AN: I do not own Harry Potter. Again, I am sorry about the delay in getting this out. It wasn't meant to be this long, but to be honest motivation for writing this comes and goes. I love this idea and I want to see it though because I've never seen it before, so hopefully now that I've settled into more of a routine this summer things will be a bit more consistent in the next few weeks. As always, please review and I hope you enjoy.

Chapter 5: The Sorting

"Firs' years! Firs' years over here!"

A giant of a man was standing over the sea of heads. His face was almost completely hidden by a long, shaggy mane of hair and a wild, tangled beard, but you could make out his eyes, glinting like black beetles under all the hair.

"C'mon, follow me – any more firs' years? Mind yer step, now! Firs' years follow me!"

'I swear if he says 'firs' years' one more time, the first spell I'm gonna learn is how to shove that lantern up his giant arse.'

Slipping and stumbling, Harry, Draco, and the two grunts – who Draco had introduced as Crabbe and Goyle – followed the giant of a man down what seemed to be a steep, narrow path. It was so dark on either side of them that Harry thought there might be thick trees there. Nobody spoke much.

"Yeh'll get yer firs' sight o' Hogwarts in a sec," the giant called over his shoulder, "jus' round this bend here."

"Draco," Harry whispered to his friend, not wanting to fully break the silence, "This guy…he's not a teacher, is he? He can barely speak properly!"

Draco chuckled to himself and shook his head as the first years walked along. "No, Harry. Thank Merlin he isn't a teacher. He's just the groundskeeper here, sort of like a paid house-elf."

"I think I remember reading about those…they're sort of like servants, aren't they?"

"Yeah, all the good wizarding families have at least one, normally more. If they don't work for us, their magic slowly dies. Once it's all gone, the house-elf dies."

Harry didn't get the chance to respond, as there was a loud "Oooooh!" from the students.

The narrow path had opened suddenly onto the edge of a great black lake. Perched atop a high mountain on the other side, its windows sparkling in the starry sky was a vast castle with many turrets and towers.

"No more'n four to a boat!" came the groundskeeper's booming voice, cutting off all other noise. He pointed to a fleet of little boats sitting in the water by the shore. Harry and Draco were followed into their boat by Crabbe and Goyle.

"Everyone in?" shouted the giant, who had a boat to himself. "Right then – FORWARD!"

And the fleet of little boats moved off all at once, gliding across the lake, which was as smooth as glass. Everyone was silent, staring up at the great castle overhead. It towered over them as they sailed nearer and nearer to the cliff on which it stood.

"Heads down!" came the giant's voice as the first boats reached the cliff; they all bent their heads and the little boats carried them through a curtain of ivy that hid a wide opening in the cliff face. They were carried along a dark tunnel, which seemed to be taking them right underneath the castle until they reached a kind of underground harbor, where they clambered out onto rocks and pebbles.

"Oy, you there! Is this your toad?" said the giant, who was checking over the boats as people climbed out of them.

"Trevor!" came Neville's voice, running up to the giant and holding out his hands. Then they clambered up a passageway in the rock after the giant's lamp, coming out at last onto smooth, damp grass right in the shadow of the castle.

They walked up a flight of stone steps and crowded around the huge, oak front door.

"Everyone here? You there, still got yer toad?"

'Why is everyone so caught up about that stupid toad?'

The groundskeeper raised a gigantic fist and knocked three times on the castle door.

"The Hogwarts Express has departed safely, Headmaster, just as it always does."

Severus Snape's voice immediately followed the brisk opening of Professor Dumbledore's office door, which was saved from smashing into a cabinet full of oddly shaped instruments by Dumbledore's quick reflexes. As Severus strode up to where Dumbledore was seated at his desk, he continued to speak without waiting for an answer.

"But I assume there is something grander that I can do for you. And I can only imagine it involves a certain Potter brat on the train."

Dumbledore chuckled to himself, but even Severus could see that the normal twinkle behind those grandfatherly, blue eyes was long gone.

"Ah yes, perceptive as ever. As you are well aware, Harry Potter is starting at Hogwarts this year. But first, I must show you something. Come."

And with that, Dumbledore rose from the chair behind his desk and began to walk over to one of the cabinets. As he approached it, the doors opened revealing a Pensieve inside, rows of tiny bottles with what Severus could only assume were memories lining the walls behind it. Dumbledore reached towards one topmost row in the middle section of the cabinet and pulled down a single bottle.

