Ashley waited patiently in the small room off the Great Hall as Professor McGonagall had instructed him to as the first years were sorted into their houses. He knew that this was an important ceremony to the English, that your house defined you for far longer than just your school years. He could see the advantages, he supposed, of forming strong alliances so early in life, but it also was inevitable that discrimination of a sort would follow,which could be troublesome later on. Besides which, could one not equally embody two or more of the houses' qualities? After all, ambition without hard work led nowhere and courage without intelligence or cunning was merely suicidal.
The thing that truly irked him, however, was that by being sorted he would be on some level admitting himself as a true member of their society. He would be receiving a label that he could not shake off; even if from then on he insisted that he identified with his home country and not his barbaric land of fools, he would still forever carry the name of this house with him, thereby signalling to the English that this was not completely true. He disliked this lack of control over his image and identity immensely. But not so much that he would risk the Dark Lord's wrath and refuse to be sorted, he acknowledged to himself. And that was what it all came back to, wasn't it? This man who he'd never met had such immense control over him and his actions and even his reputation that it made his skin crawl and his jaw ache. He. Did. Not. Like. This.
But then the door was opening and McGonagall was speaking to him ("They're ready for you,") and he was blanking his face and walking into ta hall the likes of which he had never seen. It was so... magical. It was lit only by the stars in the ceiling-sky overhead (and wouldn't that be interesting to investigate) and candles that floated eerily over the tables and the ghosts that were arrayed around the edge of the hall. The students were a blur of black robes and eager young faces and the staff table a long line of the colourful and the intrigued. His father's face was impassive as he watched him stride up the hall in his Hogwarts uniform, his paces steady and even, his own expression complete in its neutrality. And there was the man that must be Dumbledore, for who else could have a beard of such length and still be called respectable? And on his face was a look of such intensity that Ashely was actually glad when Professor McGonagall announced his name and lifted an old and fraying hat off of a stool. Ashley sat and she placed the hat on his head; it was a good fit and he was able to eey the watching students as he listened to the hat's words in his ear.
"Well? What's is going to be?"
"Isn't that your job?" thought Ashley sardonically.
"Hmph. Yes, well, it's difficult enough to sort eleven year olds whose minds are far less complex than yours. You are loyal to a fault and incredibly hard-working, yet you are not wanting for courage, though you are lacking slightly in chivalry. More like you're selectively chivalrous, but that defeats the whole purpose of the word, doesn't it? And while you are extraordinarily intelligent and you have a love of knowledge for the sake of knowledge, your cunning and ambition are two of your strongest traits. So in reality, you could end up just about anywhere."
"Hm. I see your dilemma."
"Indeed. So, as I said, what's it going to be?"
"My preference would be the house where I am most expected to go."
"In order to draw the least attention to yourself? How very Slytherin of you."
"It is as you said."
"Yes, I suppose it is. Well, I think we've kept them all in suspense for long enough. Best of luck in, SLYTHERIN!" the house shouted to the hall.
"Thank you," Ashley murmured in his thoughts politely before removing the hat and handing it to Professor McGonagall and going down to join Draco at his table, his robe's trim and tie now a brilliant green that matched his eyes. Draco's pale face was drawn into the smuggest smirk Ashley had seen him wear sine that summer when they were twelve and Lucius lost a bet with him involving donating a full set of top of the line brooms to the Slytherin quidditch team.
Ashley smirked faintly in response and seated himself across from him, right at the end of the table in the empty seat. Evidently Draco had saved it for him, certain of his placement and wanting to make a statement about his status within the house. The two end spots were the most coveted, after all, and while Draco had the one on the right, signifying his leadership in the hierarchy, Ashley's placement made him something of an equal to him.
On Ashley's right was a girl with hair black as pitch, pale skin and eyes a pretty cerulean blue, but her expression was one of disdain. Her positioning indicated that while she deferred to Draco as the Slytherin leader, she was the other reigning alpha in the pack. Her prefect badge supported this theory. To Draco's left was a very thin boy with a face like a rat. His beady brown eyes were calculating on Ashley, but turned to watch the headmaster when he stood. So that was Draco's second. Interesting. Ashley, too, looked to the white-haired man whose arms were spread wide in welcome and blue eyes were twinkling madly.
