Hogwarts: a Horror Story
When you are 13, you spend one month of your life in an alternate dimension where everything is the same except the strange but certain feeling that everyone else is hiding a third eye under the hair on the back of their head, and two months of your life in a British school for witchcraft and wizardry. These two facts are not related, but aren't the foibles of puberty so precious? Ah, the places we go!
Night Vale High has had a student exchange with its sister school, Hogwarts, for several centuries--longer, in fact, than Night Vale has had a high school or, technically, a population. The student exchange doesn't happen very often since, even in the wizarding world, finding a seventh son of a seventh son is quite rare. It's worth the price, though, and while Night Vale may find the sacrifice of one or two of its brightest young ones rather sad, the--
Oh, it's just a temporary exchange? And the students will be sent back to Night Vale relatively unharmed after only a few months?
I suppose we can work with that time frame.
So you pack up your things while your mother sacrifices something to the bloodstone in order to break the invisible border nobody ever talks about, which circles the town and is impassible if you don't please the Elder Council. She also adds in a little extra sacrifice so you don't lose your socks or umbrella while you're away and it's soooooo embarrassing, gosh, Mom, it's not like you're a little kid anymore, geez. It's not until you're on the transAtlantic train that you start to feel a little nervous, but you clamp down on that feeling as soon as it comes.
Your mother always said you should never be scared to try new things, because new things can sense fear and will strike the moment you are vulnerable.
Hogwarts castle is dark and foreboding, all weathered stone and towers, definitely Old School, if you would pardon the pun. You feel that there should be a bolt of lightning and perhaps a wolf's howl to really make the image pop, but you can't really take off points once you see how they have summoned one of the Old One's lesser cousins to swim in the moat. What a thoughtful welcome! And it's not even raining blood!
You really will have to ask how they managed to summon him without the blood. Ah, the things you will learn! Truly, studying abroad is a wonderful thing.
You lean over in the boat and wave at him, calling, "Ia! Ia! Wh'thalryn mnoptr'ftlb Hogwarts da ftui?"
A large tentacle rises out of the water, and, in a voice that passes your ears to gently sink its way into your mind, you hear, "Fr'rheytabl chernltl'rg kta, kta, kta..."
You laugh at his clever pun and turn back to the groundskeeper, who has stopped rowing and looks considerably paler than before. "Sorry, my accent is terrible, isn't it? Never could get the hang of rolling my fltb's." You give him a little shrug. What can you do, am I right?
The gates of Hogwarts soon lead to its main hall, where all the students and teachers are sitting at long tables and eating dinner and--did you hear that right? Did someone just refer to the pitchers of orange liquid as "pumpkin juice?" Okay, you're all for cultural relativity and showing respect for other people's customs, but ew. Just, ew.
There is a man at the center of the main table, all long white beard and pointed hat and twinkling eyes, he looks like Santa without the blood red suit. "Hello, hello, come here, young man," he says, beckoning to you.
You obey. You can tell that, behind those twinkling eyes, this man has killed people in The War. The comparison to Santa seems more apt than ever.
"I am Professor Dumbledore, headmaster of this school," he says, putting out a hand. "Welcome to Hogwarts."
You shake it. "Very pleased to meet you," you say.
The headmaster places his hands on your shoulders and spins you to face the students. "Everyone! This is Cecil Palmer, our exchange student from America. He will be staying with us for the next two months."
You wave at your future classmates, managing a quiet, "Hello."
"Now, Cecil, we here at Hogwarts have a special tradition," the headmaster says. His eyes twinkle with the light of dead stars. "We sort our students into four houses depending on their strongest attributes. We have arranged a special sorting, just for you. Would you like to see if you will end up in Brave Gryffindor, Intelligent Ravenclaw, Ambitious Slytherin, or, ah, Miscellaneous Hufflepuff?"
You shrug. "Okay?"
He motions for you to take a seat on a stool in front of the table. You do so, and a large leather hat is placed on your head. It slides down over your eyes, past your ears, until it rests on your shoulders. You hope that it won't go wrong and accidentally remove your head. Steve Carlsberg went headless for two weeks back in eighth grade, and the last thing you'd want is for anyone to think you were trying to imitate that guy.
"Oh ho ho, what have we got here?" you hear. The hat is speaking to you.
"My name is Cecil Palmer," you say politely. "I'm an exchange student."
"Oh my, an American!" the hat exclaims. "What an adorable accent you have!"
"Thank you, sir. Yours is adorable as well," you say, and immediately hope that nobody can hear you under the hat. You're honestly not trying to hit on the hat, really. You're just nervous. The hat chuckles.
"Thank you, thank you. Now. Let us peer into your mind and see where you belong...oh. Oh dear, what is... Oh. Oh, no. That cannot. What grotesque...unclean. Unclean. The hole is black and dark and unending and I look into it and I can see stars, dying stars, a universe that is wasting away, inevitably, and all whisper the same word as they fade into the abyss, a terrible word, to say it is to see yourself as you truly are and through this darkness I see myself, not myself, myself as I am and it is terrible and we are cold and alone and the gods are amused by our suffering. They come from below, they come in pairs, and there is no escape. They are already here. We are already here. We are already here. We are already here."
When the hat continues to repeat itself, you gently lift it off your shoulders and look politely to the headmaster. The room is silent except for the hat, which continues to whisper, "We are already here."
The headmaster clears his throat. "Ah, I suppose, Hufflepuff?" He points at one of the tables, the one filled with students wearing yellow and black ties.
You hop off of the stool and take a seat at the table. In the interest of cultural sensitivity, you pour yourself a tall glass of pumpkin juice. "So!" you say brightly, turning to the student next to you. "Does Hogwarts have an AV club?"