"First," Dumbledore began as he poured the memory into the Pensieve, "from a time before you were born."

Deciding not to play into any more of Dumbledore's games, Severus simply walked up to the cabinet and entered the Pensieve.

The door swung open at once. A tall, black-haired witch in emerald-green robes stood there. She had a very stern face that was gentle, yet commanded respect. 'This is not a woman I want to cross.'

"The firs' years, Professor McGonagall," said the groundskeeper.

'It's a bad day to be a lantern.'

"Thank you, Hagrid. I will take them from here."

She pulled the door wide. The entrance hall was so big you could have fit the whole of the orphanage in it. The stone walls were lit with flaming torches like the ones at Gringotts, the ceiling was too high to make out, and a magnificent marble staircase facing them led to the upper floors.

They followed Professor McGonagall across the flagged stone floor. Harry could hear the drone of hundreds of voices from a doorway to the right – the rest of the school must already be here – but Professor McGonagall showed the first years into a small, empty chamber off the hall. They crowded in, standing rather closer together than they would usually have done, peering about nervously.

"Welcome to Hogwarts," said Professor McGonagall. She had a sharp voice that confirmed Harry's earlier suspicions with regards to not crossing her. The start-of-term banquet will begin shortly, but before you take your seats in the Great Hall, you will be sorted into your houses. The Sorting is a very important ceremony because, while you are here, your house will be something like your family within Hogwarts."

Harry's head shot up. 'family within Hogwarts.' Looking over at Draco, he wondered if that's what this could be. His family. Not the family that he was born into. Not the family he was forced to live with. This would be the family he chose.

While Harry was thinking this, Professor McGonagall was continuing with her speech. "You will have classes with the rest of your house, sleep in your house dormitory, and spend free time in your house common room.

"The four houses are called Gryffindor, Hufflepuff, Ravenclaw, and Slytherin. Each house has its own noble history and each has produced outstanding witches and wizards. While you are at Hogwarts, your triumphs will earn your house points, while any rule-breaking will lose house points. At the end of the year, the house with the most points is awarded the house cup, a great honor. I hope each of you will be a credit to whichever house becomes yours.

"The Sorting Ceremony will take place in a few minutes in front of the rest of the school. I suggest you all smarten yourselves up as much as you can while you are waiting."

Harry sniggered to himself as her eyes lingered for a moment on Longbottom's cloak, which was fastened under his left ear, and on Ron's nose, which looked like someone has rubbed even more dirt on it than before. Harry thought about trying to flatten his hair, but really, what was the point? His hair never listened to him anyway, so the school better get used to seeing him like this.

'I'm Harry fucking Potter. Pretty soon everyone will want messy hair.'

"I shall return when we are ready for you," said Professor McGonagall. "Please wait quietly."

She left the chamber. Harry swallowed.

"How exactly do they sort us into houses?" he asked Draco.

"They call our name, they put a hat on our head, and it tells us what house we're in."

"Just like that? How does it know where to put us?"

"It can like, read your emotions or something. Like your thoughts." Harry's heart gave a jolt. 'The hat will know I killed Thomas. And the fair. And it'll tell someone! They'll all know I'm a murderer!'

Draco must have seen some sort of panic in Harry's eyes because he hastily carried on. "Don't worry though. Father told me the hat is sworn to secrecy. Even if it wanted to tell someone your secrets, it wouldn't be able to."

Harry was just beginning to calm down when something happened that made him jump about a foot in the air – several people behind him screamed.

"What the –?"

He gasped. So did the people around him. Even Draco's mouth was wide open in awe. About twenty ghosts had just streamed through the back wall. Pearly-white and slightly transparent, they glided across the room talking to one another and hardly glancing at the first years. They seemed to be arguing. What looked like a gat little monk was saying: "Forgive and forget, I say, we out to give him a second chance –"

"My dear Friar, haven't we given Peeves all the chances he deserves? He gives us all a bad name and you know, he's not really even a ghost – I say, what are you all going here?"

A ghost wearing a ruff and tights had suddenly noticed the first years.

Nobody answered.

"New students!" said the Fat Friar, smiling around at them. "About to be Sorted, I suppose?"

A few people nodded mutely.

"Hope to see you in Hufflepuff!" said the Friar. "My old house, you know."

"Move along now," said a sharp voice. "The Sorting Ceremony's about to start."

Professor McGonagall had returned. One by one, the ghosts floated away through the opposite wall.

