Conspiracy of Silence
Disclaimer: J.K. Rowling created and owns Hogwarts, Severus Snape, and almost everything else in this story - for which I will be forever jealous.
Author's Note: Once more, with a few less typos... Reuploaded June '04 after another quick sweep for errors I missed last time around.
Alone of all the children milling about on platform nine and three-quarters, Severus Snape was silent and still. The others laughed and chattered as they met old friends or sniffled and clung to their parents. Sev simply watched.
Even at eleven, he was a remarkably self-possessed boy. 'Cold' was the word some people would have used, and perhaps it was accurate. Whatever passions might or might not rage beneath the surface, all that he ever let show was carefully calculated and considered.
Orphaned at the age of six after an unfortunate magical accident, Sev had been raised by his mother's brother. His uncle was a kind enough man in his way, but he had neither the time nor the experience to raise a young boy in any way approaching normal. Severus was left to bring himself up - and bring himself up he did.
His uncle had owned a book collection to rival even that of the great library at Hogwarts, and Severus had studiously read his way through it at an age where other boys were still getting used to sounding out their letters. He had paid careful attention to his uncle's many tomes on the Dark Arts; not through any intent to use what he learned, or even through simple curiosity, but because the Dark Arts represented knowledge few had - and Severus Snape prized nothing higher than knowledge.
He remembered little of life with his parents, but his father's words of wisdom to him had stuck in his head. It was wisdom his uncle and others might not have approved of... but to Severus, it made perfect sense.
Never let them see the real you, Sev. Never let them know what you're thinking. There are a lot of people in this world, and you'll find that you're smarter than most of them... but they don't need to know that. Keep it to yourself, Sev. Always play the double game.
And that was how Sev lived. Observing. Calculating. Watching the world around him, and fitting in to it however he chose to do so.
With his brains, he could have been the highest scoring student at his junior school. With his talent for understanding people, he could have made himself the most popular. He did neither. He was content to sit on the sidelines, unnoticed, and keep to himself.
And now he would be starting at Hogwarts. Not just any school, but a wizarding school. He would for the first time in his life get to use real magic... or so his uncle thought.
Though Severus had never owned a wand until a week ago, there were magics you could do without one. In preparing potions, he was already more accomplished than most of his fellow students would be when they left seven years down the line. And though he had never had opportunity or reason to use them, his studies of the Dark Arts had brought him into contact with a huge selection of curses and incantations. And Severus Snape had an excellent memory.
He could wow all the assembled students with some flashy display if he wanted - but that was far from his style. No, he much preferred to wait and observe.
Where other people might see only a confusion of people and noises, Snape saw patterns and intersections. In a matter of minutes, he could see things about the students around him that others might take weeks to find out. He amused himself by studying his fellow new students, and sorting them into Hogwarts houses.
A nervous girl with dark red hair and green eyes bit her lip as she stood with her family. An older blonde girl, obviously her sister, looked down her nose in disgust at the chaotic display around them. The family were Muggles, he could see at a glance, and they didn't much approve of her new career path. She was obviously strong-willed. She'd be a Gryffindor.
Not far away, a scruffy boy with glass fussed with the back of his dark hair, trying to convince it to lay flat. He was laughing loudly with another boy, with a crop of black hair shoulder-length like Snape's own, but wildly curly. Gryffindors those, too.
Harder to place were the wallflowers. A skinny mousy-haired boy in faded, patched clothing hung back from the crowd. He seemed awkward amongst so many people, but there was a glint of intelligence in his eyes, and he seemed to be observing much as Snape was. A Ravenclaw, perhaps?
A short, pudgy boy on the sidelines seemed destined for Hufflepuff for sure. He was clinging to his parents and watching events with a wide-eyed suspicion. His father, an imposing man in stark black robes, looked thoroughly unimpressed with his timidity.
Only one other student was as short as he was, but the difference in their demeanour was striking. Slim, with golden-white hair and a self-possessed air, he carried a very expensive-looking case and was pontificating loudly about how his father had been head boy when he was at Hogwarts.
Slytherin, for sure. The home of the ambitious.
The home of Snape, too. Ambition was a knotty problem, and Sev would have to think for a long while to decide where his lay... but Slytherin was also the home of the devious and cunning. Severus Snape was nothing if not cunning.
