Shifting of the Plate
Chapter Warning(s): Biggotry/Racism
Rabastan had not been the least bit happy about Voldemort's orders. Harry had pretended for the rest of the summer that he, too, was upset that he was forced to go along with the plan because Voldemort had ordered it, which meant the choice was not, and had never been, theirs.
But, in truth, the next couple of weeks filled him with an elation that he had never felt before.
Rabastan had reluctantly sent an owl to the school of Witchcraft and Wizardry and paid the tuition in full, though Harry noticed that he only paid for a single year of schooling, perhaps hoping that this time next year Voldemort would no longer have any need for him to attend.
He had gone to Diagon Alley on his own, which was relatively uneventful, bought everything on the supply list—everything from a cauldron, to books, to an entire set of Hogwarts robes and a wand.
One of his very own.
Harry kept Mary's with him, at the bottom of his trunk, as a reminder of all that he had caused and what he was. Whenever he pulled out a new set of robes, or dug for books, he would see it there, and it would bring to mind what he had done. He didn't deserve to forget. His new wand did not feel dirty in his hand, even though Ollivander had given him a curious and suspicious look when gold and red sparks had flown from the tip of it after nearly two hours of trying one wand after another. Only after they had gone through half of the magic sticks in entire store, by pure process of elimination, they had come to his perfect match.
Eleven inches long, made of holly, with a phoenix feather center, which was, apparently, the brother core of Lord Voldemort's wand.
After that particular discovery, Harry had erased Ollivander's memory of the last two hours. This was one particular wand he could not allow the man to remember selling. He had sighed with relief when he realized that the spell had been cast properly. Memory Charms were tricky and Harry had never actually cast one before, but he had managed it with such finesse that Ollivander maintained the rest of his memories perfectly. Harry still felt guilty for it, but he knew he could not afford to let the man to blab about such a precarious subject.
The days that had followed Diagon alley and preceded the Hogwarts express had been filled with furious studying of the school books and a sulking Rabastan. The man seemed to cling to him even more than usual, asking for constant reassurance from his adoptive son that he was not eager to leave him, when in fact that was exactly what Harry was. When the day finally came it was like a weight had been taken off of his shoulders, and despite his heavy trunk, his steps as he approached the station were light.
As he passed through the barrier that lead to platform 9 ¾ on September 1st, it was as though he could feel his wand too much through the fabric of his robes, as though it was reprimanding him for his conduct two weeks ago.
Harry was already in his Hogwarts robes, though his tie and the rim of his vest were black because he had not been Sorted into any particular House. The great metal beast that was the Hogwarts Express stood there conspicuously, his cloak licking his heels as he slowed to a stop, because it was…enchanting. His gateway to another world, his transport to get hundreds of kilometers away from that blasted cabin.
It was nothing special to look at, old fashioned and gaudily painted, but it was wonderful.
The hustle and bustle of students and parents passing him, putting their trunks away in the cargo holds and waving goodbye through the windows was lost on him. Rabastan had not accompanied him; Harry suspected it was too painful a place for him, though Harry still had the man's scent on him from his affectionate goodbye. Rabastan consistently smelled of dust and old parchment and, even now, the boy could smell it on his robes.
Harry cast a quiet 'Wingardium Leviosa' on his trunk to lift it up the steps that led up and onto the train, but only after practically every single student had already piled inside. He'd lost himself in thoughts of this school that had practically been a fairytale to him until now, and when he climbed up and into the long hall of compartments, he felt relief wash over him like a bucket of warm water had been poured upon his head.
The doors closed and the train began to move before Harry had settled, pulling his trunk along slowly as he peered into compartments to look for a place to sit.
Many compartments in the section he'd started in were filled to the brim with seventh and sixth year students, the rooms all packed with old friends who didn't mind squishing together if it meant they could stay in the same compartment.
A blond, disagreeable looking boy in Hufflepuff robes shut the door before Harry could make eye contact and a gaggle of nervous first years had all shoved themselves together. A seventh year Slytherin and his girlfriend, a younger Ravenclaw girl, frowned at him as he passed as though to tell him not to dare try to join them, while the girl smiled and waved so sweetly that Harry was a bit worried for her.
Harry didn't bother with the people that blatantly weren't interested in making his acquaintance and instead just continued, pausing briefly when a boy with red hair caught his eye as he laughed heartily at something his friend across from him had said.
