Oh you may not think I'm pretty,
But don't judge on what you see,
I'll eat myself if you can find
A smarter hat than me.
There's nothing hidden in your head
The Sorting Hat can't see,
So try me on and I will tell you
Where you ought to be.
So put me on! Don't be afraid!
And don't get in a flap!
You're in safe hands (though I have none)
For I'm a Thinking Cap!
The Sorting Hat, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone
September 1, 1937
Steven Egbert looked down at his train ticket for Platform 9 , confused. There was no sign of the platform he was supposed to be on, just the signs for platforms 9 and 10. He saw other kids pushing trolleys with owls on top of their suitcases, but most of them looked like they knew what they were doing. Steven's mum and dad had never been to Hogwarts, or even London for that matter. They were as clueless about all of this as he was. It had been a struggle to figure out how to find Diagon Alley to get all of his school supplies. There had been a map in his acceptance letter, but his mum hadn't been able to see the Leaky Cauldron sign, and they had passed it three or four times before Steven finally spotted it. He had figured that Platform 9 would be pretty similar.
There seemed to be a lot of teenagers hanging around the pillar between platforms 9 and 10 with their respective parents, so Steven tugged on his mum's hand and pointed. She didn't seem to notice anything unusual, but she and Steven's dad had started getting used to Steven noticing or being able to see things that they couldn't.
Steven lead them up to the platform, but his parents still couldn't seem to see the crowd around it. Steven's eyes widened as he watched one by one as other teenagers and their parents just walk into the pillar between platforms 9 and 10 and vanish. Some of the parents seemed to know what they were doing, but others just looked around aimlessly, looking bored and slightly confused.
"Hey. Hey you. You with the face."
Steven looked over his shoulder and saw a slightly older boy with dark skin and darker eyes.
"Your parents Muggles?" Steven looked up at his parents, then back at the boy, confused. The boy rolled his eyes. "They totally are. You're from the real world, right?" Steven smiled and nodded in understanding.
The other boy held out his hand. "I'm Casey. My parents are normal too." Steven took Casey's hand. "You got a name?" Casey asked.
"Uh… Yeah, I'm Steven." Steven smiled.
Casey grinned back. "Yeah, it's weird for non-magic parents to get on the platform. What my parents do is just close their eyes while I pull 'em through. They can't go through if they're lookin' at it, see?" Casey pushed his trolley forward, holding his dad's hand. "My turn. See ya Steven!"
Casey disappeared through the pillar with his dad. Steven turned to his mum to relay Casey's helpful hint, and then took her hand as he walked towards the pillar.
Everyone watched him as he pulled his mum and his mum pulled his dad towards the barrier. He must look pretty stupid right now, pulling two grown-ups toward a stone wall. His face turned more and more red the closer they got. The more nervous Steven got, the faster he walked, until he was making a full out sprint for the barrier, dragging his parents behind him. And then, he was through. He opened his eyes and saw the scarlet steam engine, and breathed a sigh of relief. He had done it. He was a wizard.
The steam engine pulled away from the station, and Steven pulled his trunk around looking for a compartment to sit in. He thought he might find Casey somewhere, but when he did, Casey was sitting in a compartment surrounded by people. Steven didn't want to disturb them, so he looked for another empty seat. He peered into the compartment next door, and saw a boy and a girl. They didn't seem so bad. He knocked on the door and slid it open.
"Hello. Mind if I sit here?" Steven could feel his face getting red, and looked down at the ground.
"Of course." The boy gave a crooked smile.
Steven put up his trunk and sat down in the corner closest to the door. He started fiddling with his sweater sleeve.
"What's your name?" the boy asked.
Steven looked up slightly, then back at the floor. "Steven. Steven Egbert."
"Nice. Egbert fits you." Steven looked up at the boy and smiled. "I'm Macnair, and this is Black." Macnair nodded at the girl, who was slouching in her seat. "I'm a first year, but Black is a second year."
Steven breathed a sigh of relief. Macnair was a first year too, so he probably felt as awkward as he did. "Me too. I'll be a first year too."
