Title: Other People's Choices
Disclaimer: J. K. Rowling and associates own these characters. I am writing this story for fun and not profit.
Pairing: None; this is a gen story
Content Notes: AU of CoS, angst, present tense
Rating: PG-13
Wordcount: 4430
Summary: AU. The Sorting Hat doesn't just let the Sword go when it falls on Harry's head in the Chamber, but also Sorts him again, this time into Slytherin. Harry is furious and terrified, and the adults aren't helping much.
Author's Notes: This is another of my Advent fics in response to an anonymous request for Harry being re-Sorted into Slytherin when the Sorting Hat hits his head in CoS. The title is based on Dumbledore's quote: "It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities."

Other People's Choices

"And I still think that you would be a great SLYTHERIN!"

The Sorting Hat said that when it fell onto Harry's head in the Chamber. Harry didn't pay it much attention at the time. He was rather busy trying not to die.

But now, in Dumbledore's office, with Ginny still alive and safe, and Tom Riddle defeated, and the Sword of Gryffindor returned to its proper place, the Sorting Hat is speaking to Dumbledore and Snape, and it's, it keeps insisting that what it said is right.

"I should never have let him argue with me in the first place," says the Sorting Hat gruffly, twisting around on the shelf where Dumbledore has placed it so its mouth is pointing at Harry. "I thought about it for the last two years. I almost never let other children who argue with me go into different Houses. Why should I let him? And now I know that he'll make a good one."

"No," Harry says. He doesn't care that he aches all over and there's still some blood on the hem of his robe where his basilisk wound bled. "No, Headmaster. Please, I can't be a Slytherin." He refuses to look at Snape, who leans against the doorway like a monster's shadow. "I can't go there."

"So above my House, Potter?"

"I think we should at least listen to Harry's reasons, Severus."

It fills Harry with an enormous, crushing relief, to hear those words. He stares right into Dumbledore's eyes and says fiercely, "Slytherin is full of people who hate me. What am I going to have to do, watch my back every minute of every day? They'll play pranks on me and steal my things. They hated me even before a lot of people thought I was the Heir of Slytherin. Now they'll hate me more because I destroyed Slytherin's basilisk. So I need to stay out of there."

"It is a compelling argument," Dumbledore agrees, smoothing a hand down his beard. Harry sags in his chair. "Where a student's personal safety is concerned—"

"I think you'll find that you have no say, Albus," the Sorting Hat interrupts, and it sounds smug. "Haven't you noticed the way the crest on Mr. Potter's robes has changed? And his trunk and other belongings are in the dungeons. And so is an extra bed."

Harry is tired and at the end of his rope, and it's the only reason he can think of for what he screams at the Hat next. "So you don't care if I die? Or at least get bullied? You just think it'll be, what, good for me? You're as bad as Aunt Petunia! Except I stopped believing her when she said things were for my own good when I was six, and you—and you—"

Harry sinks back into his chair and puts his hands over his face. His shoulders are shaking. He shivers. He feels as though the basilisk's cold poison is still pumping through him, but this time, he's scared because he won't die.

Into the silence, both Snape and the Sorting Hat try to speak at the same time. Snape falls silent first, though. Harry feels so dull that he can't even smile about that right now. "Of course not, Harry. Please let me assure you that I would never have done this if I thought you would be seriously in danger." It hesitates for a second, and then continues, "I am linked to the ancient magic of the school. I can feel shifts in belief among the student body. It's one reason that some years a few Muggleborns go into Slytherin and other years none do. I can feel whether it would be too dangerous for them that year, or not."

Harry hesitates. He wants to argue, but he did notice that last year no Muggleborns went into Slytherin and this year a few did. He drops his hands and stares resentfully at the Hat. "And what, they don't hate me for defeating Voldemort anymore?"

"I would say that some of them still dislike you for that," says the Sorting Hat. "But they don't hate you, no. And it started when you revealed that you were a Parselmouth."

"But I made Malfoy look bad. And he's important in Slytherin."

"Most of them don't consider that you did that on purpose. It only happened at all because he was the one to summon the snake." The Sorting Hat twists around a little and winks a fold of itself at Harry. "And a Parselmouth belongs in Slytherin."

