James Evans was sitting opposite Albus Dumbledore in the Headmaster's office at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. He was a young man, only twenty-four, and a new graduate of Griffin University, Europe's wizarding university. His face showed nothing of his feelings while Albus read through the letter he had brought with him, but inwardly he was quaking. His mentor and primary teacher had been Aberforth Dumbledore, brother to the Headmaster, and he had no idea what had been written.
"You majored in Defense Against the Dark Arts?" Albus said at last.
"Yet you didn't choose to become an Auror. Why?"
"I didn't think I wanted to take orders from incompetents," James said, smiling sheepishly. "I don't really trust politicians." Albus smiled, his eyes twinkling merrily at the sally.
"I can tell my brother taught you, you have his strange sense of humour. Do you believe that you have the kind of experience necessary for this job?"
"I did a fair amount of coaching at Uni of the younger students and I've covered a number of classes in other schools. No one's complained yet."
"You know about the so-called curse on the position? I'm afraid it has defeated everyone for these many years."
"Of course, sir, it's common knowledge and Aberforth briefed me thoroughly. I'm happy to risk it; someone has to. From what I've heard, you haven't had any outstanding candidates anyway, bar a few notable exceptions, only inept idiots who let themselves be convinced of failure from the start."
"A most sensible view, would you like a sherbet lemon?"
"Um . . . what?"
"A Muggle sweet; I'm addicted, I'm afraid."
"No, thank you, then. It's a bit close to lunch for me."
"Of course, of course."
"Ah yes, the job. I'm sorry, I must have been distracted, age is advancing on me, you know. Welcome to the staff; you're hired. Did Aberforth happen to confide in you what he wrote in his letter?"
"Mm, very well, how like him," Albus said with a smile. Indeed Aberforth Dumbledore was quite the character: an agent for the Order of the Phoenix and a dedicated academic, he also owned the Hog's Head in Hogsmeade, one of their major intelligence gathering locations. "You were in Merlin House, so he tells me, and an exceptional student at that."
"I did my best."
"Yes, well, Professor Snape has requested an assistant in his work as Head of Slytherin House, would you be agreeable to the post? With two of you sharing the work, it should not be too arduous."
"He can brief you on your responsibilities himself later. You can take the suite next to his in the dungeons, one corridor along from the Slytherin common room, behind the portrait of Salazar Slytherin. That will mean you're on hand if you're needed, not that it's likely you will be. Slytherins tend to be very self-sufficient. Hufflepuffs, however . . . I can summon a house-elf to show you the way."
"That won't be necessary, thank you, sir," James said, then added quickly, "I was given a map."
"Fascinating, there are very few in existence. May I see?"
James reluctantly passed over a neatly folded piece of parchment, its true identity carefully concealed by a charm. It was a very handy charm that a friend from Uni had taught him that caused the Marauder's Map to highlight certain individuals. He was sure that the Marauders themselves would have used it to locate figures of authority; he believed he had come up with a more useful adaptation given his circumstances.
"Amazing, I've only ever seen one map remotely like it and that one was lost eight years ago when Harry Potter died. Tell me, why is Professor Snape highlighted?"
"Uh . . . He's a Slytherin teacher," James said quickly.
"Yes, but so am I."
"Really, sir? Everyone says you were in Gryffindor. I'm sorry, I'll correct it when I can," James said, knowing that, actually, the man had been in Ravenclaw in his long-distant schooldays. It was amazing the things he'd learned when he was still following Hermione around the library.
"Sometimes you'll find it's wisest not to contradict rumour if it is beneficial to yourself. Off you go now."
James walked out, closed the door and ducked into the nearest student's bathroom. He pulled out a small mirror from his pocket and Muggle make-up. Carefully, he examined his face: long, red-streaked raven hair, silver eyes and pale skin and, appearing as a shadow as he carefully rubbed his forehead, a lightning shaped scar, a mark borne only by a boy presumed dead for eight years. Harry James Potter deftly reapplied the concealing make-up with long practiced ease and continued on towards his new quarters, revelling in the homey feeling that came with returning to Hogwarts at last. Since the defeat of Voldemort eight years ago, he had been able to live without the associations of the name for the first time in his life and while he had had to sever himself from his former life, he had found that he was very content with his lot in life.
