The Sorting of Severus Snape
The shout that rang throughout the Great Hall was just a word like any other—ten letters, three syllables. Indeed, it had already been called several times by the Sorting Hat with no major repercussions. But this time, when the old, frayed hat shouted that loathsome word, it had an immediate and unusual affect. As soon as it was called out—in fact, as soon as the first syllable escaped the Sorting Hat's brim—young Severus Snape, no more than 11 years old, moaned in despair the way only a child can, as though the door to a candy shop had just been slammed in his face.
He had watched with nervous anticipation as Lily Evans, his one and only friend, ever, had walked up to the stool facing the four long, crowded tables of the Great Hall, picked up the Sorting Hat, and placed it upon her head. Severus hadn't even had time to pray for her to be put into Slytherin, so quickly the Hat had called out "Gryffindor!" and dashed his hopes to pieces.
Lily gave him a brief look as she walked over to the cheering Gryffindor table, as though wanting to make sure he was okay. She knew how much he prized Slytherin House and had expected her to be in there with him. He was so distraught that he couldn't even take comfort in the brilliant way Lily snubbed that horrible boy from the train as she sat down next to him at the table.
It was almost too much to bear when the boy's friend—a snooty, black-haired kid named James Potter—was also sorted into Gryffindor and sat down with them. Jealousy flared up in Severus like a snake rearing to strike at the sight of Potter so close to Lily where he could not be.
Severus was standing alone, a bit separated from the others and feeling very exposed, by the time his name was called; barely anyone was left to sort by then. As he walked up to the stool he heard faint traces of snickering coming from the Gryffindor table. He turned his head and saw Potter and Black looking at him and whispering to each other. With a sneer he picked up the Sorting Hat and placed it upon his head. It fell down over his eyes, so he did not see it when Lily turned to give a disgusted look to the boys beside her.
Clouded in the darkness of the Sorting Hat as though blind, Severus expected to instantly hear the word "Slytherin!" just as quickly as Lily's House had been chosen, but what happened instead surprised him. The Sorting Hat started talking to him inside his head where no one else could hear.
"Hmm," the Sorting Hat said in a small and dusty voice. "This one's a pickle... A cunning intellect... lots of pride... a determination for greatness... and courage, can't forget that, a fair bit of courage... you would do well in Gryffindor, no doubt..."
For a fleeting instant, there came an image in Severus's mind of Lily and a spark of hope, but just as quickly it was extinguished by a deluge of fear and his mother's scowling face, and her words echoed in his ears, how Slytherin was the only House worth being in, and then she too morphed—Snape didn't know why—but suddenly all he could think of was his despicable Muggle father, and a swell of hatred surged up inside him, and that image was the last one he thought of as the Sorting Hat spoke.
"Well, if that's how you feel about it... better be SLYTHERIN!"
The last word it had shouted out loud.
Severus felt relieved as he pulled off the hat and took his rightful place at the Slytherin table. He reached up to brush his forehead absentmindedly and realized he was sweating. The Sorting had been a dreadfully intrusive experience, and he tried to forget it and enjoy the feast.
When the banquet was over, and the Houses started lining up to be taken to their common rooms, Severus found Lily in the crowd. He had to make sure of one thing.
"I'll still see you around, right?" There was a twinge of desperateness in his voice.
"Of course, Severus. We'll always be friends." Lily smiled at him and touched his shoulder, and Severus left to join the Slytherins feeling strangely calm and happy, confident that despite the circumstances, Lily Evans would always be near him.
It was many years later when Snape finally realized, with no small amount of self-loathing, that it was the choice he had made that evening—a choice made in the ignorance of youth—that had sealed his fate from his very first night at Hogwarts, and would eventually drive Lily away and out of his reach forever.