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The Hat's Decision

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Chapter 1

Year 1


“Not Slytherin. Anywhere but Slytherin.”


“I’m afraid, Mr. Potter, that I cannot allow that to happen. Things are not always as they appear, Harry Potter. There is nowhere else you will thrive, except in… SLYTHERIN.”


On the stool Harry sat frozen stiff. After a few moments and a discreet cough from Professor McGonagall, Harry stood and removed the Sorting Hat. He paused before he let his feet take him to the house of green and silver amongst the whispers that broke out around him. Malfoy smirked at him and the other Slytherins stared. Harry sat at the near end of the table where there was space. He glanced up at the head table.


Hagrid was smiling at him encouragingly and Harry could barely bring himself to offer a pained half-smile in return. A black-haired man sitting at the end of the table glared at him in shock. Professor Quirrell sat next to him, but his back was towards Harry and Harry could feel a dull throbbing near his scar. The Headmaster was looking at him almost with disappointment on his face before he returned his attention to the sorting and proceeded to ignore everything else.


Few of the other teachers seemed to have any sort of a reaction to his placement and Harry turned his attention to the rest of the sorting in a daze. When the food appeared before them Harry was harshly pulled from his daze by Malfoy.


“Hey, Scarhead! Not so proud anymore, are you?” he sneered and most of the other first years laughed while the older Slytherins simply ignored it was happening.


Harry looked up at Malfoy, but said nothing. There wasn’t anything he could say that these purebloods would listen to. It hadn’t been pride. It had been the all too familiar scenario of a bully versus someone who didn’t deserve it.


The feast passed and Harry was led to the dorms with the other first years. His bed was furthest from the door and surrounded by his fellow male first years that grinned at the convenient placement. That first morning wake-up had his heart thudding in his chest and every other muscle tensing in reaction and preparation. A heavy hand had shaken hard at his shoulder while someone had shouted at him to wake his lazy self up. It was far too reminiscent of the way he would be woken by his relatives, particularly his uncle if he had slept too long.


The other first years were snickering in their own beds, having been courteously woken by the seventh year before he’d rudely woken Harry. None of them paid attention to the absolute terror that had shown on his face for a brief moment before he’d recognized his surroundings. He’d said nothing as the older student had sneered at him before leaving the room and waited for most of his year mates to leave the dorm room.


Most of the other Slytherins were snickering or sneering at him when he did finally emerge last from the first year dormitory. The seventh year that had woken him verbally made it plain that they would not allow him to disgrace their house by waking late and that they didn’t appreciate having to enforce that rule when they all had more important things to do. He kept his mouth closed and observed the Slytherins around him, adapting their general masks when out in the school, not wanting anymore hazing than he was already getting. Harry found himself following that practice quite a bit as the days wore on.


He was never late for classes, as the seventh year had threatened the other Slytherins ensured that he was up, sometimes by painful means. They refused to allow him to lose them house points when nearly everyone from every year was more than willing to haze or prank him at least once, often times as much as they could within the dormitories.


Ron Weasley had rejected him quite strongly when he tried to speak with him the morning after the sorting. It was plain on the red-head’s face that he somehow felt betrayed by Harry’s sorting and his parting words went straight to Harry’s heart, bringing tears to his eyes which the others around him had laughed at. He had calmly walked away to a secluded spot, the entire time with one thought replaying through his head. He did not shame his parents with his sorting.


He had quickly found out that his head of house didn’t care and was worse than even Malfoy in his vendetta against him. His first potions class, he was the one asked the questions that he couldn’t answer, ones not even in the first year potions text, which he had at least skimmed over and checked thoroughly afterwards. By the end of that class he was so frustrated that he talked out of tone and received his very first week of detentions, but there were no points removed at all. So began Harry’s first year. The other students sneered at him or ignored him, brushing past him without any eye contact, as though he wasn’t even present.


Even some of the Professors were less than willing to help him with anything and often made him wait an impolite length of time. He observed everything around him, not speaking often to anyone, but few bothered to listen even when he did. He discovered things about others very quickly because of his silence. Professor Snape was hiding behind his sneering bitterness and seemed to often be very worried, but about what, Harry had no clue.