"Great!" Macnair smiled. "Maybe you'll be in Slytherin with us!"
Steven's face fell. "Wait… You're in Slytherin? How do you already have a house?"
The slouching girl, Black, snorted. "This one's a Mudblood, Macnair. No use talking to him."
Macnair flinched imperceptibly. Steven asked, "What's a Mudblood?"
Black gave a wicked smile. "It's a compliment, Egbert. For people whose backgrounds are more… unconventional."
Steven still felt like he had missed out on some inside joke, but filed the information away. He wanted to practice all this new lingo when he got to Hogwarts.
Macnair turned back to Steven, and gave a forced smile. "I don't officially have a house until the sorting, but both of our families have been in Slytherin for years. Well, Black's has longer than mine, but I have three generations so far, so I'm catching up." His smile became more genuine as he talked about his family.
Steven caught Macnair's infectious smile, and his awkwardness started to slip away. "Wow, that's amazing that they've been going to Hogwarts for so long! Maybe I'll be the first in my line to be in Slytherin too!"
Black rolled her eyes from the corner, but Macnair and Steven both ignored her.
"You'll love Slytherin, it's so amazing! My mum and dad have told me all about it. That's where they met, you know. The castle is amazing, and the Slytherins have the best common room, since lots of successful wizards come out of Slytherin and all. The Head of House right now is someone named Slughorn, I think he teaches potions, but I think he started teaching just a few years ago. Apparently he's very good. Well, he went to Slytherin too, so obviously he'd be amazing. He went to school with my parents for a bit, they said he was very charming."
Steven's eyes grew wider with every word. Slytherin sounded wonderful. Steven hoped that you could pick which house to be in.
The train chugged through the rolling green hills while Macnair filled Steven's head with visions of Slytherin house and what fun they would all have together. The food trolley came by, and Black bought half the cart. She even threw a couple of pumpkin pasties Steven's way. By the time the scarlet steam engine pulled to a stop, Steven was so excited about Slytherin that he was bouncing out of his shoes. They got into the boats, drifted to the castle, walked in the doors and were led into the Great Hall. It was all a blur for Steven, who could only hope there wasn't a test later. And then, in no time at all, he was standing in front of the Sorting Hat.
He shifted his weight nervously from foot to foot, as the Headmaster made some preliminary announcements and the Sorting officially began. As a wizard in starry purple robes read out names, Steven took an opportunity to look around the hall. He gazed at each of the banners representing the four different houses. Slytherin glittered a beautiful green and silver, and suddenly Steven became very nervous. What if he wasn't good enough to be in Slytherin?
Steven faintly heard his name being called, but his feet were stuck to the floor.
"Egbert, Steven!" rang through the hall a second time.
This time, Steven processed it, and started stumbling up to the hat. He looked back over his shoulder at Black, who looked bored, and Macnair, who gave him a thumbs up. Steven knew he was destined for Slytherin, he just knew it. He sat down on the stool as the professor with half moon glasses and twinkling eyes lowered the hat onto his head. The hat slid past his ears and pushed his glasses a little further down his round face. Just as the brim covered his eyes, he heard a whispering in his ear.
"So, you want to be in Slytherin, do you?"
Steven froze. The hat. The hat could talk. Why hadn't anyone told him that?
"Tell me, Steven. Why do you want to be in Slytherin?"
Steven gulped. "Well," he whispered, "I want to be with my friends. Plus, all the amazing wizards start in Slytherin. I… I don't know. Everyone knows that Slytherin is the best house."
The hat paused, considering his answer. "You are very loyal to your friends, Steven, even though you just met them. And I see there is a greatness in you that you cannot yet see yourself. I think the house you would ultimately be the happiest in is…"
"HUFFLEPUFF!" the hat roared to the hall.
Steven's heart sank straight to his toes. He was frozen to his seat, and couldn't even hear the cheering from the Hufflepuff table. He was so glued to the stool that after a few seconds the professor had to pry him off to make room for the next first year on the list. Steven mechanically shuffled to the long table draped in yellow, and ducked his head so no one could see him cry.