"Yeah, that's what the rest of the school thinks, too." Harry brushes his hand over the bloody snake crest on the front of his robes. "They're going to think they were right. The Hufflepuffs. The Slytherins. That I'm evil."

"Slytherins are not evil," says Snape in the kind of snide voice he's always using on Neville.

"We will make it clear that the basilisk is dead and there are going to be no more petrifying incidents," says Dumbledore. He's leaning one hand on his desk and stretching the other out to Harry. His eyes are so kind. Harry wishes he could believe it would be all right. "Your friends are being woken up as we speak, Harry. The school will accept you again."

Harry says nothing. He wants to think that, but the Hat could be mistaken about at least some people. What if it's only right about, say, sixty percent of Slytherin? That leaves the other forty percent to make Harry's life miserable.

"I did not mean that a Parselmouth belongs in Slytherin because it's a Dark Art," says the Sorting Hat. "I mean that the Slytherins think a Parselmouth belongs there. They've always thought so, but it's been mostly a passive opinion for years, because there were none for so long. Now there's you. You will have a welcome place there, Harry Potter. They can be proud of you."

Harry turns his head without meaning to to look at Snape. No matter how much the other Slytherins come to accept him, there are two who never will: Snape and Malfoy.

Snape only tilts his head as if he was imitating Harry. He has his arms folded, but his face is neutral. Harry sighs. He wishes he could think that meant something good for him, but Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia sometimes look the same way when they're ordering him to his cupboard.

He thought Hogwarts was going to be an escape from the Dursleys. Now he realizes how much is similar.

"You will survive there."

"That's not the same as having fun or really enjoying myself," Harry says dully, and stands up. He reckons that they're going to the Slytherin common room, and Snape is going to introduce him to his new "Housemates." Harry probably won't even get to see Hermione this evening. Or Ginny, who's already been bustled off to the hospital wing.

"You will do that, too."

Harry gives the Sorting Hat a doubtful glance he can't help as he follows Snape out. He reminds himself to call the man Professor Snape now, and not just because Dumbledore wants him to. He'll probably be absolutely merciless to any Slytherin who doesn't.

Slytherin. Slimy Slytherin. I can't believe that's me, now.

Harry thinks some more about it as he and Snape ride the moving staircase down from Dumbledore's office. He supposes that Snape won't take any more points from Harry in Potions, now, because he never does from his own House, but that doesn't mean he won't assign detentions. He sometimes does that even to Slytherins.

And he'll be harder on me. He'll find some excuse. He'll think that the Sorting Hat's lying, or he'll be angry because I wasn't jumping for joy about being Sorted there.

"Why did you try to avoid Slytherin when the Hat first wanted to place you there?"

Harry starts. To his surprise, they're not going towards the dungeons. Snape has turned towards the infirmary instead. Harry wonders if he wants to pick up some potions from Madam Pomfrey.

"Mr. Potter. I am waiting for an answer."

Snape's eyes are still neutral, but not his voice. Oh, so it's starting already. Harry answers as carefully as he could. "I'd met Malfoy on the train. The first thing he did was insult Ron and tell me I needed to know the right sort of people. And I knew he wanted to be in Slytherin, and I knew Hagrid told me Voldemort—"

Snape's hand shoots out and fastens on Harry's shoulder. Harry doesn't flinch. He got over that years ago when Uncle Vernon used to grab him there. Snape stares down at him piercingly.

"You will find that it is not a wise move to address the Dark Lord by his name."

Well, Harry's going to be damned if he calls Voldemort the bloody Dark Lord. He takes another breath and tries, "Hagrid told me that You-Know-Who came from there. Why would I want to be in the same House as someone who killed my parents? Sir."

Snape studies him, and then lets Harry's shoulder go and continues walking towards the hospital wing. "How long did you know Mr. Weasley before Mr. Malfoy insulted him?"

Harry thinks back. It's hard to be sure. "Ten minutes, maybe."

"And you immediately leaped to the conclusion of where you wanted to spend seven years based on a ten-minute acquaintance?"

"Ron is the first friend I ever had."

Snape recoils from him. It's probably that friendship is poison to great bloody gits, Harry thinks. It's satisfying. He doesn't expect to get much satisfaction in the next five years, so he'll take what he can get.

"You—that is not true."

