Disclaimer: Harry Potter is not my property. He belongs to J. K. Rowling and the people who publish the books and make the movies (but probably to J. K. Rowling first and foremost, since she came up with the whole idea). I'm writing this purely for my own amusement and not for material gain.
A/N: My beta Gwendolyn has my deepest gratitude for being so very, very awesome and so patient with me. This story wouldn't exist without you. One day, your kindness will be repaid. Maybe even by me...
On a different note, this is an AU (obviously) about a canon Harry being Sorted differently. Everything before Harry's Sorting unfolds exactly as in the first book—so by now Harry has rejected Malfoy's friendship, struck up a camaraderie with Ron and learnt that Gryffindor is the bee's knees. This project spans all seven books; the plan is to have the number of chapters correspond to the year, i.e. one chapter for first year, two for second, three for third, etc. Credit for that idea goes to karinms.
This fic is rated M overall for language, violence and mature themes. What little romance occurs in the story is very much peripheral to the plot. There is no main ship.
"You could be great, you know, it's all here in your head, and Slytherin will help you on the way to greatness…"
(The Sorting Hat, Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone)
Slytherin. He was a bloody Slytherin. Head bowed, eyes fixed on an empty plate, Harry tried to comprehend the enormity of the Hat's decision. Hagrid had said that all wizards who go to Slytherin end up bad, hadn't he? Well, what did it mean for Harry—surely he wasn't bad already?
("Always spoil everything… ungrateful… freakish… strange... abnormal...")
He was angry, now, and not a little frustrated. Why did the bloody Hat have to put him in bloody Slytherin with bloody Draco bloody Malfoy and away from—all kids who seemed nice? Even the bushy-haired know-it-all didn't seem so bad now, nor the hapless boy with the toad. They were a little annoying, yes, but at least they weren't—Slytherins.
Oh god, what would Ron think of Harry now? All hopes that Ron would go to Slytherin too were dashed with the Hat's decisive "GRYFFINDOR!" Harry clenched his fists and tried to calm his breathing. Nothing for it. He raised his eyes.
Ron was staring at him with the expression of utter betrayal.
("I don't suppose Ravenclaw would be too bad, but imagine if they put me in Slytherin.")
Well. That answered that question. Harry didn't dare look at Hagrid; one disappointed gaze was all he could take in an evening.
Zabini, Blaise was Sorted into Slytherin and seated himself next to Harry. The Sorting was finally over and Dumbledore got up to speak some nonsense, after which food appeared out of nowhere on the table. Harry nearly jumped.
"It's called magic, Potter," Malfoy said acerbically. Two huge boys next to him—Crabb and Grabb?—guffawed.
Harry fixed Malfoy with a glare and felt the weight of many looks on him—some suspicious, some malevolent, some blatantly curious. He was familiar with the way kids worked: now that the ball was set rolling, questions would start. He steeled himself and stifled the despair that was creeping up his throat. It was not the time to show weakness. Bullies would pounce on that at once, he knew.
And he hated knowing that things would be the same here as they were in his old school.
He had probably been foolish to hope for anything different.
And yet it was different and Harry was grateful for small favours. There were rules to living in Slytherin, unspoken little rules that Harry picked up as he went along; invisible ties connecting certain members of his House; dark secrets and closets full of skeletons, but Harry knew quite a bit about secrets and he certainly was an expert on closets.
The most obvious principle ruling Slytherin was power. If you had power, you were fine; if you had no power, you tried to gain it; and if you had no power and no idea how to gain it, the least you could do was mask your ignorance and hope that nobody sees through your façade.
Ignorance was weakness; knowledge was power.
There was a reason, after all, why Harry Potter started going to the library in his second week of school.
To be honest, Harry didn't want power. He didn't want to be a bully like Malfoy or Marcus Flint, but he wanted to be safe from the Malfoys and Marcus Flints of Hogwarts, and, unlike with Dudley, there was an actual way of achieving that goal. So he kept his head down, tried to slip under everyone's radar and spent a lot of his time in the library, where bullying was unlikely to happen anyway.
