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Mar 28, 2023 2:04 AM
What a difference a single person can make; a single change to the world. Severus Snape, in his first year, is instead a young lady who wants to make some changes to the world and herself.
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(Going carefully unmentioned, of course, is that it is likely possible to shock the less committed junior Death Eaters out of their shit by showing them the harms they would partake in.)


The bird on Ophelia's shoulder fixes the man that she definitely saw ominously glowing at the train station earlier with a vaguely suspicious wark.  Yes, her human flockmate is doing the 'carefully approach a new bird' thing right now, but if he wanted to show up here, he should have taken the train with everyone else.


Oh no.

She is so earnest and so small.

Oh no.

Dumbledore expels a great sigh, and peers down at Ophelia, eyes bright and blue and slightly damp. "Well met, Miss Prince," he says, quietly. These words are just for her, and not for the whole platform. "Were it possible to safely teach Healing without five to nine years of prerequisites I assure you that it would already be a required course for every Hogwarts student. As for the rest - all I can offer you is the reminder that powerful though I may be, I am not Merlin himself, to rewrite the law as I please. The Hogwarts curriculum is mine to control only so long as the Board of Directors cannot convince the Minister for Magic that it shouldn't be." 


(In the increasingly near distance, an absolutely enormous bearded man is shouting: "Firs' years! Firs' years over here!")


"Ah.  Politics.  The greatest curse of human organization."

"I'll have to think more about ways to teach the lesson I had in mind, then.  Thank you for your time and service, Headmaster."

She gives a polite little bow, and hurries off; she hardly wishes to get separated from Lily.


He inclines his head politely as she leaves, and does not move from his spot until they can no longer see him, as they separate from the upperclassmen and are shepherded to the edge of the lake. 


"No more'n four to a boat," Hagrid says, frowning suspiciously at the little flotilla.

Hogwarts usually provides, in its magical way, precisely the correct number of boats for the number of new students it is welcoming. But there are forty-eight students here, plus Hagrid, and fourteen boats.



...Well that look he's giving the boats they're expected to ride is totally not concerning.

"Is something the matter, Mr...?"


"Oh erm hello yes! Rubeus Hagrid, keeper of keys and grounds!" he introduces himself in a booming voice. "Nah, no, everything's fine, there's just - a weird number of 'em."


"...I see.  ...I think I see what you mean, as well.  It's exactly four to a boat, huh?  That's...concerning."

Her crow has already perched aboard one, which she is poised to follow it into.  "Lily, Sirius, would you prefer to mingle, or stay together?"


"Usually, yeah. Well, better get on it it, maybe Professor Dumbledore'll know." 

Hagrid takes up the whole of one of the boats himself, leaving thirteen for a group that needs only twelve.


Lily and Sirius glance at each other, decide apparently unanimously that it is probably not the ideal time to try to make new friends in the dark right before the Sorting with possible shenanigans afoot, and follow Ophelia.



They are joined eventually by a short, nervous-looking boy, who was slow to commit to a group while everyone was embarking and therefore found himself stuck on the shore with very few options that aren't the ominous crow girl that just had a whole secret conversation with Dumbledore or the still-empty Mysterious Extra Boat. "Sorry," he mumbles as he scurries aboard. 


"There's nothing to apologize for; welcome to our humble aboat.  Might I ask your name?"

Not her best effort at lightening the mood, but hopefully it will help.


"Oh! Oh. Um. Hello. Yes. I'm Peter, uh, Pettigrew."

It takes him long enough to get this sentence out that by the time he's managed it the boats have started moving. They do this with absolute smoothness, as though gliding on rails through the water, tugged by invisible ropes. Around them, other quiet conversations are mostly swallowed by the seemingly endless depths of the black lake.

The empty boat comes along, too.


"It's a pleasure to meet you, Peter Pettigrew.

"You're nervous; it will help if you take a deep breath in, and out, like so.

"You're not in danger, not here.  Dumbledore wouldn't let that happen, I'm sure of it.  You can relax."


Peter obediently performs the breathing exercise, and does relax a little.

(He was arguably more afraid of nebulous social censure than of danger per se, but she's also being friendly, so.)

"Um. Thank you. What's, uh -" 

The boats pass under the bridge, and the castle rises in the distance, and Peter, like everyone else, falls quiet midsentence in breathless wonder.

Hogwarts Castle is old. (And brand new, unbowed, spotless, glittering stone and marble and brick in the light of stars and torches. Not a palace, not a town, but a fortress.) In another time, on another day, it would glow with warmth, with welcome, with the promise of home and hearth and safety. That warmth can still be felt, muted, under the water, in the air, waiting to be allowed home again. The thousand thousand mental imprints of their forebears, free to do magic without fear of their neighbors, huddle together still, giving life to the stones, whispering of the community they are supposed to have.

But they know - Hogwarts knows, in its ancient moving bones - that war has come to its shores.

So Hogwarts does not speak of safety to its children, now. Not when it can promise no such thing.

I love you, it says only, softly, instead, wordless concepts floating on the breeze off the lakeshore. Come home.