Three boys, Harry noted as the train left the station and began to truly pick up speed. One with brown shaggy hair, one with a dark blond crew cut, and the last with bright, vibrant red hair and extensive freckles covering every inch of skin that wasn't already covered by his worn robes.
Of course, the red hair and threadbare robes were distinct signs of a Weasley, but Harry pushed that thought out of his mind with ease.
"Hullo," said the redhead, as he was the only one facing the direction Harry had come from. "Who're you? You're about our age, aren't you?"
The dark haired boy and the blond turned their heads toward Harry, "Oh, hello, mate."
"Come outta nowhere, din'cha?" said the (now noticeably Irish) blond boy. "Haven't seen you before, have I?"
"No, I think not," Harry said, finding it hard to reel in the excessively proper English that had been pounded into his brain. He could see them already beginning to decide he was a snob, "I'm new here, you see."
They shared a look.
"New student? At Hogwarts? That's not a first year?" exclaimed the blond with fascination, "Did you get expelled from elsewhere, or something?"
"Or…something," Harry responded, feeling something akin to nervousness bubble in his gut.
No. No, that feeling was not akin to it at all. It just plain was.
He could not remember ever feeling this awkward. He was not used to being around people his own age, not anymore, and even when he had been talking with the group of Slytherin teenagers at Voldemort's party, there had been a purpose for the interaction.
There was no purpose here.
Except, perhaps, to…make friends. Somehow, that was more daunting to Harry than trying to earn Voldemort's approval.
"Right, mate," responded the Weasley, blinking. He wasn't very bright, already tall for his age, but there was nothing particularly threatening about him. Nothing noticeable, either, other than the hair, but he was friendly enough just the same. "Well, are you looking for a place to sit, then?"
"We've got room," added the blond with a crooked grin, standing and moving to grab Harry's trunk for him. He gestured to the other two accordingly. "I'm Seamus. This here is Ron, and that's Dean. Welcome to Hogwarts, I suppose."
"Yeah," Ron nodded, giving him a smile as well. "Welcome. Don't be so tense, mate."
Harry wanted to stop Seamus from grabbing his trunk, because he was quite capable of moving it himself, but he bit his tongue. He didn't want to be rude. Being rude was not the way to make friends, and Merlin, that was what he was doing, wasn't it?
"Shy one, yeah?" Seamus laughed, gripping his trunk and tugging it into the room. "Your turn to tell us your name, then—"
Before Harry could even open his mouth, the brown eyes of the Irishman lowered to the embroidery on his trunk.
His pale face fell abruptly.
"Rigel…Lestrange?" Seamus read hollowly, not even lifting his eyes. Indeed, in silver cursive was Harry's alias pressed into the sleek black surface of his trunk.
Dean sat up straighter and Ron Weasley blanched, looking like he was choking on a chocolate frog that had tried to jump while still inside his oral cavity.
"Lestrange?" the redhead declared loudly, forming the word in the same way that Malfoy had said 'Squib' a little over a month previously.
"Sorry," Seamus suddenly spat in a fashion that said he was quite the opposite, shoving the trunk he had been moving for him so hard that it toppled over and landed heavily on Harry's toes. "We don't want Slytherins in our compartment."
Harry opened his mouth to tell them that he couldn't be a Slytherin, because he hadn't been Sorted yet, but before he could, the compartment door was slammed in his face violently.
It took a moment for Harry to recover from the blatant show of rejection, but it was easy enough to pick up his trunk, pulling it off his aching toes and continuing down the line of compartments. Many of the doors were closed by now, and the train racing at a constant speed, one that it would most likely maintain until they reached Hogsmeade station.
He would simply have to find another compartment. Perhaps one to himself, if he had to, but judging by the silhouettes he could make out through the windows of the rooms, the train had just as many seats as it needed and no more. He would be forced to interact with someone or another, and would have to risk yet another person being turned off by his name.
Two younger boys with cameras around their neck tried to beckon him in kindly, but Harry turned them down due to the loud underclassmen that filled the booth, laughing sharply and taking pictures of each other eagerly. Another group of girls, the prefect's compartment, both groups looking at him with equal expressions of 'Not bloody likely'.
It was three cars down that Harry came across another open door, but he only caught it open by a small margin. One of the girls that inhabited it was just about to close the door when she spotted him. She was also already dressed in her robes, and she gave him a small nod.
