The gentle warmth of the August day made Albus smile as he stepped into the Leaky Cauldron for the first time in months. The newly-minted eleven-year-old surveyed the bustling interior, spotting his dad sprawled across one of the comfortable armchairs with his best friend, Ron, in one corner. His familiar appearance remained as reassuringly lanky as ever, and ducking underneath an hovering pile of books prompted a "Bloody hell, mate, you forgot Albus!" With a half-hearted snort, Harry smacked him over the head with a folded copy of the Daily Prophet, a brilliant technicolour image of a spectacled old man beaming from underneath pencilled notes. The early morning sunshine filtered through the windows, revealing specks of dust trapped in mid-air. Uncle Neville had taught him that frozen atoms indicated the presence of a muffling charm. Albus grinned. Presumably Ron had been up to his dirty jokes again.

"Dad, I brought the list, it's - it's got Transfiguration Trials: Second Edition-" Albus began, before recognising the pit of anxiety in his stomach that opened whenever he thought of Hogwarts. The what-ifs threatened to crowd his mind so he changed tack. "Sorry, Ron, you don't want to hear me go on about it again. I've probably memorised the list by now…" His father brought his hand down slowly, a gesture meant to remind Albus to stay calm, and exchanged a glance with Ron, whose eyes flicked worriedly between Harry and the Daily Prophet. The hand signal had always been their agreed one, but his dad hadn't done it so openly, not since the Christmas festivities, at least. Albus tried again. "Shall I go and find what I need? I've even saved up a bit to buy some extra stuff."

Ron grinned, the crows' feet around his eyes deepening which seemed to be hiding behind the famous red hair, now fading in intensity. Every legend has its day, George would boldly remark. "Oh, mate, Hermione would be bloody proud. Let us know when you fancy getting your wand… That's the important occasion we've all been waiting for. Well, um… We'll be here if you want to leave your books and ingredients with us." His father nodded, pride evident in his own grin. James had already experienced this year's misadventures in Diagon Alley with an animated Lily in tow and so it was his turn.

Excitement beckoned as he darted to the yawning brick wall outside. The Ministry of Magic had opened it up for easy access for non-wand holders in the years since the Great Wizarding War, a move instigated to ease the bitterness between magical and non-magical creatures. Albus vaguely remembered hearing about it from Auntie Hermione during one of her many exhaustive lectures to James and Remus.

The main thoroughfare of Diagon Alley had remained much the same, as frantically packed with eager Hogwarts students chattering about their summer holidays and unveiling portable charms and jinxes from family holidays abroad as usual. One broad-shouldered boy, decked in vibrant green Quidditch robes, the number four embroidered into his right breast - clearly a young star on the rise - offered a selection of wizarding sports equipment. A small number of people had gathered around him, jostling and making emboldened offers. Brand representation had even spread to Quidditch. Across the way from him was a broomstick shop, which claimed to sell Britain's pride and joy in wooden form: Beater Henry Jones' favoured Cirrus Cairngorm. Ron and George still hadn't shut up about seeing it in action at the World Cup.

His eyes slid over the furnished ash grips to a quieter bookstore next door. Where better than to tick off the items on his book list? His money-bag, full of Knuts he'd earnt picking fruits all summer, hung heavy in his pocket. Time to exchange hours of sweat for precious knowledge. Slipping through the loud masses, he made his way inside the Ellis Emporium, marvelling at the books that flicked through its pages in the window for intrigued passersby. What kind of spell made that happen? It had to be a relatively simple one-

"Afternoon, young man! Is it Common Charms for First Years, Standard Year One Charms and so on you're after?" a seasoned bookkeeper asked, perched on top of a ladder. Whilst his temple hinted at greying hair, the sleeves of his shirt were rolled up, exposing strong arms that were built for wizarding duels. The shop was filled floor to ceiling with delicately-packed bookcases, and writing materials such as quills and inks threatened to spill out of cupboards and desks. Albus opened his mouth, distracted by the roll of parchment floating near the oaken beams. Above them floated dark quills scratching away, as bright sparks emitted in lieu of ink droplets. Behind a decrepit pile of yellowed pages, a freckly youthful face lingered, one eyebrow raised. The shop assistant looked to be about his age.

