A.N. Again, I apologise for the length of time it's taken me to update. Uni work has pretty much taken over my life. THANK YOU so much for sticking with me and giving me such lovely reviews, it's really given me the drive to keep going with this story. I hope you'll all think the wait was worth it :-)
Chapter Nine In which Harry is Sorted, and there is a less-than-pleasant revelation for the Marauders.
Lily well remembered the first time she had set foot in Hogwarts’ Great Hall. Her mouth had fallen open rather cartoonishly, and she had gazed about her with wide-eyed awe. She had briefly wondered how the hundreds of candles that floated over the table and case a honey-gold, softly flickering glow over the hall weren’t dripping wax over the students before sheepishly realising they were probably prevented from doing so by magic. Then her attention had been captured by the ceiling showing the clear night sky outside, like a sheet of dark satin with a handful of glitter thrown over it. She hadn’t been able to take her eyes off it until she tripped and almost fell over the hem of her robes.
Hermione Granger, of course, knew it was bewitched and lost no time in informing her housemates that she had picked up the information from Hogwarts, A History. A faint snort came from Sirius, and Lily glanced over to see him rolling his eyes.
“Merlin. Is there anything she hasn’t read?” he said, his tone somewhere between bored and disgusted.
“Probably not,” James grinned. “Right little Ravenclaw.”
Remus pursed his lips thoughtfully. “You think so?”
He shrugged. “It’s just ... she said she wanted to be in Gryffindor. So presumably she values other things above intelligence.”
“The Sorting Hat is supposed to take choice into account,” Lily added, though she had to admit that Hermione Granger seemed to be displaying all the trademark qualities of a Ravenclaw: intelligence, eagerness to learn, inquisitiveness. But Lily knew better than almost anyone that there could be a lot more to a person than what was on the surface.
Sirius shook his head, obviously not convinced. “No way. If the Sorting Hat doesn’t put her in Ravenclaw, there’s something wrong with it. In fact,” he reached into his pocket, pulled out a few coins and flicked through them. “A galleon says she’s in Ravenclaw.”
“You’re on,” Remus said, and glanced at James. “You in?”
“’Course,” James shrugged.
The three boys glanced at Lily, who hesitated for a moment before nodding her assent. She still wasn’t entirely sure that Hermione wouldn’t been in Ravenclaw, but there was something faintly satisfying about feeling she had been accepted as part of the group. For a moment she wondered if they would include Severus, and then Sirius turned his dark eyes on the Slytherin boy.
“What about you, Snivelly? What d’you think?”
Severus’ nostrils flared, but he restrained himself from making a sharp remark in reply, settling instead for a short, “She doesn’t want to be Ravenclaw. She’ll be Gryffindor.”
Lily wasn’t sure whether he really believed that, or if he was just saying it because it was contrary to Sirius’ belief. She decided not to say anything, though, as the other three seemed happy enough to let Severus in on the bet and Sirius waved to Remus to keep reading - obviously anxious to claim his prize. She couldn’t help a laugh when Harry started wondering if he’d have to pull a rabbit out of the Sorting Hat, and became even more amused at the utterly confused faces of the boys.
“It’s a trick muggle magicians do,” she explained, grinning. “Pulling rabbits out of hats.”
“Oookay ,” Sirius raised an eyebrow. “Anyway ...”
He looked towards Remus, who continued reading. After a couple more lines came the Sorting Hat’s song; Remus disappointed his friends by refusing to improvise a tune and instead reading it aloud like poetry. It was much more like the songs Lily remembered from her first few years at Hogwarts - light, cheerful, simply describing the merits of the four different houses: Gryffindor, brave, bold and chivalrous; Hufflepuff, just, loyal and hardworking; Ravenclaw, intelligent, quick-witted and with a desire to learn; and Slytherin, cunning, close-knit and ambitious. There was none of the darkly warning undertones that coloured the Hat’s songs now, cautioning them all to maintain inter-house unity.
Ron seemed even more relieved than Harry, as his brother had told him they would have to wrestle a troll. Sirius snorted. “Not bad ... I told Regulus they give you a boggart, and they Sort you based on how you deal with it.”
James sniggered, and a faint smile of grudging appreciation curved one corner of Severus’ mouth. Lily and Remus were both torn between amusement and disapproval - the former because she didn’t know Sirius’ brother, and the latter because he did.