A Mudblood, then.
No, Harry practically shouted at himself inside his mind. He had been around the word too much, but he was among real people now, people with feelings. People that, like him, were offended by the slur. He could not be immune to it, not here. Muggleborn. Or possibly a Halfblood.
"Are you looking for a seat?" she asked him kindly, though her posture and her hand on her hip told him that she was guarded and not someone to be messed with, "We have some room in here, if you'd like."
Harry didn't answer immediately, instead waiting until he was parallel with the door and standing directly in front of the girl. She had a lot of hair, light brown and frizzy from the humidity outside. Or perhaps it was always liked that. She was actually rather pretty, though she did nothing to emphasize her looks, and the thick book saving her seat just behind her said that she was most likely the academic sort.
He looked over her shoulder and saw, to his chagrin, yet another Weasley. A girl this time, though, small of stature and sitting cross legged next to yet another girl, with a blue striped tie and overly long blonde hair that was due for a trim and a wash. Only the redheaded girl appeared to be overly concerned with her grooming. Harry thought that maybe that meant there was a better chance of them looking passed appearances—his name—and finally met the large, intelligent brown eyes of the girl who had offered him a place.
"Thank you," Harry finally responded, deciding to take a chance with this compartment, and allowing the start of a courteous, pleasant smile to grace his face.
The girl stepped aside to allow him to pass, introducing herself as she did so, "I'm Hermione Granger, by the way. What is your—?"
But Harry had not stepped forward and his lips had never lifted into more than the twitch at a corner. Instead he stared at the boy that Hermione had revealed by stepping aside, and the raven-haired boy couldn't help the lump that formed in his throat. Damn it. He'd been so…close, but there, sitting across from the two girls, was a boy that Harry knew to be Neville Longbottom.
The son of two Aurors that were tortured to insanity by Harry's aunt. Adoptive aunt, and even then, only by marriage, but that…none of that would matter, he knew.
He didn't want to attempt it.
Neville was a timid boy, Harry could tell by the fidgeting and squirming, and while Harry could handle pure ignorance and boorishness, he did not know how he would take it if the boy was…frightened of him. He was quite sure that no amount of persuasion could ever make the other boy forgive the fact that he even shared a last name with that horrible witch, the woman that had taken his parents from him and only recently been broken out of Azkaban —
Harry just …couldn't. He didn't even want to try.
"I…meant," Harry amended as politely and coolly as he possibly could, "Thank you, but no, thank you. I have a seat further down the train."
With that, he was walking even more quickly down the hall and toward the next car. He could almost hear the confusion that he had caused the three girls and Neville. His father had actually spoken proudly of his brother's wife's escapades, telling Harry the story with glee, as though the Longbottoms had deserved it simply for being on the opposite side. The…wrong side.
Just thinking about it made Harry ill.
He couldn't face that boy.
It was then, as Harry disappeared into the next set of booths, that he realized his situation. Being who he was, who the world thought he was, meant that the sort of people he wanted to befriend would hate him. The good people, the Muggleborns and the Muggle-Lovers, would not be interested in getting along with someone whose family was known to be Death Eaters and Voldemort sympathizers. Until months ago his aunt and uncle had been in Azkaban, saturated in the misery of having Dementors nearby constantly. Although Harry was not what they assumed he was, he could not openly flaunt himself as a Muggle Lover either, lest word get back to his father—or worse, the Dark Lord.
And those that would befriend him were the very same people that his father idolized. The bigoted Slytherins, sons and daughters of Death Eaters and other snooty purebloods that would now most likely attempt to gain his favor even after blatantly attacking him at the summer's ball.
But Harry had seen them for what they really were, hadn't he?
So for now he settled himself in a small space that was meant for, he guessed, stowing away the trolley that the attendant was currently circulating the train with. He wasn't hungry, and was in fact feeling sick to his stomach as he leaned against the wall, holding his trunk close to his waist and closing his eyes. The hum of students chatting happily about their summers was pleasant, but also depressing, because he was not part of it.
Harry didn't know how to be part of it.
He was reminded of the children at the orphanage, of Tony and Beth, his only real Muggle friends. He wondered where they were, hoped against all hopes that they would be on the train somewhere, that, miraculously, they would have had a teacher show up to their foster families and introduce them to what was now Harry's world, so that they could escape to Hogwarts too. They would know that Harry was…well, Harry. They would know him. He wouldn't be so alone, then.
