Dumbledore stood, smiling, watching the new first years be sorted. He unconsciously felt his brow begin the muscular contortions that would, if left unchecked, eventually produce a furrow, which would be most unwelcome at this specific juncture.
Clearly, the Ravenclaw table were astute enough to notice that one of their expected number was not present at the table - and no doubt the more socially enthusiastic of them were currently debating exactly what fate had befallen the Finlay boy. He had hoped he would not have to make much mention of it but it was clearly a topic of concern amongst the third years in particular. It would, after all, be strange for ones so young to have lost all sense of empathy with the world.
Alas, then, he should say something as part of his announcements.
The Sorting was going splendidly; he fancied this year had been quite possibly the best yet. The Hat was on... form... and he had no doubt that its allegiance acumen was as strong as ever. He smiled as the names went by, wondering faintly which of them would be Transfiguration prodigies in waiting.
It always intrigued him which students were in groups even at this early stage when, for some of them, today was one of the first days they could have met other students their own age. Naturally, there were students that were alone and confused because of that very reason, but he noticed Grace Pemberton - daughter of the new librarian, and someone he had already briefly met - a natural leader amongst her friends offering calm and comfort. He should keep an eye on those three.
Most of the names went by with his smile continuing its strong veneer of verisimilitude, but something sparkled in his eye when he noticed the first of the trio - Jayne, Oliver - sorted into Ravenclaw. The names went by with military precision, as ever thanks to Professor McGonagall - the name being called, the student stepping gingerly forward, the Sorting Hat pondering for a moment and then announcing a house, followed by a raucous cheer. It was, Dumbledore thought, very uplifting.
Then he noticed the second student of the trio being sorted - Moor, Tristan - into Hufflepuff. He had some idea that something was amiss when he got the impression somewhere behind him that one of the staff reacted to the name. No matter, he would no doubt hear of it in due course. He always did, one way or another.
But this was unusual. The trio was, now of course, split up across the houses, and house loyalty was prided upon greatly at Hogwarts. It remained to be seen if the young Miss Pemberton would find herself in Hufflepuff like her mother and her friend, or if as Dumbledore suspected, in Gryffindor - such natural leadership qualities already being shown in one so young, how could she not be in Gryffindor?
But a trio of friends across the houses was rare; Dumbledore wondered if it would last, even if the Sorting Hat decided to completely split the trio. Something about them suggested it would somehow persist - but it remained to be seen. He would watch, with great interest.
The names passed by with little more than a blink - or so it seemed - until he heard Professor McGonagall's steely tone: "Pemberton, Grace".
He continued smiling, with a twinkle in his eye. The Hat was lowered onto Grace's head - and Dumbledore could have sworn he heard the Hat hesitate with a 'Hmm' for just a moment before it broadcast to all, "GRYFFINDOR!" Part of him wanted to turn and see what Miss Pemberton the adult made of this - as one of the few parents to ever witness their own child's sorting, especially to a different house - but he kept watching the trio.
Even as they were sat in their respective tables, Dumbledore got the impression that their minds were not entirely with their new house-mates or the impending feast. But who could say?
With the final student having been sorted, McGonagall rolled up her scroll, took the Sorting Hat away. Dumbledore stepped forward, spread his arms wide and beamed at the whole room.
"Welcome," his voice boomed, "Welcome to our new students, welcome back to our returning students - welcome to Hogwarts. Before the banquet, I do just have a few brief words to say... Freckle! Liver! Figment! Pluck! Thank you!"
He took a moment as everyone applauded - though he wasn't quite sure for what - then gestured with a hand while the collective attention was on him. Someone had to signal the kitchen to have the food appear on the tables, after all... And with that, he went to his seat at the head of the teacher's table. He was rather looking forward to the sugar mice he had asked for to appear on this year's feasting menu.