"Not Slytherin! Not Slytherin!" Albus' heart was pounding as he walked up to the three legged stool and saw the deputy Headmaster, Professor Hagrid, holding out the Sorting Hat in his huge hand.
"Yeh'll be a'righ'." Hagrid beamed at Albus from a great height as Albus clambered on to the stool, a worried expression on his face and "Not Slytherin!" beating out a tattoo in his head.
Hagrid put the hat on Albus' dark, messy hair and at once the Sorting Hat began to speak. "Not Slytherin, eh? I once heard this from another Potter, twenty-six years previously."
"That was my Dad!" Albus replied, calming down a little, although his heart was still beating wildly.
"I know." said the Sorting Hat kindly. "but it is my place to decide where you should spend your next seven years. Someone has to go in Slytherin, don't they, young Potter?"
"All four of our Houses are equal in dignity." Said the Hat.
"Each of them has an illustrious history and an excellent founder." Said the Hat.
"Yes, but, I don't want to be in Slytherin." Albus managed to choke out.
"Why?" Replied the Hat. "Because of what you have heard or because of something you see in yourself? Are you afraid?"
Albus didn't really know how to respond. "What I see in myself? I'm not a Dark Wizard!!"
"Not all Slytherins practice the Dark Arts, young Potter." Said the Hat. "But all of them have a successful life one way or the other. Slytherins are willing to work hard because they can see the future benefits. Slytherins are good judges of character, generally, they know when it is a good deal and when it is a bad deal. Slytherins are naturally ambitious and can see where they are going long before someone else has even dreamed of a future career."
Albus' heart started to slow down to a natural pace. "Do you see this in me?" He asked.
"I see this and lots, lots more." Replied the Hat. "I see that you are brave, and loyal and more than a little bit clever. But more than that I see that you want to do well in life and you have an ambition to follow your father and become an Auror. You have even been reading his old Auror training books to get ahead."
"Yes, but, that's not me being a Slytherin." Said Albus. "That's just me being me."
"And that is the sign of you truly being of your House." The Hat said. "Because you cannot distinguish between what you do naturally and what is a trait of the House. If you put on these qualities for show, I would be able to tell, but you are a natural Slytherin. It is where you belong."
"But, my Dad said you can't force me to go into a House I don't want." Albus replied, a little stunned that he seemed to fit Slytherin so completely.
"You do get a measure of choice, young Potter." Said the Hat, guardedly. "But it is always my final decision. I can see what lies ahead for you. Notice how I didn't say Hufflepuff! You have little Hufflepuff to come in your life."
"What! Do you mean I don't work hard, I'm not loyal?" Albus said, shocked.
"No, no, young Potter. I just mean that from my point of view, which is more measured than your own, Slytherin is the house for you. If you can present a better defence of why you should be in Gryffindor, I shall be glad to hear it."
"My brother will kill me if I'm in Slytherin." Albus replied, weakly.
"Sometimes we cannot always follow our families. Surely your father told you about your grandfather's friend, Sirius Black? His family were all in Slytherin, but he was destined for Gryffindor by something stronger than the ties of blood. Magical descent, something that ties all of you, regardless of actual family, to the Houses of Hogwarts, your family whilst you live within these walls."
"Uncle Ron-" Albus tried to reply.
"Young Potter." The Hat seemed impatient now. "Slytherin is where you belong. Severus Snape, the previous headmaster of Hogwarts was a Slytherin, Professor Slughorn is a Slytherin, novelist Rita Skeeter is a Slytherin, celebrated celebrity Gilderoy Lockheart was a Slytherin, St Mungo's Healer Daphne Greengrass and male model Blaise Zabini were Slytherins at school too. None of these personalities were ever evil, but single-minded in their pursuit of their career and the betterment of their lives." The Hat started to speak sternly. "I hope you realise that our long conversation has made everyone in the Great Hall stare at us. They want to know why we've been taking so long."
Albus looked over to the Gryffindor table where his brother, James, was sitting, his soft brown eyes puzzled by how long the Sorting was taking. "I can't not go with my brother," Albus pleaded with the Hat.
"Think about what you are asking." Said the Hat sternly. "You are asking to be placed in a House that doesn't match your talents, where you will never feel at home, just to spare your brother's feelings on one night."
Albus felt his bottom lip start to tremble. "I can't disappoint everyone."
