Harriet Potter is going to be eleven in three seconds. She is going to be eleven in three seconds and she is lying on the dirty floor, looking at the cake she has drawn for herself in the dust.
(Harriet Potter closes her eyes)
(she makes a wish)
Harriet Potter is eleven and she is wearing a talking hat and it is giving her a choice, the talking hat is, it is saying you could be great.
(she is ten, looking through a pane of glass at a snake bred in captivity)
(she is seven, alone in the dark beneath the staircase. She is crying and no one is coming)
(she is ten-turning-eleven, lying in the dust and wishing)
She is eleven, looking at the faces of the things that she may choose: cheerful, jolly Professor Sprout; stern and regal Professor McGonagall, kind and clever Professor Flitwick—and Professor Snape, glaring at the world with flat black eyes as if it has personally offended him.
(she is ten and the glass is gone and the snake is free and it is saying thank you because there are stories with snakes that bite and say you knew what I was when you picked me up, but this isn't one of them. This is the kind of story where the abandoned child walks in the jungle beneath the branches full of hissing things and tells them we be of one blood, ye and I)
Harriet Potter is eleven and she chooses.
Harriet Potter is twelve and she is not the Heir of Slytherin.
Or perhaps she is, perhaps they all are, all of the children that the world's most powerful hat has separated from their peers and sent to live down in a dungeon.
(on your belly you shall go and you shall eat dust all the days of your life)
For this is what Slytherin gives to its heirs: a legacy of suspicion and hatred. This is the inheritance that Slytherin leaves: the children in green that follow at Harriet Potter's heels in the hallway, trailing out behind, as though she can protect them, as though they can protect her; the other children in red and yellow and blue that draw back from her as though they fear she will poison them.
It is the Weasley twins cornering first year Slytherins in the halls and hissing at them until they cry. It is Harriet Potter teaching the first years to swear in Parseltongue and the Weasley twins flinching back in shock the first time their chosen prey narrows their eyes and bares their teeth and hisses back.
It is Marcus Flint demonstrating several really nasty hexes in the Slytherin common room over and over again, until all of the grim-faced children there can perform them, too.
It is Slytherins never walking in groups smaller than three (or six, if one of them is muggleborn—yes, there are muggleborns in Slytherin, fuck you) and keeping their wands out at all times, ready to defend themselves against monsters or their fellow students, whichever comes first.
It is Professor Snape stalking the dungeons every night like a battlefield sentinel.
This is the true inheritance of Slytherin.
The basilisk is just a nasty little detail.
Harriet Potter is thirteen and Draco Malfoy's cousin wants to kill her.
(it's Draco who mentions that Sirius Black is her godfather, offhandedly, never guessing that she didn't know, because in the pureblood world, not knowing who your godfather is would be simply inconceivable)
I'm going to kill him Harriet says when she hears what he did. Pansy nods firmly and takes her hand.
Of course we are she says and Draco looks sort of queasy but he nods as well and says yes.
The three of them nearly manage it, too, before Sirius convinces them about Peter Pettigrew, and when Professor Snape finds them in the shack, holding an escaped convict and a werewolf at wandpoint, as he raises his own wand and sweeps Harriet and her friends protectively behind himself, he gives them a look, dark and approving, which says, as clearly as words could you reckless fucking idiots I have never been so proud in all my goddamn life.
Harriet Potter is fourteen and the Dark Lord has risen. She is lying in a hospital bed, pale and bloody, and the Minister of Magic is asking her for names, the names of the Death Eaters in the graveyard with the Dark Lord.
She looks at the Minister of Magic, fat and frightened and blustering. She looks at Professor Snape, his sleeve shoved up to bare the dark mark. And she looks at her friends, at Vince and Greg and Pansy and Draco, wearing their homemade Potter Rules badges, where they are standing at her bedside.
I don't know names she lies they were all wearing masks.
Harriet Potter is fifteen and she dreams of wearing a snake's skin. She dreams of death and blood and her body being made of scales and when she tells Professor Dumbledore, when she saves the life of the man she tried/the snake tried/they tried to kill, he sends her down to the dungeons for Professor Snape to deal with.
(that's what you do with snakes, what you do with serpents, what you do with Slytherins)
Harriet Potter is fifteen and she knows, when Dolores Umbridge's quill bites into her skin and writes out I must not tell lies that what it's really spelling out is Slytherin. Draco looks appalled when he sees it and says when my father but he doesn't finish the sentence. He remembers being turned into a ferret by one of his teachers, remembers that the Dark Lord is back and sides are being taken. He knows what side his father is on. Vince glowers uselessly. Greg is shocked almost to tears.
Pansy starts a fad amongst the Slytherin girls of writing things in red ink on the backs of their left hands. Pansy writes S.A. and gets detention for real when she tells Umbridge that it stands for sex appeal.