He had loads to learn. He was terribly unaware of wizarding customs, wizarding ways of doing things, wizarding history and his own place in that intricate world of connections and alliances. He knew next to nothing about his parents. He knew next to nothing about Voldemort. He knew next to nothing about Hogwarts.
If he was to carve out a place for himself in the wizarding world, this had to change.
Potions became his least favourite class and Professor Snape his least favourite teacher on the very first evening, when the teacher had cornered Harry and given him a very threatening speech.
("Misbehaviour—pampered prince—prancing around—expelled faster that you can say Potions—flaunting your fame—keeping an eye on you, boy.")
Harry'd been half-furious, half-terrified, so he couldn't really recall later what the Professor had said, but he'd grasped that his Head of House hated him and would enjoy punishing him for the mildest infraction.
So it was a in a foul mood that Harry arrived to the Potions classroom door, but the morning was about to get only worse.
"So, Weasel, I'm surprised to see you at Hogwarts… I wouldn't have thought your family could afford to send so many of you here."
Harry had apparently arrived just in time to witness Malfoy picking on Ron. It really wasn't Ron's fault that Malfoy was born a jerk.
"Shut up, Malfoy," he hissed quietly into Draco's ear. He'd rather snap at the boy for everyone to hear, but one of the Slytherin rules was to present a united front to other Houses at all times. "He hasn't done anything—"
"Aha, and your friend Potter is here too," Ron said suddenly. Harry flinched away from Malfoy. Did Ron think..?
And right there, staring amid dead silence at a boy whom he would have called his friend not five minutes ago, Harry felt something inside him freeze. Clearly, by getting Sorted into Slytherin, he had committed some cardinal sin. Ron didn't see him as a friend, not anymore; the hurt, betrayed expression on his face communicated that much.
("There's not a single witch or wizard who went bad who wasn't in Slytherin.")
Suddenly seeing himself from aside, Harry realised that he was standing on the Slytherin side in a crowd of Slytherins and Gryffindors. Ron thought that Harry and Malfoy were friends, because Harry was in Slytherin too, as if that would change anything. Did that change anything? Hate it or not, he was one of them now. He couldn't go back; he couldn't undo the Sorting, un-convince the Hat.
("You could be great, you know…")
It wasn't his fault. Worse, it wasn't as if these kids were monsters. Malfoy was a twit, Nott was annoying, Crabbe and Goyle were scary and Zabini was distant, but they weren't—evil. Harry hadn't made friends in Slytherin, no, but he'd thought he was friends with a Gryffindor—and how quickly did that change?
It hurt to think, so Harry opened his mouth to talk instead.
"Well, seeing the kind of friends Gryffindors are, I'll take my chances with Slytherin, thanks."
There. He'd stood up for Slytherin. The world was slowly tilting off its axis.
He felt the cautious, assessing gazes of his classmates. With a sinking feeling, he realized that Malfoy approved.
"Yes, Weasley, why don't you go and crawl back to that hole you came out of…" Draco said.
Harry didn't know which one of them he wanted to punch more.
Ron glared at Malfoy. "Shut up, you stupid—"
"Ten points from Gryffindor, Mr. Weasley," Professor Snape said, appearing soundlessly out of the classroom.
Harry ignored Ron's sputtering and Malfoy's smirk and marched into the classroom ahead of everybody else, still steaming with anger. During the Potions master's introductory speech, Harry did not listen to the words but tried to calm down instead.
By the end of class, his and Bulstrode's boil-curing potion actually resembled the desired result. Obviously, nothing could compare to Malfoy's concoction, not according to Professor Snape anyway, but Harry felt satisfied with his efforts.
And during the Potions class he did, for the first time in the last week, feel extremely grateful not to have become a Gryffindor. The way his Head of House tore into poor toad boy, berated the bossy know-it-all and humiliated Ron left Harry rather glad he could escape the carnage with the rest of the Slytherins.
After all, it didn't matter that the Professor hated him; Slytherins were united in public.