"Now, form a line," Professor McGonagall told the first years, "and follow me."

Feeling oddly as though his legs had turned to lead, Harry got into line behind Draco, with Crabbe and Goyle behind him, and they walked out of the chamber, back across the hall, and through a pair of double doors into the Great Hall.

Harry had never even imagined such a strange and splendid place. It was lit by thousands and thousands of candles that were floating in midair over four long tables, where the rest of the students were sitting. These tables were laid with glittering golden plates and goblets. At the top of the hall was another long table where the teachers were sitting. Professor McGonagall led the first years up here so that they came to a halt in a line facing the other students, with the teachers behind them. The hundreds of faces staring at them looked like bale lanterns in the flickering candlelight. Dotted here and there among the students, the ghosts shone misty silver. Mainly to avoid all the staring eyes, Harry looked upward and saw a velvety black ceiling dotted with stars. He heard Granger whisper, "It's bewitched to look like the sky outside. I read about it in Hogwarts, A History."

'No shit, bitch, I thought a muggle painted it. Honestly, why is she so annoying?'

Harry quickly looked down again as Professor McGonagall silently placed a four-legged stool in front of the first years. On top of the stool, she put a pointed wizard's hat. This hat was patched and frayed and extremely dirty. In Harry's opinion, it looked like something straight out of his orphanage.

For a few seconds, there was complete silence. Then the hat twitched. A rip near the brim opened wide like a mouth – and the hat began to sing:

"Oh, you may not think I'm pretty,

But don't judge on what you see,

I'll eat myself if you can find

A smarter hat than me.

You can keep your bowlers black,

Your top hats sleek and tall,

For I'm the Hogwarts Sorting Hat

And I can cap them all.

There's nothing hidden in your head

The Sorting Hat can't see,

So try me on and I will tell you

Where you ought to be.

You might belong in Gryffindor,

Where dwell the brave at heart,

Their daring, nerve, and chivalry

Get Gryffindors apart;

You might belong in Hufflepuff,

Where they are just and loyal,

Those patient Hufflepuffs are true

And unafraid of toil;

Or yet in wise old Ravenclaw,

If you've a ready mind,

Where those of wit and learning,

Will always find their kind;

Or perhaps in Slytherin

You'll make your real friends,

Those cunning folk use any means

To achieve their ends.

So put me on! Don't be afraid!

And don't get in a flap!

You're in safe hands (though I have none)

For I'm a Thinking Cap!"

The whole hall burst into applause as the hat finished its song. It bowed to each of the four tables and then became quite still again.

Harry smiled weakly. 'It's fine,' he told himself. 'The hat won't tell anyone anything. My secrets are still my own.' Although, he did wish he could have tried it on without everyone watching.

Professor McGonagall now stepped forward holding a long roll of parchment.

"When I call your name, you will put on the hat and sit on the stool to be sorted," she said. "Abbott, Hannah!"

A pink-faced girl with blonde pigtails stumbled out of line, put on the hat, which fell right down over her eyes, and sat down. A moment's pause –

"HUFFLEPUFF!" shouted the hat.

The table on the right cheered and clapped as Hannah went to sit down at the Hufflepuff table. Harry saw the ghost of the Fat Friar waving merrily at her.

"Bones, Susan!"

"HUFFLEPUFF!" shouted the hat again, and Susan scuttled off to sit next to Hannah.

"Boot, Terry!"

"RAVENCLAW!"

The table second from the left clapped this time; several Ravenclaws stood up to shake hands with Terry as he joined them.

"Brocklehurst, Mandy" went to Ravenclaw too, but "Brown, Lavender" became the first new Gryffindor, and the table on the far left exploded with cheers; Harry could see two redheads cat-calling. They must be Weasleys as well, based on Harry's interaction with Ron. They looked similar.

"Bulstrode, Millicent" finally became the first Slytherin.

"Finch-Fletchley, Justin!"

"HUFFLEPUFF!"

Sometimes, Harry noticed, the hat shouted out the house at once, but at others, it took a little while to decide. "Finnigan, Seamus" sat on the stool for almost a whole minute before the hat declared him a Gryffindor.

"Granger, Hermione!"

The annoying girl from the train almost ran to the stool and jammed the hat eagerly on her head.

"GRYFFINDOR!" shouted the hat. Harry grinned as he heard Weasley groan.