"My relatives weren't my friends. My cousin kept any other kids away from me in school, and my relatives told everyone that I was a horrible person who made trouble all the time and was going to attend a school for criminal boys. What was I supposed to do?"

Snape only stares at him some more, and then turns around again. Harry follows with a faint sigh. Snape probably doesn't believe him. No one ever does when he tells them about the Dursleys.

"That will change," Snape says over his shoulder.

"I won't stop being friends with Ron just because I'm a Slytherin."

"I did not mean—I meant that you will have more friends among your new House than you think."

That doesn't seem worth responding to, so Harry doesn't. They don't say anything else all the way to the hospital wing, in fact. When they come in, Snape lets a hand hover behind his back, and Harry moves away from it, which means he moves in the direction of a bed instead of the small crowd around Ginny and Hermione.

"Another student to check over, Madam Pomfrey," Snape says in the kind of cool voice Harry hates the most, as if nothing matters more than whatever he's saying.

Madam Pomfrey starts to turn towards him, and Harry immediately shakes his head and pulls up his sleeve so that she can see the clean scar on his arm. "I'm fine. Fawkes came, and his tears healed the wound."

"But you were wounded." Madam Pomfrey comes over and bends over the scar like a bird over a worm. "What happened?"

"The basilisk bit me, and then I would have died of the venom, except that Fawkes came along and cried on me," Harry explains. He wishes the adults would stop staring at him like he's Fluffy and has three heads. After last year, when he literally burned Quirrell to death with the touch of his hands, why is this any more unbelievable?

"Get on that bed right now, young man." Madam Pomfrey sounds some strange mixture of frightened and frustrated as she bustles back to her office. Harry sighs and does it, but he can't help looking hopefully over at Hermione and Ginny. Maybe one of them will need attention and distract Madam Pomfrey.

Then he sees the way Snape is leaning against the doorway of the hospital wing with his arms folded and his gaze focused on Harry. Harry stares at him. "Didn't you come here to get some potions, sir?"

"Indeed, I did not. I came to escort you."

Harry looks away and massages his forehead. He doesn't understand. Yes, he's been Sorted into Slytherin because the Hat said so and it can sod off, but that doesn't stop Snape from hating him. Now he's acting like Harry—

Oh. Of course. Not like he cares about Harry, but like he thinks Harry will run off before he can get him to the dungeons. Harry relaxes a little. That makes more sense.

"A Headache Draught as well, Poppy."

"My head doesn't hurt!" Harry snaps, and meets Snape glare for glare when he looks at Harry. "I'm rubbing my scar—"

"Because it hurts, Mr. Potter?"

Ron comes over from the crowd around Ginny's bed before Harry can answer. His eyes are wide and he's so grateful-looking that Harry flinches a little. He knows what's going to happen when Ron catches a glimpse of his tie, and it—

Then Ron does, and stops like he's being hit.

"What's going on?" he whispers, not yelling like he usually would.

"The Hat Sorted me into Slytherin when it landed on my head in the Chamber," Harry says, and can't help reaching out a hand. Ron hasn't rejected him yet, but he looks sickly, and Harry doesn't think all of that comes from the thing with Ginny. "It wanted to put me there first year, but I chose Gryffindor. I chose it. And I don't want to be Slytherin! I don't, Ron."

"That is immaterial, Mr. Potter. Slytherin is your House."

"But our choices make us what we are," Harry says, and turns to Snape, and he's shaking a little. The last thing he wants is to have some kind of breakdown in front of Ron—especially since Ron is looking more and more alarmed. He's been through enough, with Ginny. "So my choice makes me Gryffindor."

"That's right," Ron says, and he's glaring at Snape. Harry smiles at him in relief. At least, when Snape assigns them both detention, they'll be together.

But Snape doesn't snap the way Harry thought he would. He only watches Harry calmly, and makes him take the Headache Draught when Madam Pomfrey comes back with it, even though Harry doesn't want to. Then he casts a few spells Harry doesn't recognize, but which make his skin glow red. He wonders if Snape is planning to cook him.

"Malnourished," Snape is murmuring, as if to himself. "On the edge of magical exhaustion. Stressed—that would be normal. Aftereffects of the poison.'

"But Fawkes healed the wound," Harry objects, and flinches a little when Snape looks down his nose at him. He tells himself not to, though. This is more like the Snape he expected, and the more normally Snape behaves, the sooner things can go back to normal.

