Harris bin Potter could now see the entrance to the magical school, Hog-Tak-Halal-What – equal parts walled fortress, equal parts bastion of medieval European architecture that somehow found its way to this part of South-East Asia. Hog-Tak-Halal-What was located in Singapore. The non-magical population of Singapore could not see it, however. It was not because they were too busy watching The Noose and Random Island to notice a huge f**kin’ monstrosity of a castle, but because Hog-Tak-Halal-What was hidden from plain, non-magical view by spells and enchantments. One of them was Enblocus Myballsomora, which protects it from ridiculous property valuation and surprise interventions from the non-magical government.
The castle before Harris was a remarkable change of scenery from the kitchen sink cabinet he had lived in for the past ten years of his life. Doubts raced across his mind. As with Rebecca Black’s Friday, he was keen to erase the memory of his life at Block 4, Tampines Street 24. But this was all happening too fast! His mind was racing, his heart was pulsing and he felt the burgeoning trickles of cold sweat. Doubt had led to fear, just as Oppa Gangnam Style had probably led to horse suicide.
What if he found out that he didn’t belong here?
“Harris!” called a firm, feminine voice. “Harris bin Potter! You don’t belong here!”
The voice came from an old witch – olive-skinned, tall and proud. She walked briskly to the boy, saying, “You belong in the castle. You’re late for The Sorting Ceremony!” Taking him by the arm, the old witch hurried Harris into the castle. “Of course, I don’t blame you my boy. That Hamid has all the punctuality of Rob Schneider’s growth spurt.” She eventually led him into The Great Hall – a vast, vast vestibule lit by magnificent chandeliers hanging from a high, ornate ceiling that could, at will, turn transparent to show the sky above. Girls wearing skirts would do well not to walk on the roof. And since we live in a more receptive society – boys wearing skirts, for that matter.
The entire student population of Hog-Tak-Halal-What gathered in The Great Hall turned sharply as the old witch stepped in, Harris in hand. The nebulous buzz of chatter that pervaded the Hall was replaced by excited whispers.
“It’s Harris bin Potter! It’s the boy who tak mati siol!”
“Do you think I can teach Snooki to weave a ketupat?”
“Ki mak, Harris bin Potter dok!”
The whispers were cut by the old witch, who called out, “First-years, this way please!” She ushered the wide-eyed new students of Hog-Tak-Halal-What to the front of the Hall, where a solitary stool stood in front of a long table occupied by the school staff – including, Harris noted happily, the Hygiene Officer Hamid.
“Listen up!” the witch said loudly. “To the first years, welcome to the first year of magical education at Hog-Tak-Halal-What!” She paused, expecting cheers but none came. The first-years had already been exposed to the Singaporean education system for 3 years prior to their enrollment in Hog-Tak-Halal-What, and were reserving their cheers until they ensured that they wouldn’t be overloaded with homework, and that their parents weren’t going to send them for tuition classes.
The old witch continued, “I am Professor McGongongall.”
“Sorry?” asked one of the students, Harris felt, rather arrogantly. He was a pale-faced Malay boy with blond hair, that, against his tanned skin and features, suggested that he was once involved in a tragic, disastrous accident with a vat of peroxide.
“I said – I am Professor McGongCha,” said Professor Mc – said the old lady professor. Somewhere not far away, the legal team of a bubble tea franchise felt a little prickling in their noses. “Now, a time-honoured tradition here at Hog-Tak-Halal-What requires every first year to get sorted.” One of the first-years gasped – where he came from, one was told one would get sorted the same way the Italian mafia tells one that one would swim with the fishes. It was, of course not the same thing.
The old witch continued, “And to begin The Sorting Ceremony, I would like to introduce you to The Sorting Songkok!” The seated students erupted in cheers. Harris looked at The Sorting Songkok, attempting to figure out why anybody would break into cheers for a seemingly decrepit, stationary object. It was an old songkok with royal blue trimmings, but unspectacular overall. Then suddenly, before Harris’ very eyes, the songkok twitched. A rip at the front opened wide like a mouth – and the songkok began to sing:
“Oh you may not think that I am jambu
But do not judge on what you see
Besides, I’m just a freaking songkok
How jambu can I be?
I am not some random ethnic headgear
You should know this from the start
For I am the Sorting Songkok
So try me on and I will tell you
Where you ought to be
One of four houses named for
The founders of this academy.
You might belong in Fandi Ahmad,
If you possess charm and will
When it comes to void deck soccer
They rule with unerring skill.
Perhaps get it down with Sheikh Haikel
Where they are really cool
These groovy Sheikh Haikels
Are the best musicians in school.
Or yet Zainudin Nordin
Where the clever get it on
Here the term ’smart mat’
Is not an oxymoron.
Last and certainly least
Is George W. Bush
I will be honest – if you go there,
You probably are a douche
So put me on, little one
Do not be afraid!
