Spoiler Warning: This takes place in the first book but gives spoilers through the seventh and last book of Harry Potter.
Note: The first line is a quote from Harry Potter and the Sorceror's Stone, by J.K. Rowling.
We Sort Too Soon
"That does it," said Uncle Vernon, trying to speak calmly but pulling great tufts out of his mustache at the same time. "I want you all back here in five minutes ready to leave. We're--"
There was a loud CRACK and a flash of white, and Aunt Petunia screamed as a tall figure in long, dusty black robes appeared out of thin air in the middle of their spotless living room.
"That's quite enough," said a soft voice that nevertheless managed to fill the room. It seemed to promise retribution. Even Dudley, dull-witted as he was, shifted nervously sideways in an attempt to hide himself behind his mother's stick-like body.
Harry, more brave, or perhaps with less to lose, stepped forward nervously. "You're a wizard, aren't you?" he asked.
Aunt Petunia let out a shriek of indignation, while Uncle Vernon spluttered with fury. The stranger, however, lowered his wand -- what else could the tapered stick in his hand be? -- and rewarded Harry with a small and (truth to tell) rather unsettling smile.
"Yes, I am, Harry Potter. As are you."
Any answer was interrupted, however, by Uncle Vernon's roar. "Now, see here! Are you the one who's been attacking us with unsolicited letters, all regarding this nonsense about a school and books and things?"
Harry perked up, this being the first time he had heard about the contents of the avalanche of letters that had been pouring in over the last few days.
The stranger put up his peculiarly hooked nose, causing his curtains of greasy-looking black hair to slide back from his thin, sallow face. "That was not my doing. I am, however, here on a similar mission." He pointed one bony finger at Harry. "Come."
"You're not taking him!" declared Aunt Petunia at once, interposing herself in front of Harry. Everyone stared at her in shock. She had never before evinced the slightest inclination to protect Harry from anything. But she continued, "He's not going to that freak school. What will the neighbors think?" and normality -- as well as Uncle Vernon's ability to bluster -- was restored.
"Quite right," he agreed, smoothing out his mustache in an important manner. "You're to leave this house at once, you and your filth and rubbish ideas. And don't let me catch you--"
At this moment, the tall stranger twirled his wand, and suddenly Uncle Vernon's mouth was opening and closing with no sound coming out at all. The veins in his thick bull-like neck stood out.
"Vernon!" Aunt Petunia cried. "What did you do to him, Severus!" she demanded of the stranger.
With an expression of deep contempt, the man -- Severus? -- twirled his wand again, and Aunt Petunia became as mute as her husband. "I never did understand how you and Lily Evans could be related," he commented cooly.
Harry stared between the sneering man and his aunt. "You know each other?" he asked, shocked. There wasn't anyone he could imagine who was less likely for his aunt to be on a first name basis with. Harry's aunt and uncle made enraged, strangled faces at him, but Harry ignored them.
"We have a passing acquaintance, yes," said the stranger. He looked no more pleased about this than Aunt Petunia did.
A clatter drew their attention to the doorway, where Dudley had knocked over an umbrella stand attempting to sneak out of the room. He froze in horror when the stranger's dark eyes fixed upon him.
"Ah, yes, and this must be your son. How... delightful. Why, 'Tunie, I think he has your nose." With another casual twirl of the wand, Dudley began to grow, and to darken, until Harry was gaping at a fat-bellied pony bursting out of Dudley's clothes. It whirled around and kicked over a vase, whinnying in evident terror, until another wave of the wand silenced him as well. "I suggest you take your son aside until I've finished talking to Harry."
His tone made it clear that this was not a suggestion at all. With terrified looks, Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon herded their transformed son into the kitchen and closed the door firmly.
Harry looked at the man with a little trepidation and a lot of awe. He had never seen the Dursleys this overcome by anyone before.
Alone now, the robed man looked Harry up and down. Harry had the impression he was being inspected minutely. "You're the image of your father," he finally declared. "Let's hope you've inherited your mother's brains, at least, or else there's no hope for you."
Harry was caught between anger at this obvious insult to his father, and raving curiosity at this person who had apparently known his parents.
"Who are you?" Harry finally asked, succumbing to the latter sentiment. His aunt and uncle had always refused to tell him anything about his parents, threatening increasingly inventive punishments when he dared to ask questions.
"I?" asked the tall man. "I'm your godfather, of course." At Harry's no doubt shocked expression, he turned to glare at the door through which the Dursleys had retreated. "I see that your education has been grossly amiss. You do know about Hogwarts at least?"
Harry shook his head.
The man sighed. "I did tell Dumbledore he couldn't trust the Dursleys to give you that letter. I expect Petunia's burnt it by now. Very well," he said, with an air of sacrifice, "Let's make this short, shall we? I can tell you the details once we're on our way."
"On our way? To where?"
"Don't interrupt." Harry closed his mouth. "You, Harry, are a wizard. Your father was a pureblood wizard--" He held up a thin-boned hand when Harry opened his mouth again. "--meaning he had magical parents on both sides. Your mother was a muggle-born witch, meaning that neither of her parents had magic.
"They both went to Hogwarts, a school for magic. Children begin attending at age eleven, and since you are eleven next Tuesday, I've come to escort you there."