Malfoy was always his snotty, sarcastic, pureblood self until he was alone in the dorm room, or when he thought he was alone. Harry had seen him spend three hours researching a spell that would help one of the second year girls. The Slytherins refused to go to Madam Pomfrey unless the injury happened publicly or they couldn’t solve it themselves.


Malfoy had brought a number of texts from his home that were within the Restricted Section or Hogwarts simply didn’t have for that very purpose, as had most of the others in Slytherin house. He had muttered to himself the entire time as he looked for a spell to help the girl’s failing eyesight. When he found it he gave a whoop of triumph and nearly tripped to the door, but the moment he opened it, he was back to his pureblooded self.


Not just the Slytherins were at the end of his observations. There were several he had found from other houses that he often watched as he found them in expected or unexpected places to have a better understanding of the world around him. If he could pick-up the habits and variances in their daily happenings, he could prepare himself for their reactions to different situations.


They had also given him something to focus on when it became obvious that the other houses general opinion held just as much compassion for him as his own. The jeering and taunting from the other houses, especially Gryffindor, was mixed with requests for his autograph and overly dramatic attempts of swooning in his presence. He tried to ignore it as best he could, but it never stopped completely though it did lessen after a few weeks.


Hermione Granger was another he often watched. She had been under the hat for a long time before she was finally sorted into Gryffindor. She was smart, exceptionally so, but she tried far too hard to win her teachers’ approvals. She seemed to almost compete against the Professors themselves in her classes. After the first week even many of those within her own house had abandoned her, but for two other first years that accompanied her to the library, though Harry had never seen them speak to each other.


Then, there was Neville Longbottom. A Hufflepuff that Harry thought should have been a Gryffindor. He had come across him once when he was defending another of his housemates that seemed to be too young to be a second year. Neville had defended her against Malfoy’s group and the one or two hexes he managed had power behind them, though they were horribly inaccurate in aim as though he was afraid of what he could do.


It was the respect Harry held for the boy’s courage that caused his second confrontation with Malfoy. It also increased his house’s mostly verbal and annoying hazing to physical pranks. The first flight class was feared by Harry when he got there, not knowing what to expect or how the day would go. He waited until after the other students had tried several times to get their brooms to respond before he tried, unsure of the outcome.


Malfoy was the first to get his broom to obey, followed by Theodore Nott and then some Hufflepuffs. Neville’s broom came up next and then Harry finally said ‘Up’. The broom leapt into his hand and he was thankful he had waited. The less attention on him meant the more his housemates would leave him alone.


Then, Neville’s broom had risen and Harry could instantly see that he was terrified of both the broom and the fast assent. With Neville’s injury shortly after and the Professor leaving, Malfoy took up the boy’s Remembral. No one from his own house had the courage to retrieve it from Malfoy and when the blond began flying around, tossing it to try and miss it, Harry’s streak of Gryffindor courage kicked in. He rose after Malfoy and demanded he give the item to one of the others in Neville’s house. Malfoy refused and had thrown it as hard as he could towards the wall of Hogwarts.


Harry acted on instincts when he charged past Malfoy after the near transparent ball. Everyone watching from the grounds, including the unnoticed Professor Snape, believed he was going to run head first into the gray stone wall. But he caught the Remembral just as he pulled his broom sharply up to run parallel with the wall. He landed a few moments later and gave the small object to one of the Hufflepuff girls just before his head of house was breathing down his neck. Snape didn’t know what the object was, only that Malfoy had thrown it, but he refused to allow any first year to do such heart-stopping acts of showing off in the future.


Harry received another detention for a week and the restriction of only being allowed a broom during class under direct supervision. A fact which even the Prefects of other houses seemed inclined to remind him of. It was that act that prompted Harry to begin writing down what was happening in his life, at least the major things. He found himself wanting to know how many detentions his head of house would give him in his first year alone and what he would do to warrant them, whether justified or not.


