Part 4: Better be

Harry made it into an empty compartment, having taken Severus' advice and arriving early. The Dursleys had behaved themselves for the past month, though they completely avoided and ignored him. Harry was elated. It had given him plenty of time to read all he wished and prepare for the coming school year.

He swore to himself he would do his best in every aspect of his classes, if only to show the professor he had not wasted his time on investing in him — and, his more important and private reason, to maybe . . . maybe make the professor proud of him.

He would rather get dragged across the playground by the back of his shirt than disappoint the potions master, especially after how he had gotten permission from the Headmaster to allow Harry two pets.

Harry straightened, reopening 'The Art of Parsel' to continue reading it. He only had four more chapters left.

K-knock.

Harry looked up, never having heard a hesitant knock before in his life.

"H-hi. H-have you seen a toad?" a chubby, awkward boy asked.

"Um. . . ."

:There is a toad in the boy's left cargo pocket: Coral stated, her tongue flickering out, just hidden by Harry's left sleeve. :I can taste him from here:

Harry touched her head gently.

"Have you looked in your cargo pockets?" Harry asked, pointing to the boy's lumpy left pocket.

"Oh!" Neville exclaimed, sticking his hand in the pocket and pulling out a pathetic looking amphibian. "Thanks! Um, would you mind if I joined you?"

"Not at all," Harry answered. "You can have a seat," he added when the boy hovered by the doorway.

"Thanks." He sat down, twiddling his thumbs after shutting the sliding door. "So, uh, how did you know where Trevor was?" he asked, lifting the toad up.

"Well, um, my familiar told me," Harry answered, before sticking out his right hand for Neville to shake. "I'm Harry, Harry Potter."

"H-Harry Potter?" he gasped, his eyes growing extremely wide.

Harry sighed. "I'm just another wizard like you, please don't . . . don't. . . ." He waved his hands, trying to find the right words. "Don't get all weird."

Neville swallowed, composing himself. "Sorry, I just. . . ." He trailed off, before simply taking Harry's hand and clearing his throat. "I'm Neville Longbottom."

Harry smiled.

"So, you said your familiar told you where Trevor was?" Neville asked after a moment, sparing a very brief glance to Harry's forehead.

"Yeah, but . . . someone told me some people will be a little nervous at first. Can you promise not to freak out? I promise she won't hurt you or Trevor. She's actually quite gentle, and I hope I'll be able to help people through her before too long," Harry answered, putting a finger in his sleeve to pet her head.

"Uh, okay," he said, bringing Trevor closer to himself as Harry moved his hand and slowly raised his left sleeve. Neville was too stunned to gasp or react physically at all.

"Her name is Coral. She's going to help me with parselmagic," he said, encouraged by Neville's lack of reaction. "It's a magic focusing in healing and protection. See?" He lifted the parsel book, which he had placed on top of an anatomy book he had gotten from the nearby bookstore in Surrey. Harry had found it helpful to look up terms and such referenced in the parsel book. "Professor Snape gave me the book and it's brilliant. He helped me get my school supplies and things."

"P-professor Snape? I've heard he can be very strict," Neville said hesitantly, casting Coral an uneasy look.

"Oh, he is, and he told me that he doesn't like slackers and that I need to work hard and learn as much magic as I can," Harry said, curiously pleased to learn the professor's name was well known — though he knew a man like Severus Snape would have to be.

"He told you that?" Neville asked, Coral flickering her tongue at him. He held Trevor closer to himself.

"Uh-huh. So I have been doing just that, reading ahead and stuff so I can understand what we're doing once we get to the point of casting."

Neville looked down, sad. "Gran didn't let me read ahead, she said I might do something stupid and hurt myself."

"Oh," Harry said, feeling bad for him. "Well, why don't you start reading now? I have the books for Potions and Charms with me if you want to read one of those. School has officially started, after all."

Neville perked up. "I think I'll read the potions book, since Professor Snape is really strict."

Harry smiled. "I would also suggest you order this book," he said, holding out 'The Beginner's Guide to the Art of Brewing: Ingredients'.

"Okay, I will," he quickly agreed.