All five could sympathise with Harry’s nerves, though. It was one thing to talk in theory about being Sorted and which House you wanted to be in - but actually standing in front of the entire school, with hundreds of students staring at you, it was impossible to feel like you had any of the qualities the Sorting Hat was looking for. It was impossible to feel like you were anything other than a quivering lump of jelly.
They all leaned slightly forward as Remus started reading out the results of the Sorting, all on the lookout for any names they recognised. The first one they did was Hermione Granger. Sirius sat up a little straighter, grinning, clearly envisioning the galleons in his hand already.
“‘“GRYFFINDOR!” shouted the hat’,” Remus read, doing a remarkably good job of keeping a straight face.
Sirius and James groaned, reluctantly handing their money over into the outstretched palms of Remus, Lily and Severus, all of whom trying with varying levels of success not to appear smug.
“Taking your money’s getting far too easy,” Remus commented lightly, slipping the two galleons into his pocket.
James pulled a face. “What were we thinking, Padfoot? Always listen to Mo - Remus, remember? He’s always right.”
“Yeah, yeah.” Sirius scowled. “And he’s insufferable because of it.”
With a deceptively placid smile, Remus continued reading. Lily once again wished she could reach through the pages of the book to hug and console her son when he worried that he might not be Sorted at all. Similar thoughts had flown through her mind when she was eleven, standing terrified before the Sorting Hat. She had been lucky that her surname began with an ‘E’ and she hadn’t had to wait too long for her turn. She hadn’t had the time to dwell the way Harry did.
Her thoughts were interrupted by the next line, and a noise of excitement escaped her throat. “Neville Longbottom! Oh! He must be Frank and Alice’s son!”
The idea filled her with a sudden delight. She and Alice would have sons the same age. They might even go through pregnancy together. She hoped the two boys would be friends, and felt another pang of loss that she wouldn’t be there for Harry’s childhood. She had Alice might have gotten together with the children so they could chat and the boys could play ... perhaps their families would even have gone to see them off on the Hogwarts’ Express together.
Actually ... Lily frowned, suddenly remembering the previous chapter. Neville had been taken to Kings’ Cross by his grandmother. Why hadn’t Alice and Frank been there to see him off?
“There might be a few children of people we know,” Remus mused.
Lily hesitated for a moment, then took a breath and asked, “Maybe ... we could tell her?”
For her, this was perfect. Here was a legitimate excuse to bring Alice in on the secret - she had as much right to learn about her son and future and Lily had to know about her own. And then Lily wouldn’t have to lie to her, and would have someone she trusted absolutely to talk through everything with.
The others were quiet, sharing silent glances, their faces tight with a serious uncertainty. None of them seemed sure how to answer. It was James who finally spoke up, somewhat cautiously.
“Lily ... we said we wouldn’t tell anyone.”
“I know,” she said quickly, “And I wouldn’t ask. Only ... she has a son, too.”
She met James’ gaze imploringly, begging him to understand. She could see he did. He was perhaps the only one who did. The others certainly wanted to know about their futures, and the future of the wizarding world in general, but none of them, so far, had children. They couldn’t understand the strange, foreign but at the same time entirely natural parental anxiety that welled up inside; the urgent need to know everything about them, their life, what they were like, if they were alright. Denying that to Alice just seemed wrong.
“You know Alice. She wouldn’t tell anyone.”
“Maybe ...” James seemed to be wavering. He looked at the others.
It was obvious from Sirius’ expression that he was against it, but Remus attempted to smooth things over. “We can think about it.”
It wasn’t the answer Lily had hoped for, but it was better than she had expected. She nodded, leaning back in her chair. The others seemed to relax, as though they had expected her to put up more of a fight. For a few brief moments the air was filled with a tense silence, Lily and Sirius clearly opposed, while James and Remus both looked torn between the two. Severus watched from his corner of the room, his dark eyes glittering and his expression was unreadable.
Finally Remus started to read again. Malfoy, as they had all known he would be, was Sorted into Slytherin. Looks of distaste crossed James’ and Sirius’ faces, but since both Lily and Severus were present they refrained – admittedly with some difficulty – from making any derogatory remarks besides, “Little git.”