It was strange that simple Muggle make-up worked so well at hiding the scar. As he'd discovered, no magical potion, charm, spell, glamour or even self-transfiguration was able to eradicate even the smallest part of it. It was so simple that he was sure no one, not even Hermione Granger, would have thought of it. Indeed, only desperation had led him to attempt it.
Halfway to his quarters, as he turned the corner in to a dungeon corridor, he bumped into a black-robed man, Professor Snape: former bane of James' existence, spy, warrior and, according to the map, the only other gay man at Hogwarts. Just his luck.
"Who are you?" he demanded sharply. He looked much healthier than James remembered. His hair was silky, neat and recently washed, his skin was clean and slightly tanned and his face no longer showed the strain of living a double existence, where a single error could cause countless deaths.
"James Evans," he replied smoothly. "I'm the new Defense Professor."
"Severus Snape, Potions. I suppose we can only hope you are somewhat better than the incompetents we usually get. Good morning."
James watched as he swept away, smiling slightly at the departing back. No, he hadn't changed one bit. He was the same as ever, reassuringly constant, a sarcastic bastard but one who had always done more than his share for the war effort and who Harry, in later years, had come to respect. He continued on to his rooms without a second glance.
Salazar Slytherin's portrait, a grand affair, eyed him suspiciously.
"I'm the new Defence Professor, James Evans," he said cheerfully, introducing himself.
"Very well. You will need to set a password."
Is 'Open' acceptable to you? James hissed fluently, in his best Parseltongue. Salazar arched an eyebrow in a way that tugged at James' memory, then nodded curtly. The portrait swung inwards and James set about creating his new home.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
A few days later, he was lounging in the staff room, empty for once, browsing idly through the latest copy of the Daily Prophet, when Professor Snape came bursting in, his black robes billowing out behind him as he spun to face James. James looked up, his face deliberately mild and curious.
"Professor Snape, can I help you?"
Snape, he thought enviously, seemed to have no problem with his surroundings, but then, he'd been living here for so much longer than James that it was understandable he no longer felt uncomfortable in staff areas.
"Evans," Snape said briskly, sneering slightly. "Would you mind explaining to me just how you came to the conclusion that I required an assistant? I might be a few years older than you, but I am by no means in my dotage."
"Actually, sir, I had no intention of applying for the post," James said, striving to keep his tone mild. "My main concern is that of my subject, Defense if you remember, and I only accepted the additional task at the request of the Headmaster. He seemed quite certain that you had requested assistance."
"I merely happened to mention, as I often have in previous years, that there were many calls on my time since my responsibilities include brewing the potions for the hospital wing," Snape said, affronted that his personal capabilities had been insulted. "Students, I have found, attract trouble. As he has never in the past seen fit to provide me with an assistant; I find it odd now that he should. However, since I now find myself saddled with you, I must endeavour to keep you amused. You play Quidditch, I assume?"
"Yes, sir, Seeker mostly, and I make a fair Beater."
"You may take over the running of the Slytherin Quidditch team, then. That will mean advising on team members and assisting with training, if requested. You can also take charge of the first-years. That will require dormitory checks to enforce lights out in the first few weeks and dealing with any bouts of . . . homesickness . . . that might ensue."
"Of course, I'd be happy to. How many students do we normally receive in a year?"
"The average is around five boys and five girls, though of course it varies depending on the aptitudes of the pupils. I am sure you will find that quite enough to manage alone, considering your inexperience. You will find that Slytherin house is the greatest house but also the most difficult. Slytherins tend to be the reclusive children, the abused children, the loners and the mistrustful ones in addition to the ambitious ones that you more commonly hear about. You will find that the Sorting endeavours to put children where they will receive the most appropriate care and at present they find that with me.
They require great understanding, and you should feel free to speak to me about them at any time. Contrary to popular belief, we do have a number of Muggle-born students within our ranks, yet they behave in a manner befitting a traditional pureblood and are accepted as such by those outside of the house. I have never understood why the other houses have no such system in place, something which causes their own muggleborns to stick out from the rest. The other houses commonly despise us through fear and ignorance; therefore, there must be complete trust within the house. Furthermore, all Slytherins are expected to live up to certain standards in manner, dress, academics and attitude; I will brief you more thoroughly on those later. You are also required to conform, and I must allow that your present attire is by no means acceptable."