"What spell's used for that?" Albus wondered out loud. "Oh, God! Sorry. Yeah."

The well-lit interior brightened slightly as the old man smiled tenderly with crooked teeth. Pointing his curved wand at the books, he began to explain in a low voice. "It's a combination. You have your levitation charm, which you'll learn fairly soon anyway, and a copying spell. See, they're copying out the same set lists - similar movements? You blend the two into one using Latin modifiers - it's - it's really not complex at all. Fourth year standard practice now they've changed the curriculum-" The man sighed. He had a scholarly manner, which made Albus wonder if he was amongst the new professors lined up for this year's intake at Hogwarts. "Bit more than you wanted to know, I think. Still, you seem an unusually keen first-year."

A direct invitation to Albus to explain his curiosity. The bright grey eyes behind the stacked papers met his and a look of knowing - of shared geekiness, as James called it - passed between them. "My dad encouraged me to follow whatever interested me. And I've always heard about how verbal language, not just body language, is the root of magic, from my aunt."

The boy behind the counter nodded, somewhat impressed. Albus was sure he'd heard the etymological spiel before from other excited first-years, but the field fascinated him. Hermione had yet to stop giving her academic journals as gifts. "Bit beyond me all that, if I'm honest. Grandad'll spend hours banging on about it now." He shuffled the pages and slotted them into a drawer behind him. "'Oh, you subscribe to the litterae theory, do you?'" he smirked, mocking his grandfather's calm voice. The old man shook his head, a frown of disappointment plainly etched into his face. He slipped his wand back into his navy robes, which were ironed well, Albus noted. He liked to spot obscure details, storing them away for later.

"The little sod's in your year. If you're unlucky," he said, "you might end up in Ravenclaw together. Pray for a generous Sorting Hat. Now, your list, I've seen what you need this year. Sky's got a pile ready for you, unless you want any additional reading materials?" A note of hope registered in his tone.

Albus nodded. "Charms seems - amazing."

The shopkeeper nodded whilst Sky - in his knitted maroon jumper, no prizes for guessing which house he favoured, wrapped up the set books in brown paper. Albus vaguely wondered if the paper was ecologically-friendly - Rose would kick his arse otherwise. She had spent time protesting over the lives of Bowtruckles and Ashwinders, testing Jame's patience. He'd simply snorted and rolled his eyes. "I have a few spare higher first- and second-year charms books I can give you." With a puff of dust, five or six books gathered together from their respective bookshelves, zooming towards Albus, who now felt a little bemused.

The title on one battered volume as thick as his fist caught his eye. Intrigued by Advanced Second Year Charms: Behind The Incantations, Albus plucked it out of mid-air. "A riveting read. You're well-made for Ravenclaw. I do hope you make our house proud - I have no doubt I will see you at Hogwarts in due course," Sky's grandfather said. "Right. That is - ooh, ten Galleons and twelve Knuts."

Albus looked up, half-surprised. Definitely one of the new Hogwarts staff his father had mentioned. "D'you mind taking Knuts? I've been saving up all summer-" The old man put his hand up and nodded respectfully. Sky winked at him, grinning. He'd obviously been saving up too and empathised. Counting out the dull bronze coins after Sky had quickly worked out the current conversion rates shifted most of the weight in his money bag, leaving him roughly enough for his cauldron and ingredients. Dad had made him the promise that buying him his wand was his birthday treat.

Gathering his books, he thanked Sky and his grandfather, setting off for the packed streets outside. A rapid-fire dart into Madame Dorian's bought him a standard pewter cauldron and a second-hand set of brass scales, which he promptly heaved into the cauldron. After dropping his purchases off with Ron, his dad smiled and followed him back into the thriving alley, to the world-famous Aloysius Ollivander wand shop. Drawing level with the window, Harry paused, his green eyes scrutinising his son.

