The Hogwarts Express
“Severus,” said the tall, pallid woman, “You go on; I’ll follow right behind you. Remember; just walk straight through the barrier. Don’t stop, and don’t think about it.”
They were standing between platforms nine and ten at King’s Cross Station. Her son nodded brusquely as Eileen finished, causing his chin-length black hair to swing forward and momentarily obscure his sallow, hook-nosed face. His dark eyes rolled slightly, hinting at the eleven-year-old boy’s aggravation with his mother’s fussing. He shoved the luggage trolley forward with a vigor that belied his skinny frame and vanished into the barrier. His mother followed.
They emerged in rapid succession next to platform nine and three-quarters where the Hogwarts Express was already waiting. It was still a good twenty minutes before the scheduled departure time, so the platform was half-empty. Severus noted with grim satisfaction that there appeared to be plenty of empty compartments available. He had hated, during lunch at the Muggle elementary school, the humiliation of always having to force his company on one of the other less popular children who already had a seat. (He had determined that sitting next to one of the popular ones, though seemingly a good revenge, was not worth the trouble it caused.)
Eileen put down the cage she had been carrying, which contained a most ancient and decrepit-looking owl. “Here, you take Hekate,” she said as she drew her wand. Flicking it in the general direction of the luggage trolley, she spoke the incantation, “Locomotor Trunk.” The heavy, battered trunk the boy had been pushing rose obediently into the air, and hovered, seeming to await further instructions. “Where to?”
“Let’s go in that car,” the boy suggested, indicating a car towards the middle of the train.
He set off, resettling his heavy knapsack on his right shoulder and picking up the cage with his left hand. His mother directed the trunk into the compartment Severus selected, and watched as he set the owl down above his seat.
“Well, this is goodbye, then,” she said with a sad smile. “Have a nice trip, sweetheart! I’ll want to read all about your first day at Hogwarts, mind. Do keep in touch, it’s why I’m sending Hekate with you, you know.”
Grateful that no one had observed this conversation, Severus responded, “Sure thing, Mum. I’ll do that.”
Eileen put her hands on his shoulders and looked down at him for a moment, before enveloping him in a tight embrace. The boy hugged her back awkwardly.
“I’ll miss you, Mum,” he mumbled as she released him.
“Goodbye, Sev,” she said, opening the door, and stopping to let a couple of older girls pass by, chattering animatedly about the past summer’s activities.
As she passed out into the corridor, she waved at Severus, who returned her wave with a suspiciously hoarse “Bye, Mum.”
Severus sat down by the window and watched her walk away back towards the entrance to the Muggle station. As she turned back one last time for a final look at him, he returned her wave, willing his tears not to come. Then she was gone.
The platform was by now boiling with activity. Families in both Muggle and Wizarding attire crowded around the train, seeing their children off. A red-haired girl in Muggle garb peered into his compartment as if considering joining him, then headed onward. A couple of boys, clearly older than he was, glanced in as well before selecting other seats. When the whistle blew, signaling departure, Severus was still alone in his compartment.
From his mother’s stories, he knew it would be a long ride, so he pulled out his knapsack and picked out a book to pass the time. His eye landed on the used book he had picked out at Grandfather Prince’s the day before. He never enjoyed those visits, but could not deny that this one had been necessary. The flat in London was not too far from Diagon Alley, where his mother had taken him to shop for school equipment and his own wand. A smile flickered across his face at that memory as his eyes passed over the wand tucked into an inner pocket of his bag. If he was to have only one new piece of school equipment, he was glad it was his wand! His grandparents had provided some of the other required equipment, including a banged-up old cauldron. Grandfather had also given him a box of books from which to choose his back-to-school present, and had even deigned to voice gruff approval of his selection. As he had looked into his grandfather’s cold, black eyes, though, Severus, not for the first time, could swear he had sensed an unspoken rejoinder of ‘as if the half-blood will ever get good use out of it’.
