Not Slytherin, not Slytherin.
"Well, I can't help how you feel. There's only one place that I can, in good conscience, allow you to go. SLYTHERIN"
Harry dropped the Sorting Hat on the stool and stood up quickly. His mind was swimming, head pounding, and as he looked around he couldn't help but notice that the Great Hall had gone silent in a way that he had not experienced in the moments prior, but to which he would become accustomed in the days and weeks to come. Beginning the walk to the Slytherin table, his footsteps echoed loudly in his own ears, heart rate steadily soaring, the silence stretching before him, it seemed an eternity but in reality couldn't have lasted more than a few seconds.
McGonagall's voice snapped the Hall out of its reverie; the students broke out in whispers and points all talking about the Boy-Who-Lived. It was almost inconsequential that Thomas, Dean, became the night's fifth Gryffindor. The black boy made his way quickly to the Gryffindor table as Harry finally stood before his fellow Slytherins. He surveyed the group, many of whom were glancing between him and the sorting hat distrustfully. His eyes found those of Malfoy, who was looking at him with something that seemed very akin to confusion. Malfoy quickly pulled out the chair next to him and whispered in a strained voice to Harry from across the table,
"What are you doing? Sit down."
Without thinking, Harry hurried around the table and took the chair offered by Malfoy.
He looked up as the Sorting was drew to a close, with "Zabini, Blaise" becoming the final Slytherin of the night. As McGonagall rolled up her scroll and took up the sorting hat, Dumbledore cleared his throat. As he spoke, the Slytherin table began speaking at once, to the tone of drowning out most of Dumbledore's words. What Harry did manage to hear snapped him out of the stupor he had been in following the Hat's pronouncement.
"Nitwit! Blubber! Oddment! Tweak!"
Harry broke out in to laughter as the Slytherins around him stopped their conversation. Harry, noticing that once again eyes were on him, asked out loud,
"Is he an idiot?"
Malfoy snorted and grinned at him.
Harry studied Dumbledore a bit more closely. He'd heard of the man of course, and knew what Malfoy had told him was indeed correct. But seeing for himself, he wondered for a moment how those stories he'd heard could possibly be accurate. This man who sat before him was an old man, with a long and flowing white beard, the hat on his head off kilter, tilting ridiculously to one side. His robes, magenta with gold trim, would stand out even amongst the most audacious patrons of the molly houses he'd seen around and about the back streets of magical London.
"You've heard of him before, you must have" Malfoy spoke in a condescending tone.
"Of course I've heard of him. I'd just never quite pictured him like… well, like this."
Malfoy snorted again. "There's a reason father doesn't much care for the man"
"His dress code?"
"His eccentricity, to say the least."
"So Potter, what will your dear godfather have to say about the evenings events? I'm dare say he'll be quite disappointed."
Harry thought for a moment, and responded in kind.
"Not nearly as disappointed as your father. It may be more difficult for him now to paint me as the supposed Savior of the Light."
In an almost giggle, Malfoy replied, "Are you kidding? He'll have a field day!"
Harry grunted in a sort of non committal way, and the meal progressed from there, with Malfoy turning to the other first years to rejoin their conversation. As Harry looked around, he took note of the other three tables. He knew all about them, of course, and their stereotypes: Ravenclaw smart and studious, Hufflepuff loyal to a fault, and Gryffindor courage and bravery taken to the extreme. It was hard for these stereotypes to resonate now, as he put a face to the ideals, it didn't really matter. They all looked the same, after all. Simply children. The introspective moment passed, and he looked to catch the eye of his best childhood friend, one Ron Weasley. Before he could find the newly minted Gryffindor, Malfoy tugged on his newly crested robes (he realized with a start that he hadn't even noticed his robes sprout the Slytherin mark).
"Would you like to meet my father? I know that he's long been looking forward to an interview with you, if you'd consent."
"Really? I hadn't known."
"Your godfather is the real problem; he's never allowed any interviews."
"Something I'm sure I was aware of."
Malfoy flushed for a moment, but recovered. "It was just a though. Who wouldn't want to meet the Minister of Magic?"
"And I'm sure you have my best interest in mind."
Harry turned, tuning out Malfoy's response. He couldn't find Ron, but instead locked eyes with a frizzy haired girl he didn't recognize. She smiled, and Harry, guessing she was a muggleborn, sent her a slightly lopsided grin before going on with his search. Just as he caught the red hair in his periphery, Dumbledore stood once again to speak and the hall grew quiet.
"Welcome once again to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. I have a few start of year notices for you all. Our caretaker, Mr. Filch, has asked me to remind you that no magic is permitted in the halls, and I should note that the Forbidden Forrest is, as the name suggests, absolutely forbidden to all students," His eyes flickered to the Gryffindor table, but he continued "I would also like to mention that Quidditch trials will be scheduled within the coming months. If you would like to play for your house team, please contact Madam Hooch. As I believe that is all and we are all well fed and watered, off to bed!"