A few people passed by their compartment but left them alone as more and more students loaded the train. Soon after, the train began to move. The food cart came by sometime after that and they got some snacks, both of them reading while occasionally talking about what they found interesting or what they were looking forward to. Often, Neville would say he hoped to not disappoint his Gran.

"So, what House do you think you'll be in?" Neville asked, a little more at ease now that he knew Coral wasn't going to leave Harry's wrist.

"House? Well, Professor Snape is Head of Slytherin. I wouldn't mind being in his house, at least there I know I'll learn stuff," Harry answered with a shrug.

Neville gulped, but glanced at Coral. "I suppose you would fit in Slytherin, you already sort of have their mascot," he said with a nervous smile.

"Oh?"

"Yeah, Slytherin's symbol is a snake. Salazar Slytherin was a parselmouth, he could talk to snakes."

"Oh, so can I. Professor Snape said people will think I can because of Voldemort—" Harry was interrupted by Neville's horrified gasp. "What?"

"Y-you said his name!"

"Well, it is what he called himself. Why should I call him 'You-Know-Who' or whatever?"

Neville didn't really have an answer; he was too surprised to come up with one.

"Anyway, Professor Snape said people will think it's because of him, but really, it's in my genes. Both of my parents happened to have the gene and the two of them together in me activated the ability. It's really no big deal. Gene stuff happens all the time. The doctor on the telly said so. Genetics probably also have something to do with whether or not someone is able to use magic. It would make sense," he explained.

Neville nodded, dumbfounded. "S-so you can talk to C-coral?"

"Yup." :Could you wave your tail to Neville, Coral?:

Coral did so, making Neville's eyebrows disappear into his hairline. "Um, hi?" he answered, uncertainly.

:The chunky boy sure frightens easily, doesn't he? But he smells nice, and his magic is quite strong: she hissed.

Neville gulped loudly. Harry chuckled.

"Don't worry, she just said you smell nice and that your magic is strong," Harry answered.

Neville blinked. "My magic?"

Harry nodded, not noticing Neville's shift in posture. "She told me she can sense that sort of stuff, it'll really help me later if I ever need to heal someone. She'll be able to tell me how sick or hurt they really are and if I can use their magic to help them or if I will need to use my own."

"Wow," he whispered, part of him warming up to the little colorful snake. "So she will help you heal people?"

"Yup. I'm not quite sure how to do it yet, but thanks to this book, I'm getting a good idea. I'm hoping to help out in the nurse's office at some point, if the school has one."

"Oh, they do. It's called the Hospital Wing. Madam Pomfrey is the school nurse. She's visited my Gran a few times," Neville explained, before he blushed. "She had to fix my arm when I tripped down the stairs during her visit."

Harry nodded. "Accidents happen sometimes. Everyone falls."

"I'm accident prone, unfortunately," Neville muttered.

"Well, then it's a good thing I'm going to learn healing, huh?" Harry said lightly.

"Yeah, probably," Neville agreed, smiling softly before growing thoughtful. "Hey, I do have a little bruise on my wrist. How far are you in that book?"

"You want me to try and heal you now?" Harry asked, a little surprised.

"Well, only if you want to. If you're planning on healing me when I get hurt in the future, then I think some practice before might. . . ." Neville trailed off, growing unsure of his idea.

"Sure, I can try. The worst that can happen with this magic is that it won't work. As long as you're not close to death, anything I do can't make it worse."

"Oh, okay. That's good to know I guess."

"So . . . wrist?" Harry asked, already kneeling on the floor in front of Neville and rolling up his sleeve to fully reveal Coral.

Neville slowly held out his right arm, holding Trevor with his left hand. The bruise was about the size of a baseball. It was healing pretty well and was only slightly bluish toward the middle, though Harry wondered what a 'large' bruise was if this was 'small'.

"Let me know if you feel anything," Harry said, placing Neville's wrist in his right hand as he hovered his left above, just like he had read. Coral hovered above as well, her tongue flickering right over it. "Okay. . . . :Muscle and tissue, heal: Harry said, just as the compartment door slid open. . . .

There were several loud gasps as Coral lowered her head onto the bruise, making it give a brief glow. Suddenly, the bruise began shrinking . . . shrinking until there was no more of it left.

"Wow," Neville breathed.