"Yes, sir, of course; it's the holidays and I haven't any teaching robes yet, just my university ones. I've ordered some, but they haven't arrived."
"And stop calling me 'sir'. You are a Slytherin teacher; have some pride. You are not a student and are technically my equal, so you may address me by my given name."
"Perhaps I wouldn't act like a student if you didn't treat me like one," James snapped, more than a little irritated at this dressing down. "My name's James, you know. You're welcome to use it instead of speaking to me like a disobedient Gryffindor reporting for detention."
Snape looked at him penetratingly for a moment, then nodded curtly and spun around to leave, his robes swirling behind him and blowing over the pages of James' paper. As he left, he seemed to be muttering under his breath about an 'interfering old codger' and 'approaching his dotage'. Since James was fairly sure that he was not the man in question - if Snape thought James was elderly, what did that make him? - he assumed that Dumbledore had once more interfered with his staff's private lives.
As he left, Professor McGonagall came in. She seemed to have taken an instant shine to James as soon as she met him, and admitted to liking Snape, more than most, as well, claiming, much to everyone's disbelief, that he was actually quite sweet under the cold exterior.
"Was that Severus I just saw?"
"What did he want? He normally avoids this place whenever possible."
"He stopped by to let me know that he doesn't need an assistant. I think I've managed to turn the blame away from me, though; he was muttering away about an 'interfering old codger' when he left."
"Poor Albus, he won't know what's hit him. It serves him right; he knows how tetchy Severus can be. I wouldn't take it to heart, James, he doesn't mean half the things he says; he's just a bit upset that Albus doesn't seem to trust him. So, what's he having you do?"
"Quidditch and first-years."
"Oh, a Quidditch player? I was keen in my youth, and I have to say that Gryffindor has rather a stranglehold on the Quidditch Cup at the moment; we've won it every year for the past ten. Severus is just a little put out with me about that. Hopefully, this year we'll be getting Simon Wood in our house, apparently he's very promising and a sweet little boy. He's Oliver Wood's nephew, the Puddlemere Keeper. Now, he was on my team, as well; one of the best I've ever seen. Let's see, that would have been him as Captain and Keeper, the Weasley twins as Beaters, Alicia Spinnet, Angelina Johnson and Katie Bell as Chasers and young Harry Potter as Seeker, our very own child prodigy. I'm babbling. Why don't you tell me about your experience? What position did you play?"
"See if you can guess, you're obviously quite the expert."
"Hmm, Seeker if your build's anything to go by, possibly Chaser."
"Seeker it was, and I've played Beater competitively as well, unlikely though it seems. I was on the Merlin team at university, Beater for the first two years while Malfoy was there, then Seeker. He was two years ahead of me, so I was forced to give another position a go."
"Well, yes, and Uni Quidditch rep."
"Very impressive; I'll have to warn my players to train extra hard this year. I hate to have to tell you, but you've got a lot of work to do with the Slytherin team at the moment; you might even have to start again from scratch. So many of your players finished school that you're rather at a disadvantage."
James smiled; he enjoyed Minerva's company. She, unlike Snape and a few of the other teachers, was quite willing to accept him despite his relative youth. Anyway, she had a tendency to have a loose tongue away from the students, and it was amusing and useful to see how much information he could glean from her.
* * * * * * *
A few weeks later, James took his place somewhat apprehensively at the large table that had materialized overnight in the middle of the staff room for the start-of-term meeting. He smiled politely to Minerva and looked around. Everyone seemed to be there except Severus, but the Gryffindor Head of House had informed James of his odd habit of arriving precisely on time, never early, never late.
Albus stood at his place at the head of the table, smiling benevolently at them all, an expression that sent most of them into fits of apprehension. He only wore that particular expression when what he was about to propose was so outrageous he would have to ram it down their throats.
"Are we all here?" he asked, hoping against the odds that he'd be able to start early and return to refolding his sock collection.
"Severus," Minerva said; it needed no further explanation.
"Ah," Albus said, looking at his new Muggle watch as the Hogwarts bell began to chime the hour. "He'll be here soon, then."
Precisely as the last chime sounded, the door opened. Severus strode in, not a hint of apology in his bearing, nodded curtly to them all and took his seat next to James.