When Neville Longbottom, the boy who kept losing his toad, was called, he fell over on his way to the stool. The hat took a long time to decide with Neville. When it finally shouted, "GRYFFINDOR," Neville ran off still wearing it, and had to jog back amid gales of laughter to give it to "MacDougal, Morag."

Draco swaggered forward when his name was called and god his wish at once: the hat had barely touched his head when it screamed, "SLYTHERIN!"

Draco went to join Crabbe and Goyle at the Slytherin table, looking pleased with himself before turning to Harry and giving him the thumbs-up. Harry felt the pressure in his stomach ease and he smiled to himself.

There weren't many people left now.

"Moon"…, "Nott"…, "Parkinson"…, then a pair of twin girls, "Patil" and "Patil"…, then "Perks, Sally-Anne"…, and then at last –

"Potter, Harry!"

As Harry stepped forward, whispers suddenly broke out like little hissing fires all over the hall.

"Potter, did she say?"

"The Harry Potter?"

The last thing Harry saw before the hat dropped over his eyes was the hall full of people craning to get a good look at him.

When Severus emerged from the Pensieve, his face was as pale as the ghosts currently roaming the castle. Dumbledore was simply sitting at his desk, allowing the potions master a moment to gather his thoughts. Said potions master simply walked over to the desk opposite the headmaster and sat down in silence, his deep black eyes focused on nothing, lost in thought. Finally, after what seemed like an eternity but in reality, was only a few minutes, Severus finally spoke.

"You believe he will be in Slytherin?"

Dumbledore nodded. "From all I've observed, I believe he will be. And I know how much James Potter hurt you as a child-" but whatever Dumbledore had planned to say next was abruptly cut off by Snape.

"Hurt? No Dumbledore, he didn't hurt me. He made my life a living hell here! His arrogance was unmatched and he made it his personal mission to berate me at every corner! And now I assume you wish for me to care for his son, to nurture and make his spawn feel cared for, a boy who-"

"Has already suffered more than you had in your entire lifetime. And I do not say this lightly."

This shut Severus up. He was not expecting Dumbledore to say something even close to this, and the shock from the moment left Severus speechless. Seeing as he had the floor for the moment, the headmaster continued.

"James Potter grew into a kind, caring man, who learned to put the needs of others before himself. And it truly hurts me that he ruined the possibility of you ever seeing the man he became." Severus opened his mouth to interject, but Dumbledore raised his hand cutting him off. "Harry was raised by neither James the boy you knew, nor was he raised by James, the man you didn't. And it is because of this that I need you to put aside your hatred for James. Put aside your resentment and desire for vengeance. Do it to spite James, do it to hold over his memory, do whatever you need to do to justify it. But please make sure the boy knows what it is to love. Because he has never known this before."

Severus was silent for a long moment. Trapped in his own head, he was using all of his prior Occlumency training to prevent his mind from snapping. "Albus, you can't expect me-"

"Please, Severus." Dumbledore was practically begging at this point. "If not for any of those reasons, do it for Lily."

'Hmm,' said a small voice in his ear. 'Difficult. Very difficult.' No – his head. Draco said it looked into his head. But his thoughts were safe inside his own head. He was-

'I hate to interrupt your musings,' came the hat's "voice" inside Harry's head, 'But I would like to sort you.'

'Sorry,' Harry thought back to the hat, 'Please continue.'

'Thank you. Now, as I was saying, there's a good amount of courage here, you could do well in Gryffindor like your parents. But no, you're not your parents. There's much more to you here, isn't there. You're adventurous like your father, no doubt, but I dare say you are far less reckless. Ah, and just like your mother, not a bad mind either – a thirst for knowledge too. But you don't seek knowledge for knowledge's sake, do you? No, you seek knowledge to prove yourself, now that's interesting…so where to put you?'

Harry gripped the stool tighter, his knuckles whitening from the stress. 'Tell me, Mr. Potter. What do you want?' Now that was a question Harry wasn't used to. At the orphanage, whether it came to meal servings or donated clothes, Harry would always get the last pick. And now, even coming to Hogwarts, as happy as he was to get away from the muggles, it wasn't like he had his pick of-

'Ahem.'

'Oops! Sorry!' thought Harry. But he still didn't know. What did he want? Where did he want to go? This whole world was so new to him, he just wanted to succeed in it – no – he wanted to be the best in it.

'Ahhh,' came the hat's voice once more. 'I think we've found your calling, Mr. Potter. You want to be the best wizard to ever live? Well, with ambition like that I think the only place to put you is in…

"SLYTHERIN!"