Harry Potter, eleven years old and floundering in oversize hand-me-downs that made his small frame look even smaller, wheeled a trunk considerably larger than himself through King’s Cross Station. Several travelers hurrying by gave him concerned looks, wondering if a boy that young really ought to be alone. They were also concerned by the caged owl atop his trunk. Was that allowed in the station? One fretful businesswoman had to be assured by a stationmaster that a whole lot came through every year; some sort of birder convention, biannual affair.
In between Platform 10 and Platform 9, Harry parked his trunk for a moment. He fished a ticket out of his pocket, and held it up to the owl. In small, somewhat smudge type, were the numbers 9¾ .
“What do you reckon, Hedwig?” Harry asked. “Make a run for it, like Hagrid said?”
The owl hooted, earning more glances their way. Harry hastily shrugged out of his jacket and draped it over Hedwig’s cage. Calmed by the dark, she settled down. After a minute, no one was looking at them anymore.
“Right,” Harry said, checking one more time to make sure Hedwig’s cage was secure on top of the trunk, and ran towards the barrier. There was a brief moment in which it sounded as though the entirety of King’s Cross Station had been submerged in a swimming pool, and then the noise came back tenfold. Harry stumbled. Hedwig hooted in annoyance, and Harry nudged the jacket halfway off her cage so she could give him a baleful glare. “Sorry,” he whispered, wheeling them both farther away from the barrier.
Once out of the line of traffic, near the back of the train, Harry stopped for a moment to take everything in. There were so many people! Parents hugging children his own age, some of whom were looking put-upon and embarrassed, others who hugged back so hard that their parents were trying to dislodge them again. Teenagers had congregated in knots, sitting on their trunks or in one case, balancing on them pretending as though they were about to fall off. Down near the front of the train, a square-shouldered girl was admonishing a grey tabby to leave someone’s owl alone.
Harry swallowed down his growing unease. He hadn’t actually met any other Hogwarts students, yet. No one else had seemed to be doing their school shopping, that wonderful day when Hagrid had taken him to Diagon Alley. Now he was in the middle of a massive crowd of them.
Just then, a tall, red-headed teenager peeled out of a group sporting badges, and made his way to Harry.
“First year?” he asked. Most of the other students and their parents were in Muggles clothes, or what they thought passed as Muggle clothes, but this boy had already changed into the school uniform. He was in crisp black robes, and his tie and the edging of his badge were both striped with red and gold.
“Yeah,” Harry said. He supposed he stood out a bit in his bulky cast-offs from Dudley, and no parents or older siblings or other family nearby.
“Let’s get you onboard,” the teenager said, taking the handle of Harry’s trunk. Harry picked up Hedwig’s cage. “I’m Percy Weasley, Gryffindor prefect.” He jerked his chin down towards the silver badge, both hands busy pulling the trunk up a set of stairs onto the train. “If you have any questions or problems, come find one of us.” With a tremendous heave, he shoved the trunk onto a rack in an empty compartment. Harry set Hedwig down near the window, and turned back to Percy, but the prefect had already left. Harry quickly stuck his head into the corridor, and saw Percy walking away.
“Thank you!” Harry called. Percy gave a friendly wave without looking back, and stepped off the train again.
Rather overwhelmed, Harry slid the door of the compartment shut, then flopped onto the seat next to the window. He blinked down at Hedwig. “It sure is noisy, huh?” he asked her. She hooted softly, and Harry dug an owl treat out of one ginormous pocket of his jeans to give her. Hedwig accepted the treat daintily, and after eating it, settled down on her perch for a nap.
“Good idea,” Harry whispered. He tucked his hand up between his cheek and the window. By the time the train started moving, he was already fast asleep.
“Trevor?” a voice whispered. Harry cracked his eyes open a fraction, and saw a round, worried face reflected in the window. “Trevor?” Harry almost answered, to say that no, there wasn’t any Trevor in here, but the worried face retreated before he could. The door slid back shut. Harry stretched, and settled back against the window.
“Is it him?” a new voice asked, sometime later. Harry had woken at the sound of the door this time, and saw three faces reflected in the glass. Two of them were rather craggy, reminding him of the trolls in Fantastic Beast & Where to Find Them he’d glimpsed before Aunt Petunia had slammed all his books back into his trunk and told him to clean the kitchen. The third was smooth and pointy, like a ferret that had gone through the wash.