"How are you feeling? Nervous?" Albus nodded. "You wouldn't be sane if you weren't. It might take you a while - I had to wave hundreds of the bloody things - but you will get there, alright?" Harry smiled at him softly and after a long pause, they both walked in, Albus tentatively following. His feet suddenly felt like lead.

A surprisingly young man, probably in his late twenties if he wasn't so clean-shaven, looked up from his well-ordered oaken desk. A pair of brilliant blue eyes, set above a sharply-crisp collar, stood out against his pale green robes. "What can I do for you, Harry? New wand for your - second-youngest son? I think I did James' just last year." He set his pencil down in earnest, scanning the shop with purpose. It seemed organised to perfection, with clear labels denoting wand cores and woods, instead of the cluttered rows Albus had expected.

"Yes, well, James is, er, enjoying his. This is Albus, by the way." The eleven-year-old nodded awkwardly, in deference.

"Right, well. I'm estimating a ten to eleven inch length for you. Possibly more depending on the wood reactivity…" Aloysius got up eagerly, walking over to the shelves closest to the window. "Shall we start with - unicorn hair? If anything, these tend to be good matches for consistency…" He pulled out a curved dark brown wand, which felt...off in Albus' hands. It did, however, produce a few sparks, which hinted to him that they'd started on the right tracks. The wand-maker offered two or three more of differing colours and grips, before striding over to a different shelf. "Try this. Cedar. Dogwood was more suited to your older brother, of course."

It was dark in colour, again, but the grip seemed to ease itself into his hand. Despite the inflexibility of the wood, a tinge of warmth spread up his arm. "Whoa!" he remarked. A shower of multi-coloured sparks danced across the wand shop. "That felt...almost too quick..." His dad gave him a quick thumbs-up, clearly impressed. "Bloody hell!"

"Nobody wants to look like a fool anymore," Aloysius chuckled, promptly returning to his desk opposite the open door. "The usual price, if you don't mind Harry." He began writing on a new piece of parchment, this time addressing Albus. "This is your wand description and proof of ownership - with the Ollivander family seal. It's a nice sturdy wood which should be easy to clean, all eleven inches of it… And, please don't hesitate to contact me if you have any concerns or questions about your wand…" Finally, he handed over Albus' wandbox, a soft brown wood, and his paperwork. The Ministry had enforced this in recent years, much to Auntie Hermione's chagrin. Albus recalled overhearing her angry late night discussions.

"Thank you, Mr Ollivander," he said politely. Turning to his father, he went to hug him. "Bloody hell, Dad, I'm a wizard now!"


His mother's concerned voice cut through the bustling crowd on the station platform. "Harry. I heard you pacing last night." Her hand appeared on Dad's shoulder as her voice adopted a low reassuring tone. Albus strained to hear, speeding up to hear their conversation. "Look, James survived his first year. And - the school's security's been reformed and extensively rebuilt over the last five years. Minerva's even given you her word to keep an eye on Albus." Her wand flitted out of her jacket sleeve, directly pointed at the guard barrier ahead. As usual, his older brother had bounded on ahead, abandoning him with the Potters' trolley.

"Slytherin?" Lily asked, appearing at Albus' elbow. He swallowed nervously. James had spent the last hour and a half - and just about the entire summer - teasing him about breaking the Potter tradition of belonging in Gryffindor. That morning, he'd woken up to a dark green banner draped over his door, a badly-stitched "S" in one corner. Still, at least he'd tried. He thought back to the encounter with the Ellises and his possible future in Ravenclaw. Did that await him? "Albus?" she called, prodding him half-heartedly. "Slytherin's not that bad… It hasn't got that dodgy reputation any more…Well, not since Teddy sent half of them lot to detention that one time."