"The only person you need to worry about disappointing is yourself, and you know this deep down inside yourself." Said the Hat, a little more kindly. "Think how it will look to the outside world, young Potter."
"Everyone will think that Harry Potter's son is going to be a Dark Wizard." Said Albus, twisting his hands together, worried.
"No." Replied the Hat. "They will at first wonder how it happened that one of the most famous Gryffindors of all time had a son who became a Slytherin...however, your very presence in Slytherin and your very relation to Harry Potter will begin to mend centuries of disservice to Slytherin House. You can see this young Potter, you know that by stepping up to your destiny, you can be the hand that mends Slytherin's relationships with the other three Houses of Hogwarts. You can be the one who finally unites the Hogwarts Houses nearly a thousand years after Salazar Slytherin walked out of those great doors for the last time."
"I know," said Albus, composing himself. "I can see what I have to do. I'm still worried about James though."
"Your brother will be sad at first," the Hat acknowledged. "But soon he will realise that I have Sorted you correctly, and if he can still love you as a Slytherin, which he will, so will the rest of your family and friends. You have it in you to be a very great wizard, Albus. Slytherin will help you achieve that."
"Alright." Albus said, with an air of finality. "Alright."
The brim of the Hat opened wide and shouted, "SLYTHERIN!"
The room fell into a hush. Headmistress McGonagall's head snapped up from where she was sitting calmly at the teacher's table. Albus could see James punch the Gryffindor table angrily and avoid his eyes. Professor Hagrid gently removed the Hat from Albus' head and gave him a reluctant nudge towards the Slytherin table. Professor Slughorn sprang to his feet a little clumsily and led Albus to the table where he sat down to a little skinny blonde boy, whose face had a pinched, tense look. Albus, sharing the boy's scared expression, looked up and around at the people who shared his table, all wearing black robes, silver and green ties...and perfectly friendly expressions.
A prefect with long, soft brown hair and pretty grey eyes held out a hand to Albus. "I'm Caroline Goyle." she said, shaking his hand gently. "I'll be your sheepdog this year, I'll make sure you find your way around. If there's anything you're worried about, you just come to me, alright?"
"Thank you," Albus replied. The blond boy beside him shook a little, discernibly nervous. Albus turned to him. "I'm Albus Potter, are you alright?"
"Yes, I'm perfectly fine." The boy replied in a clipped, posh accent, looking nervously up and down the table. "But no one has welcomed me like that." He chewed his bottom lip.
"Don't worry, you can stick with me." Albus said, "We're probably going to go to the same dormitory and have the same lessons and everything."
"Ok," the blond boy replied. "My name is Scorpius Malfoy, by the way. I remember seeing you at the station."
Albus vaguely remembered Uncle Ron making a comment about purebloods, but he couldn't remember it clearly. "I think I saw you," he replied, "but there were so many people there!"
"I know!" Said Scorpius, just as surprised, his smile reaching his grey eyes just as Albus' reached his bright green ones. "Let's see who gets sorted next!"
The Sorting Hat sent Quirrell, Rhea to Ravenclaw, Urquhart, Lysander to Slytherin (who Albus and Scorpius clapped and cheered with the rest of their house), Weasley, Rose to Gryffindor and Yarrow, Roderick to Hufflepuff. Professor Hagrid rolled up his scroll of parchment and stepped back so that Professor McGonagall could address the pupils.
"New students, homecoming faces, old hands." she said, a proud look on her face. "It is with greatest pleasure that I welcome you to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. For those of you who have just joined us, I promise you that your time here will equip you well for your lives and careers ahead. It will provide you with good friends and confidantes, it will help you hone your magical and social skills. The things you learn here, at Hogwarts, will never leave you." McGonagall paused and gazed around the room. Albus and Scorpius felt her eyes alight on them quickly before moving to look at other House tables. "Good luck, new students of Hogwarts. Go forward this year and embrace every challenge it throws your way. And now," She clapped her hands once. "The feast!"
The tables groaned under the weight of practically every kind of dish Albus could imagine. Caroline Goyle grinned at him as she piled her plate high with sausages and mash and plenty of gravy. As he heaped roast potatoes onto his plate and felt Scorpius' sharp elbow accidentally jab into his side as he lunged for some roast ham before a gigantic blond Slytherin boy took it away down the table, Albus looked around at the happy, chattering table around him and immediately felt at home.