The train was about to move out, and everybody filed aboard. Sev had hoped for an empty compartment to catch up his reading - people-watching was much less enjoyable in a small, enclosed environment - but no such luck. The red-haired girl and the shy boy in the shabby robes both followed him in.
There was an awkward silence. Awkward for the others, at least; Sev just ignored them both and started reading. His book was not one of the Hogwarts set texts - no, he was way beyond that. This was a complicated treatise on the latest advances in Transformation Potions.
Finally, the red-haired girl spoke up. "Hi," she said, with a brilliant smile. "Um, good to meet you all. I'm Lily."
The mousy-haired boy smiled back. "I'm Remus Lupin." He had a very gentle voice, but he spoke without a trace of the hesitation you would expect from someone who was outwardly so shy. Snape filed that away for later use, the way he did all such observations.
They were both waiting for him to join the conversation, so he said shortly "Severus Snape," and flipped over another page in his book.
"Wow, that looks complicated," Lily observed. "What is it?"
He was tempted to answer 'a book' but decided that - whilst it was undeniably the right sort of answer to give to a stupid question - such a comment was entirely too childish. "A Treatise on Transmogrification," he told her, flipping up the cover for her to see.
"Wow," she said again. Charitably, he ascribed that to nerves and not a limited vocabulary.
"It would appear that it is complicated," Remus observed dryly.
Much to Sev's relief, his two carriage-mates were fairly quiet for most of the journey, chatting quietly to each other and not trying to draw him into the conversation too much. He continued to read, paying little attention but missing nothing.
Lily, he learned, was indeed from a Muggle family. Her parents had known nothing of the existence of magic, and had been horrified at the very idea. It had taken her weeks of arguing, bribery and outright blackmail to get permission to go to Hogwarts. She'd only won her case after she convinced her older sister Petunia to back her up. Petunia, it seemed, was torn between disgust at the shame of having a sister who was a witch and glee at having the room they shared to herself for most of the year.
Remus was less than forthcoming about his family and history. He was wizardborn, that much was easy to tell from how he spoke and dressed, but he claimed his life so far had been "very dull". From the quietly self-assured way he carried himself, however, Snape didn't think it could be anything as simple as shame at coming from a poor family. Sev found the contrast in him before and after boarding the train interesting. It appeared it was mostly the size of the crowd that had unnerved him; where had he been all his life that he wasn't used to so many people?
The quiet was disturbed, however, by the arrival of the witch with the snack trolley. Hot on her heels came the two loud boys he'd seen on the platform earlier.
"Ow! Sirius, mind where you're going!"
It was the scruffy-haired boy with the glasses who had spoken. His long-haired companion, an inch or two shorter, was like a human whirlwind, tearing about the place at speed.
The boy with the glasses caught sight of how Lily was staring at the display of snacks with fascination, and flashed her a mischievous grin. "Hi! I'm James Potter. You ever tried Pepper Imps?"
"I wouldn't, if I were you," Remus advised drolly.
"I want to try everything," Lily insisted excitedly.
James grinned at her. "Great idea." He turned to the witch. "Ma'am, can we have a portion of everything?"
Lily clapped a hand to her mouth. "Oh, you can't! Besides, I don't even have any wizarding money on me."
"That's okay. Sirius'll pay for it. Won't you, Sirry?"
"Huh? Oh, whatever." Sirius seemed more concerned with something in his coat pocket. He reached inside, and produced a tiny owl that was looking a bit rumpled.
"Oh, you have an owl!" Lily seemed delighted. "Oh, I wanted to get one, but my parents wouldn't let me!"
"You keep your owl in your pocket?" remarked Remus, eyebrows raised.
"This is Zipper," Sirius explained, carefully smoothing out his ruffled feathers. "He doesn't like cages. Do you, Zip?"
The tiny owl fluttered his wings excitedly.
James came over to the with a huge armful of sweets. "Enough for everyone!" he announced. "Pay the lady, Sirius."
"That'll be twelve Sickles, please," said the witch.
"Twelve Sickles?" demanded Sirius, digging in a different pocket. "You spent twelve Sickles of mine on sweets?"
Lily looked distressed, but James clapped her on the shoulder reassuringly. "Ignore him," he advised. "He's rolling in it."