"Definitely not," he shook his head, grimly pushing the trolley, trying to listen out for Dad's reply. He scanned the throngs of people fretfully. "Where's everyone? Are they meeting us there?" The Muggle trains, electrified and gleaming, vanished as they passed the magical barrier. Ron joked that the students, once upon a merry time, had to run through a brick wall. A bygone era, he'd sighed. Although Platform 9¾ had been expanded to fit larger groups of students, and their families through the years, when they ran thin, the magical extensions had a tendency to produce worryingly red sparks. Remembering how Dad had told him how small it used to be, he suddenly felt nostalgic for a time that he'd never experienced, and never would.

Stepping out into the sunlight dazzled Albus and he almost missed the head of frighteningly violet dashing through the crowd. "Teddy!" he called. "Oi, Teddy!"

"I wouldn't bother, mate, I reckon he's off to snog Victoire. Victoire!" James said exasperatedly. "Anyway, sling your hook, Slytherin boy, I need my trunk."

"James!" Dad warned.

"I'm just being honest!" was the reply as James made off with his belongings.

Dad sighed, rubbing his eyes. "I hope he doesn't keep winding you up all the way there. The Sorting House takes your choice into account. If you want it to… I chose Gryffindor over Slytherin, but there's no shame in picking it if that's where you want to go. To be honest, Albus, I could do with a break from all of the red."

Albus laughed, but the knot in his stomach was still tense. "You can pick?"

"It won't put you somewhere you don't want to be, if that's what you mean. Wherever you go, your mum and I will still be proud-"

"Git!" Ron yelled at the Malfoys, who'd apparently arrived, his head bobbing over those of most students. An equally friendly shout was returned, forcing another laugh.

"Although, be warned, Ron might rugby tackle you next time he sees you. Honestly, your house is only half of the story, the friends you make, the lessons you learn, hell, the Quidditch team you support - those will make you the man you'll become, rather than your Hogwarts house," his dad continued. "Anyway, send us a letter when you get there, yeah?"

Albus nodded dutifully, and began to shift his trunk onto the Hogwarts Express, which he'd only glimpsed through the packed crowds. When his father bent down to help him, he fearfully whispered his question. "Dad, is Hogwarts really safe?" Harry continued sliding the trunk onto the train and swung around to face his son.

"Why do you say that?" he asked, his head cocked, glasses halfway down his nose.

Albus decided to be honest. "I heard you and Mum."

Any other worried parent would've answered with a disappointed "Oh," but Harry simply nodded. "I'll be there to give my guest lectures to the fifth- and sixth-years. It'll be just likely any other year."

Albus frowned, his stomach sinking. That hadn't really answered the question. "Will I see you at Christmas? I'll send you a letter tonight," he promised as he boarded the train. "Will you send me the books I couldn't fit in my trunk?" His father laughed and nodded, Ginny's arm appearing around his neck, as other families said their goodbyes. Ron and Hermione, joined by a red-faced Teddy Lupin, waved at him, offering cries of "Good luck!"

As the train began to pull away from the station, his fellow students cheered. "Oi!" his red-headed cousin, Rose, shivering in a cardigan, beckoned at him. "Didn't see you this morning. Shall we find a compartment?" Their trunks trundled after them as they walked. "Dad made me learn all of the Quidditch fouls last week. Did you know there's seven hundred of them? Mum did not approve at all. Were your parents stressing you out over being in Gryffindor or did you get off lucky?" Before Albus had time to respond, she slammed a door open, causing a pair of first- or second-year boys in one compartment to jump in shock. "This free? Good. Shift over. I hope neither of you are planning on picking Gryffindor."

Piling their trunks under the seats, Albus turned to the two and apologised. "Oh!" He straightened up, instantly recognising the bookkeeper's grandson from Ellis Emporium. Rose cottoned on quickly and smiled in recognition. His grey eyes and freckled face lent itself to dark brown hair, much like Albus' own. "Sky?" The boy nodded and shook his hand.

"Bit awkward if we were, isn't it?" laughed the other boy, who Albus remembered was one of the Malfoys Ron had shouted at. He sat down quickly, embarrassed.

