The Secret of the Forest
Chapter 22: Trial Sorting
Alex stayed true. Albus grabbed one sandwich, and left the Hall, muttering an excuse of not being hungry, and sending a letter. Ignoring questions from Scorpius and Walter, he left the hall. Soon after, Mark and the twins left the hall after Albus, and went upstairs. Albus was waiting for them at the top of the stairs. He still seemed in a bad mood. But the way and manner in which they walked up to Galadral’s office was as if Albus was being taken to the gallows or a guillotine. No one spoke to him, not even Mark who was a friend to him for a year now.
Albus had never been this way before. Most of his time was spent either in the North Tower’s Divination class, Gryffindor Tower with Professor Redgrow’s Transfiguration class, or otherwise in the lower floors or dungeons. The Headmaster’s Office was on a higher floor, at the end of a long hall ending in a stone Griffin.
As he walked the hall, Mark pat Albus’ back as they approached the griffin. There was already someone there. Surrounded by the same article posted on the Slytherin Common room notice board papers hung all over the walls of the hall, was Lorcan Scamander, face contorted in fury as he kicked the griffin as if thinking he could cast it down.
“Calm down Scamander,” Eric said angrily.
“NO!” he yelled angrily. “He’s locking himself in there on purpose!”
“He’s at lunch!” Mark laughed, and as he laughed, Albus could see the smile he hated. Mark’s arrogant smile that made Albus think of him as a snake. Though they were friends now, Mark was still horrible to people he didn’t like, and Lorcan was one of them.
“Exactly!” Lorcan yelled. “I’m gonna wait for him there or here!”
“Go away!” Mark demanded, stepping forward.
Lorcan faced him. Albus tried his best to hide himself or otherwise give Lorcan an apologetic look, trying to assure him he wasn’t on Mark’s side. Lorcan was paying no attention though. He kept his eyes on Mark, looking about to yell.
“Go away, or we duel!”
“ASS HOLE!” Lorcan screamed angrily, pinning Mark against the wall and earning wands pointed at him readily by Alex and Eric. They might’ve jinxed him, but Albus took his wand out and pointed at Eric threateningly.
“Get off him,” Albus warned. “Off, or I’ll walk off and forget your offer.”
“Wand down,” Alex sighed, resigned, stepping back for Lorcan as the boy walked past.
“You started this whole thing about Riley and you whine about tolerance,” Lorcan breathed at Alex as he passed him. “Lousy Gryffindor scumbags! The least you could do is help!”
“Well, you’re passionate about the cause,” Mark mocked. “I think Rita wants to imprison people like you.”
It might’ve been loyalty to Hermione, but at that comment, Albus spun round and punched Mark straight in the face. Mark yelled and Alex screamed in surprise. Lorcan jumped back and pointed his wand at Alex threateningly and Albnus was furious, temper with the Gryffindor trio rising to boiling point. “DON’T give Rita undeserved credit! She deserves to rot for the slanders she makes!” Albus yelled.
And Mark recoiled back, wide smile gone from his face as he nodded slowly, a mixture of utter hurt and shock, even horror on his face as tears slowly formed in his eyes, “I’m sorry.”
Lorcan passed him, hanging clippings of the article as he left, red-faced and mad. Albus didn’t know what this would prove. Lorcan was angry for one reason, Alex and Eric were digging into Mark and hurting his friends, and Albus was feeling it all. He was even starting to sympathize with Lorcan’s cause. And putting last year aside, he was starting to hate Mark and the twins all over again. They never changed.
And he remembered Alexis’ last words to him the previous year. “You know he won’t stop. You know he still wants you in Gryffindor. Maybe still wants to weaken your friendship with Scorpius. I’m just telling you this because… because he is a hard person to be around. Believe me, I’ve tried it.”
Alex and Eric stepped on either side, and Mark faced the middle, raised his hands, and said clearly, “Mars Bar!”
“Muggle sweet,” Alex muttered to Albus as if he lacked knowledge of Muggles. Here again was an implicit remark saying Slytherins knew little of Muggles by principle. The griffin gave way and rose up into spiraling steps. Stepping up, they took the four kids up like an elevator. Mark opened the door, and stepped in, stepping aside for the rest of them.