The Slytherin Prefect, a boy named Terrence Higgs, shouted out in the din that followed the end of the Headmaster's speech. "First years over here!"
Harry and the other Slytherin first years stood and shuffled their way through the crowd to where Higgs was standing.
"All you first years, follow me. And don't get lost, because I'm not going to come find you."
At that, he stepped out through the side doors of the great hall and, with the first years following close behind, began a winding path down the levels of Hogwarts School.
The dungeons were exactly what Harry expected. Dark and somewhat dank, it was hard to believe that they actually housed students down here. As the Slytherin first year students stumbled in to their common room (Higgs supplied the password), they found the all the other Slytherins, from second to seventh year, waiting for them. Higgs pulled the first years from the entrance and helped them into a semblance of an order. They waited, then, they waited for several minutes, with very little sound. Just as Harry was beginning to wonder whether or not they would still be waiting the following morning, a tall man, dark haired and brooding, stepped through the entrance and drew himself to his full height before the Slytherin House.
"My name is Professor Snape. I am your head of house, and I will be keeping watch over you during your tenure at this school."
Harry shuddered at this statement, feeling as if a gust of wind had passed through his body.
"To the first year students, there are several things you should know. There is an expectation that comes with being inducted into the ranks of Slytherin. An expectation of greatness, of intelligence, of ambition. An expectation of success.I fully expect each and every one of you to do all that is in your power to exemplify these virtues. As a Slytherin, the other houses will do you no favors. The other students will assume that you are out to harm them, that by definition Slytherin is a nasty word, and to be a Slytherin means to be something distasteful. Because of this, outside of this room, this haven, I demand exemplary behavior. Others will be looking for reasons to dismiss, and you will not give them these reasons. If you receive one detention from another professor at this school you will receive two detentions from me. If you lose house points from another professor, you will lose twice as many from me. As your fellow Slytherins firmly enjoy winning, you would be remiss to test this edict, as becoming a liability for the house may cause you much in the way of personal distress."
Harry looked nervously to the faces of the upper class Slytherins. They were nodding in agreement with Professor Snape, and Harry swallowed hard. Staying out of trouble had never been his specialty.
"First years, step forward."
Malfoy was the first to obey this command, stepping forward with a confident aristocratic air. Harry followed, as did the other first year Slytherin students.
"State your name for your classmates."
Malfoy, in what was seemingly characteristic of his nature, spoke first.
He was followed in order by Blaise Zabini, Tracey Davis, Millicent Bullstrode, Pansy Parkinson, and Theodore Nott.
Harry Potter was growing tired of the silences that followed every time his name was spoken out loud, for the entire common room seemed as if the wind had been kicked out of them. There was an intake of breath as Snape took a step forward.
"Harry Potter. So you are."
"Mister Potter. What are your aims for the coming year?"
Harry's mind whirled. His aims? A moment passed in silence.
"Sir, I'd like to survive this school year."
A strangled chuckle escaped his throat and he immediately regretted his choice of words.
"Survive, Mister Potter? And what is there to suggest that you might not?"
He had no answer, and chose this time to simply keep his mouth shut.
"Certainly you can't be suggesting that you find Slytherins to be dangerous, as you yourself are now one of us, regardless of your family or expectations."
"I didn't think that sir."
"No? Perhaps you've some sort of preconceived notion regarding this house."
"Sir, not at all."
Snape glared directly into Harry's eyes, boring into them.
"So what is it you, our newest celebrity, feels he has to fear?"
Harry still couldn't bring himself to respond, almost cowed by the sheer vitriol this man was pouring on him. Snape turned from him and addressed the house as a whole.
"And here you see it already. Before even attending this school, students are taught to fear what it means to be Slytherin. The Sorting Hat itself, imbued with the essence of the founders themselves, describes our house with the traits ambitious and cunning. These are not negative! There is nothing that can be accomplished in this world without a healthy dose of both characteristics. And so look around. These people around you are your family, are the only ones who will support you, are the only ones who will listen to you, are the only ones who will believe you. Lean on them, but also learn to walk on your own, with your head held high."
The first years, Malfoy especially, stood straight up, trying to show that they could indeed walk with their heads held high.
"I bid you good evening. I expect you at breakfast promptly at seven to receive your timetables for the year. That is all."
With that, Snape turned and stepped from the common room, and Harry was alone in the den of snakes, as once again eyes turned to him.
Harry sat on his four-poster bed brooding. It was true. He was a Slytherin. He had thought about sending an owl to Sirius, but decided it could wait until morning at the very earliest. Maybe it could even wait until the end of the week. He dreaded the response. Sirius could be a bit tetchy when it came to Slytherins, which was understandable given the state of his upbringing at the hands of his Slytherin relatives.