...Ophelia is torn between the choice of which tears to cry, as she finds herself so dramatically drawn to the castle's glow -

The tears that she is home, here, has found, can find, can forge, can make a place for herself beyond that dismal, distant garret, that she will have unquestioning support from this place's very bones -

and the tears that even the sanctity of that promise, that home, has been marred by strife and suffering untold and immeasurable; that within even these sacred walls a fight is fought over childrens' hearts and minds, and some are lost to it.


She cannot do much, dear Hogwarts.  But Ophelia Severus Prince will do everything she can, for you, and the promise you dearly wish to give.


When they have all caught their breath, and dried their tears, Hagrid shepherds them quietly up the path, and up the stairs, where they will meet, at the doors, a witch with long silver hair, who gives off the strong and discomfiting impression of being somehow both approximtely forty and approximately three hundred. 

"Good evening," she says, in a voice like a gravity well. "My name is Thuraya Shafiq. I am the Deputy Headmistress of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, and its Professor of Astronomy. The start-of-term banquet will begin shortly, but before you take your seats in the Great Hall, you will be sorted into your houses..."

The explanatory speech about the Houses has been the same for Hogwarts' history. It only sometimes has a coda.

"...I hope each of you will be a credit to whichever house becomes yours. Additionally," and here she frowns around at everyone, levelly. "I remind you that, whatever your housemates may have to say about irreconcilable differences and/or war, the House Cup is a game. Students found to be taking it entirely too seriously will be severely punished."


Ophelia raises her hand.


"Ah, Deputy Headmistress Shafiq, ma'am, how seriously may we take the - the war - as a matter separate entirely from the matters of Hogwarts Houses?"


Faint frown. "Underspecified question. Certainly it is not within the purview of the Hogwarts administration to rule upon that which takes place outside its walls. Certainly it is within the purview of the Hogwarts administration to require that you do not perform acts of war upon your classmates in the hallways. In the case of more ambiguous middle grounds... I should say simply, I think, that anyone considering whether they can break the rules in spirit by obeying them in letter -" she is here making a sweeping statement to the whole room again, not making any particular accusations of Ophelia, who she doesn't yet know - "will be best advised to remember that it is I, not the abstract concept of clever technicalities, who will be making a judgment call."

Normally, at this juncture, she would step away for the ghosts to put on their regularly scheduled performance of bursting in complaining about Peeves to see which of the kids flinch in which ways and then taking bets among themselves for the Sorting. This activity has been cancelled by Dumbledore on grounds that under the circumstances the risk of startling an eleven-year-old into a dangerous accidental magic incident is currently unacceptably high.

"The Sorting Ceremony will begin now. Follow me."


"Thank you, ma'am," she murmurs, walking up next to Deputy Headmistress Shafiq.  She shows no fear.  "I...don't want to see anyone else get hurt.  Especially not here."


The bird that has perched on her shoulder once again gently butts its head against hers, earning a quiet, slightly amused noise and a scritch from Ophelia.


The Great Hall, as its ceiling opens up above them - despite the fact that, as they could see from the outside approaching, it definitely, one hundred percent, has a closed roof - is a riot of candles and twinkling stars. The constellations hang overhead as clear and precise as if there were not a single light source for a hundred miles. Each of the four long House tables is easily identifiable, not because they are labeled but because so many of the students are wearing color-coded accessories along with their black uniforms that one gets almost the impression of a colored camera filter being applied over each quarter of the room.

The low rumble of conversation quiets, as the Deputy Headmistress strides up to the front, where sits an ancient, patched pointy hat. Once the first-years have been shepherded into place in front of the head table, it opens its absence of mouth and sings a song. 

Most years it sings a funny little jingle about its job. This year it sings a ballad, which echoes through the hall with a faint and wizardly ambient sense of some sort of singular large aquatic creature lurking supportively below the floor.

Though often I am cheery, I shall not be tonight;
for today I tell you of an ancient Founders' fight -
Dear Godric and dear Salazar, who dealt me such a fright,
when this very evening, there was no snake in sight.

These memories are ancient, now, but listen if you will;
The Hogwarts of today has much ink on them spilled.
No Muggleborn nor pureblood dealt this castle ill;
'twas fear of persecution whose echoes haunt her still.

Dear Salazar the canny, in the deep dark night,
saw he flames a-burning, witches set to light.
Is it any wonder, then, that he feared Muggles might,
Tear down his works, set wizardry to flight?

A brave man, Godric Gryffindor, but quick to draw his steel;
He had no patience for wheels within wheels.
A threat he made, upon the day he found Hogwarts' gates seal'd;
Demanded he they open be, for either wound or weal.

Dear Rowena and Helga, despite their own fair might,
could not themselves yet settle the snakes' and lions' plight.
Keen intellect agreed that threats lurked in the night,
but kindness, caring, counsel'd that rejection wasn't right.

I find it sits upon me, to tell you, if I might:
Be kind to those unlike you, and from them take no fright,
For when you're judg'd and heav'n calls your true accounts to light -
Would hatred earn you mercy, in the darkest night?

Dumbledore, sitting directly behind it, may possibly be crying.

Professor Shafiq, her steady tone unmoved, unfurls the classlist and intones, "Avery, Philip," pulling the first student to be Sorted from the crowd.

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