A/N: Yes, I know... not the most original idea in history. I just wanted a try at the Sorting ceremony, and I got a little carried away, and thought it would be fun to do a lot of them, just for comparison. I'll be doing them in chronological order, starting with Dumbledore and working forward. In the years where more than one person is sorted, I'll start with one scene on the train to meet everyone, then go on and do the separate Sortings. This story, of course, takes place before there was a train.
Of A Sort
September 1, 1856:
Albus looked at the castle across the lake with great misgivings, his letter clasped tightly in one hand. Aside from a small bag of clothes, it was all he had. He hadn't known where to get any of the things they asked for, and wouldn't have been able to, anyway.
Beside him, the great red bird that had led him here sat on the bank and looked up at him expectantly. It had appeared in the forest this morning out of a ball of flame. Albus might have been frightened of it, but he had been living in the forest for a year now, and almost nothing in it frightened him anymore. Even the centaurs, with their nasty looks and notched arrows, hadn't hurt him. Some of the creatures could hurt him, but he had a sense about them and stayed away. The firebird didn't seem dangerous at all--Albus thought he felt good, like Papa's hand on his head, guiding him along the paths.
But Papa was gone, lost in a Muggle scuffle between Scots and Irishmen he had been trying to help. Albus understood in a vague way that there was a famine because of failed plantings, and that it had made everyone move pointlessly about in a sour temper, causing friction, but he didn't know what made it happen, or why Papa hadn't Disapparated when the fight began (except that he sometimes had an awful idea that Papa was trying to make his way across to him, and wouldn't leave without him, but he couldn't stand thinking that, since he had been safe under a table the whole time), or why no one seemed to stop fighting when they realized someone had been hurt, especially someone was only trying to help them. He understood only that he'd had to fight through the scufflers in order to get to Papa, and Papa's blood was everywhere, and nothing had been left in his eyes when Albus had finally reached him.
Mama had been gone since Albus was small, and he had nowhere to go, so he'd gone to the forest, just like in the tales he'd been told, and the tales were true--the forest gave him what he needed, mostly, and what it didn't give him, he found he could magic for himself without any trouble. Shelter, fire, even company--the forest didn't lack for speaking creatures. The only thing he found he couldn't magic were the sweets he liked best, and he thought he would give anything for a whole pile of pumpkin pasties.
And then, the letter.
The owl had found him curled at the base of a tree, and, sure enough, the envelope had been addressed to "Albus Dumbledore, The Bottom of the Great Oak, Forbidden Forest." He had ignored it. He didn't know how to get to the village of Hogsmeade, where he was supposed to meet everyone, and he definitely had no money to buy a pile of books, a wand, and a cauldron. There was no point to it, and no place for him among people to whom such things were the normal way of life.
The bird beside him at the lake made a soft, comforting sound, and Albus reached down absently to stroke its head. It was the softest bird he'd ever touched. "I'm not sure," he said to it.
It looked implacably up at him. It would not leave his side, and had drawn him along with songs and trust to this place where he could see the turrets of the castle.
"Who sent you?" he asked it.
"No one sends Fawkes."
Albus jumped. He usually had a good feel for when people were nearby, but the newcomer had stood silently and drawn no notice.
"How long have you been there?" Albus asked.
The stranger smiled. He was an old man, judging by his white hair and beard, but there was something boyish in his face. "Oh, I watched you come out of the forest. I didn't want to startle you. My name is Nicolas Flamel. I teach Potions and Alchemy at the school. I've seen you at the forest's edge. I had hoped you would come." He gave a stern-looking frown. "We weren't sure you would. Your brother Aberforth was very worried when you failed to go to him in London."
"Aberforth was worried?" Albus raised an eyebrow, not sure if he should trust the man now. It hadn't even occurred to him to go to Aberforth's Whitechapel flat, with its endless stream of liquor and ladies of ill repute. The last time Albus and Papa had gone to visit him, Aberforth had slapped himself on the forehead and slurred, "Oh, right. Forgot you had another one. What's his name? Elric or something?" The notion of Aberforth being worried about him seemed a bit farfetched.
Flamel spread his hands out in a gesture that said, There you have it, then grinned in a way that made his white hair and wrinkled skin look like a bad disguise, and Albus trusted him completely, as he would from that day forward. "Well, we think you're the one he's worried about. He was fairly certain he had a sister until we showed him your records at the Ministry."
Albus bit his lip. "Mr. Flamel..."
"Yes, sir, Professor Flamel. I didn't answer the owl because I don't have... I can't buy..."
But Flamel was already shaking his head. "I took the liberty, Albus. You'll find everything but your wand, which I will take you into London to buy tomorrow, right here." He waved his own wand, and a large wooden trunk appeared beside Albus on the grass. It opened, and Albus saw a pile of black robes, stacks of books, a cauldron, and something that hadn't been on the list: bags and bags of sweets. He looked up at Flamel, who was looking back kindly. "I thought it might have been awhile. So will you come up to the school, Albus?"
