The lady, who Hagrid addressed as Professor McGonagall, led them through the imposing corridors to a small room next to the Great Hall. From the noise, it appeared that the Hall itself was full of people. After giving them a short introduction to what was to come, she swept out. Kestra, naturally, knew all about the Sorting Hat from her mother's lengthy descriptions of everything she thought Kestra might need to know about Hogwarts, and her uniform was still as impeccable as always despite the journey from the train.

"Know what house you'll be in yet?" asked Draco conversationally, now obviously flanked by the two others from the boat.

"I expect I'll be in Ravenclaw," replied Kestra casually. "Although you never can tell. I strongly suspect that I am not destined to be a Hufflepuff, though." There was some immature shrieking as several ghosts entered through the wall, talking amongst themselves, but both Kestra and Draco ignored them.

"I suppose no-one really knows until we're in there," said Draco, "but I'm almost certain I'll be a Slytherin. All my family are, you know. I quite agree about Hufflepuff - I think I'd leave if I was sorted there, wouldn't you?"

"I'm not sure that I would take it that far," replied Kestra, a little taken aback. "My mother would never forgive me, after all. She was a Hufflepuff herself, you see, and..."

Professor McGonagall's return saved Kestra from attempting to explain further, as she led the whole roomful of first-years in a silent procession down the centre of the Hall. The focus of everyone's attention appeared to be a battered old hat, lying on a chair in the centre of the stage. Kestra decided that she was going to get a lot of practice in taking completely absurd things in her stride during her time here - especially when it began to sing.

The Professor started to call out names in alphabetical order. Both of the first two were sorted into Hufflepuff, but Kestra wasn't too concerned, as they did look rather like Hufflepuffs to her. She paid more attention to the two Ravenclaws that followed, wondering how easily she'd make friends here. One of the ruffians from the boat was unsurprisingly sorted into Slytherin. The first truly familiar face that stepped up to the chair was Hermione. Kestra felt confident that this was going to get her another good look at the Ravenclaw table, but no - Hermione was sorted into Gryffindor. Feeling she was about as likely to be a Gryffindor as she was a Hufflepuff, Kestra mentally crossed Hermione off her internal list of people to look for, with a slight twinge of sadness. The other ruffian followed his friend swiftly into Slytherin, and soon enough it was Kestra's turn.

Approaching the chair with some trepidation, she carefully picked up the hat and arranged it on her head, so that it did not overly mess up her hair, fall down or otherwise make her look more stupid than could be helped.

"Not a Hufflepuff, huh?" said a small voice in her ear.

"Ravenclaw," she replied confidently, silent but somehow knowing how to address the voice.

"Are you sure? Ravenclaw will stifle you, I'd say. All that strength you've got within, you'll make a better SLYTHERIN!"

Kestra stood up, very calmly removed the hat, replaced it on the seat for the next person, and walked very deliberately and precisely down the steps towards the cheering Slytherins. She reminded herself sternly that Slytherin was much better than Hufflepuff, that Slytherins also had an excellent academic reputation, and that the pale boy from the boat, Draco, had seemed like a perfectly nice gentleman, and very polite and courteous with it. She chose a seat next to a golden-haired girl she had seen being sorted into the house earlier - Cassia Goodheart, an unusual name for a Slytherin. As the ceremony continued, Kestra noticed that Cassia looked even more worried by the Sorting Hat's choice than she had been - even on the verge of tears.

Draco came to sit between his two uncouth associates, a little way down the table from where Kestra had positioned herself. Cassia still hadn't looked up from her private misery when the last person to be sorted also came to sit at the Slytherin table - next to the disagreeable-looking Millicent Bulstrode. Kestra had to try very hard to restrain the urge to roll her eyes sarcastically at the stupid way the Headmaster ended his speech, obviously trying to put everyone at their ease in the terribly clumsy manner of all educators that were too old for their jobs. As she helped herself to some food - it did appear to be a very good feast, despite the suspicious way it suddenly appeared on the table - she noticed that Cassia was still looking miserable.

"Would you like some potatoes?" asked Kestra, offering a dish and hoping to start a conversation. Cassia mumbled something that might have been 'thanks' and dutifully loaded some potatoes onto her plate, which she proceeded to push around mournfully in the same manner as the rest of the food she'd taken. After polishing off another mouthful, Kestra decided that she'd have to take a more active approach in dealing with this poor girl.

"You look ever so unhappy," she began. "Care to share what's on your mind?"

"Oh," muttered Cassia, "it's nothing." She took a deep breath that was almost a sigh and ate a mouthful of potato, as if to demonstrate this.

Checking that no-one else was listening, Kestra whispered conspiratorially, "I wasn't precisely expecting to be in Slytherin either, you know." Cassia looked rather surprised at this admission, much to Kestra's distaste - why was it so strange that Slytherin was not her first choice?

"My whole family are Gryffindors," muttered Cassia sullenly over her food. "I think they're gonna disown me or something."

"My mother's a Hufflepuff," replied Kestra, matching Cassia's tone, "she'll be thinking I'm going to disown her, or something."

