Hope pushed her hair back out of her eyes and blinked wearily. Her heart sank. She was still here. It hadn't been a nightmare at all. The dark green velvet of the hangings around her four-poster bed heralded the fact that she was indeed in Slytherin. Slytherin, of all places! She choked back a sob. Whatever were they all going to say at home? She couldn't bear this. She'd let them all down.
She snuffled her nose into Grandpa's Gryffindor scarf, breathing in the scent. If she closed her eyes and imagined hard enough it smelt like being at The Burrow with Granny in the kitchen baking cakes for tea. A sudden surge of homesickness washed over her, a longing to be in her own bed and then to have breakfast with Mum and Dad. She'd even put up with Sam picking his nose to be round the honey coloured wooden table in their kitchen this morning. Why couldn't things be the way they used to be? Why did they have to change?
Noises of stirring around her made her hastily stuff Grandpa's scarf under her pillow. She rubbed her eyes fiercely, making sure no traces of tears were left. It was bad enough to be in Slytherin, but to be caught crying about it like a baby would be a fate worse than death. She was a Potter after all.
Hope bit her quivering lip and steeled herself to face the day ahead. She could do this. She could. All she had to do was to keep her head down and give it her best shot at getting through the lessons, and then when the rest of them were doing their homework, she'd go and find Professor McGonagall. Dad had always said she was fair. Well, this wasn't fair, was it? The injustice of the whole situation stung bitterly. Professor McGonagall would sort it out. She had to.
The brevity of grunted morning greetings told Hope that the others in her dormitory were getting up. She barely remembered their faces, let alone their names from last night. There was the raven-haired girl who'd been mean to Hagrid and her mousy friend: they'd been the ones whispering and pointing at her, and she had a vague recollection that there had been two others. Hope barely cared who they were. It wasn't as if she'd be there for long anyway, not if she could do anything about it.
Taking a final deep breath, she drew her curtains back and stepped from the security of her four-poster into the world outside.
The morning conversations hushed for a second as the four girls turned to stare at her. Hope fought back the heat that threatened to rush into her cheeks, bending quickly to rummage through her trunk for her clean uniform. There was no point in unpacking, she reasoned: it wasn't as if Slytherin could ever be home. She began to get dressed, thankful that she was right at the far end of the long row of beds so that she could studiously avoid any contact with the others.
The dungeon dormitory wasn't actually as bad as she'd feared last night. She'd always imagined Slytherin as a sort of underground torture chamber with rusty manacles chained to a damp wall, but this was surprisingly bright and airy. There was a large window, right beside her bed, cut into what must have been the rock upon which Hogwarts stood. She was about twenty feet above the Hogwarts lake, and the soft early autumn sunlight danced in golden circles upon the ripples of the water. A lazy tentacle stretched out of the water, and seemed to wave to her before it vanished swiftly beneath the surface once more.
Hope drew closer to the window, watching in amazement. Dad said he'd been in the lake once and that there were mermaids and all sorts of creatures in there. She'd read all about them, but it would be incredible to actually see them in real life. Shadowy shapes seemed to shift in the depths of the glittering lake, but she could make out nothing more. She sighed to herself, turned back to grab for her hairbrush and collided with a body right behind her.
"I'm so sorry," a soft voice with a hint of Irish brogue wafted through the air. Hope sprang backwards, her heart suddenly beating wildly. "I didn't mean to scare you. I'm Cora Maguire." There was a pause and Hope looked up to find a pretty girl with curly dark hair giving her a wry grin. "Well, it's Corona really. I don't know what the parents were thinking when they came up with that one, so I'm Cora to anyone who wants to survive." She chuckled, her bright blue eyes crinkling at the edges. "You're Hope Potter, aren't you?"
"Yes," Hope said tersely, gripping her hairbrush like a weapon. This girl wasn't going to be nice, was she? It was against the law of nature or something. Slytherins weren't nice: they just weren't.