Albus felt his stomach give a lurch. Flamel was kind, and the bird--Fawkes--wanted to be with him, and wanted him here, but he didn't know anyone, and it would be difficult, starting with nothing but the charity of a stranger.
Flamel laughed gently. "Albus, your father gave his charity to strangers, and someday you will do the same. There is nothing shameful in allowing me to help you."
Fawkes trilled a high note and Albus felt sure the firebird was smiling at him, though it was quite impossible through a beak.
"Why do you want me there?" he asked.
Flamel put a hand on his shoulder. "You have been watched, Albus. And seen. There are many things you can be, many things you must be. You need to learn, and Hogwarts is the place for you to do it. It is a place where magic truly happens--the mind Conjures new worlds, hearts are Charmed by affection, and boys are Transfigured into the men they are meant to become. And you, Albus Dumbledore, are meant to become a great man. A great wizard, yes, of course... but the man you will be is greater than the wizard."
Albus swallowed hard. It seemed quite a lot was expected, and by a stranger to boot, but there was something about Flamel, something that made Albus believe him. It was frightening. "Then that's why you sent Fawkes?" he asked. "To make sure I came?"
"I told you, Albus. I didn't send Fawkes." Flamel pointed down the road that led away from the school, and Albus could now see the signs of motion in the distance. "The others will be here soon."
"But Fawkes, sir... if you didn't send him..."
"Fawkes saw you as well," Flamel told him. "I asked him to find you today and lead you here, but he was free to refuse."
"Fawkes is considerably older than I am, Albus, and he has accumulated his own wisdom. He has stayed with my wife and myself for many years, but I believe he has decided to move on now."
In answer, the bird leaned its head over and rubbed it against Albus's hand, singing its sweet song again.
"You are also free to refuse," Flamel said. "I ask you to come to Hogwarts. I do not force you to do so."
Albus bit his lip and looked at the puffs of dust up the road, moving forward as the carriages sped up from the village. He could already see the shapes of the first few. "Professor Flamel--" he began, but when he turned, Flamel had disappeared again.
He looked down at Fawkes. "I'll look after you either way, you know," he said.
Fawkes just stared back at him, and Albus felt foolish. He'd never seen a creature that looked less like it needed looking after.
The first carriage hit the road beside the lake and started its run up to the castle. Most of the others followed it, but a few broke off and thundered down the road toward Albus's side of the lake. It was his last chance to escape back to the Forest.
The carriages screamed to a halt, and children of Albus's age started to pile out of them, looking almost as scared as he felt. A boy with hair slightly redder than his own smiled nervously at him and gave a little wave.
Albus took a deep breath and went over to join them. Fawkes took wing, and landed gently on his shoulder. The weight was comfortable.
"Great bird," the red-haired boy said. "That's not a phoenix is it?"
Albus nodded, hoping he was right. He hadn't asked Flamel. But he couldn't think of any other birds that flew in fire and were older than old men. "His name is Fawkes. He's going to stay with me."
The other boy appeared deeply impressed, and after a moment, a group of the children had gathered around Albus, mainly to meet Fawkes. Albus wasn't offended by this. It felt good to be in the middle of the group, and the Forest seemed very far away. He found that he didn't miss it.
The last carriage pulled up and an adult got out of it, a pretty woman with a heart-shaped face and thick black hair that didn't seem to want to stay in the clips that were meant to hold it up. "First years!" she said cheerfully, "I'm Professor Potter. I'll be teaching you Defense Against the Dark Arts. I will also be getting you across this lake." She raised her wand. Boats unmoored themselves from their berths at the far side of the lake and floated serenely over. She looked over and noticed Fawkes. "Ah," she said. "I see Fawkes has brought us our missing student. Albus Dumbledore, I'm willing to guess?"
Albus nodded. "Yes, ma'am."
"Well, you're a bit late. Don't make a habit of it." She smiled prettily, and Albus wondered when his first lesson with her would be. She raised her hand and waved at the boats, which were now waiting patiently at the lake's edge. "Well, first years... climb aboard!"
There was a great deal of motion as the children all stumbled into boats. Albus let it wash by him. He didn't enjoy being jostled. In the end, he was glad of this--he ended up in the last boat with Professor Potter and the red-haired boy who had first spoken to him.
Professor Potter chatted their way across the lake, telling them about the giant squid that lived here and the mermaids who had a village far below. She also talked about the weather, her baby son, her husband in the Ministry, and how excited she was about the classes she planned to teach. Albus wasn't sure how many things one person could talk about on the short trip across the lake, but he wasn't complaining. She laughed frequently, and it was a very pretty laugh. And besides, he didn't have to say anything as long as someone else was talking.
The boats came to a dock underneath the castle very quickly, and there was another jostle as everyone disembarked. Professor Potter led them up the stairs, and stopped in front of a huge wooden door. She clapped her hands together smartly. She was still smiling, but she looked a little more business-like. "Welcome to Hogwarts," she said. "I hope you've all enjoyed your trip here."
There was a murmur of assent.
"Now, while you are studying at Hogwarts, you will live in one of four houses: Hufflepuff, Ravenclaw, Gryffindor, or Slytherin. I was a Gryffindor myself. Well, I still am, actually. Your house will always be a part of you. When you go into the Great Hall, you will be sorted."
