Harry Potter was stressed.
He had managed to get from King's Cross station to Hogwarts without a meltdown, but just barely.
The news of being "sorted" had pushed him to a breaking point.
He eyed the hat warily.
He did not like new. He did not like experiencing the unknown, at least not when he couldn't learn about it first. He did not like change. He did not like crowds. He did not like it when they jostled him, poked him, touched him. He had tried to stay on the outside of the group, but he kept being pulled back into the middle by Ron. He didn't want to complain. It was nice to have a friend, but he wished Ron had taken him more seriously when he said he didn't like being touched.
His nerves were making him hypersensitive to the noise in the room, and his ears were starting to ring with all of the shouting going on.
"Why is everyone shouting?" he asked Ron, who just gave him a weird look.
"No one is shouting, Harry," Ron whispered. "It's just people whispering. You alright, mate?"
Harry shrugged and nodded, which seemed to satisfy Ron.
At that moment, the hat started to sing. Loudly. Off key.
It was too much for Harry to handle and his hands flew up to cover his ears. He sighed with relief as they dampened the noise. He closed his eyes, relaxing a bit more. The room was awfully bright, after all, and there was so much to look at all at once.
He started to hum under his breath, willing the sorting ceremony to get over faster. The humming helped cancel out even more of the noise, and helped sooth his overtaxed nerves. Without realizing it, he started to rock back and forth on his toes, the gentle motion calming him even further, lulling him into a safe place.
He was vaguely aware of names being called, and he felt the crowd around him thinning out, but it was still too much noise, too much new, too much change for Harry to stop the self-comforting behavior.
Suddenly, he was aware of two things: the noise had stopped completely, and strong hands were grasping his shoulders.
His eyes flew open in shock.
Everyone was staring at him.
He heard snickering, and his face colored slightly. His eyes immediately sought the floor.
Great, he thought, wringing his hands in a desperate bid to relieve the anxiety. His first few minutes at a new school and he had already painted a target on himself.
A hand lifted his chin, and he found himself looking at a severe-looking man dressed all in black.
Severus Snape had watched the boy from the moment the group of first years stepped into the Great Hall. He had seen the boy's face go from uncertain to anxious to overwhelmed, and had watched with quiet curiosity as Harry struggled to handle the massive amount of sensory overload.
Upon learning that The Boy Who Lived had accepted his place at Hogwarts, Snape had, like all Hogwart's faculty, been made aware that Harry Potter was a bit different than the other students. The boy, his primary school records said, was Autistic. Unfamiliar with the term and dissatisfied with the dry clinical language in the boy's file (what on earth was a 32 on the CAR Scale?), Snape had planted himself in a muggle library for a week to learn about these "differences." If he was going to protect the boy, he was going to know exactly what to expect. He now considered himself somewhat of an expert on the subject, but still found himself lost when it came to knowing how to help Harry integrate into his new world.
What he did know was that whatever difficulties the boy had in other areas of his life, Harry had a prodigious aptitude for chemistry, a skill set that Snape was sure to carry over into a love for potion making. At only 11, the boy was, according to his school records, preparing to take the A-Level chemistry course. He also knew Harry was, based on a read-between-the-lines look over the incident reports included by the school, bullied relentlessly and mercilessly, and as such was very withdrawn and unsure of himself.
Snape saw a bit of himself in the boy, despite Harry's strong resemblance to his bastard of a father, and took a sort of perverse pleasure in the irony: the son of a bully was the target of bullies. For all his rabid animosity towards that man, however, Snape knew that he could never-and would never-let Harry come to harm, and had promised as much to Dumbledore.
Remembering those words, Snape watched as Harry was no longer able to handle the newness, the changes, the noise, the unknown. When Harry started rocking back and forth, Snape sighed. They should have known this would happen. That the boy had managed to get to Hogwarts without incident was impressive.
He glared at the back of Professor's MacGonagall's head. She had completely ignored the boy's distress, and only seemed to realize something was wrong when he failed to respond to his name being called. The longer Harry failed to make his way to the sorting hat, the more people began to realize something was wrong. He watched as the kids around Harry stepped back and stared at him, uncertain as to what was going on.
Snape was certain not one of them had any experience with Autism, and he could see the uncertainty turn to fear. Before the fear could be acted upon by some of the more cruel members of the student body, Snape found himself walking across the floor, stopping in front of Harry.
The boy startled when Snape grabbed his shoulders. A few students dared snicker, and Snape could see the shame and resignation in Harry's eyes. He knew Harry wouldn't maintain eye contact, and he wasn't about to force it.
"Harry," he started in a calm, low voice only Harry could hear. "Harry, it is okay. It's loud in here, isn't it?"
Harry nodded, his eyes downcast.
"It's your turn to be sorted now, do you know what that means?" Snape asked.
Harry shook his head.
"It means you are going to sit on this stool," Snape said in that same low voice as he led Harry to the front of the room.
"And Professor McGonagall will place the sorting hat upon your head like this."
Giggles and snickers erupted from the room as Snape had Professor McGonagall place the hat on his head, to show Harry what would happen.
Snape shot a scathing glare at the student body, who immediately shut up.
"Okay," Harry said, gritting himself for the hat's unpleasant voice to accost his ears.
He felt the hat placed on his head and-yep, there was the voice. Harry was surprised to note that the hat was no longer screaming off-key.
Thank goodness for that, he thought.
You're very welcome, Mr. Potter.
Hmm, difficult. VERY difficult. Plenty of courage, I see. Not a bad mind, either. There's talent, oh yes. And a thirst to prove yourself. But where to put you?
Harry thought desperately of the colors he had spied on the wall: green, red, yellow, blue. He was sure no one would understand, that he would be laughed at, the same as always, but he just could not be green. Not green. Not green. Not green. I can't wear green. Green hurts. Green is a hateful color. Not green.
Not Green, eh? Are you sure? That rules out Slytherin. You could be great, you know. It's all here in your head. And Slytherin will help you on the way to greatness, there's no doubt about that. No?
Please, please. Anything but green, anything but green. Harry knew he was being irrational, but he just could not stand the color green.
Well if you're sure, better be... GRYFFINDOR!
The Great Hall erupted in a cacophony of noise, and Harry, badly startled by the outburst, bolted from the stool to the corner of the room behind the faculty table. He stood there, rocking back and forth on his toes again, humming, hands wringing themselves into and out of different patterns.
The school gawked.
Snape sighed again, and then made his way to the frightened boy.
Behind him, he heard Professor McGonagall call out another name for sorting as though nothing out of the ordinary had happened.