Disclaimer: The following is a work of fanfiction. I make no claims towards ownership of any kind.

Note: I feel that the scenes here are necessary to shape Harry's character from the near-Canon almost-Gryffindor he was at the sorting to a true Slytherin... but I can see how Harry might come off as kinda emo this chapter. If he does, don't fear... I've got plans, and Harry'll grow a backbone soon enough.

Any Means

Chapter 4: Real friends.

Potions class, Harry Potter quickly discovered, was an event that his Slytherin dorm mates approached with a great degree of excitement. He had overheard some small talk around the breakfast table about what their head of house would do for the first lesson; as some of the suggestions had been things like "boil that Weasley boy in a cauldron" or "demonstrate proper techniques for mincing Gryffindors", he was not entirely unprepared for Professor Snape. Unfortunately, neither was he fully prepared for what actually took place in the classroom.

Despite being distracted by the Weasley twins earlier, Harry arrived on time, and was able to find a seat towards the middle of the class. The room was already filled with few Gryffindors and all but one of the members of his own house; Draco Malfoy was conspicuously absent. He recognized Goyle from breakfast, sitting two seats to his left, as well as Hermione Granger, who was seated in the front row, hands folded in front of her neatly laid out quill and parchment. Slowly the room filled with the rest of the class, until finally Professor Snape walked in, followed by Draco Malfoy and Ron Weasley.

Without stopping his progress towards the front desk, Professor Snape started speaking. "Class begins the moment I walk through this door, and I do not tolerate lateness. Two points from Gryffindor, Mr Weasley, for lateness."

"But Malfoy-," Ron began.

"I also do not tolerate backtalk," interjected Snape. "Let's make that four points, Mr. Weasley."

Ron wisely slouched his way to an empty seat. Malfoy, who had been watching the whole thing with gloating eyes, also found a seat.

"As you can see the element I desire most within my classroom is discipline," Snape addressed the class. "I do not expect any of you to understand the subtle art which is potions-making, nor the delicate and exact science which goes into it.

"No, I expect that even among my own house, some of you will be blind to the beauty of a shimmering cauldron, the power of liquids which seep quietly through human skin, bewitching and ensnaring the unwary.

"There is no wand waving here, no flashy spells or quick effects. Potions is hard work, and for that you might think it is hardly magic; it is my goal this year to show you exactly how wrong that dunderheaded notion is.

"This is my magic: I can teach you to bottle fame, to brew glory... even to stopper death. Supposing, of course, that this year's students are not as disappointing as the last."

The class sat enthralled. Harry found his eyes caught by Professor Snape's gaze, as if he had directed the speech entirely at him. Beside him, Blaise Zabini was eagerly leaning forwards, his eyes shining with anticipation... even Ron Weasley had stopped his quiet sulking.

The silence lingered for a few dramatic seconds before Snape began to call out role, which proceeded exactly as Harry had come to expect from his primary schooling. The only oddity was that, when Professor Snape finally reached "Potter, Harry," he seemed to pause and linger a few seconds before continuing... but perhaps Harry was just imagining things.

The class soon began in earnest, as the students were paired off for potion's work. Harry's partner, who had introduced himself as "Blaise Zabini, as you should well know by now," was silent and efficient during their brewing. Thankfully he wasn't really antagonistic like Malfoy's clique, however, and they soon settled into an easy pace; alternating between preparing ingredients and reading the recipe.

As the class prepared their potions, Professor Snape stalked his way between the desks. Each round of the classroom was punctuated with a loudly spoken criticism for Harry's work in particular. "Stir it slower, Potter!", he would command. "You're making a potion, not a soup." He hadn't taken points yet, but Harry's seemed to be the only potion that Snape was paying attention to.

Malfoy and his clique seemed to smirk a little more with each correction. It was infuriating, and the negative attention was quickly wearing rather thin. Harry found himself quietly thankful for his partner's proficiency; Zabini's steady movements kept him focused on the task itself, rather than the steady stream of criticisms.

