Chen Shun wasn't sure what to make of it all.
Having a wizard show up at your doorstep, then finding out he was one as well, getting his very own wand—not to mention a new cat—and now standing in front of a magical steam locomotive after running straight into(and right through!) a brick column. All in the span of one week.
Needless to say, it was a lot to take in for an eleven-year-old.
After boarding the train, Shun clumsily bumped into other children walking around its corridors, being met with "it's full"s and "get your own"s from kids in several different rooms he tried entering, until he opened the door to a cabin with a small boy—around Shun's age—sitting alone. He waited for the boy to object, but when he didn't, Shun took his luggage and moved to place it in the compartment above the seats, struggling a little with his height. Sitting down, he heaved a sigh of relief at finally getting on the train, leaving him to worry about how the rest of his day will go.
Right as he was about to settle down, Shun noticed the boy sitting across from him in the cabin giving him a piercing stare. He shivered. His arched eyebrows and downturned head made him look quite intimidating, and Shun just hoped he would stop sooner or later.
But the boy continued to stare him down with sharp, brown eyes, almost as if he was waiting for him to make some kind of move, or mistake.
What's his deal? Shun thought. Deciding he wasn't going to put up with a seatmate like this, he cocked his head at the boy and asked, "Something on my face?"
Eyebrows seemed taken aback by the question, like he wasn't counting on Shun to speak at all.
"No," he replied simply, and looked out the window.
Shun waited for him to say something, anything, else.
Nothing. Not much of a talker, huh.
Unfortunately, neither was he, so the incredibly painful silence returned. At least he wasn't being stared at anymore. Only the white noise of the train's chugging wheels remained.
That is, until the boy spoke.
"Are you muggle-born?"
Shun had to pause a little to process the fact that Eyebrows finally said something. "That's apparently what I'm called, yeah," he said.
"Hm," he looked him up and down, and Shun had never felt so judged in his life. Someone so small shouldn't be allowed to look so intimidating. But then his menacing expression turned into curiosity. "I've never actually spoken to a muggle-born before. My family's all pure-blood."
"Oh, cool. I'm Chen Shun," he held out his hand. "What's your name?"
The other boy took a moment to look at Shun's outstretched hand, before he shook it and said, "Long Honghao."
Shun smiled a bit then, the first time he did since boarding the Hogwarts Express.
Shun was walking among a crowd of other first-years, moving closely beside Long Honghao, his only source of comfort in a world of unfamiliarity. The two of them had been conversing about the wizarding world the whole way to Hogwarts. Shun learned a lot of things about magic from him, and the more he heard, the more he wanted to be a part of it all. He also learned more about Honghao himself, like how his father was something called an Auror, working for the magical government, and how Honghao had a fascination with winged creatures like hippogriffs and occamies, but he seemed to talk greatly of dragons most of all.
"I'm going to see one someday," he had declared. "There's one on our family's crest. I'm going to see one, when I'm older."
Going to, Shun noted at his choice of words. Not "I want to" or "I'd like to". "I'm going to". He briefly wondered what it must've been like growing up in a family of wizards, being surrounded by magic his whole life.
The crowd was lead to the Great Hall, where the stunned first-years collectively gasped in awe at its grand decor, from the floating candles to the ceiling resembling the night sky outside. Shun was robbed of words himself, and even Honghao, who had already been expecting his Hogwarts letter from birth, was looking around with wide eyes.
They were told that there would be a feast, but only after a "sorting" ceremony. An ancient-looking, pointed hat sat atop a single stool, and the entire Hall's eyes were upon it.
"I know this," Honghao whispered. "My father told me that the house you'll end up in depends on the kind of person you are. I'm most likely gonna be in Gryffindor."
"What does that mean?" Shun asked. But before he could hear what Honghao had to say, the ceremony began, and names started to be called. A first-year would sit on the stool, and the hat would be placed on their head, then the hat would announce the house they were assigned. Gryffindor, Slytherin, Hufflepuff, or Ravenclaw.
The order was alphabetical, according to the family name, which meant Shun would have to put the Sorting Hat on before Honghao did. The students being summoned started from the As, and then to Bs, and suddenly the first surname starting with C was called in no time. Every time a house would be announced, the long table with the students of those houses burst into applause and cheers. Shun was growing increasingly nervous with every name being called that wasn't his.
But, just then, right when he thought he'd be next, the Deputy Headmistress says, "Now, hold on, who is that raising their hand, in the back? Young man, is there something you need?"
Shun and the rest of the first-years' heads swivel around, clearing a path, revealing a scrawny boy with an angular face and messy brown hair, with one arm high up in the air. The Hall is filled with murmurs of confusion and intrigue.
"My name is Shang Zhenbo!" The boy announces. "Is it alright if I get sorted like, right now? I don't want to wait a long time to get called up there, and I'm getting kinda tired just standing here."
A mix of laughter and loud conversations erupted from both the upperclassmen sitting in the long tables and the other first-years. Shun thought that Zhenbo was probably the type who talked way too much, but was nonetheless impressed by his bravery.
The staff members deliberated for some time, whispering amongst themselves. No one expected such a disruption during the Sorting Ceremony. Suddenly, Shang Zhenbo once again loudly proclaimed, "I really think that the Hat will know where I fit in right away. This wouldn't take up anyone's time, I'm sure! And I highly doubt it would be breaking any rules!"
Voices from the crowd of first-years popped up.