“Hasn’t been anyone else,” the owner of the ferret face said, and one of his craggy friends frowned.
“He might not be coming,” he said.
“Well we’re not waking him up if it is him, that’d be a terrible first impression. Come on.” The door slid shut once more. Harry thought about trying to do some reading before they arrived. Aunt Petunia had seemed to think August was her last chance to make Harry normal before he went off to Hogwarts, and kept him doing chores from dawn to dusk the entire month. The books had looked so interesting, the little he’d seen of them before Aunt Petunia had locked his trunk away, but Harry was so tired. Napping a bit longer couldn’t hurt, could it?
Not ten minutes later the door practically flew open. “Excuse me,” said the girl who’d shoved it back. Harry turned away from the window and saw that the worried boy from earlier was with her. “Neville’s lost his toad. Have you seen it?”
“No,” Harry said. “Sorry.”
“Thanks anyway,” Neville said, and the girl’s eyes narrowed at Harry’s rumpled Muggle clothes.
“You should get changed,” she told him. She and Neville were both in their robes, though not ties. “I heard the trolley lady say we’re almost there.”
“Thanks,” Harry said, and looked pointedly at the girl’s hand on the door frame. She followed his line of sight, flushed, and hurriedly backed out into the corridor, taking Neville with her.
It turned out that Percy Weasley calling himself a Gryffindor prefect had meant something, Harry learned when Professor McGonagall herded all of the first years into the little room off the Great Hall. Harry’s stomach was tied in such a knot it was practically a bow by the time his name was called. Here he was at the start of the year, so far behind all the other students that he hadn’t even known they’d be sorted until now.
I knew I shouldn’t have napped so long on the train, Harry thought miserably, as Professor McGonagall lowered the Sorting Hat over his head. The Great Hall vanished from sight, and the noise dropped to a distant murmur, much like the push through the barrier at King’s Cross had sounded. If only he’d been able to read his school books! Or practice with his wand! Or do anything wizardly, really, aside from lean out the window and watch Hedwig hunt for mice.
“Difficult,” the Hat said thoughtfully. Harry winced, barely noticing that it kept talking. He didn’t belong here at all, it was going to say there’d been a mistake, and they’d make him leave–
“Quite a thirst to prove yourself,” the Hat said. “How do you feel about Slytherin?”
What? Harry thought, startled. His stomach abruptly unknotted and he sat up straighter. Um, fine? Anything’s fine, really. Um. Thank you?
“Excellent,” the Hat said. It sounded…smug? Before Harry could think about that further, it roared out the name SLYTHERIN! so loud that Harry jumped.
The hall went sharply silent.
As Harry handed the Sorting Hat back to Professor McGonagall, he saw that most of the teachers at the high table behind her were rather stunned. One in particular, with long black hair that was so greasy Aunt Petunia would have fainted, looked as though he had been hit on the back of the head with a board. Only Professor Dumbledore seemed unsurprised, though thoughtful.
Cheers erupted from the Slytherin table, breaking the tension. Harry scurried over as Professor McGonagall called the next first year to be sorted. He slid into an empty seat at one end. It turned out to be empty because the next person on the bench was an incredibly tall ghost, whose translucent antique clothing was covered in equally translucent silvery blood. On the other side of the ghost was the ferret faced boy, who had turned out to be named Draco Malfoy according to Professor McGonagall’s roll call list, and his two friends Vincent Crabbe and Gregory Goyle.
Momentarily, all of the first year students had been sorted, the Headmaster had warned them away from both the Forbidden Forest and some corridor on the third floor, and the feast commenced. Careful not to get his elbows in the bloody specter on his left, Harry made quick work of anything within reach, stomach quite annoyed that he hadn’t eaten since leaving Privet Drive that morning.
A while into the feast, Harry’s forehead flared with pain, right in his lightning bolt scar. Wincing, Harry rubbed at it, catching the attention of the girl across the table from him.
“You’re that kid that killed You-Know-Who as a baby,” she said. She was around Dudley’s height, and stared at him the way Petunia would at a new brand of detergent that might not be worth the bother of trying out. Harry blinked. She was the one who’d been admonishing her cat back at King’s Cross.
“That’s what they tell me,” Harry said. He looked nervously at the ghost from the corner of his eye, but he seemed to be ignoring them, engaged in a staring contest with another ghost at the Hufflepuff table.
“They say you got a scar out of it,” the girl said.