I promise I will not swallow
When you give me head.”
The first years were abuzz with excited chatter about which Houses they wanted to end up in. Within minutes, they could be with the scarlets that ennobled Fandi Ahmad house, the cool blues that identified Sheikh Haikel house, the bright greens of Zainudin Nordin house, or the neon pink of George W. Bush. Harris himself was enamoured towards the idea of aligning himself with Fandi Ahmad who, as he found out later, was so amazing an athlete that he never had to use his discreetly-hidden magical powers for sporting purposes.
The old witch cut into the chatter, “First-years, when I call your name, you are to sit on the stool, and place the songkok on your head. Once you are sorted, you are to sit with your respective new houses.”
The arrogant blond haired boy turned suddenly towards Harris as the Professor called for, “Ahmad Santiago!”
“So you’re the great Harris bin Potter?” he drawled. “Welcome to the magical world – where, you will realise, some families are better than others.” The boy drew a furtive glance at another Malay first year with a shock of red hair. Harris surmised that there must have been a factory in the magical world with two vats – one with peroxide and another with red dye – that blew up. “And you will want to team up with the best that the school has to offer. Coincidentally, we’re all in George W. Bush.”
“Name’s Malfay,” the snob said, offering a hand which Harris hesitantly shook.
“Malfay?” This was the first time Harris had heard such a surname.
“Yes. It’s Malay, with an F.”
“Isn’t it always?” Harris sighed.
“Huh? Nothing. So what’s your first name?”
“Donnie Darko,” replied Donnie Darko Malfay. “My friends call me Double-D – you can call me Double-D.” Harris cringed at Donnie Darko’s nickname. It gave him mental images of anthropomorphized rabbits with large hooters. These images then morphed into anthropomorphized owls with large hooters and it amused him for a while. The anthropomorphized owls go on to morph into anthropomorphized hammers with large knockers, which made him snicker. Finally, they morphed into anthropomorphized water decanters with large jugs, and this would be the sign that Harris had taken the joke too far.
Double-D continued, “Five generations of Malfays have been in Bush. There is so much Bush in my family that we sometimes forget about Dick.” Malfay paused to clear his throat. “My cousin Dick – he went for a Brazilian.” Malfay cleared his throat yet again, giving the scene all the gravitas of a Strepsils commercial. “-a Brazilian exchange program, so he’s the only one without Bush. I mean, not in Bush.” Malfay paused – this time, not to clear his throat but to look Harris square in the eye. “I hope we’ll end up together in George W. Bush, Harris! That’s where you and I belong, where the strong and powerful are. Leave all these simpletons behind – “
“Harris bin Potter!” the old witch called. This caused the entire Great Hall to explode into excited whispers. “Silence please!”
Harris excused himself from Double-D as he moved towards The Sorting Songkok. He weighed all the possibilities ahead. He did not want to end up with Bush after that unpleasant encounter. He’s heard of Zainudin Nordin’s achievements before, and was thoroughly impressed by them – he imagined the public servant to be like an imaginary uncle to him. But Fandi Ahmad –
He stopped next to the Professor. “Professor McGongcha?”
“It’s Professor McGungantroll, Harris! And hurry along – you’re holding up the line,” the old witch said.
“But I wanna ask – “
“Not now, Harris!”
Harris swallowed his question, and moved to the stool holding The Sorting Songkok. The entire Great Hall seemed to draw a collective breath of anticipation as Harris placed the Songkok on his head. “Mmm, mmm, what do we have here?” said the Songkok. “I see vestiges of the great George W. Bush in this one.”
“Please no,” Harris pleaded.
“But why not, young one? Mmm, Fandi Ahmad appeals more to you? I see it all in your head, Harris bin Potter. Your parents were both members of Fandi Ahmad, if I recall correctly. And of course I recall correctly, I am THE Sorting Songkok.”
“Please Fandi Ahmad, please Fandi Ahmad.” Harris was practically begging under his breath.
The Sorting Songkok was still in the midst of an unnecessary monologue. “I wonder if anybody has noticed the inherent sexism in this system – there is no Sorting Tudung. But that’s a discussion for another day. So anyway, Harris, dear boy. I SHALL PUT YOU IN -”
Harris took a deep breath.
The students in the Great Hall, as one, took a deep breath.
The staff seated behind Harris took a deep breath.
A girl in a skirt on the roof, peeping at proceedings, took a deep breath. A boy next to her, also in a skirt, took a deep breath.
Harnessing the kind of biology that only exists in fantasies or parodies, The Sorting Songkok, too, took in a deep breath. “- FANDI AHMAD!” A deafening roar of cheers filled the Great Hall, originating from the Fandi Ahmad table. Its members were going insane dancing and punching the air. “We have Harris bin Potter! We have Harris bin Potter!” they yelled.