Severus Snape raised his wand to his temple and placed its tip against his skin, thinking of the memory. He drew the wand away, slowly…
"Now, form a line," Professor McGonagall told the first years, "and follow me."
In the crush, Severus took a sharp jab in the ribs from someone's elbow. Wincing, he looked around, and met Sirius Black's smug face.
"Keep your skinny ribs out of the way, Snape!" he whispered in mock fury, rubbing his elbow.
The boy with untidy hair beside him snorted behind his hand.
"You seem to be under the impression that aspiring to be placed in Slytherin means you have to be a facetious, arrogant little bastard," Severus sneered as the line moved forwards. "But I believe that's a Gryffindor trait."
"Listen to him," laughed the boy with untidy hair, "does he say any word that's less than two syllables?"
"Yes," Severus replied, smirking. "Try 'shut up you thick twat'."
The boy stopped grinning, and he and Black both eyed him with murder in their faces. But they had reached the massive doors of the Great Hall, where Professor McGonagall was waiting before a sea of faces, all turned to look at them.
"I'll see you later," Black muttered.
"I look forward to it," he hissed back.
Severus watched as the boy sat down and the hat was placed on his head, and he waited with baited breath. Black was no Ravenclaw intellectual, he was too lazy to be a Hufflepuff and, though there was a cunning side to him, Severus knew he was no Slytherin. His family, he had heard his father say, was worried. Black was the white sheep.
Snape smirked. Black looked unconcerned as he swaggered to the Gryffindor table, surreptitiously flipping him the finger as he did.
The waiting first years diminished around him. The untidy-haired boy – Potter, James – was sorted into Gryffindor. The last thing Severus saw before the hat dropped over his eyes was Potter sitting down beside Black at the Gryffindor table. 'I can't wait to hear what you mother has to say,' he thought, with some relish: then the world went dark, and a dank smell, like the back of an old wardrobe, engulfed him.
"Hmm," said a small voice in his ear. "Not so easy as you might think. Plenty of cunning, oh yes. Determination, and a nice thirst to prove yourself. A fine mind, a hard worker - and, what's this – a streak of heroism too. So, where shall I put you?"
Confused at the Hat's lack of decisiveness, he thought, 'Well, not Gryffindor!'
'No!' he thought, fiercly, his insides turning icy at the thought.
"Are you sure? Gryffindor house is where the heroes are really made."
'Up until now, perhaps,' he thought back, firmly. 'Not bloody Gryffindor!'
"Well, if you're sure, it had better be – SLYTHERIN!"
… and let the silvery substance of the memory fall into the Pensieve.
He stared at it for a long time. It was strange how memories lost themselves in the tangle of others, indexed by protagonist and cross-referenced by scent or emotion. For a moment, his wand hovered over the bowl, the word 'Incendio' on the tip of his tongue.
"Gryffindor," he snorted, finally, his wand wavering, but he did not strike the memory. There was probably a use in it, somewhere: in the faces and voices of dead men, the bite of hatred and fear, and the smell of a musty old hat.
This is dedicated to my fellow PRESTOnians at the High Table on Fiction Alley, who didn't sack me for writing this, or even quietly suggesting it