He stood and pulled the curtains shut, preparing to go to bed. He heard the others around him, Malfoy, Blaise, and Nott, speaking. He tuned them out, deciding that he just couldn't handle any more that evening. For a moment it occurred to him that he should try to be friendly, that these would be his roommates for the next seven years. There probably would have been two more, but Vincent had several years ago been murdered, along with his family, by a disgruntled employee and Gregory Goyle and his parents had been found dead, with their heads severed and their bodies transfigured into childlike dolls. He shook those thoughts from his head and sighed.
His mind drifted to his childhood friend, Ron Weasley. Sirius had often brought Harry to the Burrow, having fought in the war with his parents, Arthur and Molly. Ron was one of seven Weasley children, and seemed to Harry to most levelheaded of them all, at least the ones he knew. Frankly, the twins frightened him, and Ginny had never really gotten over her childhood crush on him, leading to an awkward and strained relationship between the two. Harry had never actually met Bill or Charlie, but hoped to in the future, having heard nothing but good about both of the elder Weasleys. Percy was just an ass.
And Ron was in Gryffindor. Harry was in Slytherin. There was absolutely no way that wouldn't change everything. Ron's entire family had been Gryffindor for generations. So had Harry's. There had been the assumption, made by Sirius, by the Weasley's, by just about everybody that Harry would follow suit. He could just imagine tomorrow's headlines. HARRY POTTER A SLYTHERIN! With the next line reading: THE NEXT DARK LORD?
Shaking his head in disgust he lay down to sleep, Hedwig hooting to his side as he fell into that dark abyss.
The next morning Harry found himself at breakfast, the Slytherin filled with students as the other houses were just finding their way to the Great Hall. Snape appeared in front of Malfoy and handed him the timetable for the first years. He spoke curtly,
"See to it that all of the first year students receive their timetables promptly, Mister Malfoy."
Malfoy nodded, and Snape made his way to the Head Table, his robes billowing in his wake. Malfoy promptly handed out the schedules, but dangled the last in front of Harry.
"I don't know. Do you really deserve this Potter? After all, I'm not sure you're truly a Slytherin at all."
Malfoy's comments fazed Harry for a moment, as he had never expressed any distaste for Malfoy to his face, and Malfoy had seemed friendly enough the previous evening. "Hand it over, Malfoy" Harry said, grasping at the paper.
Malfoy dangled it with glee another moment before relenting. "Maybe you are, maybe you aren't. Either way, I'm sure we'll find out. Defense and Potions today, both with Gryffindor. The two top classes here at Hogwarts."
"Have you attended either?"
"So says my father."
"And I'm certain he's correct."
Malfoy made a face, trying to detect any trace of sarcasm.
"So Potter," Nott interrupted, "Did Black teach you anything before you got here? I've heard he's made himself quite a name in the Department."
Harry shook his head, "Nothing really. He's pushed me to focus on theory before practice, so I haven't had the chance to try much out."
Nott shook his head. "Shame, that. You'll have to push him to teach you some real stuff. Then you can turn around and show us." Harry looked at Nott for a moment, and then nodded. "I'll have to do that. Maybe over the holidays."
Nott thought for a moment. "Have you heard anything about the new Defense teacher? He wasn't at the sorting, and I hadn't heard anything of him before the year began."
Malfoy thought for a moment, and then shook his head.
"Unfortunately, my father isn't talking. He knows, I'm sure, but he won't say."
"Is it some sort of secret?"
"I wouldn't know why. It's only a teaching position."
The three discussed the matter amongst themselves as they stood from the table and made their way through the hallways to the defense classroom, where they found several Gryffindor students there already sitting, taking most of the seats in the front of the classroom. Nott took a seat in the middle row as Harry, noting that Ron was amongst them, sent him a nod. Ron gave him a look before return the nod slowly. Malfoy, noticing the interaction, spoke. "You know each other then." Harry sat next to Nott as he responded. "Yes, Malfoy, you could say that."
"Not exactly the sort we're encouraged to associate with."
"I'll associate with whom I please."
"Just giving you some advice, Potter. Simply a little advice."
With that, Malfoy took his seat on the other side of Nott as the other students slowly filed in to the classroom. A door at the front of the room opened and through it stepped a tall, middle aged but distinctly good looking man with grey twinkling eyes. He stepped to the desk, picked up the register lying on the table, and began to take the role. As he reached Potter, Harry, he hesitated for just a moment in a way that did not escape Harry, before continuing on. As he finished, tossing the register back on the desk, he took a step forward and surveyed the class. He opened his mouth and spoke in smooth and refined tones,
"Hello, and welcome to Defense Against the Dark Arts. My name is Tom Riddle, and I will be your professor for the duration of the year."