By the time class finished Harry was more than angry enough to do something stupid, but held back for fear of the consequences. Professor McGonagall had explained before the sorting that a student's Head of House was the person directly responsible for them... and thus the person Harry would have to rely upon if he were ever in trouble. Alienating that person was a bad idea, especially if his classmates continued to "misplace" their poisonous pets around him.

Finally it was over. Professor Snape called for potion samples to be passed up front. The Gryffindors, who had been led to expect a little more abuse, had remained well behaved throughout- though he'd removed points when Neville Longbottom's potion spoiled early in the lesson and had to be restarted. As the students shuffled their way out of the classroom and into the halls, Harry made a beeline towards Ron, intent on finally having their conversation.

"Ron, wait up!" Harry said. Ron had managed to get halfway down the hall before turning to face Harry. The look on his face showed that this was a moment he'd been hoping to avoid.

"What is it?", asked Ron, suddenly interested in the potions text he was still carrying. Harry noticed the way that his friend seemed unable to meet his eyes, and took it as a bad sign.

"Why've you been avoiding me?", Harry asked.

"I haven't been avoiding you," said Ron. "I've just been... thinking."

"Thinking about what?"

"Well... I thought we... ", Ron took a breath and started over. Suddenly he seemed less apprehensive, more accusative. "Why didn't you tell me you were going to Slytherin?"

Harry was completely boggled. That didn't even make sense! "How was I supposed to know where the sorting hat would place me?", he said. "For that matter, what difference does it make?"

"It makes a huge difference!" Ron cried. "I'm a Gryffindor and you're a Slytherin; that means we can't be friends."

"Who says?", asked Harry, his voice suddenly resigned. This was like being in school with Dudley all over again: he'd make friends at the start of the year, only for them to be told to stay away. It hurt.

"Well," said Ron, looking contrite. "No one, really. It just doesn't happen."

Ron seemed aware that this wasn't the most solid of reasons, and Harry called him on it. "If no one told you to," he asked, "then why are you acting like it's true?"

"I just... Harry, you have to understand. You-know-who was a Slytherin. All the Dark Lords were... and now you are too. Can't you see why I might be a little hesitant?"

"All I can see is that you're avoiding me because of some stupid school thing. Are you saying you're not my friend anymore?"

"N-no. Not that." Ron seemed to firm up his resolve. "You're right. This is stupid. We're still friends, right?" He stuck out his hand and grinned.

Harry flashed a matching grin as the two shook hands. "Yeah, friends." he replied. This was great! It seemed that things at Hogwarts weren't so bad after all. There was no Dudley here to turn people away, and yeah, it might be a rocky start, but things could be just like on the train. They were friends again, and it didn't matter that they were in different houses.

"After all," Ron interrupted his train of thought. "You'll need someone to watch out for you. Those snakes are a bad influence!"

He was still smiling, obviously just joking around... but Harry's smile suddenly felt frozen. He forced himself not to react at all, just to respond as Ron was expecting: "Yeah, you're right. Good thing I've got you here, huh?" Inside he felt like he was suddenly empty. "Listen, I, uh... I've got to go. We've got different classes this period and I don't want to be late. See you around?"

Walking mechanically away from Ron, Harry's eyes burned with unshed tears. He wasn't blind, he wasn't deaf. Being Slytherin was the same as growing up on Privet drive- people would always be watching, waiting for him to misbehave. Ron and Harry would be friends, yes, but they'd never share that easy camaraderie they'd had on the train... and they'd never truly trust each other. It was a horrible feeling to have about your first friend.

Thankfully by dinner time Harry had calmed down, and began to consider that perhaps he had overreacted a little. It wasn't like anything was lost, really. He still had Ron as his friend... that was something, at least. So what if it wasn't a perfect friendship? It was better than being the school outcast.