He knew that such a thing would not happen.
A pretty Asian Ravenclaw girl in a group of girls looked at him as she passed him by, giving him a sheepish expression and gesturing to the packed compartment. Harry didn't pay her any mind.
At least, Harry consoled himself, he was out of the Cabin. This train was his literal ticket out of Rabastan's grimy hold, and though he could never tell anyone how happy that made him, he let that euphoria swell in his chest and fill the void where the company of other wizards and witches his age should have been.
He was going to Hogwarts. That was all that mattered. He had a task to complete, yes, but he would be learning, he would be surrounded by other children his age, and…Maybe he could find someone, anyone, who would accept him as both who he was and who he was supposed to be—
"Oh, my! What are you doing out here, dear?"
The voice broke through Harry's reverie rather sharply, and he opened his eyes to see a plump old woman standing there and looking at him reprovingly. The trolley woman was done selling her sweets to the children of Hogwarts and Harry was now in her way.
"You need to take a seat, dearie. We've got six more hours of our journey and it just isn't safe," she told him. Harry did his best not to sigh. Sighing was inappropriate at any juncture, never meant for any sort of polite company, just like 'er's' and 'um's'.
"Right. I'll get on that. My apologies."
Harry was quickly off in the other direction as the trolley woman's face shifted into concern. He dragged his trunk behind him for a while before casting a spell on it to make it lighter for a bit, because it seemed to have been growing heavier with every train car he passed through.
He didn't know where to go.
Everywhere was full, and he thought about just…sitting in the bathroom, but he knew his trunk would not fit inside it. Besides, how pathetic would something like that be, if he was discovered?
The train rumbled beneath his dress shoes, bumping so violently at some points that he nearly toppled over. He held with one hand to the side of the wall, letting his fingertips brush over the smooth barricades and doors just in case he had to grip tightly to keep himself upright.
Then, as he passed one compartment in particular, his mind acknowledged a voice from within it.
A groan of exasperation filled his chest.
He didn't know why he honed in on that particular voice. It wasn't as thought he was delighted to hear it. Just the opposite, in fact, but all the same he recognized it, pausing outside the door to listen to the sentence it was in the middle of completing.
"—and then I told Flint that if he wanted to argue about who was a better Seeker, we might as well take a match outside. Course, the poor bloke is so messed up he could barely see straight, let alone well enough to find the Snitch."
Draco Malfoy. The snobby, mean-spirited boy that had been all too eager to throw him under the bus if it meant making himself look good in front of his friends. Here he was, bragging all over again.
Harry did not want to sit with him, but he honestly saw no other option before him.
And so, taking a deep breath that puffed up his chest for a moment, Harry released it slowly and narrowed his eyes at the door as he let out his breath slowly and decided on how he was going to approach the Death Eater's children within. No doubt Draco had been reprimanded by his father for assuming Harry was a Squib and now knew that the raven-haired boy was, indeed, a wizard. Draco had probably henceforth told his friends that they had been duped. Lucius might have also been informed that Harry would be attending Hogwarts, might have been told about Harry's task, though he doubted it had been passed onto Draco, at least not completely.
Harry was going to do it.
Without knocking or giving any indication that he was coming in, he slid the door open.
Pansy Parkinson and Blaise Zabini were both in the compartment with the blond, the female sitting by Draco's side while Zabini's long, lanky form was stretched out across the seat adjacent. He did, however, sit up in surprise, leaving the window seat open, as Pansy gasped and Draco's eyebrows shot upward.
Harry did not speak or ask to sit down, instead striding inside and sitting down next to the window with as much elegance and confidence as he could possibly muster.
Once he was seated, he allowed his wand to slip out of his sleeve where he had tucked it away. He muttered a single charm again in order to lift his trunk onto the rack with the other three above their heads. Harry flicked his wand once more and the door closed, an easy enough gesture to complete without the use of an actual spell, before putting his wand away again and directing his gaze out the window.
It seemed that the three Slytherins did not know how to react to this.
Good, he thought complacently.
"Ah," Pansy started, staring at him with wide eyes, then looked between the two other boys and decided that it was perhaps better not to comment just yet.