"Excuse me, is it okay if I sit here?"
Harry raised his head from One Thousand Magical Herbs and Fungi to see the bushy-haired Gryffindor from before. She looked quite anxious, balancing three heavy tomes, her rucksack, quills and parchment in her arms.
"Sure," he nodded.
He wasn't convinced it was a bright move; he was a Slytherin and she was a Gryffindor and he would get a lot of grief for being seen with her. The same thoughts seemed to be flying through her head, as she threw a nervous glance at the green crest on his robes, but her entire being screamed determination. Looking around, Harry realized that there was nowhere else she could possibly sit.
They worked in silence for an hour and then Harry got up and left.
The next day he was back and so was she.
The day after Harry learnt that her name was Hermione Granger. She'd told him that back when they met on the train, but he'd forgotten since. She, of course, had read all about him in Modern Magical History and The Rise and Fall of the Dark Arts and Great Wizarding Events of the Twentieth Century. Harry wasn't sure he liked the girl, but she was really intelligent and eager to help and he could benefit from that.
Explaining it to his fellow Slytherins, of course, took some effort.
"Potter, what do you think you are doing, getting all friendly with that Granger creature?" Nott asked, lip curled in disgust.
Harry glanced up from his homework to find that Malfoy, his goons and Parkinson were hovering by as well. He sighed.
"She's smart. I'm using it to my advantage and being very sneaky and Slytherin that way."
For a moment everyone stared at him and he almost hoped his explanation would work.
"Potter, she's a Mudblood," Malfoy said slowly, as if addressing a two-year-old.
"I know," Harry answered with the same air of exaggerated patience. "Strangely, that doesn't make her any less clever and therefore useful."
"Are you that desperate for friends, Potter?" Parkinson sneered.
Harry rolled his eyes, looking a lot braver than he felt. He'd known that socializing with Gryffindors was a bad idea. The thing with Longbottom was proof enough.
Having established that Longbottom was atrocious at Potions by the third week of class, Professor Snape decided to punish Harry for existing by making him Longbottom's permanent partner. Harry had been doing okay in Potions up until that point; he and Millicent Bulstrode coexisted in the state of cool civility which suited Harry just fine. Longbottom, however, seemed to explode everything he touched. A potion that was meant to be, for all intents and purposes, non-toxic, managed to go berserk and eat through a desk under Longbottom's care. In other words, Harry stood no chance.
He thought it was unfair, but of course he didn't say anything.
What the situation did mean, however, was that Harry had to study extra hard at Potions in order to anticipate Neville's mistakes and prevent explosions. His research into wizarding history took a backseat to the urgent need to improve his knowledge of Potions. He wanted to get at least a pass for this class, even if he would never get a good grade with such a partner. Cue Granger, whose help he needed to stay afloat in Potions.
And all of it would have been just peachy, but he didn't particularly want to antagonize his House too much. They did not, of course, get to dictate whom he befriended, but they did know where he slept and Harry had still not perfected the charms to booby-trap his bed.
"Um, Potter?" Longbottom asked uncertainly.
Harry sighed and refrained from rolling his eyes only through a supreme effort of will.
Honestly, he was nearing the end of his patience. Today's potion was—well, he wasn't sure what to call it, but certainly not what it was meant to be. The disgusting goo they'd concocted was still sitting in their cauldron and it didn't look like it would ever be scraped out again. Snape had delighted in stopping by and berating them loudly in front of the entire class. Longbottom had borne the brunt of the snide questioning—
("Do you have eyes, Longbottom? Yes? In that case, why did you not bother to read the instructions?")
—and the ensuing lecture.
("Class, please note the depths of incompetence to which a student might sink.")
Yet, Harry had not missed the way the charcoal-black eyes bore into him. He had not been foolish enough to raise his head and challenge his Head of House, but it had grated on his nerves incredibly to just stand there and listen to the foul diatribe without complaint. He hated feeling helpless.