"I just don't know why the Sorting Hat put me here," complained Cassia. "I mean, I was never going to be a Gryffindor, but I was hoping for Hufflepuff or Ravenclaw, at least."

"It could be going senile," suggested Kestra, wondering why Cassia had been so sure Gryffindor wasn't for her, but leaving that discussion for another time. "It has been around for an awfully long time, after all."

"It seems to have done okay for the others," replied Cassia darkly, indicating Draco and his henchmen.

"At least we have each other," said Kestra reassuringly.

"I guess," conceded Cassia. "This food is pretty good," she continued, piling up food with renewed vigour.

"Yes, it is," agreed Kestra distractedly, with a rather disheartened scan of the Slytherin table.

----

Kestra had barely fallen asleep when she was being roughly shaken awake by that disagreeable-looking Millicent Bulstrode.

"C'mon, Draco says we're all meeting outside in five minutes," snapped the oversized girl, before going on to wake Cassia, Pansy and Blaise in the same manner. Pansy Parkinson and Blaise Zabini quickly threw on dressing-gowns and swept out of the room behind Millicent. Cassia, however, had sat back down on her bed, face in her hands.

"Cass?" asked Kestra worriedly as she smoothed down her own nightdress, which was adequately sensible to venture out in anyhow.

"I don't wanna be a Slytherin," sobbed Cassia. "I'm going home."

"Cassia!" exclaimed Kestra, scandalised. "Is this the right thing for a daughter of Gryffindors to do? Surely you've inherited some of their bravery? Just because the Sorting Hat has left us in a difficult situation does not mean we should run away from it! Now, wipe your eyes and come along, and we'll have no more of this 'leaving' nonsense."

Cassia was so startled by Kestra's sudden imperiousness that she stood up, wiped her face with her sleeve, and followed Kestra to the doorway without truly realising what she was doing. Kestra motioned for her to wait at the door. "Wait until Draco makes his dramatic entrance," explained Kestra, "and then no-one will notice us coming from the other direction. Otherwise everyone will ask what kept us."

As Draco swept down the stairs from the boys' chamber, flanked by Crabbe and Goyle wearing their meanest expressions, Kestra tugged on Cassia's arm and they swiftly and quietly made their way down to join the others.

"The Slytherin house has held the House Cup for the past three years," began Draco dramatically, "and I intend to ensure that we do everything in our power to keep it this way." His gaze scanned the assembled Slytherins, who attempted to look tough and ready, despite the lateness of the hour.. "To work towards this aim, we must know each other. I sincerely hope that I and my family need no introduction. Crabbe?"

"Vincent Crabbe," said Crabbe slowly, as if trying to remeber a prepared speech. "My dad's a troll hunter and my mum makes stuff out of troll bits." The disapproving look that crossed Draco's face showed that this was not the correct, practiced answer.

"Goyle?"

"Dad's a collector, collects stuff from old places. Mum finds homes for the stuff." Goyle's speech was delivered more fluently but was met by perhaps more disapproval.

"Zabini, isn't it?"

"Blaise Zabini," replied Blaise confidently. "My mother is a top designer of robewear, specialising in the intricate charmwork involved in beautification. My father writes arcane books about obscure areas of transfiguration - he was a Ravenclaw."

"Parkinson?"

"My father runs the cauldron shop in Diagon Alley, and my mother handles the purchasing," replied Pansy, sounding slightly nervous. To her relief, Draco wasn't interested in humiliating her.

"Levine?"

"Kestra Levine," replied Kestra in a brisk, confident tone. "My mother's a Hufflepuff who shops for a living and we don't know who my father is." There were looks of disapproval from the 'real Slytherins' - Draco, Millicent, Pansy and Blaise. Crabbe just looked confused, as usual, and Goyle was still trying to look impassive and intimidating.

"You do know what sort he was, I presume?" asked Draco coldly.

"Of course!" replied Kestra, with the correct tone of incredulity in her voice. "My mother might have been a terrible Hufflepuff, but she wouldn't do *that* with a *Muggle!*" Distaste and disbelief were present in precisely measured doses, and the combination seemed to satisfy Draco.

"Goodheart?"

Kestra gave Cassia's hand a reassuring squeeze as the girl looked set to start crying again. "Be confident," hissed Kestra.

"My mother brews novel potions," she began shakily, "and my father is an expert on curing charms."

"No other salient points about your family that you wish to share?" insisted Draco cooly.

"They're Gryffindors," snapped Cassia. "They go back almost as far as your family claims to, Draco, and they're more likely to be telling the truth."

Draco was momentarily taken aback by the violence of Cassia's response, but quickly recovered his composure.

"Just remember what house you're working for, Goodheart," he warned, Goyle landing a hard fist in his own palm by way of warning. Cassia looked appropriately scared, which appeared to satisfy Draco, who swept back out into the boy's dormitory, flanked by his ever-loyal bodyguards. Kestra felt very glad that Transfiguration had been cancelled tomorrow so that the new students could 'familiarise themselves' with the castle layout - she would probably need the extra sleep after calming Cassia down.

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