The Slytherin girl's dark hair was pulled into pig tails tied with thin green ribbons, presumably to match her robes when she put them on, and she pulled at one of them as though this was a gesture for one of the two boys to say something. Harry was the only one currently in his Hogwarts uniform, and he straightened his tie before he averted his eyes, looking very interested in the blue afternoon sky.
Draco, after a long silence, began to speak.
"Look, Lestrange, I wanted to—"
"No," Harry interrupted, as Draco had interrupted him several times during Voldemort's ball. He knew what was coming and he wanted to trample the urge before he grew so annoyed that he hexed the spoiled brat and ended up kicked out of the only stall he was half welcome in. "You look. I'm sitting with you because I don't know anyone else, not because I want to be your friend."
Draco looked taken aback, as though he could not imagine a person that did not want to be his friend, and Harry continued. "I'm a wizard, you know that now, which is fantastic, and I'm sure your father told you to befriend me because of the—because of his interest in me."
The blond opened his mouth to contradict him, but Harry added before he could continue.
"Which is perfectly fine with me," Harry crossed his arms over his chest and settled down fully into the seat across from Draco. The cushions were comfortable enough, easy to maneuver himself into a position in which he could easily cross one leg over the other without brushing any of the other occupants of the room, though he could not help but wish there was some sort of partition to place between Zabini and himself. "You can write to your dad and say that I've forgiven you, that we're best friends, but don't you forget for one second –any of you—that I've seen your true faces. You can't take that back."
"We thought you were—" Pansy began to tell him.
"Yes, I know what you thought I was," Harry lifted his chin, "That's what my father is. I am not interested in your excuses, or your…attempts at scripted apologies. As I said, I am sitting in this seat because I need it, not because I need you."
Zabini seemed to be both smart and proud enough to not try to defend his previous actions, perhaps because he knew he had been in the wrong, but more than likely his silence came from the fact the Slytherin thought he had not been, and that he would treat any Squib just the same.
Draco cleared his throat, shifting in his seat briefly and peering at the dark-haired boy coolly for a long moment, considering appealing to him once more.
Then, after a period, he seemed to think better of it and he moved his gaze back to Zabini, ignoring Harry's existence as he continued to describe his impromptu match with Flint.
Harry spent the rest of the trip staring in silence out the window, watching as the sun set and the sky gave way to darkness, and then eventually, took note of the decline of the train's speed. The trip had been pleasant enough despite his present company. They spoke of occurrences that had happened last year, a year that had seemed boring in comparison to their second, when Draco had become Slytherin's seeker and they had gotten eerie messages from someone claiming to be the Heir of Slytherin. Apparently, two people had been petrified and a girl whose name was Marietta –or so the three Death Eaters to-be thought, having went back and forth for several moments, wondering if was Maria or Marnie –had actually disappeared toward the end of their second year and still had not been found despite thorough investigation, which had taken place all throughout their third. Draco and his friends had found that exciting, though Harry thought the werewolf they lamented teaching Defense Against the Dark Arts was much more interesting.
After a while, Draco and Blaise had begun talking about the Quidditch World Cup that they had attended during the summer, which Harry secretly enjoyed listening to. Pansy had fallen asleep about halfway through the trip—or at least pretended to in order to leave the boys to their sports talk.
As the final half hour of the trip rolled around, he watched each of the Slytherins leave the compartment to change before returning in their pristine robes they had no doubt bought in Diagon Alley brand new. Some part of the adopted Lestrange wanted to be disgusted with their wealth, but he could not manage it without feeling guilty himself, because his own robes were made from expensive fabric and fitted precisely to his measurements as well. Harry left the compartment last, simply to make sure that he was in the restroom when they pulled into Hogsmead station, sitting on the closed toilet until the rumble of hundreds of students faded away.
Come on, Harry, a little voice in his mind chided him, you went so confidently into a meeting with Lord Voldemort but you can't face a bunch of children and school teachers?
Merlin, he felt like a complete idiot.
Like a bumbling, blushing girl with a crush—and on a school no less. What was wrong with him? Why couldn't he put that pureblood Lestrange mask back into place?
And he did, though it took more effort than he would have otherwise expected.
He supposed the reason was rooted in the fact that he did not want to be Lestrange to these people. He would, given his way, rather be seen as a Mud—Muggleborn nobody named Harry Owen from foster care. That way he could…make his own friends and enemies. His name would not be infamous and he would not have to pretend to be something he was not.