Rose, on the other hand, was smirking. "Plotting world domination, were you?"

"Something like that," Sky offered, grinning. "Everyone definitely not keen on Gryffindor? I want to check before we start cursing our family traditions or our parents. What are your names?"

"Scorp," the light-brown Malfoy said in a watered-down Welsh accent, introducing himself in an almost hesitant tone. "Yes, I'm a Malfoy, you're a Weasley, aren't you? Your dad was yelling at us. And you're the Potter?" he directed at Albus, his bright eyes boring into his. It wasn't altogether an unfriendly or uncomfortable sensation, he felt. "Sky said you liked your Charms books. I hope you know your stuff because it looks hard."

Rose shook her head. "Not really. Just wave your wand, magic boy. Apparently, you're good at that."

The subtle layer of tension melted as they laughed together. Fond recollections of their summer and slightly dirty jokes began to pour into the hours as the train travelled from the busy outskirts of London towards the Yorkshire moors, which Scorpius helpfully pointed out. The clear September sun had begun to fade by about four o'clock, when their discussion meandered to their preferred Hogwarts houses again.

"I don't want to be Slytherin," Scorp said. "Have you seen the Quidditch team? No way I'll make it onto that in second year."

"Bit ableist, don't you think?" Rose counterattacked.

"I thought it was about the stuff you saw in yourself - what do you value most of all? Is it curiosity, finding out new stuff? You don't necessarily have to be book smart, as Scorp's just proved-" Sky began, eliciting a smack from the smirking Malfoy.

"Nah, how much of that can be true?" Albus wondered. "I always thought it was what your favourite colour was."

"And that, my friend, is how you prove yourself to be Gryffindor," said Rose, pulling her cardigan tighter.

Scorp mock gasped. "All brawn and no brain? Shocker."

The compartment door slid open to reveal a dismayed James. "Absolute bloody traitors! Weasleys and Malfoys! What would your father do, Rose?" he joked, pressing a hand to his forehead in a damsel in distress pose. "Look, Tom, what do you reckon?" A disgruntled boy, at least a year older than James, with a prominent nose, stuck his head in and grunted.

"Aren't you meant to be one of the best Chasers on the Gryffindor team?" Rose asked, genuinely curious. Tom nodded, arching his eyebrows. "Fancy giving Scorpy some tips so he can master his broomstick in our flying lessons?"

"Rose! You're supposed to boost my confidence, not lower it," Scorp protested.

"Like you need any boosting," James said. "You up for spending time with these losers, Tom?"

Tom's credentials as a Gryffindor Chaser paid off as they spent another few hours discussing the ins and outs of the game, Rose and Scorps particularly enthralled. However, James and Sky elected to swap thoughts on the new Wizarding Literature classes that were rumoured to be starting at Hogwarts, causing a stir amongst more conservative-minded individuals at the Daily Prophet, as well as ways to work around the new security measures, which Sky claimed was for "educational purposes only". As seven o'clock drew nearer, James and Tom warned them to get dressed for the Sorting Ceremony and departed their compartment.

"I can't believe he said the Hufflepuff Seeker last year won on a technicality, after eleven - eleven! - fouls. What were they thinking, letting them get away with it?" Rose chattered, fastening her robes. "Eleven bloody fouls! Not over my dead body!"

"Rose, are you going to calm down and do your tie up?" Albus asked tiredly, a plain-crested tie in hand.

"Just because you're not as focused on Quidditch as I am," she started.

"Oh, God," Scorps quietly muttered to Sky. "D'you reckon this is going to be a recurring theme?"

The Ellis boy snorted. "Two Galleons says it will be."

"-it doesn't mean you can disrespect the game-" Rose' voice became shriller as she defended her consternation over the allowed fouls.

"Three and you're on," Scorps said. Sky nodded.