And really, Snape knew this was not his fault —Longbottom had messed up the potion, as always, and Harry needed eight eyes and three hands at the very least to keep up with the bloody Gryffindor. And ever since Granger had been attacked by the Troll on Halloween she'd become very skittish and withdrew into books even more, so not only had he missed a few weeks of her coaching while she was recuperating—now it was rare that she tutored him at all. And Harry did have other classes apart from Potions that needed his attention too, so sometimes he thought the easiest option would be just to throttle Longbottom and eliminate the problem altogether.
So now, he was really not in the mood for Longbottom's usual end-of-class apology.
The other boy, in the meanwhile, seemed to be gathering the famed Gryffindor courage to speak.
"Look, Longbottom, just don't bother," Harry hissed. "Your 'sorry' doesn't raise my grade."
Longbottom went pale.
"Uh, I'm sorry, but—" Harry's expression must have been thunderous, for he went on hastily: "I tried! I tried and tried! But I really don't get it, I just can't do it when P-p-professor Sn-nape is looking at me and I just forget everything and—"
Harry closed his bag forcefully and threw it over his shoulder. Seeing that he was about to leave, Longbottom hurried after him.
"Can I make it up to you? I mean, you know I'm sorry but—I can—I can do Herbology! I can help you in Herbology if… if you would like that."
Harry stopped in the corridor to look at the other boy incredulously.
"You're good at Herbology? Then why do you mess up Potions so bad?"
"I don't know!" Longbottom wailed in a distressed fashion. Harry wrinkled his nose.
"Okay. How about… you ask Granger for help?"
"Hermione?" Longbottom asked, confused.
"Yes." This time Harry did roll his eyes. "You know, lots of hair, smart, in your House? I've been working with her, but it's hard for us to meet up, so it would make more sense for you to go straight to her for help. Just… ask her."
Longbottom looked worried.
"But why would she help me?"
Because she's a loner, Harry wanted to say. Because I don't know about you, but I haven't seen her talk in a friendly way to anybody in your House. In fact, her best friends appear to be those dusty tomes she is so fond of carrying around. She'll love having someone to talk to. It'd make sense for the two of you to team up because you seem to be an outsider too, toad-boy.
Just like me, he thought wryly.
"She will," he uttered with confidence, instead.
Harry was one of the three Slytherins staying for the Christmas holidays: with him were third year Adrian Pucey and a rather stressed sixth year girl.
("Solstice, Potter, it's the winter solstice we're celebrating, did you think we cared for Santa Bloody Claus? You're such a Mudblood sometimes…")
Harry enjoyed waking up with nobody else in the dormitory—it was a really nice change from looking over his shoulder all of the time, now that he could compare the two. Back at the Dursleys he always needed to be on guard as well, so this Christmas vacation was a rare treat. Hagrid had invited him to visit during the holidays and Harry did, unsure of his reception now that he had been a Slytherin for half a year already, but Hagrid was cheerful as ever.
"Good ter see yeh, Harry, come on in," he said, beaming.
He gave Harry tea and rock-hard scones and asked him about life and everything went well—except Harry couldn't shake the feeling that Hagrid was holding back a little. It was an odd visit; Harry hadn't had a bad time, exactly, but he couldn't help feeling that things would have been different between himself and the amiable giant had Harry been a Gryffindor.
("Good man, yer dad—a Gryffindor through an' through—not tha'… yeh know… Slytherin's not… they wouldn' have minded, yeh parents…")
Well. At least Hagrid didn't hate him.
On Christmas morning Harry stretched and yawned leisurely and then sat up in his four-poster. Then, however, he was in for a huge surprise: there were actual gifts on his bed. Who would send him presents? He'd never received any; Dudley got lots and Harry got none, that was the way things worked in the Dursley household. To think that someone would think highly enough of Harry to get him presents—Harry felt himself smiling in pure joy.
His presents were amazing, too. Longbottom gave him Chocolate Frogs and Hagrid got him a flute, which delighted Harry even though he had no intention to ever play it, and Bulstrode gave him a singing Christmas card and even Granger sent him a card and there was a mysterious package on his bed, too.