Sirius pulled a face, and pretended to menace him with his wand. Sev rolled his eyes in disbelief, a gesture that the others unfortunately noticed.
"I'm sorry, are we amusing you?" asked Sirius.
"Not intentionally, I'm sure," said Snape dryly.
Sirius scowled, but James grinned amiably. "Hi, I'm James Potter. This is-"
"I have ears," Sev reminded him.
James blinked. "Do you have a name as well?"
"I'm Severus Snape."
"Thank you." After a moment, when it was clear Snape had no interest in talking to any of them, they went back to chattering amongst themselves.
The train pulled up at the Hogwarts station and everybody tumbled out. A huge man with wild black hair, twice the size of the people around him, was bellowing for the first years.
A number of the new kids seemed intimidated by the sheer size of him; they'd never seen anything like it. Neither had Snape, but he recognised him for what he was immediately. Giant's blood in that one, or I'm a Muggle.
"Right, 'ere we go!" bellowed the enormous man. "No more'n four to a boat! Any more firs' years?"
They all scrambled for the boats. James, Remus, Sirius and Lily filled one. Snape ended up in the next boat, with the short blond boy and the nervous fat one he'd noticed on the platform, plus an extremely bulky boy who looked like he was taking up more than his fair share of the weight allowance.
"Right - forward!" The fleet of little boats started across the lake. The water had gone as still as glass.
Most of the students were gaping in awe at the spectacle of Hogwarts laid out before them, but Snape was more interested in watching them. He met the eyes of the little blond boy, who gave him a kind of companionable sneer; an expression that said 'look at all these losers around us'.
Be careful before you put yourself into my league, kid, Sev thought, but he gave the boy a subtle nod of acknowledgement.
They got out at the other side, the pudgy Hufflepuff boy stumbling and almost falling in the water. The blond boy snickered, and James shot him an angry scowl. He came over and offered the other guy a hand up.
"Hi, I'm James Potter," he said yet again. Snape found himself wishing he could think up a more original line to introduce himself.
"P-P-Peter Pettigrew," stuttered the boy awkwardly. The blond kid snorted again, and the bulky boy who'd shared their boat chuckled with him. James glared at them angrily, including Sev by default - although he hadn't laughed or even reacted. Snape stared back impassively. Why on earth would he care what Mr. "Hi I'm James Potter" thought of him?
They filed through into the Great Hall. The four house tables were crowded with older students. Snape kept his face impassive under their collective gaze. The youngest kids there, the new second years, were craning their necks curiously, but the older students looked like they'd seen it all before.
At the top table the teachers awaited them. In the centre, of course, was Albus Dumbledore; a tall, thin man with a flood of auburn hair shot through with silver-grey. He peered kindly at the new students over half-moon spectacles.
As they waited, a tall, very thin man with a scrubby blond beard came forward. "First years, Hagrid?" The huge man nodded.
"Welcome," said the thin wizard, with a slightly distracted smile. "I'm Professor Fractalis. I teach Arithmancy, and I'm the deputy headmaster here at Hogwarts."
He wore chalk-dusted robes that were patched at the elbows, and in his hands he carried a hat that was even more battered than his own. He solemnly placed it on a stool in front of the assembled first years, and stood back.
There were some very puzzled faces in the crowd around him, but Sev had read Hogwarts: A History back when he was seven. This must be the famous Sorting Hat.
They all watched the hat for a long moment. Suddenly, it twitched, and a rip near the brim opened like a mouth. The hat began to sing.
A thousand years ago or more,
When Hogwarts school was new,
The founders formed their houses each,
But wondered what to do.
For they each prized in their own mind
A different virtue clear;
But how to pick those virtues out
When they could not be near?
'Twas Gryffindor who thought it out
And saw the problem's end
And placed a spell on his own hat
On which they could depend.
For I'm the Hogwart's sorting hat
I know what's on your mind;
And so, no matter who you are,
A place for you I'll find.
If you are brave and true of heart,
In Gryffindor you'll go;
If you are wise above all else,
Then Ravenclaw, I'll know;
The cunning and the wittiest,
In Slytherin will be;
And those who work and toil hard,
To Hufflepuff I'll see.
I'm never wrong, I never fail,
I'll know by what I've read;
I'll sort you into your true home
So put me on your head!
