author's note: As usual, I own none of these characters or the world they live in. I left out most of the names of students getting Sorted because Snape isn't paying attention to most of them, and this story is from his perspective.
"Karkaroff intends to flee if the Mark burns."
"And are you tempted to join him?"
"No," said Snape, gazing out across the grounds. "I am not such a coward."
"No," agreed Dumbledore. "You are a braver man by far than Igor Karkaroff. You know, I sometimes think we Sort too soon..." And he walked away, leaving Snape to stare after him in shock and astonishment. What did he mean by that?
"Shh!" someone hissed. "They're starting!" The first years gulped nervously and tried to stand still. Snape watched the stool with the hat on it, making his face impassive. He pretended not to notice everybody's eyes on the little group. After all, they weren't really looking at him ... but they soon would be.
"Black, Sirius!" read Professor McGonagall. Sirius advanced to the stool with a confident swing in his stride, though Snape saw James Potter throw Black an encouraging look before he stepped out. Black put on the Sorting Hat and sat down on the stool.
Several long moments passed. Snape glanced toward the Slytherin table and spotted Lucius Malfoy, the prefect from the train. Malfoy was watching Sirius, his eyebrows slightly raised. The Great Hall was not quite silent, but no one was speaking except in whispers.
Finally the hat called out, "GRYFFINDOR!" Sirius Black grinned triumphantly, removed the Hat, and marched over to the table with scarlet and gold decorations. Snape was still eyeing the Slytherin table, where several students were talking and pointing at Sirius in apparent surprise. They quickly quieted down as the next student tried the hat on.
Snape wondered what was going on with the students who put on the Sorting Hat: their faces were hidden, the way the hat fell over their eyes, so he could judge nothing by their expressions. But according to its song, the hat was able to see inside your head. Snape was not sure he liked that idea. But the Hat didn't seem to say anything except for the name of the student's new House, so maybe it was safe to wear it ... if everyone here had tried it on once, surely it couldn't be a hat that told important secrets ...
Snape watched Lily walk over to the stool. She moved gracefully, but her face was pale. Snape crossed his fingers, which were hidden in his oversized sleeve, as Lily carefully put the hat on her head.
"GRYFFINDOR!" the hat shouted, almost instantly. Snape gave a tiny groan, as Lily walked over to the Gryffindor table, tossing Snape an apologetic glance. James Potter punched the air with a fist, looking ecstatic. Snape hoped the Hat would stick him in Hufflepuff.
But he was disappointed. When Potter's turn came, the hat put him in Gryffindor without a moment's hesitation. Potter and Black sat together, congratulating each other. Life just wasn't fair.
Snape clenched his teeth furiously when Potter leaned toward Lily to say something, looking hopeful ... but she turned away, snubbing him. That was something, anyway. How dare that arrogant little twerp speak to her. Snape was just in the midst of wondering what spell he should learn to do on Potter first when --
"Snape, Severus!" Much sooner than he'd expected, the moment had come. Snape walked out to the Sorting Hat a little slowly, feeling apprehensive. Now everybody was staring at him. He put the hat on and sat down, shutting his eyes.
A small voice in his ear said: "Well, well, well. Son of Eileen Prince, isn't it? Lots of cleverness, I see. A bit of sensitivity, but courage too. Oh my, such great determination and willpower."
Snape knotted his fingers together in his lap. Slytherin, he thought firmly. I'm going to be in Slytherin. That's where all the most powerful wizards are from.
"Exactly so," said the hat, as if it had heard him thinking. "Though you'd make a fine Ravenclaw, with that dedicated brain of yours ... or a Gryffindor? No?"
No way! Snape thought, almost speaking out loud. That House is for self-righteous idiots like Potter. For the moment, he had forgotten Lily was in there. Besides, Snape told himself, my mother was a pureblood.