Harry let the footsteps of other students recede before he walked from the bathroom in the same fashion that he had entered Malfoy's ballroom, no matter how inappropriate it was. He didn't have his trunk with him anymore so it was a quick enough walk to a door and onto the platform, where the last of the students were disappearing behind trees.
About to follow them, he was shocked when a booming voice caught him off guard. He spun in the direction it had come from, quite sure that it was he who was being addressed.
"Oi, lad! You that fourth year student, I s'pose?" The voice was gruff and warm, giving Harry the image of wool. He had to tip his head up far to meet the dark eyes, though neither the night sky nor the bushy beard helped Harry take in the finer details of the giant man's features. "Been lookin' for you. Professor Dumbledore told me you'd be comin' 'round."
"That's me, yes," Harry could hear the curt tone to his own voice and winced internally. But, if the giant man noticed it, he did not let on.
"Rubeus Hagrid, Keeper of Keys and Grounds at Hogwarts," he introduced himself proudly, his thick accent and equally thick facial hair muffling his words slightly as he turned to lead Harry towards the lake. "First years are a bit ahead of us, but they should be fine on their own for a while yet. Do hope no 'un falls in this year, though."
Harry noted that everyone else was headed in a different direction, into the trees and what looked like
"It's…nice to meet you, Professor Hagrid," Harry told him as they approached a boat on the edge of the lake, Hagrid climbing into it without preamble.
Harry looked at the small space that was left in the boat in front of Hagrid, and the man looked so sheepish that he did not dare insult him by complaining about the room. He climbed forward, holding his breath as he balanced himself, only releasing it when his rear was safely planted on a plank of wood.
"I'm Rigel," he introduced himself as casually as he could with his knees pressed against the giant's thick calves.
"Are you a Muggle born then?" Hagrid asked curiously as the boat began to sift through the water, cutting lines across the black water's surface in V-shaped ripples.
Harry looked up in surprise, "Why would you say that?"
"Well," Hagrid screwed up his face a bit as he responded, "Comin' to Hogwarts so late, I s'pose. Don't reckon it's something most pureblood or Halfblood families would do. Not that it happens often with Muggle families, either, mind."
With a name like Rigel, most people of a certain intellect would realize that he belonged to a Pureblood family (because they seemed to have a tradition of naming their children after stars, moons and constellations), but Harry found himself rather glad that Hagrid hadn't made the connection.
"I guess I'm sort of an odd case, then, aren't I?"
"I wouldn't worry too much about it," replied the professor, Harry's evasion flying straight over his head as he tried to comfort him. "M'sure you'll make loads o' friends, easy. Hogwarts's got a rumor mill, like most places y'go, but the kids here are right decent most o' the time."
Harry was not appeased, but he appreciated the effort more than the man would ever know.
"Right. Thank you. " was the future student's calm response. "I'm just …glad to be here, really."
"Finest school of the lot," Hagrid stated agreeably, as they came around the bend and through a curtain of moss.
It was when they had exited the curtain of grey and green moss that the castle he would be staying in for the next nine months of his life finally revealed to him. Harry held in his gasp of awe at the sight of it, the moonlight sparkling against the late and reflecting off of the swooping walls of the castle. It was something from a fairytale, and at the sight of it he felt like he had walked right into one. He had only read about it, seen painting with the castle in the distance, but words and paint could never capture the beauty before him.
It was all tall towers and high ceilings, brilliantly shining stones and bristling branches of the trees surrounding the castle on most sides. Even the Quidditch pitch, from what Harry could glimpse of it from behind a huge, gnarled Willow tree, was spacious and magnificent. He could see a small pier that led to a grand door, one that was currently standing open as a woman with a slightly tilted witch's hat gestured a flock of small children through.
Hagrid was smiling contentedly, as though he had taken this job just to see the look on the children's faces when they saw Hogwarts castle in all of its majesty for the first time.
As they parked the boat at the wooden pier, the giant allowed Harry to climb out of the boat first before he did so himself—Harry saw that this order was intentional, as when the humongous figure tried stepping out, the boat rocked and nearly twisted over upside down.
The witch frowned at Hagrid sternly, gaze flickering to Harry for only a moment, before speaking to the man, "What took you so long? The other students are growing restless waiting on the first years."