Carefully he pulled the old book out of his bag and started reading. Only a few pages later, Severus looked up at a commotion in the corridor. A couple of boys, laughing loudly at some comment he had missed, walked by his compartment, pulling their trunks behind them. One walked right by. The second, a boy perhaps Severus’ age, with unruly black hair and glasses, stuck his head in the compartment.
“These seats taken?” he asked with a smile.
“No, you are welcome to take them,” Severus responded politely.
The boy stepped back out and shouted, “Hey, there’re free seats here. I don’t want to lug my stuff any farther.” He pulled his shiny, brassbound trunk into the compartment and Severus stood, thinking to help him stow it away. The other, a remarkably handsome boy with long, wavy black hair, followed him in and grabbed the trunk. Together the two boys wrestled the trunks into place, while Severus sat awkwardly back down.
“We’ll be back in a bit with our owls-had to leave those up front while we looked for a spot,” the boy explained as they both left.
Deprived of his traveling companions, Severus returned to his book. After a long while, the two boys returned, and stowed their owls’ cages as well. Severus was not surprised to note that Hekate did not even wake to observe her new companions. They sat down. The boy in the glasses, who seemed more talkative, smiled and addressed Severus.
“Hello. I’m James. James Potter,” the boy introduced himself.
“I’m Severus Snape,” he responded.
“And this here is Sirius Black,” said James.
“Hello,” said Severus to Sirius.
“We’re first years,” said James. “You too?”
“Yes, I am,” responded Severus. The boy named Sirius was eyeing Severus with interest.
“Snape…Snape…” he said. “My mother drives me nuts with all her Wizarding genealogy, but the surname is not familiar. Say, you wouldn’t be a Muggle-born, would you? That would be brilliant. I’ve never met a Muggle-born before!” he said enthusiastically.
Unsure how to react to this sudden enthusiasm from the previously taciturn Sirius, Severus hesitated. His father was a Muggle, which this odd boy might find interesting. However, he didn’t really want to talk about his father; and anyway he did not particularly care for the way the boys were now both looking at him, as if he were some sort of exotic zoological specimen.
“Oh, there will be plenty of them at Hogwarts, I am sure,” he responded. “About a quarter of the students are, you know. But I’m-” A great clattering in the corridor cut off the rest of Severus’ explanation.
“The food cart!” exclaimed James, and opened the compartment door.
“What will you have?” asked the smiling witch pushing the cart.
As James and Sirius made their selections, Severus rummaged around in his bag for the sack lunch his mother had prepared.
“Anything for you?” asked James.
“No, thank you, I’m all set,” responded Severus as he unwrapped one of his sandwiches.
The subject of Severus’s ancestry was dropped in favor of lunch, and an animated discussion of Quidditch matches the other boys had seen. Severus had never seen a professional match. Nor did he play himself. He actively disliked brooms; the cursed things seemed to have minds of their own, but as this did not seem a useful contribution to the conversation, he kept it to himself. James was clearly a fan and a player, and he enjoyed recounting Quidditch stories. Severus reopened his book and resumed reading. After some time, however, even the subject of Quidditch had apparently lost some of its allure, and there was a lull in the conversation.
Then James turned to Severus and asked, “What is that you’re reading?” Severus gamely shut his book and showed it to his companions.
“’Curses, Hexes, Jinxes: Dark Arts for the Intermediate Student’,” read Sirius.
Severus realized immediately this had been the wrong move. James’s smile turned cold.
“It’s a Death Eater in training we’re sitting with,” James exclaimed to Sirius. He snatched the book from Severus and tossed the book carelessly to Sirius.
“My, my, so it is,” Sirius drawled lazily as he snatched it out of the air.
Severus could not decide which made him more furious: the ludicrous accusation or the careless handling of his new book. Unthinkingly he reached into his bag for the brand-new wand and took it out.
“Give that back!” he shouted.
“I don’t care to,” responded Sirius coolly.
“I’m serious, give it to me,” Severus demanded.
“Or what?” asked Sirius, grinning at James.