"Bloody hell!" someone exclaimed.

Harry and Neville turned to the now open door, finding three boys just beyond it.

"Y-you speak parseltongue!" the middle boy shouted. He was the shortest of the three and had white slick hair.

The two large boys on either side of him stared at him dumbly.

"I do," Harry answered, getting back up and standing before them, Coral lifting her head and looking at them.

"Wicked! You have a snake too! You'll definitely get into Slytherin," he said.

"Neville said something similar," Harry said.

Draco stepped forward, holding out his hand. "I'm Draco, Draco Malfoy. This is Crabbe, and Goyle."

The two boys behind him gave brief nods. Harry looked at them, before focusing back on Draco, his last name ringing a bell. Malfoy . . . Lucius Malfoy. The man Professor Snape had warned him about. This boy must be his son, and if that was the case, then he must also be the professor's godson.

"Do they not have first names?" Harry asked, though not exactly positive those names were their last.

"Vincent and Gregory," Draco answered with a shrug.

"I'm Harry Potter," he answered, before motioning to Neville as he shook Draco's hand and let go.

"Oh, I'm Neville Longbottom," Neville stated, realizing he was just staring at them. He tentatively offered his hand.

"Longbottom, eh?" Draco asked, his voice getting an odd lilt to it that Harry couldn't identify. He didn't like it though. Draco stiffly shook Neville's hand before he focused back on Harry. Harry got the feeling the only reason he took Neville's hand was to be polite. "We have a compartment closer to the engine. Want to join us?" Draco asked, not looking at Neville.

Harry glanced at Neville, before looking back to the odd blond boy. "What's wrong with just staying here? There's enough room for all of us, and I still have some things for us to eat."

Draco wrinkled his nose a little, as if it was a hard decision to be made and needed to be thought over. "I suppose," he said finally. "We can get our things later."

Neville scooted closer to the window to make room while Harry sat next to him, leaving the bench across from them clear. Draco motioned Crabbe to take the place closest to the window while he sat directly across from Harry and Goyle sat closest to the door.

Draco looked around, before spotting the books. "I see you've been reading ahead."

"A little," Harry admitted with a shrug.

"My father had me begin reading a few months ago. He wouldn't let me cast anything, but he showed me a few spells with his wand," Draco bragged.

"How much have you read?" Harry asked, curious.

"Oh, just a few chapters into each book," he answered, trying to be nonchalant but failing. He was quite proud of his accomplishment and was enjoying the chance to brag in front of the Boy-Who-Lived. "You?"

"I started reading when I got back from Diagon Alley. I've spent most of my free time reading," Harry replied, not wanting to reveal too much.

Draco nodded. "So, uh, what were you doing exactly when we came in?"

"Practicing parselmagic. Professor Snape sent me this awesome book when he learned I could talk to snakes. He also gave me permission to have Coral," Harry said.

"Parselmagic?" Vincent Crabbe asked with a grunt.

"Yeah. Professor Snape said the most powerful healing and protection spells are from parselmagic, and only Parselmouths can use it. He also said Voldemort—" Harry paused with a sigh when Draco and the others flinched. "Really? Is everyone going to do that when I say his name?"

Draco and the others shrugged apologetically. "We've grown up not hearing it, and it's sort of . . . a taboo, you know?"

"Not really," Harry answered, before continuing what he had been saying. "Anyway, he said Voldemort was a parselmouth as well but didn't have the patience or desire to learn it because Voldemort wasn't really into helping others."

"And you are?" Draco asked, intrigued, trying not to flinch too badly as Harry continued saying the Dark Lord's name.

Harry looked at him, confused. "Well, yeah, aren't you?"

Draco waved his hand dismissively. "There are people who work, people who follow, and people who lead." The way he said it, Harry was certain he was repeating something he heard often.

"Hmm, if that's the case, I'll be happy to be a worker and help people," Harry answered honestly, thinking back to the parsel book and imagining himself doing what he had read about — healing people and making a difference, saving lives.

He would prove the Dursleys wrong. He would make the Professor proud. He would work hard and unlock his magic. He would reach his potential.

"Really? I would have pegged you for a leader type," Draco said, glancing at Harry's forehead.