As Albus stepped in, he got a strange sense of familiarity. Despite lacking a memory of this place, he knew he had been here before. Albus remembered his father telling him that he had only once visited the Headmaster’s Office when he was very young. He had to be about two or three. With a strike of vague déjà vu, he saw the portraits of all previous Headmasters and Headmistresses. They were hanging on a wall behind the throne-like chair, snoozing in their frames.
The chair was seated at a desk placed in front of them. On the desk, there sat piles of books of spells and history. They seemed to have been taken from a bookcase placed on the far right, beside which was the familiar three-legged stool baring the patched and frayed Sorting hat.
Albus took an unconscious step toward it when a quivered old voice spoke from a frame, “Albus Potter.”
Albus jumped, and Mark looked up widened his eyes and exclaimed, “Professor Dumbledore.”
The frame directly behind the desk, with an old, wrinkled man with a long white beard had his eyes open. “So, finally I meet the son of my old student? How are you?”
Albus was taken-aback a great deal. He nodded in response, at a loss for words, and gulped.
“No need to be alarmed, dear boy,” Dumbledore said cheerfully. Though he looked old, he talked with strength and character. “Now, look Severus, it’s someone who has your name. Albus Severus, correct?”
Albus nodded, looking to Dumbledore’s right. A portrait of a man with sallow, pale skin and curtained, greasy black hair had his eyes open too. He stared directly at Albus with cold, black eyes. Severus Snape. There was his namesake. Both halves. One was glaring at him as if he insulted him, the other was beaming. The glaring one named Snape spoke with an almost bored voice, “Charmed. Looks like his father. A little too much.”
“Oh, I dunno, I see some of Miss Weasley in him. A little hint of ginger in the black hair of his,” Dumbledore disagreed. “Besides, I understand he made Slytherin, Severus.”
“Well, we’re about to prove all that wrong,” Eric said suddenly. Albus had forgotten Mark and the twins were there. “So sorry to disappoint. Albus belongs in Gryffindor.”
Alex hurried to the stool, and took the sorting hat off. Suddenly, Albus saw the look on Mark’s face, however brief it was. Yes, they were friends in many senses of the word, but as Alexis said, he still wanted Albus resorted. He had a flicker of triumph in his eyes as Alex gave the hat to Eric who passed it to Mark; a wide smile on his face as he placed the hat on Albus’ head, grinning all over. That was it. Whatever house Albus truly belonged in, Mark had won. Two years of warfare saw a victory handed to Mark.
Once again, the sorting begun.
Hmm, difficult, very difficult. Plenty of courage, I see. Not a bad mind either. There’s talent… and a thirst to prove yourself. But where to put you? A pause, and then the hat continued, Albus feeling confused, Not Slytherin, eh? Are you sure? You could be great, you know. It’s all here, in your head. And Slytherin will help you on the way to greatness, no doubt about that. No? If you’re sure, better be… Gryffindor!
The last word was not said aloud. Albus felt confused. He did not ask for Gryffindor. That was his father. Albus didn’t even ask to stay away from Slytherin. What was going on?
Albus Severus Potter! What a surprise. You’re looking for a second sorting?
“No, they are,” Albus muttered, well aware no one but the hat could hear him.
I told you to decide based on you. You chose Slytherin for yourself. Therefore, that is the house in which you belong.
“I did. But I want to know… without outside influences, which house will I go in?”
The words I relayed in your ear were the words I gave your father years ago. He asked for Gryffindor.
“I ask for your own judgment. No influences. Tell me where I belong.” And catching Mark’s face, he added, “And tell them.”
Your father asked me the same question in his second year. I told him he would’ve done well in Slytherin. I say the same thing to you in different words. Gryffindor would’ve been the right house for you.
“Why am I in Slytherin then?”
Because… ‘you asked for it.’
“You’re wrong!” Albus said aloud. “Just put me in my house. I wanna be done with this.”
Why did you tell me where to place you if you are dissatisfied with where you are?
“Because, it’s our choices. I was told you take our choices into account.”
Ah, but only if you can trust yourself and your own judgment. Precious few people in the world have independent judgment. I exist for a reason, Potter, and it’s not to verbalize the thought process of a student. Godric Gryffindor took me off his head so I could look inside the mind of a student, and bring out to him what was otherwise unconscious.”