"True, true," said the Sorting Hat. "Very well then, you'll be SLYTHERIN!" It shouted the last word loud enough for the whole Hall to hear, and Snape stood up, took off the hat, and moved over to the Slytherin table. Lucius Malfoy gave him a smile and a pat on the back, though several of the other students looked at Snape askance, obviously put off by his oversized secondhand robes. Most of them wore robes of fine new material that fitted them perfectly, no doubt custom-tailored.
"Well done," said Malfoy, letting everybody see that Snape was to be accepted here. "That took a little while, didn't it?" Snape shrugged.
"Anyhow, welcome to Slytherin House," said Malfoy. "Next comes the Headmaster's speech and then there's the big start-of-term feast..."
"Bet you're looking forward to that, eh?" said a heavy-looking second year boy. "Scrawny little thing, aren't you?" He prodded Snape.
Snape ignored him, but the second year poked him again, harder. It hurt.
Annoyed, Snape whipped out his wand and said: "Langlock!" The boy squealed as his tongue glued itself to the roof of his mouth. He fumbled for his own wand, trying to fix the curse, as the other students laughed loudly. Snape gave a small smile, pleased that his first official spell as a student had worked perfectly.
"That was good!" exclaimed Malfoy. "I didn't get the hang of that one till I was a third year ... you know any other hexes? I've got a good book I should show you."
"My mother's got a few spellbooks at home," said Snape, pocketing his wand again. His reputation was brightening, as the other Slytherin first years (and some older students as well) looked on Snape with a bit of admiration, or at least with healthy respect. "Eileen Prince, maybe you've heard of her?" As he spoke, he caught sight of Lily at the distant Gryffindor table. She looked so fine in her new school robes. The sight almost made Snape forget about his own shabby clothing.
Malfoy looked thoughtful. "Dunno ... sorry, I'll ask my father about it. Say, Severus, do you like Quidditch?" But Snape wasn't listening.
Snape blinked. "Sorry, what was that?"
Malfoy grinned, trying to follow Snape's gaze. "What's over there that's so interesting?"
Snape attempted to bring his mind back to current affairs. His thoughts had been quite elsewhere. He nodded at the table across the Hall. "See that red-haired girl over there at the Gryffindor table? Lily Evans? I know her a little bit. We met a few years ago. I told her a thing or two about wizards, she didn't ... well, she didn't know much. Her parents are Muggles." Snape trailed off, realizing perhaps he shouldn't have said that to these people.
Malfoy looked in Lily's direction. He said lightly, "Oh, yeah, she's a cute one, isn't she. Might grow up to be very pretty in a few years. But you don't want to waste time on Mudbloods here. Definitely make some friends in your own House, some pureblood friends – that's how you'll get ahead and make a name for yourself. Let me introduce you round," he added, turning back to the table and gesturing. "This is Rosier, that's Rodolphus Lestrange, you've met Elishi Zabini already ... and this is Bellatrix Black."
Bellatrix was a third-year girl of very striking appearance, with long and shining dark hair. Malfoy continued: "Bellatrix is a cousin of Sirius Black's, there ... all the Black family have been in Slytherin. That's why we were so surprised that Sirius went for Gryffindor. Too bad. He'd have been a nice asset. He's tall, I wonder if he'll be a Quidditch player."
Bellatrix said coldly: "Sirius is rather a problem child in the family. Not at all like his younger brother. Sirius ... hasn't the attitude appropriate for a family as prestigious as the Blacks." Snape thought that good looks must run in the Black family, as Bellatrix was quite beautiful. But she looked haughty and proud.
Snape held out his hand, cautiously. "Er ... hullo," he said. "It's a pleasure to meet you."
Bellatrix did not take his hand. She just looked at him. Eventually Snape withdrew his hand and mumbled: "Never mind then." He decided he didn't like her. Malfoy threw Bellatrix a disapproving look, but she just picked up her goblet and twirled it idly, ignoring him.
"Oh well, Bella, don't take it so hard about Sirius," said Malfoy. "Your sister Narcissa is coming next year, she'll probably be in our House, right?"