"Let's begin, then," the Headmaster said. "Our new prefects were decided last term, of course - someone should provide James with a list - and they should have been notified by now . . ."
"We know that, Albus, it's all been sorted," Minerva said, sounding exasperated.
"Excellent. For those of you who haven't met him yet, our new Defense Against the Dark Arts professor is James Evans, a graduate of Griffin University, Merlin House. He'll also be attached to Slytherin house. Let's wish him better luck that previous holders of the position."
Albus beamed down the table at him. James flushed as everyone turned to look at him. Well, all except Professor Binns, who had a certain detachment from present events at the best of times, and Severus, who saw no need to examine a man he'd already met and found considerably lacking in many areas.
"So, our first event of the term will be the Harry Potter Day festival."
James blanched at that, though he hid it well. Harry Potter Day? Had he missed it while he was at the University? How was he meant to cope with this? Didn't his friends have any sense?
"That is, naturally, October seventeenth, the day that Mr Potter destroyed Voldemort. We will be hosting the usual three days of festivities. The first day is dedicated to the dead, with a memorial service in the grounds followed by a banquet in the Great Hall. The second day will commemorate those who survived, and many of them will be speaking to us and giving short workshops in their fields for the students and any adults interested in attending. The last day is devoted to Harry Potter. I have persuaded some of his friends to speak of him. That afternoon, there will be the usual Quidditch match between present and past pupils of the school, and we will end with a banquet."
"Albus, you need to select another teacher to manage the past pupils' Quidditch team," Rolanda Hooch reminded him. "We agreed that I'd only do the present team."
"Hm. Minerva, would you like to take it on?"
"Thank you, Albus, but no. I fear my Quidditch days are long past," she said, excusing herself rapidly.
"Do any of the rest of you play?"
"Too small," Flitwick murmured.
"My Inner Eye has foreseen disaster should I take to the skies," Trelawney said in her usual misty, dreamy voice.
"Most undignified," Sinistra said, sniffing.
"Couldn't possibly, Albus, you know what I'm like on a broom," Sprout said, smiling at the memory."
"No," Severus said bluntly.
"Albus, James is an extremely proficient player," Minerva said innocently. He scowled at her, looking, had he known it, remarkably like Severus.
"Marvellous. My dear boy, do you suppose you could take it on? It seems the rest of us have talents, well, that lie elsewhere. It's hardly an onerous task . . . "
"Thank you, thank you. We can talk about more detailed arrangements - rooms, Portkeys and the like - later. The next event will be Halloween, at which we will have our normal feast in the evening. After that, I fear there is nothing else until the start of next term, when we have the Hogmanay Ball at the beginning of January. To adapt for this, we are starting and finishing the winter break a week earlier this year."
"What horrors do you have for us this year?" Severus asked sourly.
"I thought perhaps a little costume ball, compulsory dressing up of course. The children love them and it encourages their imaginations. When I think of how young Mr Whitby came as Voldemort, it must have been five years ago now, and scared half the school into screaming. I haven't laughed so much in years . . . It will be compulsory for staff as well."
"What?" came from a number of people. Albus' face displayed what, on another man, might have been termed a smirk.
"There won't be compulsory attendance, of course," he reassured them. They relaxed. "Except for those people I have chosen as chaperones. I will be attending myself, naturally. Accompanying me will be James Evans, Augusta Vector, Wilhelmina Grubbly-Plank and Severus Snape."
"Not a chance, Albus," Severus said firmly. "I will happily patrol the corridors but there is no way I am attending this . . . this spectacle of yours."
"I'm so sorry, Severus, but I'm afraid that's my final word; the arrangements have already been made. I'm most terribly sorry, I seem to have forgotten to mention the inter-house Quidditch tournament. The first match will be in November, Gryffindor vs. Ravenclaw. January will see Hufflepuff vs Slytherin. Gryffindor vs Slytherin will be in March and Hufflepuff vs Ravenclaw will be in May. The usual rules apply to those. Rolanda is forbidden to give extra coaching to any team, but anyone else who chooses to may, if requested to do so by the team in question. Finally, if anyone happens to be interested in finding out the updated list of all banned items, they should ask Mr Filch. I believe, however, that the entire stock of Weasleys' Wizarding Wheezes is forbidden to the students. Most inventive pranksters Hogwarts has seen since, the Marauders, you know, James. That's all for now; you may leave."