"You know my birthday?" Harry exclaimed, more surprised and excited by this than by any of the other amazing things he'd seen today.
"It would be strange if I didn't, seeing as I was there."
The man gestured negligently with one hand. "Your father was off with his... friends, on some adventure or other. Terribly important, of course, he would say."
"It must have been. He wouldn't have left my mother if it weren't," Harry said stoutly.
The man looked down his unusually bony nose at him. "Hm... You've got your father's hotheadness and lack of sense. That is for certain. And you'll be a Gryffindor, too, I imagine. A shame."
Snape closed his eyes in a gesture of long-suffering, before explaining, "There are four houses at Hogwarts, named for each of the four original founders of the school: Slytherin, Gryffindor, Ravenclaw, and Hufflepuff. At the start of the fourth year, each student is Sorted into a house that best fits him or her. It makes no difference to the classes you take, but it does help to promote the characteristics that are prized by each of the four founders."
"And my dad was in Gryffindor?" Harry asked anxiously.
"What about my mum?"
Snape seemed suddenly to have a bad taste in his mouth. He responded almost grudgingly, "Gryffindor, also."
Snape arched a dark brow. "Gryffindor as well, though only because I chose it. I was initially Sorted into Slytherin."
Harry heard a tone of wistfulness. "Is Slytherin a good house, then?" he challenged. The name sounded somewhat sinister. Snake-like.
"Only the ambitious, the proud, and the most talented are Sorted there."
"If it was all that good, why did you choose Gryffindor?" Harry asked, somewhat annoyed.
"That was where your mother wanted to go. Salazar Slytherin's House doesn't take the muggle-born, much the pity. Not Lily's fault, of course, else she would have made a fine Slytherin." Snape's expression grew slightly smug. "We were very good friends, your mother and I. I believe it made your father quite jealous."
Harry bristled. "But obviously, none of that mattered in the end. My mum chose to marry my dad, didn't she?"
Snape considered him, then grimaced. "Yes, I suppose she did."
Harry nodded, satisfied. "I hope I get into Gryffindor, too." He wasn't so sure about this man who called himself Harry's godfather, no matter how well he claimed to have known his mum.
"We'll see about that, won't we? You still have three years to mingle with your fellow students and make up your mind. One would hope that you don't resemble your father in more than looks, because, unless Professor Dumbledore is quite mistaken, you are marked for some rather unusual doings."
"All in good time, Harry. All in good time. Now, let's get your things together. I don't trust you with this riff-raff for one more day. From now on, you'll be with me. I'll petition Dumbledore to have you come home with me for school vacations as well."
Harry was a bit conflicted. He wasn't so sanguine that this sharp-looking man was necessarily better than the Dursleys. However, being wanted at all by someone was an unprecedented luxury. "Ah, that sounds very kind," he hedged.
"The very first thing I shall teach you is how to deal with these abominable personages who are supposed to be your family."
Harry brightened. "You can do that?"
"Well, it's not exactly allowed, of course. But I can teach you ways around that."
"Allowed? By whom?"
"The Ministry of Magic. Among others."
"That sounds serious."
The man shrugged his thin shoulders, and an incongruable look of craftiness livened his features all of a sudden. "I have skills which you can't even imagine, Harry Potter. For instance, do you have any idea how difficult it was to send you magic materials without Dumbledore finding out?"
Harry gaped. "That was you!" The heavy book of magic potions had appeared suddenly beside his pillow one morning, with a note inside, unsigned. The note had told him that it was a valuable book, and that he would need it someday, and that he was to try and learn as much as he could before then.
The fantastic potions described had fascinated Harry. The sarcastic, dry scribblings in the margins had cheered him. The book, and the scribbled annotations in its margins, had been his only friend for the last two years. He felt himself warming to this strange man.
"Are you the Half-Blood Prince?" he demanded.
A wry smile appeared on the sallow face. "I was called that in my youth, yes. You may address me as Professor Snape, or Sir, if you please," he replied. But his expression seemed to soften a fraction, as he added, "You've read it, then? Your mother had a knack for potions. I was hoping..."
"Oh, yes! Sir."
Snape's face became shrewd. "You could tell me, then, for instance, what a bezoar is?"
"That's an easy one. It's a stone from a goat's stomach. It cures poisons." How many times had he wished he had one? All the times Dudley had forced vile things down Harry's throat or shoved his head in the loo.
"That's correct. But you're right; it's a simple question. What of the difference between monkshood and wolfsbane?"
"Um, those are plants, right?" Harry asked, at a loss for a moment. At the disappointment on Snape's face, he quickly wracked his brains, and it burst upon him. "Oh, yeah! They're names for the same plant. You use it in some of the really complicated stuff. It's also called, um, arconite?"
Some of the warmth returned to Snape's gaze. "Aconite," he corrected. "Well, I suppose you'll do after all." He nodded decisively. "If you're at all like Lily Evans, you will do great things. And I do believe I shall help you."
The words bolstered something in Harry that he hadn't realized he'd ever missed. He decided that he would become the greatest wizard that ever lived. He would make his parents proud. He would show his aunt and uncle and dreadful Dudley how wrong they had been to mistreat him.
"No," agreed Dumbledore. "You are a braver man by far than Igor Karkaroff. You know, I sometimes think we Sort too soon..." (from Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows, by J.K. Rowling)