After dinner, Harry wandered off to the school library, looking for a place to collect his thoughts. He settled in at what he thought was an empty table piled high with books, only to find that behind one particularly large stack sat Hermione Granger. Seeing her he almost got up to leave, but stopped when she suddenly spoke.

"One of your Slytherin friends sent you to make fun of me, didn't they?"

"What?", he asked.

"It's okay... you can go back and tell them it doesn't bother me. To paraphrase a famous writer, insults are always the last refuge of the incompetent."

"I'm not here to insult you, Hermione. I'm just looking for a place to think."

"Well," she frowned. "I guess I was a little hasty immediately lumping you in with Malfoy's lot, especially after the train. It's just been a rather trying day."

"Yeah, it has." Harry said.

They both fell into silence at that point, as Harry picked a book from nearby to read. Hermione didn't ask him about the sorting hat, about his fame, or any of the other questions she usually seemed to have. The silence was oddly companionable, and left Harry feeling very calm.

Without noticing it, the time passed by rather quickly, and soon Harry and Hermione shared their goodbyes as they went their separate ways. Harry headed back to the dungeons to get ready for Astronomy, the twin's request suddenly looming large on his mind. He'd tell them no, of course, but then what would that do to his friendship with Ron? Would family loyalty drive Ron to anger? Worse still, what would Ron do if he said yes? Stealing was rather frowned upon, even if you were stealing the object at the original owner's request... would it drive a further wedge into their already tentative friendship?

Arriving in the dungeons, Harry was greeted with the sight of Malfoy and Derrick, the prefect from earlier. They had obviously been waiting for him, as the two both stood from their seats by the fireplace the moment he came in. They approached him fast enough that Harry held no hope of sneaking past.

"You're finally back, Potter?", said Malfoy. "I thought maybe you'd actually gotten the message."

"Message?", Harry inquired, not expecting the rather unfriendly greeting.

"Potter, before we go any further..." said Derrick. "Malfoy here told me you were making nice with a Gryffindor after potions today. Is this true?"

"Yeah, I guess so." said Harry. "I mean, it's not a big deal, we met on the train and-"

"I'm not interested." interrupted the prefect. "I don't think you quite understand your position here. Please, allow me to explain."

Harry snuck a quick glance at Malfoy, noticing the way that his eyes were shining triumphantly. He took that as a particularly bad sign.

"You, Potter, are personally responsible for the death of the Dark Lord." explained Derrick. "Worse than that, the end of the war dented fortunes and damaged pride. To the members of this house who supported the dark lord, you are indirectly the cause those hardships."

The prefect had assumed a serious position, back straight and eyes directly upon Harry. Harry found himself shrinking under the weight of that gaze.

"To be blunt," explained Derrick, "No one wants you here; even the neutral families view you as a polarizing influence, and thus avoid you."

"For now your presence within the house is tolerated only because we're willing to treat you like a Slytherin," drawled Derrick. "Yet your sorting did take so very long, and you've been spending quite a lot of time associating with the wrong sort..."

"So shape up," said Malfoy. "We're the ones with the power here, Potter. That means you have to play by our rules. Your blood-traitor friend will have to go."

The prefect nodded and walked off, presumably headed for his own dorm room, as Harry vividly recalled the incident with the snake this morning.

"Bet you wish you'd listened to me before, don't you? We could have been friends." There was nothing friendly about the triumphant sneer on Malfoy's face.

Malfoy seemed satisfied with that parting shot, and soon Harry found himself alone in the common room. Suddenly he found himself filled with a deep hatred, not for Malfoy, no, but for that damned sorting hat. It'd put him here! It'd said that here he'd learn who his real friends are. Instead, all he was learning was that he didn't have real friends, that he couldn't trust anyone... which was a lesson he'd learned long ago.

Still seething, he made his way to the first year dorm and gathered his supplies for Astronomy. So far, Hogwarts had been better than Privet drive... but not by much.