This Christmas holiday was the most wonderful thing ever.
Harry scowled at himself. That had been close: twin footfalls of the Potions master and Filch the caretaker walked past his hiding place not a minute after he'd sequestered himself in an unfamiliar room. This is what happened when he gave in to stupid Gryffindorish impulses and threw caution to the wind! How dumb had he been to go exploring the castle with the Invisibility Cloak when he knew Professor Snape would take delight in catching him? And if he absolutely had to go, he should have at least learnt Silencing Charms first so that people wouldn't hear him walk around.
And anyway, where was he? Harry turned around, not taking the cloak off. Apparently, he'd ended up in an unused classroom: desks and chairs were lined up by the walls, like in other similar classrooms Harry had come across in his search of a quiet place to practice spells without Slytherins breathing down his neck. However, one peculiarity attracted his attention at once: there was a huge ornate mirror standing in the middle of the room.
Curious, Harry slowly approached and soon he was standing in front of the reflective surface. Oddly enough, he could see nothing there. Harry blinked and then realized that he was still wearing the cloak. With a furtive glance to all sides, Harry took the cloak off and stuffed it in his pocket. Then he looked up.
Reflected next to him were at least ten other people.
Harry took a step backward; his reflection did, too. He closed his eyes; when he opened them, the crowd was still there. He whirled around, searching frantically for a sign that there were people in the room with him, when he'd been so sure there was nobody—invisible, maybe, were they invisible? He turned back to the mirror and watched his reflection carefully as he extended a hand until it should have come into contact with a woman standing next to him; but he felt only air. There was nobody there. And yet—was he seeing things? Who were these people, even?
He stepped closer and examined them. The woman he'd tried to touch had auburn hair, kind smile and her eyes… they were bright green. Exactly like Harry's.
Frowning, now, Harry shifted his gaze to look at the man standing on his other side. He had messy black hair, bespectacled hazel eyes and—and god, he looked precisely like Harry expected himself to look once he grew up. He had the same nose, the same cheekbones, the same chin, and his hair stood up at the back of his head the exact same way and—what was this? What was —
Harry, wide-eyed and breathless, gaped at the rest of the crowd and spotted similar atrocious hair, knobbly knees, eyes of comparable green… He swallowed, painfully, and tried to take in everybody's faces at once, all of them smiling at him encouragingly, all of them accepting… And, most importantly, the man and woman right next to him. They were his mother and father, he understood it now—they could not be anybody else, they were his parents—
"Mom?" The redhead nodded, tears in her eyes. Harry felt his own prickling too. "Dad?"
The man just smiled sadly and put a hand on Harry's shoulder. Reflective Harry's shoulder, because Harry didn't feel anything, but he could almost convince himself that he did. He stood, transfixed, in front of them, hungrily memorizing their faces. He hadn't known he looked quite that much as his dad—and that his mom had been quite so beautiful. They were a dream come true. In this cold, abandoned classroom Harry had found something that proved, once and for all, that he didn't just spring into existence out of nowhere. He had parents—or had had parents, once, and they were wonderful. And he could finally see them and spend some time with them and with his entire family.
He wasn't leaving anytime soon.
He'd had to depart from the room in order to catch some sleep and turn up at meals, so that nobody would wonder where he'd gone, but he spent as much time with the mirror as was possible. Yet, he must not have been cunning enough, for Dumbledore found him on the third evening since the initial discovery of the mirror.
"So—back again, Harry?"
Harry flinched away from the reflection and turned around only to see the Headmaster sitting on one of the unused desks.
"I'm sorry, sir," he said automatically, trying to calculate just how much trouble he was in.
"Not to worry, my boy. Wizards older and wiser than you have been lured by the delights of the Mirror of Erised; many have gone insane before it, forgetting to eat and sleep in their determination to catch a glimpse of what it shows them…"
Harry listened politely. He would love to ask just what it showed them, but wasn't sure that such boldness would be allowed. Dumbledore peered at him and Harry got a distinct impression that he'd just been x-rayed.