Harry shrugged. "Leader or not, work is still involved. I would rather do something I like to do."

"You don't want to lead?"

"Not really. Why?"

"Well, I just thought, with you being . . . who you are, you would want to."

Harry rolled his eyes. "I'm not some savior that's come to lead. I'm just a first year who wants to learn magic, like you."

Impressed, Draco smiled. Vince and Greg looked confused and surprised. "I like you, Potter. You're not what I had expected. If you happen to not get into Slytherin, let's still be friends."

"Is being friends with someone in a different house another taboo?" Harry asked, incredulously.

Draco chuckled. "No, not exactly, but I'm going to be in Slytherin; I know it."

"So. . . ?"

"Well, the other houses sort of don't like Slytherin," Draco answered.

Harry looked to Neville.

"It's true, Harry. In the past, many d-dark wizards have come from there," Neville said, answering his unspoken question.

Harry frowned.

"It's stupid," Draco continued. "People just don't like Slytherin because they're jealous they're not as strong or as powerful."

Harry raised an eyebrow.

"Uh, Harry, I think we're almost there. We need to get our robes on," Neville spoke up.

"Okay."

"See you later. Our robes are in our compartment," Draco said, getting up.

"Alright. Nice meeting you," Harry said.

The three boys left, Vince and Greg shadowing Draco. The door closed.

"Well, that was interesting, huh, Neville?"

Neville nodded, a little overwhelmed.

"Professor Snape told me to stay away from Draco's father. Don't tell anyone I told you."

"Okay, Harry. I promise."

"But Draco doesn't seem too bad, does he? I mean, he seemed a little stiff with you and sort of stuffy."

"Yeah, but I still think we should be careful," Neville advised. "Gran told me Malfoy Senior is a very bad man."

Harry smiled when Neville said 'we', but grew a little concerned with the warning. "Well, we'll just have to watch each other's backs then."

Neville straightened a little, swelling with pride that the Boy-Who-Lived would say something like that . . . to him. It was in that moment he decided something. He would have Harry Potter's back no matter what.

O o O o O

They entered Hogwarts after traveling across the lake to where an older professor took over from Hagrid.

Introducing herself as Professor McGonagall, she told them a little bit about the houses before disappearing. Harry and Neville stayed close together and while they waited Draco and his two buddies rejoined them.

"Ready, Potter?" Draco asked.

"Yeah, you?" he replied, ignoring the reactions of people around them.

Many people were staring, while a few actually inched away, as if nervous.

"Of course," Draco answered as someone came up right beside Neville, leaning in close.

"Hey, I heard you have a pet snake, can I see?" a simple looking boy asked excitedly.

A few people screamed at that and pulled back, while others surged forward, saying things like 'Really?' 'Wicked!' 'Ooo, can I see too?'

Harry brought his left arm to his chest protectively. "Uh…."

Neville moved beside him suddenly, not really thinking about what he was doing as Draco and his two friends stepped up as well, also coming to Harry's aid. It was clear Harry did not like being crowded by random crazy people and appreciated their support.

Coral poked her head out of his sleeve, wanting to know what was going on.

:Harry, what's going on?: she asked.

Neville was to Harry's left, closest to her. Draco was to his right and a little in front of him, while Vince and Greg were behind. The four of them created a make-shift barrier around him.

"Wicked cool! What kind of snake is that?" the same boy asked, unbothered by Harry's bodyguards.

"She's a magical coral snake. Her name is Coral," Harry answered.

"I thought only cats, owls, or toads were allowed for pets," a girl with frizzy hair said contemplatively. "How do you have a snake?"

"I got permission," Harry said, a little annoyed. What business was it of theirs?

Just then, thankfully, Professor McGonagall returned. "We are ready for you now. Follow me."

They followed, Neville going in beside him, Draco and Vince taking up the rear with Goyle right behind.

O o O o O

Severus heaved an internal sigh. He knew it would have gotten out eventually, but on the first day? Before the boy had even been sorted?

Soon after the students had entered the Great Hall, a Slytherin Prefect went up to him and stated that he had learned a bit of information he felt he should share with him. There was a rumor going around on the train that not only was Harry Potter on board, but he was a parselmouth, and that, evidently, he had a pet snake.