"A shock like basilisk venom being introduced into a body does not go away simply because the wound is healed," Snape says. Already his voice is sliding back towards that neutral one that unnerves Harry so much. "You will have to be on a course of soothing potions for some time. As well as nutrition potions."

Harry says nothing. For the first time in his life, he feels almost glad that he'll go back to the Dursleys soon, if only to spite Snape. He'd like to see Snape persuade the Dursleys to let him take potions.

"I will brew the potions and bring them to you in the morning," Snape says, and then begins to walk around the bed. Harry twists to keep him in sight, but it becomes obvious that Snape wants him to stand up and walk out. Harry does so, reluctantly. He doesn't think anything will keep them from going to the dungeons now. "Say good-bye to your friends, Potter."

Harry clenches his jaw. He's not going to obey Snape, as much as he can help it. He's a Gryffindor. "Good night," he says to Ron. "See you tomorrow." He glances at the commotion around Hermione's and Ginny's beds, but it's still too frantic. "Tell Hermione I'll see her as soon as I can. And say hi to Ginny for me."

Ron grabs him a tight, one-armed hug. "Thanks for saving her, mate."

"He should not have had to. Children should not have to save children in this school."

"I'm glad I did," Harry says, and hugs Ron back, and follows Snape down to the dungeons where he's pretty sure half of Slytherin will beat him up.

They've arrived at the Slytherin common room door before Snape speaks again. And then he makes a whole speech while facing the blank stone wall, again sounding more as if he was talking to himself than as if he was talking to Harry.

"I realize that you are apprehensive about the way your new Housemates will treat you. Do not be. The Sorting Hat is right. There is reverence for Parselmouths here, and true understanding of the gift. That alone will protect you." He takes no notice when Harry snorts. Gift, right. "There is even a certain faction of your yearmates who approached me after you revealed you were a Parselmouth in the Great Hall, wondering why you had not been Sorted here already. After hearing that the Hat had wanted to, now I understand."

He turns around. Harry stares at him and tries to make his face as blank as possible. Not that it helps all that much against the unnerving feeling that Snape can read his mind.

"I bet Malfoy wasn't one of the ones who came and talked to you," Harry says, since Snape seems to want him to respond.

A faint glimmer of a smile touches the corner of Snape's mouth. "You would be correct." Then Snape leans forwards, and his expression is so intent that Harry wonders if he imagined the smile.

Well, of course he did. As if Snape would ever smile at him.

"But even Mr. Malfoy's attitude will change, now," Snape says quietly. "You opened the Chamber of Secrets. You are a Parselmouth. You stopped a monster that even some of my students were frightened of. You have a much—greater recklessness than you should have, but in this case, you saved not only Gryffindor students."

Harry raises his head higher. "Malfoy was delighted that people were being Petrified. He said he wished he knew who the Heir of Slytherin was so he could help them rid the school of Mudbloods. Sir."

"And Mr. Malfoy was appropriately disciplined for saying that word."

"By who? He said it to Hermione, and—"

"The Head of Slytherin House sometimes handles matters in private, Mr. Potter. You will find that out now that you are one of us."

Harry stiffens. "If you intend to beat me, sir—"

"Such a method is too vulgar for me," Snape says, and Harry's honestly not sure if he means that or not. "You will find out that certain things look different now that you have a snake on your crest, Mr. Potter."

"I'm not going to give up my friends."

"But they may give you up."

Harry winces and says nothing. He doesn't think it's going to happen with Ron; at least, he hopes not. And he doesn't think Hermione or the twins would ever care. But what is the rest of his House going to think now that he's not playing with their Quidditch team anymore? And Neville gets so frightened of Slytherins sometimes. What will he think now that Harry's one?

That's another thing, actually, a thing Harry can use to drive away the fear. "I'm not playing for the Slytherin team next year."

"Neither will you be playing for the Gryffindor one," Snape says, and pauses and studies him again. Harry still tries to stand tall under it. "I will tell you this, Potter. I would question the wisdom of the Hat's decision, but you are a Parselmouth. You share our Founder's gift. There is a degree of reverence for that that you will find nowhere else. Give it a chance. No one here will hurt you."