"The happiest man on earth standing before this mirror would see himself and only himself reflected in it, just as he is. Can you guess what it does, Harry?"
Harry blinked. The fact that the happiest man on earth would see just himself and Harry saw a whole bunch of people showed, if nothing else, that Harry was not as happy, but he didn't need the mirror to tell him that. Well. The Headmaster expected an answer.
"Um, I see my family…" he said, hoping that it would distract Dumbledore from the riddle.
"Yes, and somebody else would see themselves receiving the Order of Merlin, First Class," the Headmaster nodded congenially.
"It shows us something we cannot have, but really want?"
"Yes and no. The Mirror of Erised shows us nothing more and nothing less than the deepest and most desperate desire of our hearts, Harry. That desire does not necessarily have to be unattainable, although in your case, it unfortunately is."
Harry swallowed painfully. It had been wonderful to see his parents. To almost believe he had them again. To know that he'd just been gazing at his most desperate desire—it somehow didn't diminish the allure of the mirror or make the desire any less desperate.
"The mirror gives us neither knowledge, nor truth. Men have wasted away before it, entranced by what they have seen, or been driven mad by its promises. It will be moved to a new location tomorrow, Harry, and I must ask you not to go looking for it again."
There was a sterner look to Dumbledore's eyes, now, and Harry found himself nodding.
"I understand, sir," he said quietly.
"Very good. Now, off you trot, Harry; it's almost curfew. I shall take no points for finding the mirror; and you will be prepared if you are ever faced with it again. Good night, my boy."
"Good night, sir," Harry replied and, with one heart-wrenching glance towards the traitorous mirror, left the room.
He had no idea where, according to Dumbledore, he might encounter the mirror again.
Harry tried to get back into the swing of things after that. He and Adrian Pucey teamed up against the Weasley twins in a snowball fight; the Weasleys won, psychic as they were, but Harry got a few good laughs and a bonding session with Pucey out of it. The guy was apparently crazy about Quidditch; he was a Chaser of the Slytherin team and chattered on delightedly about the win against Gryffindor the previous term.
The Gryffindor team had a really appalling Seeker, which in Harry's opinion had helped the Slytherins, but it was hard not to be drawn in to a feeling of at least some patriotism for the Slytherin team when Pucey waxed poetic about it. He bemoaned the fact that Terrence Higgs, the Slytherin Seeker, was graduating next year. During his Flying Lessons Harry discovered that he did love to fly. Maybe…
"I might try out, then," Harry said, thinking aloud. "If there is a position opening…"
Pucey squinted at him, a calculating look appearing in his eyes.
"Well, you're a Potter; your father was supposed to be really good, so you might as well try. Just make sure to tell Flint it was I who recruited you, if you get in."
Harry nodded distractedly. His dad had been good at Quidditch! What else didn't he know?
His thoughts kept straying back to the Mirror of Erised whatever he tried to do in the next few days, and he found himself actually looking forward to classes starting again. At least then he'd have homework to complete, people to dodge and classes to attend—and wouldn't have the time to brood over the unfairness of only ever seeing his parents in an insanity-inducing mirror.
It was a good thing indeed that, growing up with the Dursleys, Harry became fast and agile. Otherwise, he would probably have got on the wrong side of Crabbe's or Goyle's fists more than once by now, the way Malfoy kept setting them on Harry. Harry snorted quietly, slipping into an unused classroom. There. Crabbe and Goyle would not be intelligent enough to consider that Harry might have hidden somewhere instead of continuing to run in straight lines. He was relatively safe now; perhaps he could practice the Body-Bind Curse, it sounded pretty useful…
"A-ha! Now, who's come to pay us a visit?"
Whipping his head around and berating himself for letting his attention wander, Harry turned, wand at the ready, only to see redheaded twins grin him in their crazy identical way. He relaxed, but only marginally; although he and these particular Weasleys were on non-belligerent terms, he never quite knew what to expect of them.