"Welcome! Welcome to another year at Hogwarts!"
Ashley listened closely as he explained several of the basic school rules and reminders and then went on to introduce the Triwizard Tournament that Hogwarts would be hosting. Ashley felt Draco's eyes on him briefly, as well as those of the rat boy, but did not turn to acknowledge them. Apparently the potential contestants form the others schools would not be arriving until Halloween, which was a shame. It would have been nice to see some familiar faces. But that meant that he had two months to establish himself here, which was not unreasonable.
Dumbledore retook his seat once he'd finished his speech and introduced the new potions professor, Horace Slughorn. A large-moustached man, he resembled something like a walrus and waved jovially at the students, though Ashley knew from his father that this was a master of favours and debts. A man with connections in every pot, he was not averse to helping out a favourite student - as long as they then owed him something in return. Apparently Ashley was to expect an invitation to what was known in his father's day as the 'Slug Club', a band of Slughorn's favourites who gathered on occasion to socialize and form connections. It was not something he looked forward to, but saw as a necessity to attend.
His eyes flickered to his father once more who was engaged in conversation with the man who had taken over his position as potions professor. Snape would finally be permitted to teach his favourite class this year - Defense. While he love potions more than anything, Ashley kenw that his father detested teaching it. Defense would be far less prone to explosions, and he did love the Dark Arts as well, so the class would be something that he could teach well.
Ashley tore his eyes from the staff table; there would be plenty of time to examine them later, but for now, dinner was being served. Ashley helped himself to the lightest dishes he could find, and several familiar ones from home had appeared near his seat. Someone had obviously spoken to the house elves and recommended them for him, for which he was immensely grateful. Too much more of Molly Weasley's heavy English cooking and he didn't know what he would've done.
Loading up with some fish and a salad, he was drawn into conversation for the first time.
"Congratulations on Slytherin," Draco told him, his smirk deepening. "I knew you'd belong to the noble house." And how much did you win off your father who thought I was a guaranteed Ravenclaw, Ashley wanted to ask, but didn't. Most people would not understand the affectionate nature of Draco and Lucius' bets. So he merely smiled mildly at him and nodded his thanks.
"You know each other?" rat boy cut in and Draco glanced over at him in vague annoyance.
"My godbrother, Leclair. Ashley, this is Nott."
Ashley nodded at him and Nott eyed him with only a hint of jealousy at Draco's familiarity.
"Leclair..." came the voice of the dark-haired girl to his right. "I've heard that name before." She was watching the boys' interaction coldly.
Ashley rested his left arm on the table lightly, allowing her to see the black band he wore. "Perhaps you heard reference to my late grandmother. Madame had a few contacts in the UK," he said neutrally, his face giving nothing away to her keen blue eyes.
"I'm sorry for your loss," she said as coldly as before, her sentiments echoed vaguely by Nott and he nodded his thanks.
"Daphne Greengrass," she said eventually, holding out her hand which he bent his head over briefly in acknowledgment of her status.
"Ashley Leclair," he replied.
"Your accent is very good," Greengrass commented as they continued their dinner. "Do you and Malfoy spend so much time together, then?"
"We spent most of our childhood summers together," Ashley responded, "although it has been two years since Draco and I last saw one another."
Draco looked like someone had just given him a philosopher's stone and Ashley realized how very long he had longed to drop the bomb on his classmates. "Ashley's English has always been good. Probably because of his father."
Nott was the one to take his baited hook, though Greengrass' eyes were jumping between the godbrothers swiftly and he thought she might've figured it out. "And who is his father, exactly?"
"Why, my godfather, of course. Professor Snape."
Parkinson, on Nott's other side who had obviously been eavesdropping, dropped her fork with a clang of surprise. Ashley smirked into his goblet at the look on Draco's face. Nott's eyebrows had shot up and even Greengrass looked impressed that she hadn't known.
