Harry glanced at the hat on the desk. "The Sorting Hat, I presume?"
"Of course," Dumbledore said. "The first-years were Sorted upon their arrival, so you would be on your own if you were to be Sorted in front of the school. I feel as though it is easier to simply do this in private."
Harry nodded. "I just put it on, have a conversation with it, it reads my thoughts, and it tells me what house I'm in?"
"Yes." At Harry's look of hesitance, he continued, "Do not worry—the hat cannot disclose what it sees."
After a moment of hesitance, Harry reached forward, picked up the hat, and put it on his head. The world became black as its brim went over his eyes, and Harry was alone.
"Greetings, Sorting Hat."
For a moment, all was silent. And then a voice said, "Hello…Harry Potter." It sounded almost hesitant. "Interesting. Very interesting."
"What's so interesting?"
The Hat chuckled. "I cannot disclose what I see, remember?"
"You can't tell about my own thoughts?"
"Just because they are in your head does not mean that they are your own."
"Never mind. On to the sorting." Before Harry could interrupt, the hat continued, "Not at all loyal, though good at pretending to be if it gets you what you want. And bravery…well, you'll almost only enter a fight if you're sure you'll win or you're going to die if you don't. You're very perceptive of your surroundings, intelligent and dedicated in your pursuit of knowledge, but not for knowledge's sake."
"I suppose I'm a Slytherin, then?"
"Oh yes. Cunning as Salazar himself if you set your mind to things—just as ruthless, too. And ambition…perhaps slightly lacking in that area, but if you want something, you will get it."
"And I don't suppose that I can change your mind?"
The Hat barked out a laugh. "There's the cunning again! Wanting to change house so you don't look as suspicious! No true Slytherin allows themselves to be in Slytherin, eh? Nonetheless, Slytherin!"
Instead of going directly into Harry's mind like the Hat's other words had, the last word actually registered upon his ears.
"Hat?" Harry got no response. Biting back a curse, he pulled the Sorting Hat from his head.
Dumbledore smiled at him. "Slytherin. I did not expect anything else."
"Would you have said that no matter which house I was placed in?"
Dumbledore's eyes twinkled. "Perhaps, but that is beside the point."
For a few moments, Harry contemplated asking Dumbledore what the Hat might've meant concerning everything in his head not being his own. He immediately dismissed the idea—he wasn't about to let Dumbledore invade his mind to see what was going on. He had a good idea what it was to do with, anyway, and didn't want Dumbledore involved.
"I will have your bags moved to the Slytherin dormitories," Dumbledore said. "The password is argentum, at the moment."
With a resigned nod, Harry stood, already planning on how he would ensure that no Slytherin would even attempt to mess with him after the first day.
"And, Harry," Dumbledore said, "please don't injure anyone too badly."
"No promises." Harry continued out of the room.
He already knew where the Slytherin dormitories were, and where all the other dormitories were, for that matter. Even with most of his time at Hogwarts having been occupied by studying, he had still made sure that he had designated some time to discovering where everything—mainly routes of escape—was within the castle.
In accordance with the stereotype that Slytherins were evil, their common room was in the dungeons. Then again, the Hufflepuff common room was also in the dungeon, and they were stereotyped to be just about the polar opposite of evil.
Harry was quite frankly unaware of how the Slytherins would react to his presence. He had killed Voldemort, but none of them would be old enough to remember Voldemort, let alone to be his follower for any reason other than what they had heard about him from their parents.
Along with studying magic itself, Harry had also been sure to look into pure-blood culture and had summarised that it wouldn't be too hard for him to blend in—well, it wouldn't have been if he were not the Boy-Who-Lived.
Much of pure-blood culture seemed to consist of a disdain or hatred for Muggles and Muggle-born wizards. That would be easy enough to fake. Along with English, the most commonly spoken languages among English pure-bloods were French, German, and Latin. Harry spoke fluent German, good French, and knew quite a bit of Latin.
Then there were the balls and galas and so on; fortunately, they did not seem to be too different to those that had been common in Muggle high society over the course of history, and Harry was confident that he could use the correct etiquette.
Ultimately, Harry decided that he had two choices, with neither being an obviously better option.
His first idea was to remain mysterious, to hide his talents and not attempt to mingle or become friends or allies with any Slytherins. They would be immediately thrown off guard by the fact that he, who was supposed to be a conqueror of Dark wizards, had been sorted into Slytherin. They would be wary, either fearing that he was a spy or was another Dark wizard himself.
If they were unaware of his abilities and feared him, they would be unlikely to attack him. If they did choose to attack him or test him, however, he would have to resort to his second idea: he would prove himself to be physically and magically competent, and ruthless.
After that, he could see if being friendly and making allies would work. It would not at the beginning, with them knowing nothing about him except that he did not fit in and was a target. It might after he had gained fear and respect, with his threats actually holding some weight.