"-it's meant to be bloody fair-"

The shrieking continued as the train slowed and they waited to disembark, trunks, and in Rose's case, ties, in tow. "-how on earth can it possibly be fair if - if-"

"Crikey, four to say it's a theme and she loses points for the tie?" Sky wondered. Albus rolled his eyes and jabbed him in the arm. "Five?" He shook his head in amusement.

"-and this is a school, what were they thinking-"

As the first years were directed to the horseless carriages James had mentioned, their classmates glared at Rose as she continued her rant on the inefficiencies of fouls that were allowed in gameplay and the famous ones she'd watched, growing up as part of Albus' Quidditch-obsessed family.

"-the Russians committed six that year but eleven, it's unheard of-"

"Is this journey going to be any longer? I'd hate to be with her in the dormitories tonight," Scorps quipped. "I love Quidditch, but this is a whole new level."

The carriage journey was shorter than Albus had expected, taking roughly twenty-minutes. The two stern-looking witches in black Hogwarts robes who'd met them on the platform, with outstretched wands, pointed them through the castle gates, the turrets soaring high into the sky above their heads. A ripple of "Oohs!" passed through the crowd, which momentarily distracted Rose. After their solemn gaze on their new home, as grand as it'd looked before the Great Wizarding War, the group of a hundred-odd students (Scorps had wondered) were ushered into the Entrance Hall.

Mounted upon the war above the great oaken doors was the fabled wizened crest, split in four during the Battle of Hogwarts and repaired with a golden line running through each split, symbolising house and wizarding world unity. This was the beginning of the moment that mattered. Albus' heart began to pound.

"-all seven hundred fouls'll be committed in a single match this year unless-"

A familiar voice boomed across the hall. "Where is your tie, Miss Weasley?" Minerva stood upon the cracked steps, another remind of the war, distracting Rose from her abject horror. at the fouls. The red-haired witch blushed as the crowd turned to stare at her.

"I'm so sorry, Professor! I - I must have left it on the train," she squeaked, patting her pockets. She felt the lump where Albus had stuffed it in her robes and pulled it across her blouse collar, making a hugely apologetic face as she did so.

"Right," McGonagall said, addressing her and the rest of the first-years. "All of you - any failures in meeting our strict uniform requirements will result in a docking of points. That should have been made very clear to you in your acceptance letters. Or are you no longer taught to read carefully?" Their classmates murmured nervously. "You will be Sorted into your houses as soon I allow you through these doors, and from then, you will be considered full Hogwarts students. I, myself, am a former Gryffindor, a house that values bravery and courage, and I hope those of you Sorted into my house act accordingly. Slytherin themselves favour ambition and cunning, Hufflepuff prefer loyalty and hard work above all and Ravenclaw demand curiosity and wit. These houses will act as your in loco parentis, your Quidditch teams and so forth. But - do not expect your house to be your sole refuge. We are proud of the friendships enjoyed across house divides and hope this remains."

Silence fell. Not even Scorps dared to ask for his four Galleons from the bet. McGonagall took a parchment scroll from the inside of her maroon robes and nodded to herself, with a smile. "I think the Great Hall is ready for us."

The oaken doors swung open, revealing four long tables with hundreds of students craning their necks to see them as they strode forwards, led by the Headmistress. Chattering filled the hall, which seemed as comfortingly warm as home with the hovering candles and start-of-year banquet decorations across the High Table. There were faces Albus knew - Uncle Neville, Sky's grandfather, amongst a few others. McGonagall stopped, a furnished chair with a ragged hat, which James had described to him as the Sorting Hat, directly in front of her. She turned on the spot and unrolled her parchment. Albus' knees began to feel weak. What if he was a Slytherin, like James had said? He tried to search for his older brother out of ther corner of his eye.

"When I call your name, please sit here and wait for the Sorting Hat to decide your hat," she declared. "Adelisa, Christine."

A pale girl with tawny-gold hair scampered towards the Hat, which barely touched her head before revealing her destination as "Ravenclaw!" A long string of Gryffindors, broken by an occasional Slytherin or Hufflepuff followed, before those with surnames beginning with "Es" were called. Albus thought of Sky, and felt nervous for him.