“Your conscious was begging for Gryffindor. But in your unconscious mind, there blazed a curiosity sparked by a simple argument with your brother and a chance meeting on the train. I have my ways, Potter. I give you the choice with full confidence that you’ll choose the house I know you belong in.”
“Don’t give me the choice then! Decide yourself!”
Let’s see. A strong mind. Clever and wit. A Slytherin trait. Tremendous bravery and a willingness to give yourself up for your friends. A Gryffindor trait. Fiery when bothered. Slytherin. A fierce friend. Gryffindor. The scales are even. It’s your choice.
“I refuse to answer. You decide.”
And once again, young Potter asks for it. “GRYFFINDOR!”
Albus stood rooted to the spot. The last word was said aloud. He hated looking at the triumph around the room, at the shock placed on Severus Snape’s face as Albus took the hat off. Alex smirked complacently, and Eric shrugged, and shook his head, “Well, well, well, a Gryffindor in Slytherin. How ironic.”
“Oh, not very friendly,” Eric said back in an almost whisper. “Scorpius swayed your mind. See, Mark? See that? He made Gryffindor, like he should’ve done with his brother!”
Alex turned suddenly to Mark. Mark was looking disappointed. Albus was shocked. He thought Mark was in on this with Alex. “Scorpius and Walter are just kids, and easily changed, influenced by their parents. I’m only saying this because I care. What about you?”
Mark kept his eyes down, “I care for you, Alex.”
Eric scoffed, “Well, do you care for Al? Or Lorcan? Or Gabriel? Lucy? All those kids who could’ve made a house. Any other house. But made Slytherin because of a- a- a Slytherin Scumbag! What do you say to that?”
“I was wrong,” Mark said miserably.
“You were right, Eric,” Mark said miserably, and he seemed genuinely sorry. “I was wrong. Scorpius is- he’s a bad seed. I give up. I stand corrected.”
“Wait a sec,” Albus said angrily, rising up and bitter from Eric’s foul attitude and his making Gryffindor. He had no idea this was all about the conflict between Mark and Eric. Mark was on Albus’ side. He truly believed Albus would make Slytherin. “You don’t seem to care for Lorcan much either.”
“Oh, sure, side with the vampire-lover,” Eric seethed viciously. “He’s gonna be expelled eventually the way he’s going!”
“You claim tolerance yet shun a vampire,” Albus yelled angrily, the portraits of the Headmasters and Headmistresses choosing to wake up and watch than feigning sleep. “I’m ashamed to be counted among your ranks.”
“I rest my case,” Eric said, and he smirked arrogantly, in a hateful way that made Albus mad. Eric marched up to Albus, and looked him directly in the eyes, “You belonged in Gryffindor. You have no business in Slytherin.”
“But a promise is a promise,” Alex spoke up, looking down. “We’ll take an excursion with you all into the”-
“If I was teacher right now, I’d detain you till the end of term, Wallaby,” Snape said slowly to Eric, and he sounded dangerous. “So intolerable. So like a Gryffindor. No different from your kind! Arrogant. Selfish. Dim-witted! Self-righteous! As”-
Snape was interrupted by the door banging open. Arm wide from throwing open the door, Galadral Phoenix stared directly at them. Behind him was Lorcan Scamander, and in Galadral’s hands were a stack of what looked like the articles hung on the wall, “Breaking and entering. Shall I do some expelling?”
At that, Mark broke down into tears. Galadral Phoenix stared at him, “Guilty? Or did something happen?”
“He’s just suffered a shock,” Eric said dirtily. Albus thought Mark had made up with the twins, but it seemed he only made up with Alex. Eric was still dirty. “And Potter here was resorted into Gryffindor. Professor, I have a case to make. Albus Potter belongs in Gryffindor, not Slytherin. He was swayed into Slytherin by a bast- a- a bad seed. I request he changes house.”
Albus stared down. He nodded slowly. Mark was still in tears, and Alex was bent down beside him, patting his back. At this, Galadral looked at Dumbledore’s smiling portrait, at Mark, at the hat and understood everything. He smirked in an enthusiastic way. “Oh, I’ve always wanted to do this.”