James stood with relief and hastily left, followed closely by Severus.
"I hope you know what you've let yourself in for," the other man warned him. "Organizing the past Quidditch team is one of the worst jobs. You have to select a team, contact them, arrange training sessions and coach them. Minerva volunteered one year, Merlin knows why, and gave up after the first session. She, I might remind you, remembers every one of the potential players personally. You will have to do some research. Good evening to you, Mr Evans. I will see you when the students arrive tomorrow, I imagine."
James groaned as he watched the other man sweep away. He was right, what had he let himself in for?
* * * * * *
James watched as the doors to the Great Hall burst open and the students flooded in to begin their new year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. A young girl took his old seat at the end of the Gryffindor table, a sixth- or seventh-year by the looks of her. She appeared to be deep in conversation with two boys sitting across from her. James spared a thought for when he, Ron and Hermione would sit, talking like that, then dragged himself back to the present. Dwelling on the past would not help him, would not help these children he was meant to teach.
James himself received a number of curious glances, mostly from the younger students. For the older ones, well used to the 'curse' on the position, a new Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher was no big deal - there had been one every year they could remember.
When everyone seemed to be seated, Dumbledore nodded to Minerva. She walked to the main door at the back of the Hall to bring in the new first-years, anxiously waiting to be Sorted. They came in, most staring around at the other students, the ceiling, the ghosts and the paintings on the walls. There seemed to be a lot more of them than he remembered and they all seemed very small, much smaller than he himself had been. James grinned; even the second-years were probably thinking that, those of them that were paying attention at any rate. He levelled a severe glare at a pair of Hufflepuffs who were giggling secretively at the far end of their table. They ignored him, probably never having seen him in the first place. He scowled, irritated. All Severus Snape seemed to have to do was look at the brats and they'd shut up. Then, Severus had a certain reputation that James was yet to gain.
Minerva brought out the stool and placed the Sorting Hat carefully on top. Then, everything prepared, Dumbledore rapped his glass with a spoon and the Hall fell silent at once. The Hat twitched and burst into song. James listened, fondly remembering the past songs he'd heard particularly the very first one when he had been standing there himself, terrified that he'd fail whatever test was about to be given to them. A few of the first-years visibly relaxed as they realised all they'd have to do was to try it on. No doubt, older siblings had told them stories about trolls and the like just as Fred and George had done to Ron.
Professor McGonagall now stepped forward holding a long roll of parchment that hung down in front of her.
"When I call your name, you will put on the Hat and sit on the stool to be Sorted into your houses," she said.
The Sorting began. James watched as, one by one, the children were Sorted into their houses, the tables applauding each time the Hat called out a house. There were a few surnames that he recognised, whether that was coincidence or not, he had no way of knowing. Still, there couldn't be that many Boneses, that many Spinnets.
"Wood, Simon," Minerva read out, nearing the very end of her list. James looked at the boy with interest, knowing that this boy was definitely Oliver Wood's nephew. He was tall and skinny, dark brown hair flopping into sparkling blue eyes. His grin - James thought, inwardly shuddering in apprehension - reminded him of Fred and George Weasley. It took a long time to Sort him and the boy was scowling slightly, as if arguing silently, for or against which house James was unable to tell. At last, it called out:
Minerva gasped loudly. Most of the other staff looked surprised, Dumbledore even raised an eyebrow slightly in question. Severus, however, looked unaccountably smug and raised his goblet slightly to the boy. Simon grinned, saluted him and went to join the other new Slytherins. He was not nearly as upset as James would have expected him to be, considering that Oliver had been a Gryffindor; he actually seemed delighted with the placing.
"Welcome!" Albus said, beaming at them. The first-years in particular were listening with rapt attention, hanging on his every word. "Welcome to another year at Hogwarts! Before we begin our excellent feast, I have just a few start-of-term notices to give to you. First-years should note that the Forest in the grounds, the Forbidden Forest, is completely off limits to all students, as the name suggests. A few of our older students would do well to remember that, as well."
Dumbledore's twinkling eyes flashed in the direction of the Gryffindor table, at whom James couldn't guess.