"I wasn't aware that Professor Snape had any family," she said delicately.
"My father is a very private person," he replied in an equal tone, giving away nothing.
"So you grew up in France, then?" Nott questioned.
"With my mother's family, yes," Ashley said.
"So you'll know all about Beauxbatons, then," he assumed, obviously hoping for something that could be used in the tournament.
"Not as much as you might think," Ashley said, then explained. "I attended Durmstrang up until last year."
Their whole end of the table was silent now, not even pretending not to listen in. Really, he'd expected better.
"Why not Beauxbatons, if you lived there?" asked Parkinson. Ashley recognized her as Draco's betrothed, the poor boy. The girl seemed a little unrefined.
"Father preferred the smaller class-size and the curriculum's focus on dueling," he explained, "And Madame felt that the French focus on broom racing was frivolous."
"Not that that stopped you, did it, Leclair?" said a boy on Greengrass' other side. "You topped the international youth racing boards since you started, I heard." His dark eyes were glittering with knowledge and good humour in his handsome face. A real looker, he had a Mediterranean tone to his complexion that stood out when compared with his paler faced classmates.
"I didn't think that the English followed broom racing," Ashley responded without really responding. "From what Draco says, you're all about quidditch over here."
"We are," the boy replied. "But my family's from Italy, originally, and my cousins rare about the speed of the races." He smiled charmingly at him. "Blaise Zabini."
"Leclair," Ashley replied.
"Charmed," Zabini purred at him and winked. Oh, for the love of Circe. Ashley merely raised an eyebrow at him and went back to his dinner.
"So who's entering the tournament?" Draco asked the table in general. Silence reigned at the table and Draco grinned. "That's what I like to hear. Had any one of you been fool enough to risk your neck for a mere one thousand galleons, I'd have been very surprised."
Ashley's eyebrow made another trip to his hairline and Draco scoffed at him when he noticed it. "Your situation's different Ashley, and you know it."
Eyes turned to him, Nott's disdainful, but Greengrass' showed deep calculation.
"What are you entering for then?" Parkinson asked bluntly. Perhaps she wasn't unrefined, simply a very to the point person, Ashley mused. He hoped so, for Draco's sake. Though it could be a very fun reputation to garner, he supposed.
"For the glory of my new school and country, of course," he replied seriously and they all fell quiet at that, sensing something deeper but knowing better than to press.
"What will his competition be like?" Draco asked and all the Slytherins turned to the last seventh year girl on Zabini's other side. Blond like Parkinson, her hair was shorter than the pug-nosed girl's, indicating that she was not the heiress to her family or that she was from a family of less import, though it was most likely the latter given her low status among the seventh years.
Unlike Parkinson's dirty blond hair, though, hers was a platinum approaching the white-blond of a Malfoy, but not quite. Petite and with eyes a contrasting dark, dark brown, nearly black, she made for a striking character if not a gorgeous one like Greengrass.
"Davis," Draco muttered to Ashley, and he did not recognize the name. She had obviously done extremely well for herself, though, if she was the one that they all turned to for information on the houses. She was obviously wily enough to realize that the best way to gain favour was to be useful, like Ashley had, and though she did not have a name like Leclair to back her, she'd certainly done well enough for herself. He like her already.
"Well," she said thoughtfully, leaning forward, "Ravenclaw won't be much to worry about. Patil, the Head Girl, is the only girl who'd have a chance of getting in, but she probably won't bother because it might interfere with her duties, and none of the boys are anything special."
"What about Su Li?" question Zabini. "She can be fierce as a tiger." He wiggled his eyebrows suggestively and Davis rolled her eyes.
"Her father's an ambassador, a diplomat. He wouldn't allow her to get involved in something so obviously political." Her eyes jumped to Ashley's impassive face before she carried on hurriedly. "Finch-Fletchley and Macmillon will both probably enter from Hufflepuff, but neither are anything really spectacular. bones is nothing to sneeze at though, and she's got a bit of a chip on her shoulder, she'll be the one to watch out for."