Severus didn't even attempt to act surprised, but simply told the prefect, Mr. Terence Higgs, that he already knew and that it was he who gave Mr. Potter permission to have the snake as a pet. He also told the prefect that he would discuss it in the Common Room after dinner and that if anyone had any questions to simply tell them that. The prefect and the seeker of Slytherin nodded, before heading back to the table.

A moment later, the first years came in, and he was actually quite pleased with what he saw. Having Neville right beside Harry could only be good for the future, and having Draco and his friends surrounding them may be just as beneficial if guided correctly. Wherever Harry got sorted that night, he would need to advise Draco accordingly.

He smiled, instantly knowing upon seeing Neville's face that he wouldn't need to interfere there at all. Harry already had that boy's undying loyalty. The train ride must have been very interesting.

Severus scanned the group of nervous first years as they gathered at the front.

Ron was beside Dean and Seamus, all three of them staring at Harry and glancing constantly at his left sleeve. Ah, so they had already caught sight of Coral then. . . . He wondered if Ron would be Harry's friend this time, but decided he would leave that path alone. He would let Harry and fate run that without his interference.

Hermione was off by herself, muttering, no doubt running through everything she had read about the Wizarding World, nervous about the sorting. Severus wondered if she had helped Neville with his toad issue. By the looks of things, probably not.

Severus blinked, realizing he had missed the beginning of the sorting hat's song. No matter, it wasn't like he hadn't heard it before.

Finally, Minerva stepped up and began calling the students' names.

As the sorting continued, all the students were sorted where he had remembered, until it came to Neville.

He sat there in silence, fidgeting a bit until the sorting hat seemed to nod, as if deciding something, and shouted out, "HUFFLEPUFF!"

Severus blinked. The train ride must have been very interesting to have made the sorting hat latch onto the boy's loyalty instead of his hidden bravery.

Neville hurried off to the Hufflepuff table, sparing Harry a long pained look. Harry waved supportively and gave him a kind smile. That seemed to calm Neville enough for him to sit down with the rest of the Hufflepuff first years and watch the rest of the sorting.

Hermione and Ron were both placed in Gryffindor, and Draco was of course placed in Slytherin.

Finally, it was Harry's turn, and, just like last time, whispers erupted when his name was called.

He held his left arm close against himself as he stepped forward, weaving around the unsorted first years. Minerva placed the hat on him once he was seated.

Severus would have nearly given anything to hear the conversation now going on in Harry's head, but, alas, he could not.

O o O o O

'Ah, Mr. Potter.'

'Uh, yeah?' Harry said, mentally answering the voice. He knew it was the sorting hat, but it was still bizarre.

'Hmm. Let me take a look around, you are difficult to read. You have many layered traits.'

'Um, okay. Uh. . . . if you have any questions about what you find, feel free to ask me. This is my head, after all.'

The hat chuckled in his mind. 'Indeed it is, Mr. Potter.'

Harry sat in silence, the whole hall staring fixedly at him, wondering what was taking so long.

'Hmm. Well, I'll say, it's been quite some time since I have sat on a head of this complexity, Mr. Potter,' the hat said after a moment. 'I see you have a fine mind. Quick and eager to learn, but I do not think Ravenclaw is for you. You have deeper traits that are stronger in you than what Ravenclaw seeks.'

"Hmm," the hat hummed, out loud this time as he shifted, wiggling on top of Harry's head.

This, of course, made the whispers flare back to life once again. Harry wondered if his hair would actually be messier from the hat.

'You are quite cunning when you need to be, but you do not have the heart of a Slytherin; though, you do have their instincts. Hmm.'

'Put me where I will have the best chance of reaching my full potential. The potential Professor Snape spoke of. Please,' Harry requested earnestly, a large part of him hoping to go into the potion master's house.

'Hmm. An interesting thing you ask of me. Alright, let me see. . . .'

The hat went silent once again, and Harry could feel an odd heaviness in his mind, though he didn't feel anything else.

The sorting hat then gasped, loudly. Harry desperately hoped that had not been out loud, but by the elevated whispers in the hall, he doubted it.