Then, at long last, it was Harry’s turn. James and Lily were on the edge of their seats as he stepped up to the Sorting Hat amidst a sea of whispers (Lily was reminded with a pang that his life would never be normal, that whether he wanted it to or not attention would follow him throughout the school), and even Severus was sitting a little straighter.
The Sorting Hat seemed to deliberate with Harry, picking out his different qualities. Lily felt a swell of pride, but also reminded again of her own Sorting and the bizarre way it had felt to be talked to by a hat.
Sirius and James were both whispering, “Gryffindor, Gryffindor, Gryffindor,” like a kind of chant under their breaths. Remus shook his head in mock-disapproval but, sure enough, Harry’s request not to be in Slytherin tipped the balance and he ended up in Gryffindor. The Marauders cheered, and even Lily couldn’t help smiling and giving a small clap of her hands. Severus gave a quiet snort that went unnoticed by the others, and leaned further back into his chair.
Lily could well imagine the sense of relief flooding over Harry. For her it had been like a physical weight, making her shoulders slump and legs wobble – relief not so much at being Sorted into Gryffindor, but at being Sorted full stop. Knowing it hadn’t all been some horrible mistake. She could perfectly picture Harry stumbling to the table and sitting down, turning to properly take in the high table and the teachers for the first time.
“A turban?” Sirius interjected when Harry’s eyes fell on Quirrell. “He was odd enough as it is.”
“It did say he’d travelled. Maybe it’s something he picked up somewhere?” Remus suggested, although he didn’t sound quite convinced by himself.
The others shrugged, content to pass it off an eccentricity. They were more interested in the rest of the Sorting. It passed quickly, with another cheer when Ron was also Sorted into Gryffindor. Dumbledore gave, quite literally, a few words to the gathered students, which made the Marauders chuckle fondly.
“Good man, Dumbledore. Always saves the speech making ‘til after the feast,” Sirius grinned.
Harry, on the other hand, seemed somewhat taken aback – but it was understandable. Dumbledore was an awe-inspiring figure generally, and his peculiarities took some getting used to. As seventh years Lily and the others were all very familiar with the Headmaster, but as first years they had all, to varying degrees, been somewhat nervous of him.
The feast proved a distraction for all of them. The description had Sirius clutching his stomach, bemoaning his hunger, and even though it hadn’t been that long since lunch, Lily had to admit that picturing the start of term feast was leaving her feeling as though she could readily eat again. Suddenly the Christmas feast in a week seemed a lot farther away that it had done that morning. The Gryffindors all let out a unanimous groan when Harry was interrupted from eating by Sir Nicholas.
“He does this at every feast,” James grumbled, all too familiar with the feeling of guilty pity that accompanied Sir Nicholas’s longing looks when he piled his plate high with food.
“You’d think,” Sirius added, “that after four hundred years he’d have gotten over it.”
Lily shook her head. “He just makes you feel so bad …”
Much as they liked the Gryffindor ghost most of the time, they couldn’t help but feel glad when Ron needled him by announcing his moniker of Nearly Headless Nick. As far as the Marauders were concerned, it just wasn’t right for a ghost to make a student feel bad about enthusiastically enjoying the start of term feast.
Of course, this distract also lead to the inevitable questioning of just how Nicholas had come by his nickname. Which lead to Nick demonstrating the lamentably inefficient severing of his head.
“Oh, no,” Lily pulled a face. “I remember the first time Marlene asked him that …”
“It’s not a pretty sight,” Remus agreed.
Thankfully the conversation quickly moved on – though James and Sirius were not all pleased by Nick’s next revelation.
“Six years?” James gasped, “Slytherin have won six years in a row?”
“That’s … that’s …” Sirius struggled for the words, “a travesty!”
“Obviously Gryffindor aren’t able to cope without their Quidditch hero, Potter,” Severus sneered from the corner, unable to keep the smug gloating from his voice.
James glared at him, flushed with anger, fairly certain he was being insulted but unable to figure out quite how. His fingers twitched automatically towards his wand, but out of corner of his eye he saw Lily shaking her head with a kind of angry resignation. He badly wanted to hex the self-satisfied smile from Snape’s face, but he didn’t want to hurt or disappoint Lily any more than he already had – and he had promised he would make an effort with Snape. Merlin knew he was never going to like him, but he could surely find a way to tolerate him. And he wanted to prove to himself as much as to anyone else that he was a better person than he had been when he was sixteen.
So, with a concerted effort, he ground his teeth and clenched his hands into fists, but leant stiffly back into his chair and looked away – making it clear he wasn’t going to rise to the bait.
Sirius held no such compunctions, and replied in a heavily sardonic tone, “Well, it’s hardly going to be due to Slytherin’s natural talent, is it?”
Severus’ eyes glittered, but he held his tongue – he knew he was treading a fine line. As much as he wanted to see Potter snap and prove his true colours to Lily, if Severus too obviously provoked him then he knew that Lily would hold him to account just as much as she would Potter. He would just have to bide his time, and give Potter enough rope to hang himself.
Resolutely running through the twelve uses of dragon’s blood to try and distract himself, James was rewarded by feeling Lily’s fingers lightly touch his fist. Her skin was cool against in, and seemed to drain the irritation out of him. When he glanced over, he saw approval in her eyes and, bizarrely, he was suddenly grateful to Snape for trying to needle him into losing his temper.
Seeing Severus’ expression sour, Remus decided to quickly continue reading before another round of insults started. The subject had moved to the Bloody Baron, which proved sufficient to distract everyone.
“Always wanted to ask him how he got covered in blood,” Sirius commented.
“Don’t.” He glanced at Severus.
“Why? Did he tell you?” His voice became slightly sneering, “Did Snivelly get nightmares?”
Snape scowled. “No, and no. Just … don’t ask him.”
His tone was ominous enough to intrigue Sirius, but it was flatly clear that he wasn’t going to go into any more details. It was a mystery that would have to be solved later – but it would be solved. The quickest way would probably be to just ask the Baron, but then Sirius would run the risk of proving Snivellus right. No … he would have to work on the Slytherin boy, try and get him to divulge what he knew.
In Harry’s world, the talk was turning to blood status – a common topic of conversation for first years after the Sorting. It was a quick way of getting to know something about the people you would be studying and living with, much like asking where they were from. They used it to try and gauge how much their fellow students might already know before classes started – though in the end, as had been said, it really made little practical difference.
Seamus’ background caused Lily and Severus to exchange glances. His mother, too, had kept her true nature from her husband until after they were married – and he had not taken it well. Knowing that she was only person Severus talked to about his parents’ fighting and his miserable home life had been one of things that made her feel the most guilty when they stopped talking; she felt like she was abandoning him, leaving him to be consumed by the bitterness of his parents’ unhappy marriage. But in truth, it had already consumed him. And if she had held on any longer it would have started to consume her.
She turned back to the book when Neville started talking.
“He was raised by his Gran? What about Alice, and Frank?”
“I don’t know,” Remus shook his head. “Maybe it will be explained later on.”
Lily opened her mouth to plead for Alice to be allowed in on the secret again, but then hesitated. She didn’t want to push too hard, or they would just say no. She would let it ruminate for a while, and then try to convince them. Hopefully by then they’d have half convinced themselves.
Shrugging, Remus carried on reading. Harry’s attention had turned away from the conversation and back to the High Table. He went over the teachers, his eyes stopping once again on Quirrel, “ … ‘talking to a teacher with greasy black hair,’ …”
Sirius and James’ eyes narrowed suspiciously.
“‘…a hooked nose …’”
“No.” Sirius shook his head.
“‘…and sallow skin.’”
“It can’t be,” James said.
They waited for Remus to either confirm or abate their fears – but were delayed by a sharp pain in Harry’s scar. James exchanged a concerned look with Lily, and felt her fingers intertwine anxiously with his. He gave her hand a reassuring squeeze, but it truth felt worried and puzzled himself. He knew Harry’s scar was no ordinary scar, but he couldn’t fathom why it would be hurting – especially from a look from a teacher.
Remus, who had paused and scanned a little further down the page, picked up the narrative again, but hesitantly. “‘…that’s Professor Snape.’”
There was a long, drawn out silence in which four heads turned silently to look at Severus, who looked no less surprised himself. The atmosphere in the room was stretched so tightly it felt like it could have been cut by a knife. Finally, after what seemed like several minutes, Sirius’s voice contemptuously filled the room.