"Hey, are you crazy?"
"You can't just do that!"
"Can he do that?"
It turns out, he could. The faculty allowed him to move to the front, and sit on the stool. The Sorting Hat was only just placed on his head before its booming voice shouted, "SLYTHERIN!"
Cheering was heard from the far side of the Hall, where the other Slytherin students were celebrating, yelling things like "Should've known!" or "Saw it coming!". Zhenbo's face looked quite smug, almost like he knew it from the start, and he made his way to the Slytherin table.
The shock of the situation made Shun forget that the ceremony was to continue, and he only realized this when his own name was finally called.
Silence fell on the Great Hall once more, and that was when Shun realized that the events that just transpired had somehow made all of his nerves disappear, as if Shang Zhenbo's courage had rubbed off on everyone else. He stepped bravely towards the stool, and when the Hat was placed on his head, obscuring his vision as he sat down, it wasn't so surprising when a small voice spoke in his ear.
"Well, aren't you a bundle of attitude..." it said. "Should put you in Gryffindor, I should. Ah, but there's the desire to be part of a whole...Hufflepuff would do well to have you, in that case."
Shun said nothing, but he did think about Honghao. He remembered how sure he sounded about which house he'd end up in. It would be a shame to be separated so early...
"But you've come to a decision of your own, have you?" the voice continued. Then, it bellowed to the Hall, "GRYFFINDOR!"
The Hat was taken off his head, and Shun beamed and turned a bit red at the sight of the Gryffindor table cheering at the announcement. He didn't really do anything...but they were happy to have him. It felt nice. As he walked over to the long table, he glanced back at Honghao, whose eyes darted towards him for a split second, before returning to the Hat. Shun was reminded of their first encounter.
No sooner did he barely reach the Gryffindor table than his arm was nearly pulled off, as an older student had pulled him by the wrist and sat him down beside him.
"Nice to meet you! You're gonna have a great time here at Hogwarts! Do you know what Quidditch is? You should try for the team next year!" The stranger spoke loud and fast, but the hand patting Shun's back was gentle and welcoming. He had a wide smile and his eyes had a twinkle to them. "I'm Shuchen, third-year. But everyone calls me Huadi!"
Shun managed a small smile, and before he could ask Shuchen why everyone called him Huadi, the next students were called to the front. The ceremony went on. He spotted Shang Zhenbo sitting on the far Slytherin table, then his eyes wandered back to the crowd of other first-years. Honghao's gaze was seemingly transfixed on the Sorting Hat, but his eyes did not look completely focused, like he was staring at the air in front of it.
Shun watched as the crowd of first-years slowly decreased in size as more and more students were sorted into Houses. A skinny boy named Guan Yuzheng was sorted into Ravenclaw, and the boy right after, who was sorted into Hufflepuff, Shun thought looked oddly familiar. His name was Huang Boxuan, and it was only when Shun saw his slightly crooked smile that he recognized him as one of the students on the train that hadn't let him inside a compartment. Minutes passed, and Shun spotted another person he remembered seeing on the train platform, a mousey-looking Slytherin named Li Zijing.
Shun couldn't resist the urge to look at Honghao again, if only to check how he was doing, and he looked like he hadn't moved an inch. Until finally, he heard his name be called, and moved almost instantaneously.
He wore the Hat, and Shun didn't have to wait in suspense for the result, as the very next second, it exclaimed, "GRYFFINDOR!"
Shun now joined the rest of the Gryffindors in their clapping and cheering, and he couldn't contain the wide grin spreading across his face. He had a friend with him in his house! Honghao spotted him at the table and came over. Shuchen made a grab at him, and had Honghao been a little slower, he would've had a hand pulling on his wrist, too.
"Hey," Shun said, rather awkwardly. It just came to his mind that the Hat might have put him in Gryffindor because that was where Honghao believed he'd be put.
"Wow, hello! So you know each other, then?" Shuchen was almost yelling. "Great! I think Gryffindor might have some promising new blood this year! I do hope you first-years can fly brooms well! That should give you a good chance of making the team! Not that you should get brooms so soon, it isn't allowed after all-"
"Okay, Huadi, don't make them regret being sorted into Gryffindor so soon," said another boy seated across from Shuchen. He had soft features, but his eyes looked like they were full of mischief. "That's my job, remember?"
Shuchen chuckled. "You're right, Fanfan, we should just focus on the Sorting!"
And so they did. But not much else happened after that, except that someone named Mu Sen was sorted into Ravenclaw, and you could hear Guan Yuzheng cheering loudly from their table.
The Sorting ceremony ended on a lanky, bespectacled first-year called Zhe Ye, who was sorted into Ravenclaw. Shortly after that, the feast began, and a mountain of food materialized in front of Shun's eyes. He'd never quite remember just how much he ate that night.
After the feast, the Gryffindor first-years were led through the corridors by a Prefect who introduced himself as Junze.
"Let's get this over with," he said.
Honghao, who had remained almost mute throughout the whole feast too busy filling his stomach, put a hand to Shun's ear and muttered, "Doesn't seem too enthusiastic about his job."
Shun shushed him, but he laughed a little bit, too. When they reached their common room, everyone's mouths were agape once more at the beautiful scarlet-coloured furnishings, but once they got to their bedrooms, Shun decided that looking around could wait until morning. He fell asleep almost immediately after his face hit the sheets of his four-poster bed.
He dreamt of dragons that night.