'The Legacy Spell, Mr. Potter? Severus Snape cast that on you?' The hat's voice rattled within his mind, stunned.

Harry froze. He really didn't know what to say. He didn't want to try and lie, but he also didn't want the professor in trouble. 'You're not going to get him in trouble if he did, are you?'

'No, I won't get him in trouble, Mr. Potter. Discovering he had used the spell just took me by surprise,' he said, softening his tone as he collected himself. 'I wonder where he learned it. . . .'

'Why?' Harry asked.

'It is an old forbidden spell. Many wizarding families still know of it and grow horrified when they hear it mentioned in any conversation, but few know the incantation.'

Harry frowned, confused. He paid no mind to the whispering in the Great Hall now.

'It is another 'taboo', as young Malfoy would say, because it has a very dark past.'

'What happened?' Harry asked.

Time was immaterial at this point to Harry and the hat. They were so entrenched in the conversation to care about how long they were taking.

'Centuries ago, in the time of the founders, it was a common spell used on newborns. It was a spell of necessity, assisting the parents in understanding the strengths and weaknesses of their children to better raise and teach them. It was a good and helpful spell, one used with love and anticipation by a parent or guardian. But then things changed. Family rivalries surfaced, and the strength of bloodlines became the focal point in pureblood families.'

'What did they do?' Harry asked, waiting with bated breath.

'If an infant did not possess enough magical power, or did not meet the family's standards or expectations, they were murdered or cast out. The few cast out children disappeared into the muggle world, revoking their magic and forbidding their offspring from entering the wizarding world, warning them of the atrocities being committed there. The horrible use of the Legacy Spell continued into the 1800's, and ended around the time the Headmaster was a wee lad.'

Harry swallowed thickly, trying to stomach the lesson in history he had just been given.

'Mr. Potter, like many spells, they are not good or evil. It is the witch or wizard casting them that determines their nature. Never forget that,' the hat said very sternly and seriously.

Harry nodded, blinking a few times to chase away the moisture now gathering in his eyes.

'Now, how about I get back to sorting you, and let the past be the past?' the hat suggested.

Harry smiled softly. 'Okay.'

There was a long silence as the hat went back to rummaging through his head, before the hat paused.

'Get off the stool,' the sorting hat suddenly instructed.

Not having a reason not to obey, Harry did exactly that. Now standing a few feet from McGonagall and a step from the stool, he waited for further instructions.

McGonagall and everyone else in the hall waited in bewildered curiosity.

'Please pace for me, Mr. Potter, this is going to take every technique I have ever needed in the past and then some,' he said. 'Albus paces all the time and it seems to help him.'

Harry nudged the sorting hat up with his right hand to get him off of his eyes so he could see where he was going. He then began pacing in front of the head table. Pacing about three yards, back and forth.

McGonagall looked to Dumbledore for guidance. Should she stop Harry and ask what was going on?

Albus waved her back, silently telling her to let Mr. Potter and the sorting hat be for now.

'Okay, Slytherin is not for you. Though you would do well there, no doubt about that.' The sorting hat then nodded to himself, balancing precariously on Harry's head as the pacing continued. 'Okay, stop pacing. Just sway for right now . . . I'm searching. . . .'

Harry did so, rocking from side-to-side as he closed his eyes. He didn't want to see everyone staring. He felt ridiculous enough.

'You are very brave, but . . . hmm. No, that wouldn't do,' he continued, talking to himself now before he stiffened. 'Ah-ha!' Evidently the hat had come to a decision. "Right, then . . . . Right! Okay . . ." the hat said out loud. "Better be . . . . HUFFLEPUFF!"

Harry stopped swaying, snapping his eyes open.

'Work hard and always do your best, Mr. Potter, because Severus was right. Your potential is nearly limitless. Its limit . . . is you,' the hat said, barely managing to do so before McGonagall plucked him off Mr. Potter's now sweaty head.

Harry joined Neville at the Hufflepuff table, the students there screaming incoherently. They were quite ecstatic Harry Potter had been sorted into their house. Professor Sprout was clapping just as excitedly, happy to have another Hufflepuff.

O o O o O

Severus didn't know if he should be grateful or horrified.