“Maybe he’ll drip grease on you from that hair of his,” commented James drolly. “You might want to consider returning it.”
Severus leveled his wand at Sirius, but Sirius tossed the book to James and drew his own wand from inside his jacket pocket. Severus turned to James.
“Give me that!” he said.
“Make me,” responded James.
“Capillotorqueo!” yelled Severus as he waved his wand at James.
Immediately, James’ hair grew down below his waist, and curled itself into tight ringlets. A slightly panicked look replaced his smug smile. Severus grinned.
“Expelliarmus!” yelled Sirius as he pointed his wand at Severus.
Severus was relieved that this had no effect on his wand. However, it did send James’ half-empty bottle of pumpkin juice crashing into the window. As it shattered, James and Severus both ducked to avoid shards of glass and drops of the thick, sticky, orange juice.
“Curse it!” exclaimed Sirius as he lunged at Severus.
They both fell to the ground with a crash. The taller, heavier Sirius soon had Severus’ wand as well. He put it away inside his jacket and stood up, keeping his own wand trained on Severus.
“Sorry about your juice, mate,” said Sirius with a sheepish grin. “My cousin Andromeda despairs at my wand motion, but I really thought I had it figured.”
“That’s all right,” replied James, pulling his own wand out of his jacket pocket.
As they spoke, Severus picked himself up off the floor, shaking his right wrist gingerly. He turned sideways, trying to keep an eye on both opponents at once.
“Put his hair back to rights,” Sirius demanded.
“First, give me back my book,” insisted Severus.
Sirius looked uncertainly down at his own wand, which Severus also eyed warily. Apparently discouraged by his initial lack of success, Sirius tucked away his wand.
“All right, James, give it here,” said Sirius. James lobbed the book across the compartment to Sirius, who made as if to hand it back to Severus.
“Nah, I don’t feel like it,” he said with a smirk as he tossed it back to James.
Severus lunged for the book, as James threw it rather wildly back in the general direction of Sirius, and the door to the compartment.
At that moment, the door slid open to reveal a much older boy. He wore a green and black Prefect’s pin on his chest. The blackness of his school robes set off his long blond hair. The boy flicked his wand and the book stopped just short of his face and dropped into his hand. His cool blue eyes surveyed the scene languidly, though a hint of a smile played across his pale face as he observed James’ luxuriant curls.
“Sirius Black,” the older boy said, idly flipping open the book. “I might have guessed. Please do introduce me to your companions.” Sirius shot a sullen look at the new arrival, but complied.
“Lucius Malfoy, this is my friend James Potter,” he indicated. “James, this is Lucius.”
“Oh dear. Let me help with that,” said Lucius, as he waved his wand at James.
Nothing happened. Lucius’s eyes widened, then he nodded appreciatively at Sirius.
“And you would be Mr. Prince, then?” he asked Severus, having read the inscription on the inside cover.
“Severus Snape,” answered Severus. “My grandfather gave it to me,” he explained, extending his hand towards Lucius. Lucius handed back the book, which Severus clutched to his chest.
“Well, I trust that ends the disturbance,” Lucius said. Sirius coughed meaningfully and nodded in the direction of James.
“Sirius, you really ought not to try hexes to which you do not know the counters. It would be most unfortunate if your friend James here had to be Sorted in ringlets,” Malfoy told him with a smirk. James blanched at the prospect. Sirius flushed.
Since no one else seemed inclined to, Severus spoke up. “I hexed him when he took my book,” he explained. For the first time, Lucius seemed to really notice him. Severus became uncomfortably aware of the contrast between his juice-bespattered jumper and Lucius’s immaculately tailored and clean school robes.
“Well, then, Severus, I assume you can show us what James’ hair usually looks like?” asked Lucius. Severus’s face turned bright red. He wished he could just disappear, instead of being forced to admit in front of the older boy that he had been unable to prevent Sirius from disarming him. He turned to Sirius.