In response, Harry shoved back his bangs. The pain was already receding. The girl nodded at his scar, then held her hand out across the table, wiggling her fingers to draw attention to the marks peppered all over them.
“Gnomes,” she said solemnly, before drawing her hand back. Harry gave the same nod she had, hoping it was the right thing.
Their conversation drew to a close, then. Periodically, Malfoy or the other students further down the table would crane around the ghost. A few opened their mouths, looked at the ghost, and then shut them again. Eventually, they were dismissed to their common rooms for the night.
“Attention, first years,” a cool voice called. A girl with one long braid and the same badge Percy had been wearing, this time edged in silver and green, was standing at the far end of the table with her hands on her hips. “Attention, if you don’t want to get lost and sleep in the hall.”
Half of the new Slytherin first years, Harry included, hurried nervously over to the girl. The other half tried to saunter, as though they had no concerns whatsoever, but a truly evil glare from her got them to speed up.
“I’m Gemma Farley, one of your prefects,” she told them, once they were all together. The older Slytherins were streaming past. “Tonight, I’ll be leading you to your new dormitory. You’ll have to get to the Great Hall on your own tomorrow, but if you get lost at all, ask one of your housemates for directions. If I catch you embarrassing us by asking a Hufflepuff for directions, or worse yet one of the ghosts, it’ll go badly for you.”
“Don’t we have a house ghost?” the girl to Harry’s left, Pansy Parkinson, asked.
“The Bloody Baron has better things to do than act as a glorified map,” Gemma informed them. She beckoned them to follow her. As they passed through the entrance hall, Harry saw the mass of students flashing Gryffindor red and gold, and Ravenclaw blue and bronze, sweep up the marble stairs leading to the second floor. He caught no sigh of yellow and black; the Hufflepuffs must have been faster than everyone else.
The Slytherin first years followed Gemma to a long set of stone stairs, lit by torches in iron sconces.
“Your curfew is eight at night,” Gemma told them as they proceeded downwards. “Though you’d be smart to treat seven-thirty as the cut-off. It’ll be later when you’re older. The exception is Astronomy class, and you’ll be escorted for that. Everyone’s allowed back out at four in the morning, and if you’re the sort to be up at that time the rowing team will be happy to have you.”
“Does the rowing team compete for house points?” Theodore Nott asked. They had reached the bottom of the stairs, and Harry was trying to pay attention to the twists and turns they were taking.
“No,” Gemma said. “It’s three teams unrelated to houses, and they’re all mad as pants.” The last part sounded very odd in Gemma’s cool tones. “Choir doesn’t get house points either, but if you can pass their auditions, they’re worth joining.”
The longer they walked, the more sconces Harry noticed decorated with snake etchings, or even little sculptures. When they reached a corridor where every torch was held up by a sconce shaped like a coiling snake, Gemma stopped. She held her hand up in front a blank stretch of the wall.
“Prefects will tell you when there’s a new password, and you are never to tell it to someone outside our house.” Gemma looked towards the wall. “Venomous.” A portion of stone slid aside.
The hidden door led to a round, unlit stone archway ten feet around and five feet long. The first years hurried through, and some of them gasped when they saw the common room. Gemma pushed them forward, out of the way of the entryway, then stopped with her hands back on her hips, a pleased smile growing as she saw their awe.
“Welcome home,” Gemma said.
To their left was an enormous fireplace, flanked by several ridiculously high-backed chairs that no one was bothering to sit in, though an older student was hanging upside down from the back of one, laughing at a friend. A hodgepodge of variously sized armchairs in all shades of green was spread across the long room, interspersed with little end tables. Directly across from the entrance were more dark archways, leading to the sleeping chambers. Unlike the school hallways, which were mostly of mortared-together stone, the Slytherin dungeon appeared to have been carved into the bedrock itself.
Most of the light was coming from a number of lamps hung from the ceiling, with the fireplace providing warmth. Suddenly, the right side of the room brightened; the entire wall was curved inwards, and filled with high, wide windows carved into the rough stone. Harry and several of the other new Slytherins went over to them. The sills were deeply recessed and piled with green cushions, and the window glass was easily three yards thick. Twining silver, bronze, and gold sculptures of snakes were affixed to the wall around the windows, like intricate picture frames.
Harry pressed one hand to a pane and looked up. They had gone down so many stairs that they were under the lake itself. The sudden light had been the moon breaking through the clouds, and shining down through the water.
It was the most magical thing Harry had ever seen.