(it stands for Slytherin's Army)
When Professor Snape sees the mark on Harriet's hand, he goes very still, and then he says, quite softly I will kill her.
And Harriet Potter, the feral child who walks beneath the snake-filled branches in the dark of the forest without fear, bares her teeth and says can I watch?
Harriet Potter is sixteen and she is holding a secret meeting in the Slytherin common room.
I don't want to die Draco says I don't want to do it, but if I don't, he's going to kill me, and I don't want to die.
Pansy laces her fingers with his and holds on tightly.
The two of them look to Harriet. All of the assembled students, the members of Slytherin's Army, not just Slytherins, but Gryffindors, and Ravenclaws, and Hufflepuffs as well, look to Harriet.
And Harriet Potter looks out at the sea of frightened faces, looks at this army of children from warring houses that she has bound together.
He's not going to hurt you she tells Draco, tells all of them.
I won't let him.
Harriet Potter is seventeen and she is dead.
She is dead and she is looking at a screaming, bloody thing beneath a railway station bench and the man with the white beard who is standing next to her is saying beyond help from you and I and help given to those who deserve it.
(she is ten, looking at a snake behind a glass wall)
(she is seven, crying alone beneath the staircase)
(she is twelve, listening to Marcus Flint tell a weeping first year Slytherin hush now; hush; hold your wand like this; don't be afraid)
She is seventeen; she is dead; she is listening to the thing beneath the railway bench cry; she is seven; she is lying in the dark beneath the staircase crying and nobody is coming; she is twelve; the first year is crying; she is crying; the thing beneath the bench is crying. They are crying and nobody is coming because help is only given to the deserving and they are Slytherin and everybody knows that what those Slytherins deserve isn't help.
Come, Harriet says the man with the white beard.
Fuck you says Harriet Potter, and picks up the thing from underneath the bench.
It screams, and burns and stings in her arms (you knew what I was when you picked me up) but she doesn't let go. It is a shrieking, blood-smeared thing; it is a child with dead eyes saying I can talk to snakes; is that normal for someone like me; it is a handsome young man, speaking the words in Parseltongue to set the basilisk on her; it is a terrible face on the back of someone's head, turning to ash beneath her hands; it is a withered creature, fed on snake venom, taking her blood to complete the spell for its resurrection (we be of one blood ye and I); it is the man with the face like a snake, raising his wand for the killing strike.
But Harriet Potter, who has lain down to sleep every night since she was a year old with this thing that wants to kill her hiding in her chest, curled up somewhere underneath her heart; Harriet Potter, the abandoned child who the world sent to live beneath the stairs, sent to live in the dungeon, sent to die; Harriet Potter, who has been given hatred and who gives back love, Harriet Potter holds her doom in her arms and she does not let go.
Hush now, hush she says in Parseltongue.
And then the thing in her arms is just a baby, a thin and pale and ugly baby, but a human one, crying as babies do when they are tired and want their mothers.
Harriet says the man with the white beard, but Harriet ignores him and gets to her feet.
There are people in the station now, a confusing mass of them, insubstantial and blurry around the edges, like impressionist paintings of people, or figures made of smoke. Harriet hears the whistle of a train as if from very far away and she stumbles towards it.
The baby in her arms is heavy, but she fights her way to the tracks where the train awaits. The people on the train look out their windows at Harriet curiously as she makes her way towards them. One woman, an ugly woman with ragged clothes and a worried face, gives a cry when she sees Harriet and leans down out of her open window. She stretches out her arms, and Harriet lays the baby in them.
The child stops crying.
And Harriet Potter falls back from the train as, with a ghostly wail, it pulls out of the station, which is empty again, empty save for Harriet Potter and the man with the white beard.
Harriet Potter is seventeen and she is dead.
(she is eleven, wearing a talking hat; she is ten-turning-eleven, lying in the dust and wishing)
You have a choice says the man with the white beard.
Harriet Potter is seventeen and she has been dead for three seconds.
(Harriet Potter closes her eyes)
(she makes a wish)
Harriet Potter is seventeen and she was dead and is not dead (the snake that sheds its skin and starts anew) and she is leading a war.
And when the children of Hogwarts, Slytherin and Gryffindor and Ravenclaw and Hufflepuff alike, the children who have risen up in the name of Harriet Potter, face the line of the Dark Lord's followers, they stand united. And when Draco's mother, on the other side of that invisible line, says come to your family, Draco he swallows hard and takes Pansy's hand and says I'm with my family. And when the Dark Lord says no more Houses, only Slytherin, Pansy shouts out, voice shrill with fear and shaking around the edges Slytherin doesn't want you, you crazy bastard!
And Millicent Bulstrode links arms with Luna Lovegood and Hermione Granger puts her arm around Blaise Zabini's shoulders and Ron Weasley bumps elbows with Vincent Crabbe and Gregory Goyle and the line holds.
You could be great in Slytherin, the hat told Harriet Potter.
And she fucking is.