This could either be a very good thing, or an awful awful thing. There were so many pros and cons he knew he would never have a hope of determining the likely outcome of this.

On the one hand, Harry had Neville by his side and there wouldn't be the whole Slytherin-Gryffindor rivalry he would have to contend with. That would allow him to more easily help Harry and could provide the boy with a broader base of support.

On the other hand, Harry wouldn't be as close to Ron and Hermione as he had been last time, at least Severus didn't think so. He knew Ron was the type to stick to his own house, and since it seemed he had yet to really meet Harry. . . . As for Hermione, she would be too busy with class work to pay any attention to classmates, let alone classmates not in her own house. It was rather sad, but it couldn't really be helped.

What would result from this? What would the coming years be like without the famous Golden Trio?

Severus looked at the students before him, noticing Draco waving at Harry from the Slytherin table and Harry returning it, although with a little less energy. He was currently having to bear the brunt of countless stares and whispers.

Looking at Neville, he was once again pleased with the shy, nervous boy. Ignoring his own discomfort, he was doing his best to be Harry's silent support.

O o O o O

"Welcome to Hufflepuff," an older boy greeted, speaking to all of the first years. "I'm Cedric Diggory." He held out his hand toward Harry since he happened to be directly across from him.

"Hi, I'm Harry," he said tentatively.

"I'm curious. Why did you pace when you were being sorted?" Cedric asked, deciding not to ask about the other oddities the hat displayed, such as gasping out loud.

"The hat told me to. He told me it would help him sort me," Harry said with a shrug.

"Interesting. I've never seen that done before, but I suppose since your sorting was taking a while it makes sense," Cedric said, intrigued, before looking to Neville.

"Neville Longbottom," he said.

And so it continued, everyone introducing themselves while they began to eat.

"So you're Harry Potter, are you?" a loud kid asked. "I'm Zacharias Smith."

"Hello," Harry said, trying to be nice, but for some reason finding himself irritated by the boy's pushy introduction. He had nearly bumped into the person sitting beside him when getting Harry's attention.

"Is it true you have the scar?" Smith asked, a few of the older students staring at his daring and rudeness.

Harry put his hand on his forehead, covering his scar. It was clear he was trying to decide whether or not to lift his hair out of the way, but a girl sitting beside him, much older than most around them, touched his elbow.

"No need for that, Harry. You don't need to show it if you don't want to," she said.

Smith huffed in irritation, ignoring the girl's brief glare at him.

"I'm the Head Girl this year. Maggie Tolbert," she said.

Maggie was a brown headed girl with short hair. She was pretty, though not drop-dead gorgeous. She had pale blue eyes and a small nose.

Harry smiled shyly, unconsciously petting Coral resting under his left sleeve. Maggie glanced at his movement while trying and failing to hide her sudden unease. Harry noticed.

"Are you afraid of snakes?" he asked gently.

"Uh, well, a little I guess," she admitted after a moment.

Many of the Hufflepuffs around were listening in, hoping to catch a glimpse of the supposed snake and learn whether or not what they had heard on the train was true.

"Coral wouldn't hurt anyone, unless they were trying to hurt her or me," Harry said. "Would you like to see her?"

Maggie looked a little pale, but nodded her head. She was Head Girl, for crying out loud! She couldn't act like a baby!

Harry slowly moved up his sleeve, revealing Coral's form wrapped around his wrist and a little up his arm.

"Oooo," many said, leaning forward, while a few others gasped.

Coral kept her head resting on Harry's wrist as he moved his hand over his plate to show his curious classmates.

"She's beautiful!"

"Adorable!"

"Who knew a snake could look so harmless?"

"Isn't she . . . poisonous?" Cedric asked, leaning a little closer to get a good look at her.

Harry smiled, glad to see the older boy trusted him enough to not let Coral bite him. "Yeah, but Professor Snape cast a spell on her. She can't poison anyone unless she has to," he explained.

"Professor Snape?" he asked, several other students around him also surprised.

"Yeah. He's the one who gave me permission to have an exotic pet."

"That was . . . nice of him."

Harry nodded happily, petting Coral.

"But why did he? There must have been a reason," Cedric continued.

"Oh, yeah. He said it would be a good idea for me to have her because she'll make my parselmagic stronger."

