his shoulders clambered up onto the podium.
"Gryffindor!" The hat boomed after about a minute. Percival got up with a vague smile on his face, thoroughly ignoring the old man's outraged expression as he pottered over to his seat at the Gryffindor table.
"Boy!" The boy beside Percival nudged him sharply and he looked around in surprise.
The man's eyebrows could not have been more active in their gesticulation. "Boy! You are still possessed of the Sorting Hat!"
He said the name with a sort of veneration usually associated with priests and holy relics.
"Oh, so I am!" the boy said, cheerily. "What shall I do with it?"
I turned away from the amusing tableau, back to Holmes.
"Did your brother Mycroft tell you what the Hat actually does? When I asked Harry he said something about the Hat eating your brain, but that doesn't appear to be actually happening."
Holmes looked at me incredulously. Then his expression softened.
"Watson, whatever happens; I don't think they'll allow a mass lobotomizing of a whole generation of eleven year olds."
Strangely enough, I found myself comforted by this.
"Holmes, William Sherlock Scott."
The scowl retuned as fast as it had left him and he stepped up to the podium. From where I was standing, I could just hear him announcing in an acerbic tone, "I'd appreciate it if you'd address me in future by Holmes, if you must use terms of familiarity."
He then sat on the stool and the Hat was placed encompassingly upon his head, only saved from swamping him completely by settling upon the bridge of his nose.
There was silence in the hall for at least five minutes.
Finally the hat cried out wearily, "Ravenclaw." And Holmes pulled the hat off, smiling broadly for the first time since I'd met him.
He strutted across to the Ravenclaw Table, choosing a seat with almost considered precision and proceeded to studiously avoid social contact with any of the students near him.
Hopkins was already under the Hat's mysterious scrutiny.
"Hufflepuff!" The Hat announced and a great cheer rose form the Hufflepuff table (they were it seemed, an enthusiastic bunch.)
None of the other Ravenclaws were paying much attention to Holmes. They were not, as their stereotype suggested, pouring over crosswords and encyclopaedic volumes of Bradshaw, but they (unlike the Hufflepuffs) were undertaking quite critical scrutiny of their new novitiates. Holmes looked positively alone. He also looked quite unperturbed by this.
"Lestrade, Gabriel Hezekiah." There was a round of sniggers from the Gryffindor table and Holmes looked up from his musings sharply. I wondered idly to myself whether Holmes, Percival Pellinore Wulfrun Donald Dumbledore and Lestrade might one day form a support group for those with unfortunate monikers. Although, if I were perfectly honest with myself, I couldn't really imagine Holmes identifying himself with the other two.
"Gryffindor!" There were a few half hearted cheers as Lestrade, after throwing an apologetic look at Hopkins, went and sat down at the table which had been laughing at him not a minute before.
The Hat had claimed another victim. A reptilian boy by the name of 'Moriarty, James Andrew!', who was smartly placed in the crowd of supercilious Slytherins and slapped on the back with hearty well-bred arrogance.
The Sorting, I could see, was not a speedy affair.
Holmes too, it appeared, was beginning to flag. Perhaps it was our sheer youth or the dip in the pond outside, but the whole crew of first years were starting to look distinctly restless. I believe now that the teachers realized it too, because the process seemed to immediately speed up, and before I knew it my small companion Barty's name was called and with a bit of a yelp he shuffled up to the podium. At a motion from the professor he picked up the Hat and, holding it at arm's length, peered inside it somewhat cautiously.
"When you're ready, Master Stamford."
"But! Bats!" Was all Barty managed before the professor took the Hat from him and pulled it down firmly over his eyes.
"Hufflepuff!" said the Hat before it had even touch Bart's nose and off he skipped to join Hopkins.
The rest of the Sorting passed in almost a daze, I watched, not through my eyes, but as a spectator storybook spectator, hovered somewhere above the pages entirely until I was jerked out of my reverie by—
"Watson, John Hamish."
I noticed my brother sit up sharply in his seat.
"Yes?" I asked, before mentally kicking myself and running up to the stool and venerable old Hat.
The old wizard placed the Hat on my head, and it fell over my eyes.
Well, at least you're better than that Holmes boy. He spent quite some time deliberating about my anthropomorphic relationship to God.
I suppose, young John Hamish Watson, you need to be sorted.
That'd be nice…sir. I added, cautiously.
Ah, caution, that's a good quality in someone with your family history.
I could almost imagine the hat smirking.
Co-incidentally, I think you'll temper those sanguinary folk.
And before I could reply the Hat had shouted my house and the claw-like hands of the elderly wizard removed it sharply from my head.
I stumbled over to the Gryffindor table and was slapped Britishly on the back. I caught Holmes' eye from across the room as Lestrade muttered something relieved in my direction. Barty and Hopkins were giving quite energetic nods of approval from their place at the Hufflepuff table, whilst I was merely glad that the whole thing was over, and now I could settle in to life at Hogwarts without further incident.
Looking back, I cannot understand for the life of me why I should have thought that would be the case.