"I have also been asked by Mr Filch, the caretaker, to remind you that no magic should be used between classes in the corridors. He has also asked me to inform you that a list of all forbidden items can be found posted on the door of his office. I have it on reliable authority that all of the products sold by Weasleys' Wizarding Wheezes are strictly forbidden and possession will be punished severely. As usual, Madam Hooch will be selecting our Quidditch team for The Harry Potter Festival during the next few weeks. I wish all the best of luck to any promising players from each of the four houses. Remember that we have a tradition of victory to uphold: we have never yet lost a match to the veteran team. House Quidditch will begin immediately after The Harry Potter Festival, and I look to our Quidditch Captains to arrange that. Finally, I would like you all to welcome Professor J Evans, who will be taking on the Defence Against the Dark Arts position, hopefully for many years to come. He has also taken up the post of Assistant Head of Slytherin, and his office will be located next door to Professor Snape's, should you need him at any time. And now, before we eat, let us sing the school song!" cried Dumbledore.
Harry made himself smile with false enthusiasm; it looked like most of the other teachers were doing the same.
Dumbledore gave his wand a little flick and a long golden ribbon flew out of it, which rose high above the tables and twisted itself, snake-like, into words.
"Everyone pick their favourite tune," said Dumbledore, "and off we go!"
"Hogwarts, Hogwarts, Hoggy Warty Hogwarts,
Teach us something please,
Whether we be old and bald,
Or young with scabby knees,
Our heads could do with filling
With some interesting stuff,
For now they're bare and full of air,
Dead flies and bits of fluff,
So teach us things worth knowing,
Bring back what we've forgot,
Just do your best, we'll do the rest,
And learn until our brains all rot."
The noise, as always, was awful. Of course, everyone finished the song at different times and James thanked the gods that no one had chosen a funeral march this time. When the last few stopped, everyone cheered. Dumbledore flicked his wand again and the feast appeared. Chatter broke out as the students turned to their food. James tucked in; he couldn't get enough of Hogwarts cooking after living off his own for a few years.
When James was finished eating, Severus told him to go down to the Slytherin common room and wait for the new first-years to arrive. They, of course, would be brought down by a prefect. Relieved at not having to ask where it actually was, thanks to his experience during second-year, James found his way down through the maze of the dungeons. As an experiment, since none of the students were around, he hissed experimentally in Parseltongue at the entrance,
The section of wall swung open immediately. That was interesting to know. Was it just the dungeons that had a Parseltongue override to the password system, or was it the entire school . . .? If only he'd known that when he was a student.
The first-years arrived about ten minutes later; in fact, they were the very last of Slytherin house to arrive, not knowing any of the shortcuts. Traditional dictated that they'd have to discover those for themselves. The entire house was assembled in the common room when Severus came in and stood near the entrance.
"For those of you who are just joining us, welcome to Slytherin house; everyone else, welcome back. As Professor Dumbledore said at the feast, Professor Evans is joining us as Deputy Head of House and he will be working in particular with the Quidditch team and the first-years, although his door, as mine, is always open to you at any time. Many of you will have heard stories about our house: forget them immediately. If other houses wish to labour under misconceptions, it only makes things easier for us.
"This is the Slytherin common room; the dormitories are in the corridors leading off it. First-years share two or three to a room; the girls will find their chambers behind the portrait of Morgana, the boys behind the portrait of Agrippa. Seventh-years should remember that you now have the option of taking a private room, as do the prefects from fifth-year up. Prefects should wear their badges at all times. Although Professor Dumbledore said that house Quidditch would start after The Harry Potter Festival, I would like our team to be training within two weeks. Anyone who wishes to try for a vacant position should speak to Archie Alderton, this year's Quidditch Captain. Professor Evans has volunteered to give any advice necessary and coach the team, so long as it doesn't coincide with his coaching for The Harry Potter Festival veteran team."
"Sorry Professor Snape," a seventh-year boy said, raising his hand, "but could you book the pitch for us every evening between seven and nine? You know the Gryffindors always try to get it first."
"Easily, Archie. That's all I have to say to the older years; you can go. First-years remain behind."
The majority of the students filed slowly out through the various portrait holes in the walls. James found this interesting. The Gryffindors had just been divided into two areas - boys and girls - with rooms for each year within the section. That left ten first-years behind: six boys and four girls. They moved awkwardly forward from their scattered positions around the room.