"Parselmagic?" Susan Bones asked. She was sitting on the other side of Neville.

"It's healing and protective magic. Only parselmouths can use it."

Nearly the entire Hufflepuff table went absolutely still, their eyes (except Neville's) going wide as they realized what that meant. The-Boy-Who-Lived was a parselmouth!

"W-what?" Ernie Macmillan asked, his voice cracking.

Harry sighed. "It really isn't that big of a deal. I don't understand why everyone has such a fit about me speaking parseltongue. It's just as annoying as the whole 'Voldemort'—"

A few people shrieked, two people fell off the bench, one person nearly fainted, half the table gasped, and most of the rest jumped.

It was utterly ridiculous.

Harry groaned.

"H-Harry, you are certainly not what I had expected," Cedric managed with a kind smile, gathering himself before most of the others.

Harry looked down at his food and began picking at it. Coral lifted her head, looking at Harry with what those at the table would label as concern.

:Are you okay, Harry?: she asked, nudging the side of his hand with her head.

:Yeah, I guess:

His reply unfortunately caused more reactions from those at the table, and even from a few people behind him in Ravenclaw who had been eavesdropping.

:They'll get used to it: she soothed.

"You know, it's actually pretty cool," Justin Finch-Fletchley said. He was a rich looking boy beside Ernie. "So this parselmagic, have you used it at all yet?"

Being a muggleborn, Justin was one of the few at the table not bothered by Harry's ability or the use of Voldemort's name. In fact, he was just as confused and annoyed by everyone's reactions as Harry was.

Harry looked up, no longer poking at his food as he nodded.

"He used it on me on the train!" Neville blurted out, more than happy to tell them what Harry had done for him. "He healed a bad bruise on my wrist. It had been this big—" He showed him his wrist and illustrated with his other hand how much area the bruise had covered. "—And he made it go away. It feels so much better now."

The Hufflepuffs stared, entranced by Neville's account before looking back at Harry.

"Wow."

"Bloody awesome."

"You should help Madam Pomfrey in the Hospital Wing."

"Can you heal animals too?"

"Hey, I have a cut on my arm, could you heal that?"

"Can you heal scars?"

"What does it feel like?"

"Could you regrow something like an arm?"

"Can you heal diseases?"

"Whoa-whoa. Let's not bombard him with so many questions," Maggie said, holding up her hands and halting the interrogation. "Especially questions he probably doesn't have the answers to yet."

Harry looked at her gratefully and got back to eating.

Seeing that he wasn't going to answer their questions now and that they themselves should eat before dinner ended, the Hufflepuffs let him be. Maggie's stern look might have only had a little to do with it.

O o O o O

"Hmm, perhaps you should go down there, Pomona," Filius suggested as he watched the reaction to Harry's pet snake ripple across the table.

"No, I believe Ms. Tolbert has the situation under control," she answered calmly. "But I will be holding a longer house meeting tonight. It would be remiss of me not to."

Filius nodded, only to look quickly back to the table as a few of the students screamed.

"What in Merlin's name?" Minerva asked, now looking as well.

Seeing that two of the students had landed on the floor from whatever was happening down there, Minerva was about to stand up and get down there herself to see what on earth was going on.

"Wait, Minerva," Albus stated, subtly placing his hand on her forearm before motioning to Harry's snake with a sharp nod.

From where they were, they could barely see her, but it was clear she and Harry were having a conversation, no matter how brief. And then a first year spoke up, which led to Neville talking. It was clear that whatever he had said turned the Hufflepuffs' fear into curiosity as they then began pelting Harry with questions before Maggie interrupted and settled things down.

"Well, Pomona, I look forward to hearing from you after you have the meeting with your house," Filius said.

"I agree," Minerva said.

Severus hid a smile.

O o O o O

A/N: Well, there it is. After a very long mental struggle and looking at certain things in canon and what Severus has changed, I decided this was the best choice for Harry. I know there are few well written Hufflepuff!Harry stories, but considering everything, the other houses simply will not fit with what I have planned or with the Harry of this story. I won't bother trying to explain further. Hopefully my writing will speak for itself.

Thanks again for all the reviews ^^

Next part, Lessons, is in the works.