Harry is so incredulous he just stares at Snape with his mouth open. Snape doesn't even act like he notices. He turns around and says, "Ad astra."

The door slides open the way it did when Ron and Harry were here Polyjuiced as Crabbe and Goyle, and Harry steps in. The whole of Slytherin House, or what looks like it, is in the middle of the common room, staring at him. Malfoy's off to one side, arms folded and looking stuffy. Snape must have told them about this before he got here, Harry thinks faintly, although he doesn't know how.

Snape steps up behind him. He doesn't touch Harry—which is good, or Harry would have to run screaming—but he does loom there. "Mr. Potter is your Housemate now," he says. "You know what he is. You will treat him with the respect he merits."

He says that like it's simple fact, and one of the Slytherin boys nods and moves forwards, holding his hand out. Harry looks at him hard. He has dark skin and dark hair and eyes, and at least he's not one of Malfoy's cronies. "Blaise Zabini," he introduces himself. Harry remembers the name just before he says it.

Harry hesitates a long time. Accepting being Slytherin still feels like a betrayal of Ron.

Zabini just goes on looking at him, and Malfoy huffs a little. It's the thought of proving Malfoy right—he probably told them all that Harry wouldn't take anyone's hand because he refused that git's—which finally makes Harry shake Zabini's hand. Zabini nods, and shifts out of the way, and two Slytherin girls Harry barely knows comes up.

They introduce themselves as Tracey Davis and Daphne Greengrass, and then there's Theodore Nott, who Harry sort of knows, and a few Slytherin first-years, and Marcus Flint comes over and grunts something and half-crushes Harry's hand, and at least Harry knows him. There aren't as many others who are that forward, but at least they don't sound or look like they're about to beat him up.

And Malfoy is scowling, which has to be a good thing.

"I shall leave your new Housemate in your capable hands," Snape speaks up, and nods to them all before he departs. Harry swallows and lifts his chin.

They're staring at him. They might respect him, enough not to immediately attack, but Harry has the feeling that he's going to have to earn whatever other respect they have.

"Where am I sleeping?" he asks, and decides to keep all his questions blunt and simple, like that. Less chance for someone to taunt him or twist his words around.

"Fancy not knowing that."

"Shut up, Malfoy," Zabini says, with the air of someone who says that every day, and almost startles a smile out of Harry. Zabini grins at him as if he saw it, and then waves Harry towards a silver spiral staircase that twists up one side of the room. "Second-year boys at the second floor from the top."

Harry nods gravely and follows him. He can feel the stares do the same, and swallows a little. This is going to take some getting used to, and not even seeing his chest and Hedwig's cage at the end of a Slytherin bed really prepares him for it.

"Hey, Potter."

Harry glances over his shoulder. Zabini is the only one who's come into the bedroom with him—no surprise, the bedroom is heavy on green and silver—and he lingers near the door of what looks like a brightly-polished bathroom.

"You're welcome here," Zabini says, and does this weird little bow thing that makes Harry feel more uncomfortable than not. "I mean it. Any Parselmouth would be, and I—I know what you did tonight and what it means."

Does everyone know? Probably. Harry gives a smile he hopes is sincere. "Fine. But—please don't bow. I don't like it."

Zabini stares at him, hard. Harry thinks he's going to get scolded for lack of manners or something, but instead, Zabini arches his eyebrows up a little and looks even more impressed. "Okay. I can see that. Want to use the loo?"

Harry nods, and gathers up his toothbrush and pyjamas, and goes in. He studies his face in the bathroom mirror as he brushes his teeth. He's not the same person as he was, but from this angle, he can't see the Slytherin tie.

By the time he comes out and gets into bed, Crabbe, Goyle, and Malfoy are there. They give him hostile glances, but Nott moves in between Harry's bed and theirs like it's an accident, and Harry pulls the green curtains shut.

Harry lies there, and thinks about being at the bottom of the lake, and how the Hat didn't listen to anything he said, and how it wasn't his own choice that put him here, and maybe that means Dumbledore is wrong.

But he also thinks about Ron, and the determined look on his face when he said Harry was still his friend. And he thinks about Hermione, who is awake, and Ginny, who is alive.

Being in Slytherin won't change who I am, he thinks, and closes his eyes. I won't let it.

And maybe that means this won't be so bad after all.

The End.