"Look at each other," Severus said. "This is your family for the next few years. You'll live together, work together, and fight for each other if necessary. We're Slytherins; we have a bad reputation. You can never count on the other houses to stand up for you, Gryffindor in particular. However, we are the best house, the cleverest and the most powerful. Now, how many of you are from non-wizarding families?"
Two boys and a girl raised their hands shyly.
"Contrary to popular belief, Slytherin has as many Muggle-born students as the other houses; we just make sure you settle in well. Mr Wood, if you would help Mr Macdonald around; Mr Rosier, if you'd guide Mr Richards, and Miss Higgs, could you look after Miss Wilkinson? For now, these are your roommates. Should you wish to change in a month or so, come and see me. You will all be taking a basic junior Potions course in the evenings until I'm sure that you have all mastered what those of you from wizarding families should already have been taught. Now, it's late and you should go to bed. The password for the first-years' portraits is 'Parseltongue,' the same as the password to the common room. Good night."
After that, he waited, watching while they successfully opened the passageways to their rooms before leading James back out again.
"Give them their privacy tonight, we won't start enforcing curfew for a while. So, what did you think of them? First impressions?"
James was a bit surprised by the question.
"Uh, Simon Wood is going to be trouble, a prankster if ever I saw one. Rosier, sorry I can't remember his first name, looked as though he still has some of those pureblood-Mudblood attitudes. Is that why you told him to help Richards?"
"Exactly. Anything else you might have noticed?"
"No, I don't think so."
"Very well, much what I'd expect for a new teacher. Arabelle Higgs seemed to share Michael Rosier's views, too, and Alistair Macdonald is a possible victim of homesickness. Muggle-born children tend to have more of a problem with it because of the strangeness of the situation to them. You'd better go and see him later on. That's why I put him with Simon. I didn't get on well with Oliver Wood - he was a Gryffindor, after all - but he's a good man and I'm trusting that his nephew is the same. He'll be perfectly placed to help Alistair through it all."
James nodded, still a bit shocked by the revelations about Slytherin house that he'd received that evening. Did that mean that his old Slytherin year-mates hadn't actually hated Muggle-borns? That some of them had even been 'Mudbloods' themselves? And he'd never known that you were meant to know some very basic things before you went into the school's Potions lessons, though Hermione certainly had. Suddenly, his entire view of Hogwarts had collapsed, and Severus hadn't even been sarcastic this evening. It was really too much to take in at once.
An hour or so later, James went back into the Slytherin common room and down the first-year boys' corridor. The first room belonged to Simon Wood and Alistair Macdonald; this was the one he'd been told to check. He cautiously pushed open the door just enough to peer inside through the crack without disturbing them. As Severus had predicted, Alistair was sitting up in bed, sniffing desperately in an attempt to keep himself from crying. He looked completely lost. Simon, James was pleased to see - although he'd expected no less from Oliver's nephew - was perched on the bed next to him, an arm around his shoulders, trying to calm him down.
James knew that it would be much better to let Alistair cry himself out and get it out of his system, so he pushed open the door a bit more and slipped in. Simon looked up, but James motioned him to stay quiet. The boy slipped off the bed and back into his own to let James take his place. James scooped Alistair up and cradled him in his arms like a much younger child. Alistair broke at that comfort and, clinging around his neck, burst into tears. James murmured meaninglessly into his hair until he'd finished and tried to sit up.
"Feeling better?" he asked quietly. Alistair nodded. "Just remember, we're always here if you need us. If you start feeling homesick again, you can always come down to my rooms and talk for a bit. It can be hard the first time you're away from home. For me, that was really when I was about sixteen. I cried myself to sleep every night for the first week, but don't tell anyone that. Do you think you can sleep now?"
"Goodnight, then. I'll see you tomorrow."
James smiled at them, tucked Alistair back up into bed, knowing full well how much he would hate being treated like a baby at this point, and left. He'd been telling the honest truth. After he'd killed Voldemort and left the wizarding world was the first time he'd left home, really, since he'd always considered Hogwarts his home, never the Dursleys'. But now, it was late, and if he wanted to get a decent amount of sleep, he'd have to go to bed himself.
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