Ashley eyed a pretty red-headed girl that Draco pointed out to him with long braids.
"All the Gryffindor boys will probably enter, but Thomas is the most likely to get in, of all of them, as the cleverest," she said somewhat reluctantly.
"A muggleborn," Draco said dismissively and waved her on.
"Well that's probably it, actually, because Brown and the other Patil are both fairly useless and Granger won't go anywhere near it."
By this time, the dinner meals had disappeared, leaving sparkling golden plates behind and shortly, platter of desserts appeared.
Ashley chose a bowl of fruit salad and a small plate of cheeses for himself and chose to stay silent as speculation on the tournament carried on around him. He saw little use in the guesswork and was not looking forward to putting himself on such a display as the tournament would. it was a veritable nightmare. Oh, he got enough press form his dueling and broom racing wins, but a couple of articles was usually as far they went. Being the private person that he was, he was not involved in any social scandals at all and gave no interviews, enticing the least amount of media coverage possible for his situation. What was coming would change all that, however, and the other Slytherins seemed to know it. He detested the spot light, and attention in general. If not for his love for a challenge and his immense ambition to succeed in reaching his goals, he would not have entered the international arena at all, and would most likely be thought of by the few who knew him as a reclusive book-hoarder, much as he was seen by his classmates at Durmstrang most of the time. Now, though, he was being thrust into the center of a political struggle that he had not interest in and it did not sit well with him at all.
The sound of his new classmates getting to their feet alerted him to the end of dinner and broke him out of his introspective brooding in time to step gracefully up, straighten his robes, and fall in step with his godbrother out of the Great Hall. They walked together down several corridors and flights of steps into the bowels of the castle, Ashley concentrating on memorizing the route for future reference. The other Slytherins followed behind, the younger prefects delegated to herding along the sleepy first years.
Draco paused eventually before a seemingly unremarkable stretch of stone wall and spoke evenly, "nightshade." The wall sank back a ways, then slid to the side to reveal the Slytherin Common Room. Dimly lit by lamps and the strong fire in the grate, it was decorated with elegant dark wood furniture, several sitting areas spread about and a long row of tables and chairs along one wall. The most eye-drawing piece, thought, was the wall-sized window that looked out into the Black Lake. As Ashley watched, a grindylow floated by, making faces at him through the glass before disappearing off into the murky green depths.
The Slytherins milled about the room, speaking quietly, obviously waiting for something, the prefects keeping an eye on the younger students. After several minutes of listening to Draco assert himself over a couple of particularly bold sixth years, Ashley noticed all conversation stop and looked up to see his father entering the common room, regal in all his great sweeping black robes and his eyes sharp and piercing from behind his curtain of dark hair.
When he spoke, his voice was so soft to almost be a whisper and yet not a word was missed in the unnatural stillness he invoked in those throughout the room.
"Welcome to Slytherin. You are now hated and feared by three quarters of this school's population. Congratulations."
He stare around menacingly at them all, his rule absolute.
"You are the ambitious. This is good. It means that you have the drive to be the elite, as befits Salazar Slytherin's noble legacy.
You are also the cunning. This is fortunate. For the very ambition that drives you to success is often the very thing that will trip you up; it breeds mistrust and wariness in those who cannot and will not understand it.
For this reason, you must show a united front. You will have disagreement. This is inevitable. But you will restrict any and all internal altercations to the Common Room. Outside of this place, you are one body against three. To strike against oneself under such odds is nothing more or less than folly. Your foolishness reflects on your entire house as well as upon myself. And I tell you now that I do not suffer fools gladly."
He glared around the room, then turned his gaze to Draco. "Mr. Malfoy, you can take care of the rest, I trust?"
Draco nodded sharply to his head of house, his back straight, hands clasped behind him.
"Good. In that case, I will take my leave. Questions and concerns can be directed to prefects and your Head Boy. Mr. Leclair, a word, if you please."
Heads turned to watch Ashley as he strode to his father's side, then followed him out of the Common Room entrance and down the hall to his quarters.