"Oh," he said, for lack of anything better. "I didn't realize there was anyone here. I'll just go then—"
"Go?" One of the twins—he thought it was Fred—raised his eyebrows. "But you only just got here!"
"And what Slytherin sneakiness brings you to this humble retreat?" the other one, probably George, added.
Their brown eyes were smiling mischievously; despite the twins' vaguely threatening tone, and the fact that there were two of them and one of him, Harry wasn't overly worried. They'd never hurt him before—for some reason, his Sorting did not offend them the way it did Ron. They just shrugged it off and kept on cordial terms with him—not that their interactions often exceeded simply waving at each other in the corridors.
He'd asked them, once, why they hadn't turned on him if he was in Ron's black books. Both of them had looked at him as if he was the batty one and said that they would never lay into someone who managed to get not one, but two of their brothers riled up until steam was coming out of their ears. Apparently, Percy was having near-apoplectic fits each time Ron got into trouble because of his feud with Harry. Since driving Percy bonkers was one of the twins' goals in life, they had no problem with Harry fighting with their brother.
Privately, Harry thought that would change immediately should he actually harm Ron; the Weasleys' family loyalty was legendary, after all.
("Blood-traitors, the lot of them. Father says they are disgrace to all Purebloods. Poor as dirt and about as powerful—disgusting, really…")
Harry shook his head. The whole family might be dressed in shabby hand-me-downs, but so had Harry been for most of his life. And Ron might be a pillock, and Percy a bore, but the twins were okay. Harry was sure they'd get along fine had they been in the same House—and not necessarily Gryffindor; he thought they had quite the sneaky Slytherin streak themselves.
"I'm just exploring the castle," he answered in the meanwhile. "I'm sure you know what I mean."
The terrible twins beamed at him.
"There's a good lad!"
"So what were you doing here?" he asked.
"Oh, same as you." Fred waved a careless hand.
"Not plotting any pranks, then," Harry said, slyly.
"Oh no, no pranks, we wouldn't ever," George protested.
"Honestly, Harry, who do you take us for?" Fred was all offended innocence.
Harry observed them critically.
"Right," he said. "I don't want to know. But in case you were having a pranker's block, I should tell you that Malfoy is majorly scared of mice."
"I heard Hagrid's hut caught on fire yesterday," Neville confided, pruning the soil around their plant with sure hands.
Harry blinked at the non sequitur.
"How come?" he asked, nonplussed. He hadn't been to see Hagrid in quite a while, caught up in his studies as he was, but maybe it was time to pay another visit to the friendly groundskeeper.
"Oh, I don't know." Neville shrugged. "Someone was saying it was a dragon, but how likely is that? No, Harry, careful with that thorn—you'll sneeze non-stop if it grazes you."
Harry carefully extracted his hand from the vines.
"That's… interesting," he muttered, in the end. He recalled Hagrid telling him that he would dearly want a dragon, but what was the likelihood of Hagrid actually getting one?
"That oaf might just be stupid enough to try and raise a dragon in that wooden hovel of his," Malfoy sneered. He was working at the next table and it was obviously too much to expect that he'd keep his mouth shut.
"Yes, thank you Malfoy. Your opinion is priceless and has been duly noted," he said blandly.
Malfoy glared at him but didn't say anything since Harry hadn't actually been rude. Neville smiled timidly. He was rather scared of Draco, but probably felt that Harry provided some sort of protection from the blond Slytherin.
A ridiculous notion, really; Harry and Malfoy might be at each other's throats a lot of the time, but Harry was very aware that Malfoy had power on his side and Harry didn't. He was probably suicidal to keep up his feud with Malfoy, but they'd lived this way for almost a year and, although Harry walked on eggshells around his House, he had yet to be beaten into a pulp. A few impromptu duels here and there, sure, but those were good Defence practice, as far as he was concerned.
He and Neville had become tentative friends in the months since their confrontation in Potions. Neville had both taken Harry's advice about speaking to Granger and insisted that they partner for Herbology. Harry had been sceptical at first, but it turned out that Neville really did have a flair for the subject, so Harry felt this evened things out a little. Neville improved Harry's grade in Herbology and Harry kept them from crashing and burning in Potions. With them being on better terms now, part of the additional tension was gone and Harry could take his efforts from explosion prevention to actual potion brewing.