"Ellis, Sky!"

"Oh, bloody hell," he whispered, poking Albus and Rose at the same time, as he made his way to the stool. For some students, the Hat had taken a worryingly long time to come to a conclusion and for others, it was almost as if their fate had been predetermined the minute they stepped foot in Hogwarts. As the Hat was lowered over Sky's head, his grandfather leaned forward expectantly. Ravenclaw, Albus assumed, was his expected path.

The Hat obviously agreed as it spat out "Ravenclaw!", the second to join the blue table out of a painfully small handful of the first-years. Sky smiled with relief and jogged over to meet his new housemates, who clapped him on the back.

Six Gryffindors, three Slytherins, ten Hufflepuffs and one Ravenclaw later saw Scorpious' name called out from the list. The Malfoy boy squared his shoulders and walked the short distance to the stool. He seemed to be having a fiery debate with the Hat over his house, prompting curious chatter amongst the Slytherins. A few more tantalising minutes passed by, stretching out into infinity. Albus shuffled his feet, begging it to pick Scorps' house before McGonagall decided he lacked the magical ability to be at Hogwarts-

"Gryffindor!" it yelled.

A stunned silence filled the hall as Scorps sauntered off to join the Gryffindors, almost smirking. They shook his hand respectfully whilst a scattered round of applause filled the hall. Professor Longbottom cheered in approval. History had been made in a Malfoy flying in the face of family tradition. Even McGonagall needed a moment to recover her wits. A few more Ravenclaws were added to the small number of first-years joining Sky as Albus waited for his turn. He still didn't have a bloody clue where he belonged and he was going to be called up too disastrously soon. Should he stick with the beaten path or trample his way into the unknown? Disregarding family legacy for whatever quality he possessed - what did he really value above all else, as Sky had said on the train? Could he join him in Ravenclaw or face James and Scorps for the rest of his Hogwarts career?

"Potter, Albus!" At least McGonagall had omitted his dreadful middle name, he supposed, his knees shaking. He clenched his fists and gritted his teeth as Rose patted his shoulder for good luck. Oh God, what if he made the wrong choices here? Were they even undoable? Where did be belong? Was he witty or ambitious? The Hat was on his head all too soon - as musty as it smelt - and the voice crept into his ear. The entire student body seemed to take a deep breath.

"Oh, such curiosity, an interest in the unknown - is that bravery, young Potter? But you want loyalty to your family… What about your own thoughts? Loyalty to yourself? You may be just eleven, Potter, but this is the making of you."

He thought of the bookkeeper handing him his additional reading and his geekiness over Charms, the books stuffed full of notes and ideas to try out when he could. "But I'm not book-clever," he admitted. "I mean, I read but I'm only good at it for so long."

"It's not how good you are, it's how you apply it," the Hat whispered. It sighed. Albus hadn't known a hat could sigh until then. "I think Ravenclaw is your place. Not Gryffindor, like your family. Break the tradition." James' face swam into the forefront of his mind and the Hat chuckled. "It's time, Potter. Ravenclaw!"

He smiled and scuttled over to join Sky and his new classmates, who applauded him. Another five swelled their ranks, taking the Ravenclaw first-years to seventeen, Albus counted.

"Weasley-Granger, Rose!" She was the last person to be called but sat on the stool triumphantly. Hardly a minute later, the Sorting Hat bellowed "Slytherin!" and Albus cheered as he applauded her, as did Sky and Scorps, from his distant Gryffindor vantage point. James seemed to be aghast but cheered nonetheless.

McGonagall took her place at the High Table, briefly introducing the new professors but Albus ignored the litany of names, his ears perking when a Professor Ellis was mentioned. "-your new Head of Ravenclaw House, but foremostly, for a significant majority of you, he will act as your Potions teacher..." Finally, recognising that interest had dwindled, she announced "Food!"