The red-haired boy raised his hand. "How?"
Professor Potter gave him an enigmatic look and said, "You'll see."
She opened the great door.
When Albus looked into the room, he felt his heart rise. It was a sea of people and candles that floated in the growing twilight, and they were all smiling, craning to see their new classmates.
I love it here, he thought quite suddenly. On his shoulder, Fawkes made a soft sound of agreement. "We'll stay," he whispered to the bird.
Professor Potter led them down an aisle between the tables, toward a wooden stool where an old pointed hat stood. Its brim moved of its own accord, and its point leaned slightly toward the first years. A rip near its brim seemed to smile over some secret.
The slight murmurs in the hall died down, and Albus looked up at a table where several adults were sitting. Flamel nodded to him, and he nodded back. One of the other men, dressed in green and silver robes, looked distinctly unhappy to be here. He stood up. "Welcome, first years," he said snappily. "I am your headmaster, Phineas Nigellus. You are expected to obey rules and complete your work." He waved a hand at Professor Potter. "Get on with it, Vega," he said.
"My uncle is a fluffy bunny when you get used to him," she said in a loud whisper. Nigellus glared at her. She winked back at him merrily and waved, winning her a fond laugh from the first years, and a bit of applause from some of the bolder students in back.
A sound came from the stool, and Albus realized that the hat had just cleared its throat, and everyone was looking at it. At the head table, Phineas Nigellus fetched a deep sigh and began rubbing his temples in anticipation of whatever was coming.
The rip at the brim of the hat widened, and it began to sing.
Once upon a time there were
Two witches wise and good
And two wizards shrewd and bold
Did join them when they could
The four had voyaged far to learn,
From east to west did roam
But in the end they all returned
To this, their island home.
Once together they decided
To ease the way for evermore
By joining their minds in one place
So ignorance was nevermore.
So began our Hogwarts dear
In the keeping of the Four
Each had a favorite virtue
Which for their House was the core.
And now I have their minds for you
To find where you belong
So listen closely young ones
To this year's Sorting song!
Dear Hufflepuff a matron was
And loved the loving most
Her house was full of care and joy
And now could be your host!
Bright Ravenclaw was wed to books
And all suitors fell behind
You might belong in Ravenclaw
If your heart reflects your mind!
Young Gryffindor was bold and brave
The defender of the lot
If your heart is fierce and true
Then Gryffindor's your plot!
It was Slytherin who had the drive
To truly build their vision
You'll be at home in Slytherin
If you are ruled by ambition.
So come to me and try me on
And I will whisper in your ear
The place where you will be at home
Beginning now, this year.
Albus clapped, delighted. Only a few other people did, but it took him a moment to notice. Had he really hesitated to cross the water? Had he really thought about staying in the forest? Kind, or smart, or brave, or ambitious... he didn't know what he wanted most. All the houses sounded wonderful. All he knew was that he wanted to try on that hat.
He glanced up at Professor Potter, and felt himself smiling widely. She laughed. "I'll call you up alphabetically." She winked at Albus, and spoke quietly. "You won't have to wait long."
The first years gathered around, and Professor Potter called, "Alroy, Filia." The small blonde girl who came forward put on the hat, and a moment later it called out, "RAVENCLAW!"
Albus watched Filia Alroy go to her table, where the other Ravenclaws welcomed her with outstretched hands as "Baden, Helga" became a Hufflepuff. "Comstock, Frederick"... "DeFrayn, Eloise"... then, "Dumbledore, Albus."
Albus could barely restrain himself from running to the stool. Fawkes soared off his shoulder for a moment while he sat down, then settled at his feet. Professor Potter handed him the hat.
He put it on without any preliminaries, and let it slide down over his eyes, enclosing him in darkness.
"Ah," a voice whispered. "I've been waiting for you, I think, Albus Dumbledore."
Hello, Albus thought, excited, not knowing whether or not he had to speak to be heard (the others hadn't spoken). I'm pleased to meet you.
Apparently, the hat was able to hear his thoughts. It laughed softly. "And to think, you almost stayed out in the cold."
Where will I be? Albus asked.
"Hmmm... Well, you're a difficult case. The kindness of a Hufflepuff, the mind of a Ravenclaw, the boldness of a Gryffindor, and, quite honestly, the arrogance of a Slytherin. Ignoring a Hogwarts owl, indeed!"
But the hat didn't sound annoyed. It actually sounded rather pleased. Albus felt Fawkes beside his leg, a warm weight, singing nicely. Er... Mr. Hat?
"Ah, yes. You'll need to be somewhere, won't you? But I find that I don't want to sort you. You will always belong to the whole of Hogwarts."
"Yes, always. But the founders belonged to one another without losing their identities, and your identity is what it is. Fawkes recognized you, Albus Dumbledore, and chose you because you are of a piece with his first human companion."
"Curiously, he was my first human companion as well, and I agree with Fawkes' choice. You are the true heir. Welcome home to...
To be continued... in 1933.