He got a straight O in Herbology and a sort-of friend out of the deal, so he was not complaining about additional Potions work.
The Slytherins—especially Malfoy, Nott and Parkinson—had tried to give him grief about the budding friendship with Neville, but thankfully the Longbottoms were an old Pureblood family, so Harry got out of that one relatively easily. And if the Gryffindors, particularly Ron Weasley, were pestering Neville about befriending a slimy Slytherin, Neville never said anything on the matter.
He squinted at Blaise Zabini. Blaise Zabini squinted at him.
"I'll help your revise for History of Magic if you give me a hand with Potions."
Harry did his best not to stare. Staring was very uncool and therefore unSlytherin.
"You're asking me for help with Potions? Why?"
Zabini's expression remained stony.
"Anyone who can survive a year of Longbottom and get passable grades is going to breeze through the exam."
When Zabini put it that way, Harry thought he had a point. After all, he had devoted a crazy amount of time to studying Potions this year. As to the offer… Harry cocked his head to the side. Zabini was one of the quiet ones. He picked no conflicts and chose no sides; like Bulstrode, he did not interfere in Harry's conflicts with Malfoy. Greengrass and Davis stayed out of the way too, but they stuck together and seemed to try and avoid being noticed, period. Harry had the impression that, if push came to shove, they might bandwagon with Malfoy. Zabini and Bulstrode, on the other hand, were relatively independent and had never actively tried to harm Harry.
"Alright," Harry said airily. "Potions in exchange for History of Magic. Deal."
Who knew; he might do okay in more exams than he'd thought. Especially since Nott had heard about the arrangement and wanted to benefit from Harry's Potions knowledge, too. Harry would have told him where he could stick his ideas, but Nott was good at Transfiguration and Harry was not, so he shrugged and played along. After all, he didn't have to like Nott in order to work with him.
Malfoy said that Harry was a fraud at Potions. Harry said he was wounded. Draco told him not to be sarcastic to his betters. Harry promised to not be sarcastic to the next better he came across. Malfoy threw the first hex. Harry retaliated. Nott and Zabini just leaned back and watched the sparks fly.
When they walked into the Great Hall for the Leaving Feast, the place was decked out in Slytherin colours: green and silver banners hung from the ceiling and the Slytherin emblem was displayed behind the High Table. Harry seated himself between Nott and Zabini and eagerly waited for the feast to start.
"Another year gone!" Dumbledore announced cheerfully, standing up from his centre seat at the High Table. "And I must trouble you with an old man's wheezing waffle before we sink our teeth into our delicious feast."
Harry looked at the teachers, wondering…
"Where is Quirrell?" he asked Nott in a whisper.
"Do I look like I know?" Nott sneered, but there was no malice in it.
"I heard he's had an accident of some sort," Malfoy informed them.
Harry raised his eyebrows.
"Rumour has it that he's snuffed it," Draco continued.
Theodore didn't look impressed.
"What, tripped over his own feet and fell to death?"
Malfoy shrugged, somehow managing to imply that he knew the details, but wasn't going to share them. The ploy only worked on Grabbe, Goyle and Parkinson; the rest knew Malfoy too well to fall for his charade.
"…Ravenclaw have four hundred and twenty-six and Slytherin, four hundred and seventy-two," Harry heard Dumbledore say and joined in cheering for Slytherin with the rest of the House. "The points standings mean that Slytherin wins the House Cup for the seventh year running. Congratulations, Slytherin!"
A loud cheer rose up from the Slytherin table, while the Gryffindors groaned, and the other two Houses clapped politely. Professor Snape looked as smug as his sour disposition allowed, while Dumbledore was absolutely inscrutable.
Sitting with the Slytherins and revelling in the shared victory, Harry felt, for the first time, that maybe it wasn't such a bad thing to belong here, too.
-End of year one-