"Wow!" the girl said, with unconcealed admiration. "I've heard so much about you. It's amazing what you did when you were tiny. I bet you're really good at magic and everything."
There was a disparaging snort from lower down the room and Hope could make out the snooty raven-haired girl from last night nudging her companion and pointing at them.
"However are we going to cope with having a celebrity in our dormitory," she exclaimed, casting a dramatic hand to her forehead and pretending to swoon. "Although if she's anything like my sister said her parents were like, she won't even know which end of her wand to hold."
Hope felt her temper beginning to rise, and choked it back. She briefly tugged the brush through her hair and then stalked in silence from the room, letting the door clash behind her and muffle the laughter that erupted in her wake.
She made her way slowly down the spiral stairs into the common room below. The room was busy with a myriad of students lounging in the chairs around the fire and chatting at a furious pace. They took no notice as a tiny first year scuttled through their midst and out onto the corridor beyond.
The twisting passageways hewn into the rock seemed to stretch for miles. Unlike the common room and the dormitory, these had no windows and no light but for the flaming torches hanging against the walls every now and then. She hurried onwards, suddenly feeling desperate to escape, her footsteps echoing hollowly down the corridor. More passageways, more twists and turns, and she was running now, away from the shadowy corners, away from the Parkinson girl in the dormitory and, most of all, away from all things Slytherin.
At long last the floor began to slope upwards and Hope stumbled breathlessly into a far more brightly lit corridor than those she'd been in before. The passageway here was flagged with quarried stone, rather than tunnelled into the rocks and bright pictures of food lined the walls. Suddenly, her stomach gurgled like a drain, reminding her that she'd eaten nothing the night before, and the gnawing ache inside increased. She crouched down for a second, trying to catch her breath.
"You'll feel better after you've eaten something," her Granny's voice said inside her head. Hope doubted it, but she knew better than to argue: even an imagined version of Granny could be pretty fearsome. A wave of students washed past her, glancing curiously in her direction. Hope gritted her teeth and followed at a distance.
After a few minutes she found herself in the magnificent entrance hall from last night, with the beautiful marble staircase twisting upwards. Statues and portraits of people from long ago lined the walls, nodding good morning to each other and to the various students who drifted by in twos and threes on their way to breakfast.
The Great Hall was fairly quiet compared with the host of people she'd seen there last night. People seemed to be eating in their little groups and leaving when they were ready, rather than the whole school sitting down for a full meal together. That suited Hope perfectly. She made a beeline for a large empty gap on the Slytherin table, and slid into a seat, studiously ignoring everyone else in the room.
A rack of toast popped up on the table in front of her, causing her to gasp in surprise. She was used to food and crockery flying across the kitchen at home, but food appearing out of nowhere was rather impressive. She reached for a slice, and buttered it thoughtfully.
"How's it going?" a familiar, worried voice asked.
"Robert!" she exclaimed, seeing the fair-haired boy slip into the seat opposite her. "You can't sit here. You'll get into all sorts of trouble."
"I don't care," he said staunchly, helping himself to a slice of Slytherin toast. "You're my friend, and I hate seeing you upset like this."
"I'm not upset," Hope growled.
"OK!" Robert said hastily. "But there's got to be someone who can help you to be… er… even less not upset than you're not upset now."
Hope gave him a watery grin. She leaned in to explain her idea about talking to Professor McGonagall, but before she'd got very far she became acutely aware of a set of billowing black robes bearing down on them like an overgrown bat.
"And what have we here?" a silken voice sneered. "An interloper? If the hat didn't deem you fit for my house, boy, then don't presume to sort yourself here. It has far more brains than you'll ever have. Get back to your own house at once!"
Hope's eyes narrowed as she glared at the teacher. His black glittering eyes watched Robert's rapid departure back to the Gryffindor table, and then he turned, surveying Hope far more carefully than people usually did.
"He wasn't doing anything wrong!" Hope objected before she could stop herself.