“My wand?” he asked. Wordlessly, Sirius drew his wand out of his jacket and handed it back. Lucius snorted, suppressing laughter.
“Capillorestituo!” said Severus as he flicked his wand at James. His hair seemed to shrink back into his skull and straighten, as it returned to its usual length and straightness.
“Well, that looks rather better!” said Lucius, smiling at Severus, who put his wand away in a pocket with a flourish. “I expect you both to leave Severus’s things be for the remainder of the trip,” Lucius said to James and Sirius. He gave Severus a long, considering look before leaving to continue his patrol. A hostile silence descended on the compartment. James glared at Severus, who glared back, then ostentatiously opened his book and resumed reading.
After a long moment, James broke the silence. “Who is Lucius?” he asked.
Severus paused in his reading. He was curious to learn more about the self-possessed boy who had rescued his book and displayed such enviable facility with nonverbal spells. Even if this Lucius couldn’t undo his hex.
“Huh, Lucius Malfoy,” said Sirius dismissively. “Well, he’s a Malfoy, don’t you know. An old pureblood family, live in a freaking Manor, wouldn’t you know, my mother’s crazy about them. ‘Our kind’ and all that rubbish, I get sick of hearing that stuff all day. Oh, and Lucius is a Slytherin Prefect, along with my cousin Bellatrix.”
“Oh, Slytherin. The Dark Arts house?” replied James.
“You got it. And the Black house, too. All the Blacks have been Slytherins, to hear my mother tell it. I hope I’m in Gryffindor!” he finished fiercely.
“Me, too! Though Ravenclaw would be all right as well, I suppose,” James agreed.
Severus thought to himself that he would settle for any House, as long as neither of those two were in it. The train seemed to slow a bit.
A voice in the corridor said, “Hogwarts Station, five minutes! Leave your bags on the train; they will be taken up separately!”
Severus climbed up on his seat to extract his best school robes from the trunk overhead. He pulled them on over his jumper, and checked on Hekate. She still seemed to be resting comfortably. As he put his things away, he saw the other two boys had gotten on their robes as well.
“C’mon, let’s go!” suggested James to Sirius, as he slid open the door to the compartment. “So long, Snake!”
“Good riddance,” Severus muttered under his breath as the door slid shut.
A few minutes later the train came jerkily to a stop, and Severus got up to leave the train. As he stepped down from the train he saw that it was already getting dark outside. There was a distinct chill in the air.
“Firs’ years! Firs’ years, to me!” a voice was shouting. Severus turned to follow this instruction, and saw an impossibly enormous man, his face almost entirely obscured by long and shaggy hair and beard. He walked nervously towards the man, already surrounded by a group of students, including his erstwhile companions and the red-haired girl who had walked by his compartment on the train.
“Follow me, first years!” the man instructed, and led the way down a steep path.
From his mother’s description, Severus recognized this as the path down to the boats, which would take the first years into the castle through the subterranean entrance.
A stern-faced woman who wore her black hair pulled back severely from her face met the students inside the castle and was introduced by the enormous man as Professor McGonagall, the Assistant Headmistress. She led them into a room and explained the House system. Then she left, instructing them all to wait.
Severus looked around the room at his fellow students. Most of them looked as nervous as he felt. Sirius and James were on the opposite side of the room, whispering to the red-haired girl. Apparently, they said something funny, as she giggled quietly. A girl with long blond hair looked disapprovingly at them, and whispered something to the two other girls with her. Severus thought he heard the word “Muggle-born”.
Then Professor McGonagall was back. She chivvied the students into a line and led them out into the Great Hall. All of the older students were already seated at the long tables, waiting for the Sorting Ceremony to begin. Severus looked around at the Hall. It really was as splendid as he had imagined it would be. He didn’t pay much attention to the song the ragged old Sorting Hat on the stool was singing-- there was so much to see. He had read of the high, vaulted ceiling, which was enchanted to mirror the sky outside, but it looked far more impressive than the book had succeeded in conveying. As the Hat ended its song, all of the students applauded. Severus joined it, his attention back on the Ceremony.