"M'sorry, Professor McGonagall. Had'ta search for this 'un." Hagrid answered easily , patting Harry on the back almost playfully, which only earned him another unamused expression from McGonagall as the boy fought to stay upright under the weight of the hand. The male professor's friendliness was disconcerting, to say the least. Harry could not bring himself to trust that guileless look in Hagrid's dark eyes.
"Yes, well," McGonagall looked annoyed, but fondly so. Her indifferent tone was much more tolerable. "I suppose there's nothing to be done about it now. I'll lead him from here. You go on and take your seat, Hagrid."
"Mr. Lestrange," McGonagall prompted briskly as she abruptly began walking inside the Entrance Hall, expecting that Harry would follow her.
Harry barely had time to register Hagrid's befuddled 'Huh?' at the revelation of his last name before he was through the doors and standing at the back of the line, the tallest of all the new students, which was only suitable, considering he was the only fourteen-year-old among them.
A few first years shuffled nervously and scooted closer to one another. A couple of them seemed to be whispering amongst themselves about the nature of the Sorting test.
This was one thing that was also a mystery to Harry.
It was part of some unwritten code that the Sorting was supposed to be a surprise, and only the students that had already been through it were supposed to know what it entailed. Even the books Harry had read that were all about Hogwarts had not allowed this little detail to slip.
His stomach did flip flops within his belly and his heart seemed to be knocking at his throat.
It was not the test he was worried about. If anything, he was a million times more prepared for whatever practical or written exam they might be given than these first years. It was which House he would be placed in, and if he could possibly direct his fate in any way, that was making his pulse hammer in his ears.
Not knowing was killing him.
McGonagall recited a speech he was sure she gave to every group of new students, looking between them all and listing the four Houses that it was possible to Sorted into before opening the doors and leading them through.
The dining area was huge and spacious, nothing intensely remarkable about the floor, the tall windows that he didn't doubt would open in the mornings to let the owls in to deliver mail, nor the floating candles that wafted about the room as the only source of light. The enchantment for that was simple enough. However, just above those candles was the legendary ceiling that he had read about in one of the many books he had devoured in order to prepare himself for this day. The ceiling was a work of art more than magic, Harry thought as he glanced up at it, doing his best not to look at the boys and girls that were probably curious about the older boy among the first years. He was sure, by the muttering at the Gryffindor table, that the three boys he had encountered were telling everyone within earshot just who he was.
Drawing his eyes away from the starlit ceiling, he found his eyes drawn to the Head Table where Hagrid's large and congenial face was prominent. Severus Snape was near him, then two empty chairs and a high backed chair where the Headmaster himself sat. Harry had read about him, though there seemed to be only his achievements after the fall of Grindelwald that were spoken about explicitly. The rest of the man's long life was a mystery to many people, because there were not many still around to speak of it.
After Harry was done surveying the professors, his eyes drew to a large, scruffy looking old hat set on a four-legged stool center stage.
His brow furrowed.
Then creased further still when a great rip in its fabric opened, and it began to sing.
The silly rhyming tune told Harry nothing that he did not already know about the Houses and what they stood for, or the Founders and what their famed personality traits were. However, a stanza toward the end of its melody made him feel like his stomach had been gathered into a fist by a large, cold hand.
"So let me know what's in your hearts,
Not to mention, minds,
Don't worry about where you fit,
I have seen all kinds!"
This hat was going to look into his mind? It would see Voldemort, it would see his foster families, it would see…Rabastan, and all the unsettling details that came with him? Harry only hoped to Merlin and whoever was listening that Occlumency worked against it.
Today, Harry decided, while it was certainly the beginning of the rest of his life, had not gone ideally.
The hat finished with something amusing, from what Harry could tell, by the murmur of giggles that erupted briefly after it had spoken, but he hadn't been listening. He had been too busy inwardly panicking while making sure his facial features stayed as imperturbable as possible. There were two ways that this could possibly go wrong, and one was that he would be humiliated, that his world would crumble as that hat learned all of his secrets, and…even worse, perhaps, Harry would not fit anywhere.
Perhaps he was too stupid, too cowardly, not ambitious or hard working enough. Perhaps the hat would laugh at him for even trying and he would be sent back to the train, back to the Cabin, where he would live the rest of his days out with only his father –
A first year was called up.
Then another. "Gryffindor!"
And another, and another, then yet another. A string of names and shouts from the hat only made his stomach more twisted, colder than ever. The apprehension on the eleven-year-olds was apparent in the way they scrambled to their seats, less stressed than they had approached the stool, but still worried perhaps that the hat might change its mind.
"Slytherin!" "Hufflepuff!" "Hufflepuff!" "Ravenclaw!"
Only half a dozen more before him now, Harry counted from the corner of his eye.
Merlin, he might as well just turn back and save himself the mortification, shouldn't he? At least then it would be his choice. He would be an outcast by choice, not because he had been thrown out onto his ass.
"Gryffindor!" "Hufflepuff!" "Gryffindor!"
How many students had it been, now? There must have been forty or more first years in the group, but it had dwindled down to nothing. Just when Harry had gotten out of his head enough to look again at who was ahead of him, he heard—
It was stated by the stern witch clearly and apathetically, though Harry was quite sure she was old enough to know her fair share about his adoptive family's history. There were a couple of gasps, more than a few mumbles, but even worse than that were the jaded looks that were cast in his direction that made his heart seem to fall through the floor and drag behind him like dead weight. They knew just where Harry was going, what little slot he belonged in. His name rang through the Great Hall as did the heels of his dress shoes on the floor after it.
He took one last look at the warm, glorious room around him – just in case he didn't have time to take a mental photograph before he was dragged out by his arms—and placed the hat on his head so that it fell over his eyes.
His Occlumency walls were in place. He was confident in them, he had to be: they had not failed him yet, he worked daily to keep himself at the top of his game. His mind was not the strongest, and in the last two years for reasons unknown to him, it had become increasingly harder to keep his mental walls up. He had managed it though, with diligent meditation before bed and just after he woke up in the morning. He couldn't just allow anyone with the power of Legilimency into his mind—
The deep voice in his mind startled him, "…Those tricks don't work on me, boy. I can see all of your secrets. It's all here…in your head, letting me sort it out, letting me in. I know all that you can remember."
The tension that pulled tightly in Harry's body was astounding. He could barely breathe.
"I do not think I have ever seen anything more heartbreaking inside a child's mind," commented the voice lowly, "Never fear, though, I am not here to shed light on the dark corners of your life, Harry."
And God, when was the last time he had been called by his name?
Thank you, Harry thought, unsure of how to respond to an entity that just…knew. Knew it all. Not even Rabastan knew the details of Harry's life before him, had wanted to pretend it hadn't happened at all, like Harry had been born on his doorstep.
"You know where you belong, I'm sure?"The hat started to do its job, but with a weariness to its tone that said it was not enjoying having Harry's life presented to it. "You have a good mind, but given the choice you'd be playing Quidditch instead of opening a book. Hard working, yes, but it doesn't define you. Brave, surely, after all that you have been though, but…there's a thirst. A thirst to prove yourself, to be the person you want to be—I think it's obvious—"
The thought occurred to Harry vibrantly, loudly, before he could stop himself from thinking it.
"Not Sytherin?" The voice seemed surprised for a split second before commenting, "No, no, I suppose not…Hm, if you're quite sure, Harry?"
"…I wish you luck and happiness. If not Slytherin, it better be-
The final word echoed through the room like shattered glass.
After he placed the Sorting Hat back onto the stool gently, Harry walked to the table with his chin held level to the ground and his gait as confident as he could possibly make it, despite the feeling that he had swallowed an active Bludger. It was apparent through most of trek to the Gryffindor side of the room that the teachers were the only ones considerate enough to clap for him.
After a moment, however, a tinkering of disinclined applause came from the table he was approaching -but only because McGonagall had stood up and given a pointed, withering glare to the students of her House.
I'm pretty happy with this chapter! Mostly thanks to my beautiful betas, Neko-chan -Silver Tongue and Toruviel, who not only did a great job on the chapter, but also kicked my lazy ass into gear when I didn't write them for a week or two.
I'd also like to thank my lovely reviewers. I responded to all of you, save the anonymous ones, and I hope you guys enjoy the chapter. Thank you to the readers who haven't reviewed, as well, mostly in the hopes that you will do so because of my generous gratitude. ;)
Sorry the character introductions were so brief, but I gave you small glimpses of quite a few canon characters, but they had to be a bit fleeting. A whole lot is going to happen in the next chapter, including a close up on certain potions master, a certain pair of twins, and a surprise guest! Dun dun dun!
I want feedback like a want Mimbulus Mimbletonia juice: popping all over the place and covering Harry from head to toe.
Get it? I'm so silly.