"Indeed, Miss Potter," the glittering eyes darkened and the lips parted in a sardonic smile. "Your father, and his father before him, may have had a penchant for rule breaking when they were here, but I expect better from you. The Sorting Hat clearly thinks you have potential, despite your questionable genetics, and I would recommend that you don't squander your talents on fools. Good morning."
She glared furiously at his retreating back, speechless with anger. So that was Severus Snape. She'd heard a lot about him from Mum and Dad, and they were right, he was a git. Dad had some sort of grudging respect for the man, but why she couldn't fathom. As far as she could see, he was just another reason to get out of Slytherin as quickly as she could.
A timetable was thrust into her hand by one of the Slytherin prefects and she scanned it quickly. The day started off with Defence Against the Dark Arts, then History of Magic with Professor Binns. There was Potions with Robert and Gryffindor straight after lunch, and finally Transfiguration with Professor McGonagall at the end of the day. She tapped Professor McGonagall's name on her timetable thoughtfully. That was perfect. Once this was all sorted out then she'd owl Mum and Dad; they'd be worried if they didn't hear from her soon.
Feeling almost cheerful, she sat back in her seat and poured herself a cup of steaming tea. Perhaps everything would be all right after all.
Unlike the rest of her classmates, Hope found that she seemed to have an instinctive knack of finding her way around the school. Staircases moved on whim, but there was always some alternative route she could find, whether by ducking through a tapestry or through an arch or doorway that no one had ever noticed before, she always arrived at lessons promptly. She noticed the others giving her quizzical looks, but she shrugged it off. It wasn't as if she cared what they thought, she reminded herself, she wasn't going to be with them for much longer.
The morning dragged on for an eternity, and Hope could have sworn that her watch had actually stopped ticking in Professor Binns' class. That lesson had seemed to be a week long at least. Finally the afternoon came round, and it was with mixed feelings that Hope found herself standing in a cold corridor between Robert and a Slytherin boy, waiting for her first Potions lesson.
"It's amazing isn't it?" Robert whispered, his eyes wide in awe. "I don't think I'll ever learn all this magic in a million years."
The door of the dungeon classroom creaked open and the darkly robed teacher who'd insulted her this morning stood before them, his arms folded and his lips pursed disapprovingly.
"I suggest you stop your meaningless babble," he intoned loftily, "unless you're even more useless than the idiots they usually give me to teach. Come in, take your places, and touch nothing. Do I make myself clear?"
A rippled murmur of ‘Yes Sir,' fluttered through the corridor. Snape grunted and moved aside to let them into his domain.
Hope set her books on a desk and grinned when Robert sat down beside her. Snape gave her a dark look, clearly disapproving of her choice of partners, but said nothing. He launched into a speech in a fairly bored voice about the art of potion making, his long fingers drumming every now and then on his desk.
Her attention wandered. The room was filled with jars and bottles. Complicated contraptions of glass and copper bubbled furiously at the far side of the room, and eerie pickled animals and other bits of things that Hope would rather not examine too closely lined the walls, their ghoulish yellow interiors illuminated by the torches flaming fiercely to give them light.
Hope jumped at the sudden noise and whirled to face Professor Snape, her heart thudding in her chest. What had she done now?
"As you appear to know everything so well already that you don't need to pay attention to my lessons, perhaps you could assist the rest of the class by answering some simple questions? For example, which potion has the ingredients of ground scarab beetle, sliced ginger root and armadillo bile?"
Hope gulped, her brain suddenly heading into overdrive. She'd heard of that one before. Her uncles had used that potion for one of the jokes they'd made for Weasley's Wizarding Wheezes. Now what had it done?
"It's a wit sharpening potion, Professor," she said quietly, her steady tone giving no trace of the squirming her stomach was doing inside. Snape's eyes narrowed.