Professor McGonagall stepped forward. “As I call your name, you will put on the hat and sit on the stool to be Sorted!” she said. “Adams, Patricia”. A tall, somewhat plump girl stumbled forward, then put on the hat and sat down.
“HUFFLEPUFF!” shouted the hat. Patricia got up and joined the table of enthusiastically clapping Hufflepuffs.
“Belby, Jason!” A boy with short, curly brown hair looked up, then walked to the chair and sat down, placing the hat on his head.
“SLYTHERIN!” shouted the hat. As the Slytherin table applauded, Jason placed the hat back on the stool and walked to the table.
“Black, Sirius!” Sirius swaggered up to the stool next, but Severus thought he looked a bit nervous nonetheless.
As he clapped the hat onto his head, it shouted, “GRYFFINDOR!” Sirius pumped his fist over his head in triumph as he went to sit at the Gryffindor table. Severus watched as he sat down in an empty seat and made a grinning remark to the upperclassman sitting beside him. At the Hufflepuff and Slytherin tables, Severus saw his other newly Sorted year mates meeting their older housemates as well.
There was a commotion at one end of the Slytherin table, away from the newly Sorted Jason. A tall and strikingly beautiful young woman wearing a Prefect’s pin had risen to her feet. Her face and long dark hair reminded Severus strongly of Sirius Black. He remembered what he had said about the Blacks-this must be his cousin Bellatrix. Her black eyes flashed as a younger, gently smiling blonde girl who had been sitting beside her tugged her arm and spoke to her. Apparently, whatever the blonde said persuaded Bellatrix, for she sat back down in her chair. He looked back from this miniature drama to see the red-haired girl sitting on the stool with the hat on.
“GRYFFINDOR!” shouted the hat. The girl jumped off the stool with a broad smile and walked down.
“I didn’t catch her name,” Severus whispered to the pale, sickly boy standing behind him. The boy seemed startled to be spoken to.
“Lily Evans,” the boy responded as a shy smile replaced the careworn look on his face. Brown eyes matching the sandy brown of his hair met Severus’. “And I’m Remus Lupin.”
“Severus Snape. And, thanks!”
When Remus’s turn came, he strode diffidently forward. The hat seemed to take a longer time to make its decision. Severus wondered nervously whether it could happen that the hat would be unable to decide.
“GRYFFINDOR!” shouted the hat. Remus looked surprised at the enthusiastic applause this engendered at the Gryffindors' table as he walked down to join them. Severus watched, growing more nervous, as several more boys and girls were Sorted. There were, he reflected, disadvantages to being towards the end of the alphabet.
“Potter, James!” Severus watched as James straightened out his hair and walked forward. His lip curled as he remembered Malfoy’s comment: “It would be most unfortunate if your friend James here had to be Sorted in ringlets.”
“Gryffindor!” shouted the hat. James grinned broadly and ran down to sit next to Sirius.
“Powers”…,”Quigley”…,”Raines”…,”Rosen”…, “Sheldon”…, “Singh”…, “Smith” and then- “Snape, Severus!” Severus could feel the eyes of the whole crowd on him as he walked forward, placed the hat on his head, and sat down on the stool.
To his surprise, a little voice spoke into his ear, “Hmmm. What to do with you? Difficult, difficult. A fine mind, certainly, no lack of talent.” Severus remembered with alarm his thought during Remus’ Sorting. Surely the hat would figure out someplace to put him?
“Quite the need to prove yourself,” the hat continued. “Oh, and plenty of courage.” Recalling a snippet of the hat’s song about Gryffindors and courage, Severus closed his eyes and thought, as hard as he could, Not Gryffindor!
“Well, if you insist, make it SLYTHERIN!” Relieved at his narrow escape from Black and Potter, Severus hopped off the chair and removed the hat for the next student. The Slytherins were all cheering his Sorting, and he walked down to join them with a spring in his step.