Harry walked from the Defense classroom, rolling his eleven inch phoenix feather wand between his fingers in marvel. The rest of his classmates had made their way down the halls to lunch, but Harry dragged behind. The events of the previous class still buzzing in his head.
Professor Riddle had been demonstrating for the class a very simple stunning spell, the first rudimentary spell students were to learn in his classes. Riddle spoke to the class softly, telling them that from that moment on, no matter the situation, they should never be completely defenseless, as at the very least they could always render their opponent incapable of further damage.
As the class paired off, Harry with Nott and Malfoy with Zabini, Riddle made the rounds assisting the students with their incantations. Nott went first, managing a small red jet of light, which pushed Harry a few steps backwards upon contact. Riddle had cast a cushioning spell on the floor to ensure no damage to stunned students, but Harry still couldn't help but flinch as the light hit his chest. Harry was about to take his turn when Riddle reached the pair. Harry nervously fingered his wand for a moment before taking his stance.
"Stupefy" Harry incanted as a fully formed red streak leapt from his wand and struck Nott in the stomach, and he hit the floor in a hurry. Harry, startled, turned and saw a look of keen interest upon Riddle's face. Others in the class were giving Harry shifting looks as well. "Well done Harry." Riddle revived Nott and continued down the row, occasionally throwing glances at Harry for the rest of the period.
With a start, Harry realized that he was alone in the corridor. Hearing footsteps behind him, Harry turned to see Professor Riddle striding down the corridor, and stepped to aside to allow the older man to pass by. But Riddle stopped when he reached Harry.
"You impressed me in class today, Harry."
"Thank you sir."
"Have you had any prior training? From your godfather?"
Harry shook his head. "No sir, except that he insisted I read and attempt to learn theory before putting it in to practice. Although I must admit, I'm not sure how much I gained from it." Riddle cocked his head to the side for a moment, thinking. "Ah well, just a curiosity. I must say, I'll be expecting great things Harry, great things."
With that, Riddle continued down the hall and turned the corner out of view.
Harry was late.
It was not a good idea to be late. Not to his first potions class. Especially not to his first class with Snape. He was running through the corridors as portraits on either side gave him distasteful looks and mutterings. Not giving a whit, Harry continued at his pace.
"Oh, what have we here?"
Harry looked up as he ran and saw a ghostly looking creature with a smile as wide as the Cheshire Cat carrying a bundle in his arms soaring down the hall beside him.
"I've got to get to class, sorry, no time to talk!"
Harry turned the last corner to the potions dungeon, and heard a cackle from behind him.
"No time for little old Peevsey? Shame that. Oh well, enjoy!"
The poltergeist let fall the bundle in his arms, and the aroma hit Harry like a brick. Retching at the all too familiar scent of dungbombs, Harry made it to the classroom with visions of the Weasley twins dancing in his head. He crossed the threshold just as Snape entered from the opposite side of the classroom.
Snape gave Harry a quick glare. "Potter, take your seat."
Harry looked around and saw the only open space was beside a first year Gryffindor he did not know. Harry hurried to the table and sat. He hardly had time to catch his breath before Snape began to speak.
From there the class could only devolve for Harry. It turned out that he had been partnered with possibly the stupidest Gryffindor alive, as Neville Longbottom had melted their cauldron within the first ten minutes of the brewing period. Gryffindor had lost ten points, which was of no concern to Harry, but the rest of the Gryffindors were convinced that Harry, being a Slytherin, had been the saboteur.
In the mill of students leaving the Potions classroom, one Dean Thomas bumped into Harry as he was trying to escape the mess.
"Watch it, Potter."
Harry, intending to avoid a confrontation, continued to walk. But hearing Malfoy speak up behind him, he turned.
"Thomas, manners! I expect you to apologize to Harry here. You ought to have learned to respect your betters, but I suppose you one can't help their upbringing."
Thomas, seething, took a step towards Malfoy. "Say that again."
Malfoy repeated, "I suppose you can't help your upbringing, or your blood."
Apoplectic, Thomas wound up. Harry, seeing this coming, whipped out his want and spoke the only spell he knew.
Thomas hit the floor and the mill fell silent.
Harry thought out loud, "Jesus I'm tired of that."
The tension was cut, though, by the start of Malfoy laughing uproariously. Patting Harry on the back, he said, "Well done Potter, well done. We'll make a Slytherin of you yet." And with that, the first year Slytherins made their way towards dinner, one felled Gryffindor in their wake.
As they were walking, Harry turned to see Ron shaking his head and attempting to reanimate his friend. Harry felt a twinge of guilt, before shaking it off and enjoying the attentions of his fellow house mates who, for what seemed like the first time, were enjoying his presence.