"And what about skinned shrivelfig, sliced caterpillar and chopped daisy roots, completed with a dash of leech juice?" His tone was triumphant, but Hope never broke eye contact with him. She'd helped Uncle George make this one.
"A shrinking solution."
There was a murmur of surprise around the classroom.
"Five points from Gry-" Snape began and caught himself just in time. "From Slytherin. It seems, Miss Potter, that you are quite as much of an insufferable know-it-all as your aunt."
Hope said nothing, but inwardly was fuming. She didn't care about losing points for Slytherin, but the insults were almost more than she could bear. Robert kicked her leg reassuringly and they shared a quick grin, which quickly evaporated when Snape turned his head back in their direction.
They left the dungeon at the end of the lesson with piles of homework, and she said goodbye to Robert at the foot of the marble staircase. He had Herbology, and Hope was bubbling over with excitement about her Transfiguration lesson. She just couldn't wait. This was her chance to make everything right again.
"Hope! Wait a second!" Cora yelled after her, emerging from the dungeons right behind her. "Can I come up with you, please? I keep getting lost and you seem to know your way around pretty well."
Hope nodded briefly. Cora didn't seem so bad really, not that she was ever going make friends with a Slytherin, of course.
"I can't believe how mean he was to you," Cora chattered on as they climbed higher, and wandered along corridors milling with students. "Asking you all those questions. You showed him all right. How did you know all those things anyway?"
"Just picked them up," Hope shrugged, and took a sharp right turn that felt as if it would go in the right direction.
"Are all of your relatives witches and wizards?" Cora asked curiously. "My dad was killed in the war, so there's just me and mum at home. She's the only person I ever saw do magic before I came here."
"They're all magic," Hope said stiffly. She didn't want to think of her relatives right now, not when she was letting them down so badly. Cora looked a little hurt but the abruptness of her response, so she added, "I think Dad's got a Muggle aunt and uncle somewhere, but I can't remember meeting them."
They climbed a tiny rickety staircase and emerged from behind a heavy red curtain right beside the Transfiguration classroom with Professor McGonagall already standing in the doorway. She looked at them sternly through her glassed and pursed her lips before she nodded. "Come along, quickly now."
They scuttled into the classroom, and Hope headed for the desk furthest from the door. It would mean that she would be last out of the room, and that would be an ideal opportunity to accost her about the unfair sorting. To Hope's surprise, Cora sat down next to her and got her books out ready for the lesson.
Professor McGonagall was strict. The first few minutes of the lesson left no room for doubt about that in Hope's mind. The rules were clearly laid out and woe betide anyone who crossed her. Before she even knew what was happening, Hope found herself taking down notes and working far harder than she had ever done in her life just to keep up with the rest of the class.
Matchsticks were given out, and they were told to attempt to turn them into needles.
"Make sure you concentrate all your strength into it," Professor McGonagall instructed crisply. "It takes a lot of power to begin with."
"Bet you a galleon she can't do it!" Parkinson whispered to her friend, just loud enough for Hope to hear. "She's all talk. You know the type."
"I wouldn't risk my money," the tiny mousy girl laughed.
"Miss Lambert! Miss Parkinson! Pay attention, please!"
The two girls were silenced, and Hope's fury boiled over. She'd show them all right. Concentrating all of her effort, she pointed her wand at the matchstick, thinking, willing, demanding that it change. The silvery colour of a needle filled her mind and she strained to do it. She could feel it moving beneath her touch. It was changing. She concentrated even harder. Yes! It was changing! She felt the magic draining through her.
"A dagger?" Professor McGonagall's surprised voice came from behind her. "Good gracious, Miss Potter. I was only expecting a needle from you today."
Hope felt herself blushing furiously. She'd just made a real fool of herself, hadn't she? Before her on the table lay no needle, but a shiny silver blade with a glittering ruby stone embedded in the ornately crafted hilt.