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Halloween arrived quicker than Harry would have liked. He enjoyed the feast and snuck sweets from the table into his pocket to keep in his bookbag for later in the year and his housemates left him alone for most of the day. Then, Professor Quirrel had entered the Great Hall running, shouting about a Troll in the dungeons. Chaos briefly erupted and was quickly silenced by a single shout from Dumbledore. The students filed out of the Hall and it was then that his quiet night changed.


He could overhear one of the first year Gryffindor girls talking about how Hermione Granger was terribly upset about something that day and had shut herself up in one of the girls’ toilets. Harry didn’t know what compelled him to, but he glanced around at the rest of the Gryffindors and didn’t see the bushy head of hair anywhere. As the rest of the Slytherins had ignored him and moved on, he was able to sneak away into the shadows and sprinted for the toilet the girls had mentioned.


It wasn’t difficult to get there and he didn’t think twice when he opened the door a touch and slipped inside. Granger was just exiting one of the stalls, wiping her cheeks dry of the tears she’d shed, her eyes red and puffy.


“Granger, you have to get to your common room,” Harry hissed quickly from just inside the now closed door.


Granger gave a start and a slight shriek, “What are you doing in here. I’ll tell the Professors, you pervert.”


“No, listen,” Harry said urgently, not knowing what was happening outside the room. “Quirrel ran into the Great Hall during the feast. He said there was a Troll in the school and all the students were to get to their common rooms immediately. You have to get out of here. We both need to go before something happens.”


Harry didn’t wait to see if she followed him or not, but slipped out of the door again and took off towards the Slytherin common room, staying to the shadows. Behind him he could hear the door opening slightly and presumed that Granger had taken his advice to at least get out of the loo. He was at the end of the hall when he heard a noise behind him and he turned, flattening his back against the wall.


At the other end of the hall, close to the girls’ toilet he had just come from, he could see a huge shadow moving past flickering torchlight and heading around the corner. He also caught a glimpse of a robe disappearing down a hallway midway between himself and the now revealed Troll and was glad that the girl had gotten away when she had.


Not bothering to stick around, Harry continued on to his dorm, moving as quietly as he knew how and staying as much in the shadows as possible. Then he reached the common room and slipped inside, seeing a number of eyes upon him from the older years that had been waiting for news. One of them growled and grabbed Harry’s robe at the shoulder, nearly dragging him towards the first year boys’ dorm room.


Harry was shoved inside the room once the other Slytherin opened the door and he nearly fell against Theodore Nott’s bedpost as he tripped from the force. The other first years said nothing, but several of them, including Malfoy, had smirks on their faces and he knew that no matter what, he would face punishment in the morning from Snape and he would not be able to defend himself. Especially not if he told them it was to help a Gryffindor.


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The punishment wasn’t too terrible. He got to spend two evenings with Hagrid out in the Forbidden Forest and while he could have cheerfully been doing anything else, at least he wasn’t under the watchful eyes of a teacher that hated him. The first night was rather quiet and they only stayed out there for a few hours after dark.


The highlight of the night was that Harry got to see another species of sentient being that he had only heard about in stories. They were almost half an hour into the forest when they came upon a small clearing that held two centaurs. One of them, the only one that spoke, had a chestnut body with a deep red tail that matched the curly red upon his head and beard.


Hagrid had a short conversation with the centaur and Ronan made several remarks about secrets in the forest, planets in the sky, and innocents being victims, something that Harry thought he might understand even though Hagrid didn’t seem to. The other was silent, merely nodding in greeting to Hagrid and Harry, but his face was pinched tight as he looked at the first year student.


His hair was black and half-way down his back, left loose and rather wild though his jaw only had a thin layer of the same. His horse body was a gleaming black as was the tail and the entire combination seemed to give him an air of danger.


They stopped before they’d gone too much farther after the confusing conversation was finished and no more signs of the Unicorn they were looking for could be found anywhere. Hagrid told him they’d go about the same task the next night if he couldn’t find it in the daylight and that’s exactly what they did.


This time Harry went off on his own with Fang, Hagrid’s huge dog, after promising to never go deeper than what allowed him to still see the castle through the trees. He had a lantern with him and kept his wand out in front of him. Due to his housemates he’d picked up a few of the basic defensive spells from out of the library and was prepared if he needed them.


Harry didn’t watch for the castle very closely and soon found himself out of visual sight of the large stone building. But he had found a trail of the thick silvery liquid that Hagrid had shown him the night before of Unicorn blood. A short time after loosing sight of the school, Harry could see something gleaming white between the trees in the three-quarter moon’s light.


He braced himself for what he might find, his hand clenched upon his wand tightly. It was the Unicorn. A deep gash was across it’s side and Harry could see that much of the blood that had spilled around it was dried and the animal seemed stiff, lifeless. He bowed his head over the waste and quietly walked up towards the beast’s head. He knelt down, lightly stroking the soft hide just below the wickedly sharp horn.


“What has happened here?” a voice said suddenly from the side and Harry fell backward in fright, tripping to the ground and scrambling away.


“Wait. You are Harry Potter. I am called Firenze.”


The voice belonged to another centaur, younger than the two from the previous night with pale blond hair that matched the light palomino body of the horse. It slowly came towards him, his eyes resting on the Unicorn rather than on Harry. Then Firenze faced the Slytherin, his eyes traveling upon the boy, taking in the house crest, the scar on his forehead, every detail he could.


“I-I didn’t hurt it. I found it here, like this.”


The centaur looked oddly at the boy for a moment, “I know that you did not. No child so young would have the power to defeat a Unicorn, even a newborn, and no child would be so desperate.”


“Desperate?” Harry questioned quietly, confused by what Firenze meant.


“I doubt you yet know about Unicorn’s blood. Walk with me and I will tell you what I know,” he replied and the two began to walk back towards the way Harry had come from, the centaur moving slowly so the boy could keep up easily.


“Unicorn blood can only be gotten in two ways, it can be freely given, or it can be taken. To take the blood of a Unicorn one must kill it, which is what happened to that poor beast you came across. To destroy a Unicorn, to rob it of it’s life is a terrible crime and to drink blood forcefully taken is even worse. It will destroy a part of a person that they will never be able to reclaim, but it will keep someone alive even if they are an inch from death. It is not widely used in potions as few ever have the chance to meet a Unicorn, beyond getting one to willingly give up even a drop of it’s blood.


“What killed that Unicorn took it’s blood, drank it and took more for another time. Their life will be forever cursed by the very foundation of magic until they finally die. You must be careful with your time at Hogwarts, Harry Potter, do not let—“


“Firenze!” a hard, angry voice shouted from behind them and Harry spun about to see Bane there, his tail swishing angrily from side to side and his face glowering. “We are not to interfere with the humans and their fates. Have you forgotten? What have you been telling him?!”


“Only what he needs to know, Bane.”


“You cannot. It is not your place to tell!”


“Have you looked at him Bane?!” Firenze shouted back. “Have you looked at him with the eyes magic and the heavens have given you?”


The question seemed to stop the dark centaur in his tracks and for long moments he studied the boy in front of him with much the same look as Firenze had done not much earlier. After a time, he seemed to blink and gave a short bow to Harry.


“I see now. But saying more may very well upset the balance. You cannot share more with him, Firenze,” Bane’s voice had lost the hard edge it had held and now seemed quieter with almost a reverent sorrow to it.


“Very well. Harry Potter, this is where I leave you. The lights from the school shall lead you out now. Take care and farewell.”


Then, the two centaurs galloped back into the heart of the forest and Harry turned to see that he could indeed spot the lights from the many windows twinkling in the night like a beacon. He walked straight ahead to those lights and soon was out of the forest and seeing Hagrid moving towards him with relief on his face.


“There you are. I thought you might have gotten lost in there. Did you find anything?”


“Yes. I found the Unicorn. It was already dead. It’s directly into the forest behind me about 30 minutes. Hagrid,” Harry continued after a pause and lifted his eyes to the large man next to him, eyes that held a light sheen of moisture, “Why would anyone kill something so beautiful… and innocent?”


“I don’t know, Harry. I don’t know.” Watching the expression on the boy’s face, Hagrid wondered if perhaps Harry was speaking of more than just the unicorn, but held his thoughts to himself.