Of course, his plan would not work at all if they were able to defeat him in a fight or all decided to gang up on him as soon as he arrived. Because of this, Harry made sure to diverge from his path to pick up one of the pistols he had stashed around the castle and a few knives. He didn't think that it would be too much of a problem to kill a few teenagers who had never seen a gun, if need be. The trick would simply be to not be around to many of them at the same time.
Due to the fact it was after curfew, Harry encountered no one on his way through the corridors, and, a few minutes later, Harry was standing before the piece of wall which he knew would recede were he to say the password. He questioned whether he really needed to go inside, or if it would be better to simply hide somewhere in the castle for the night.
He knew that he did—for all he knew, the Slytherins had already been alerted to his presence and were expecting him. If he was not there when morning came, they would think him a coward. Dumbledore might've also placed a few spells to see if he came into the room.
His heartbeat was rapid; he chided himself for it. He had been in many more dangerous situations than this.
Taking in a deep breath, he said, "Argentum."
With the sound of grinding stone, the wall slid aside to reveal a stone passage, the end lit up by an eerie, green light. Giving himself no time to hesitate, he moved forward, his hands at his sides.
No one paid any attention to him as they came in. It was partially due to the fact that the room was lit by dull, green lamps, but mainly because they all seemed to be too engrossed in work, reading, or conversing in the small groups of students who littered the room, lounging on the leather furniture.
A set of stairs stretched upwards on either side of the room, each leading up to respective balconies which overlooked the room and had a door on. From the fact that a girl was going up the stairs on the right, Harry immediately perceived that it was the girls' dormitory.
Keeping his head down, he headed up the stairs on the left—if at all possible, he wanted to avoid confronting so many of the Slytherins at the same time. The best case scenario would be making sure that he went unseen until breakfast the next day, where he could not be attacked and when he wouldn't have to return to the common room for the whole day, as to allow people's tempers to simmer.
He would, however, need to leave marks of his presence, so that they knew he hadn't run off.
Harry moved through the door and was confronted by eight others, one to the left which he perceived to be a bathroom and seven in front of him, one for each year, or so he guessed. He would be in the fifth—the fifth from the left or the fifth from the right, he did not know.
Whichever one he went into, there would undoubtedly be people awake in there—it was only half past ten. And whilst Harry did not fear five teenagers, unless he intended to hold them all captive, they could very well go and tell others he was here.
Behind him, the door began to open. Immediately, he turned to his left, bringing up a hand as though he was brushing through his hair to conceal his scar and face. His heartbeat raced once more.
The student passed onwards without sparing a glance at Harry. He moved into the second door from the right, and most certainly didn't look like a second-year.
Even knowing what room he was in, Harry planned not to go in. He knew he was likely being paranoid, but it wasn't exactly paranoia if there was a very tangible chance that he was about to enter a room with a few people who would like to kill him in his sleep.
Harry resigned himself to the infallible technique of hiding in the bathroom. Moving over to the door he slipped inside. Off to his left were some shower stalls—one of which was running—and what appeared to be a large bath. On the right were some sink and toilet cubicles.
He glanced up and down the room, noting that the walls were tiled. He moved down the line of toilet cubicles, and only one of them was locked. He entered the one next to the wall and began to quietly knock around the outer walls. The back wall appeared to be hollow. After quietly unlocking the door and placing a silencing charm, Harry muttered a spell and blew a hole in the wall.
One the other side was a tangle of pipes. Starting to regret the fact that he had even entered the common room in the first place, Harry incinerated some of the stone above the pipes and moved into the gap, repairing the wall behind him.
Years with Hydra training had gifted Harry with the ability to sleep in basically anywhere, including the middle of the desert with gunfire roaring a few hundred metres away. Compared to that, the space he had carved himself and the shoddily transfigured mattress were both quite nice.
At two in the morning, his watch beeped and awoke him. A minute later, he was quietly slipping through the door of the room for fifth years.
Six beds were in the room, one with Harry's bag on, the rest with students in. Harry froze when he saw when one of them was sitting up, reading a book. He was dark-skinned and probably lanky when standing up.
He glanced at Harry as he entered the room. "So you're the new student." He stood up and moved over to Harry, extending his hand. "I'm Blaise Zabini."
For a moment, Harry contemplated faking an accent, pretending to a foreign exchange student, and giving a fake name. He dismissed the idea near immediately—even if Blaise didn't see his scar, he would still discover the lie tomorrow.
He shook the offered hand. "I'm Harry Potter."
Blaise's eyes immediately flickered upwards. His facial expression did not change. For a few seconds he was silent. "Harry Potter turning up in Hogwarts for his fifth year, and being Sorted into Slytherin. Quite the story, eh?"
"Perhaps I'll tell you about it in the morning, Blaise." He smiled. "For now, however, I quite feel as though I need some sleep." He moved over to his bed and turned back to Blaise. "I'd appreciate if you didn't tell anyone who I am—I enjoy seeing people's surprise when I tell them."
After a moment of consideration, Blaise smiled and nodded. "Of course."