The entire hall burst into spontaneous applause. Sev didn't join, just waited patiently. The blond boy didn't clap either, curling his lip into a sneer at how easily impressed his fellow students seemed.
Professor Fractalis cleared his throat somewhat nervously. "When I call your name, please, ahem, please come forward and sit down, and put on the hat to be sorted." He coughed again. Sev decided he wasn't very used to public speaking. "Ackerley, Solomon!"
Ackerley, Solomon, stumbled forwards and tugged on the hat. There was a moments' silence, and then the hat bellowed "RAVENCLAW!"
The Ravenclaw table cheered, and he skittered across to join them with a goofy grin.
"Avery, Nicholas!" was next up. He was sent to Slytherin.
The first half of the ceremony went off with no surprises. Lupin was put in Gryffindor, not Ravenclaw, but Snape had already reassessed him after the train ride. The blond boy he'd shared the boat with was Malfoy, Lucius, and the bulky one who'd joined his laughter was Crabbe, Colin. They were both in Slytherin.
It was when they came to little stuttery Peter Pettigrew that he nearly swallowed his tongue. The hat sat on his head for a very long time... nearly two minutes. Finally, when people were beginning to shift uncomfortably, the hat suddenly bellowed "GRYFFINDOR!"
Gryffindor? House of the brave and true of heart? He tried to juxtapose that with the fearful little boy who'd been quaking like a leaf, and just couldn't begin to do it.
What was the Sorting Hat playing at? It claimed to have never been wrong - well, if it wasn't wrong, it was certainly up to something. Could the hat have an ulterior motive for assigning Pettigrew to Gryffindor? Sev couldn't imagine what that might be.
He was so bemused by the hat's odd choice that he completely blanked out Potter, Pucey and Quirke. Next thing he knew, it was his own name being called out.
"Snape, Severus!" Untroubled by the focus of attention suddenly on him, he calmly went forward to take the hat and place it on his head.
The hat took no time at all to reach its decision. A dry, whispery voice in his head said "Hmm, a sly one... very, very sly... SLYTHERIN!" He tugged the hat off, and went to join his table.
Lucius had reserved a seat for him. He gave a kind of triumphant sneer. "Thought you'd be with us," he muttered. "You didn't look like one of the riff-raff."
The remaining students were quickly assigned houses; he was the last to be put in Slytherin. When they had all settled down, Professor Dumbledore got to his feet at the staff table. "Greetings, all. Welcome to a new year at Hogwarts. Before we eat, I'd like a brief word - dinner!" He sat back down.
"Stupid old fool," said Malfoy scathingly. Sev started to eat, and said nothing.
The students scoffed their fill from the magic plates. Severus ate little; he generally viewed food as fuel to be got out of the way with, secondary to the much more important things he could be doing with his time. Crabbe ate like a pig; Malfoy was extremely picky, critiquing everything he was served and making comments about how his parents wouldn't be caught dead using such commonplace table settings.
When they were finished, Professor Dumbeldore stood up again. "Ahem. Right, a few more words before we all go off to bed. Welcome back, all those of you who've been here before. You may notice a few changes to the staff." A brief murmur ran through the older crowd.
"Professor Binns, as you may recall, sadly passed away last term. However, as those of you were in his history class will be aware, his ghost remains with us, and he will continue to teach his classes. Professor Kirrelgun, on the other hand, has left us for a lucrative position in the Ministry of Magic. We are fortunate to have procured a more than capable replacement - may I introduce Professor McGonogall, the new Transfiguration mistress." There was polite applause. A stern-faced young woman with a flood of dark hair stood up and nodded briefly.
"And now, to your dorms. The Prefects will show you the way."
The Slytherin rooms were not far away from the Great Hall. The lead Prefect spoke the password - "Dragonhide" - and an entire section of the wall slid back.
There was a mass scramble as the first years fought over the different rooms. Snape ended up sharing his with Malfoy, Crabbe, and two other boys called Nick Avery and Stuart Flint. Malfoy cast a cold eye over their roommates, and appeared to find them acceptable. Snape suspected this had more to do with the fact that they both came from long-established wizarding families than anything to do with their personalities.
The others fell asleep almost instantly after their tiring day, but Sev stayed up long into the night, reading A Treatise on Transmogrification.