"Now what about the rest of you?" Professor McGonagall said tartly, wheeling round to catch the culprits of the muffled sniggers. "Miss Potter has at least managed a transfiguration, and I presume the rest of you think you can darn socks with matches. A little more effort, if you please."
As the classroom cleared at the end of the lesson, Hope was slowly packing away her things, wondering how she could get rid of the patiently waiting Cora so she could talk to Professor McGonagall in private. Professor McGonagall solved the problem for her.
"Miss Potter. A word please."
Hope's insides lurched, and the quivering feeling she'd had in her stomach all lesson surged upwards, making her feel sick. She gave a half smile to Cora, who grinned back and shrugged before disappearing out of the classroom. Shaking from head to foot, Hope approached Professor McGonagall's desk. She swallowed awkwardly, trying to breathe as steadily as she could.
Professor McGonagall watched her carefully for a moment and then her face broke into a very unexpected smile.
"Miss Potter, I've been teaching a good many years, but I've never seen anything quite like that before. Was that your first attempt at Transfiguration?"
Hope nodded mutely.
"It seems that you may well have the opposite problem to the one everyone else has at this stage. They are learning to find their powers and to strengthen their magical abilities, whereas your power appears to be already strong. You must learn to control it, before your magic controls you."
"Dad says something like that too," Hope whispered, her fingers clutching the end of Professor McGonagall's desk. "I used to do all sorts of things at home I didn't mean to do and couldn't control. He thought school would help."
"It will," Professor McGonagall smiled again. "Just don't expect to be like everyone else. It is more than likely that you've acquired powers other than your own from what happened when you were a baby in this very school. As for what they are, I couldn't tell you, but I'm sure they will become clear in time. Dumbledore expected great things of you, that little I do know: the rest of it is up to you."
"P-Professor," Hope chewed on her lip. "I wanted to ask you something."
"Go on," Professor McGonagall's face became serious once more.
"It's the Sorting Hat. It's got to have made a mistake. I mean it must have. How can I be in Slytherin? It doesn't make sense, really it doesn't. Mum and Dad and everyone's been in Gryffindor for years, and I'm not any different, really I'm not. I don't want to be in Slytherin. I shouldn't be there. Please Professor, you've got to do something to help…"
Professor McGonagall held up her hand to stop the babbling torrent of confusion, and Hope choked back on her tears.
"The Sorting Hat has chosen you for Slytherin," she said calmly. "I agree, it's somewhat of a surprise, I was rather expecting you in Gryffindor this year. But it has decided that your talents can be used more effectively elsewhere. Slytherin is a very fine house, and some remarkable talent has stemmed from there."
"But I don't want to be there," Hope wailed. "I'd rather not be at Hogwarts at all than be in Slytherin. You've got to be able to do something. Please!"
"I'm sorry, Miss Potter," Professor McGonagall looked very sympathetic, but she shook her head firmly. "Once the Sorting Hat has selected you, then I'm afraid that there is nothing that anyone can do whilst you remain at Hogwarts."
Hope felt hot tears brimming in her eyes and she made her way to the door, the room blurring before her. There had to be something. So Professor McGonagall couldn't help her, but there had to be something else. She wasn't going to stay here. She wasn't a Slytherin, no matter what anyone said.
"There is nothing that anyone can do whilst you remain at Hogwarts." Professor McGonagall's words echoed around her head.
Suddenly, she knew what she had to do, and gulping back the tears, she sprinted off down the corridor, around twists and turns and up a tiny flight of stairs to a heavy oak door. She twisted the heavy iron ring and slipped inside a circular stone room, filled with soft hooting noises.
"Balthasar?" she called softly, and her heart leapt to see a whir of sooty black feathers drifting in her direction. "Hello there," she whispered, stroking his feathers. He nipped at her fingers affectionately and she smiled, tears finally spilling over.
"I need you to deliver this," she said, pulling out a small piece of parchment and her quill. Mum and Dad would have to wait, this was far more important. She dipped her quill into the ink and began to write: