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Jun 08, 2023 6:48 PM
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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She politely inclines her head at Avery and Travers.  "The information is appreciated."


As for Dolohov, she nods.  "That is true.  Sometimes I wonder, though, what companies would turn out to be household names if we gave them equal materials, and equal tools, then went behind a veil of ignorance before picking between the resulting products.  Regardless, that's merely a thought.  And we're eating dinner, not performing thought experiments."


So they are! Dinner, thus, proceeds apace, with a moderate amount more of people asking each other Arguably Polite Questions Which Are Definitely Not Secretly Insults. (They aren't only doing this at Ophelia or anything. Slytherins are just sort of fundamentally like that.)



She might be good at this social maneuvering, but she is going to haaaaaate it here.

Oh well.  Needs must.


Eventually, the food is replaced by dessert, and dessert is replaced by steadily quieting chatter as everyone gets full and contented and sleepy, and then Dumbledore stands up again.

"Now that we are all fed and watered, I have a few more words to share with you," he says, warmly. His voice is noticeably softer than it was on the platform, warmer, like a very heavy weight has temporarily left his shoulders. "For those of you who do not know me, I am Headmaster Albus Dumbledore, and it is my immense honor to welcome each and every one of you to Hogwarts. I know that in the past year there has been a great deal of upheaval in our community, and it may seem difficult to focus your attention on classwork, but I implore you to remember that education is more, not less, important in uncertain times. Very few long-term goals are accomplished without it."

He pauses to let this sink in, and then continues.

"Now, a few announcements. First, after many decades of loyal service, our castle caretaker Apollyon Pringle has begun his well-deserved retirement, and I ask you to join me in welcoming his successor, Mr. Argus Filch." He gestures to a middle-aged man with a deep frown and an enormous yellow-eyed cat wrapped around his shoulders like a scarf. There's a smattering of dubious applause. "Second, all students should be aware that a new Whomping Willow has been planted at the edge of the Forbidden Forest for research purposes, and approaching it without an approved NEWT research proposal and the direct supervision of Professor Sprout is both forbidden and extremely ill-advised. I also remind you, of course, that the Forbidden Forest remains exactly as Forbidden as its name implies. Third, if you have any problems, of any kind, caused by the chaos currently ongoing outside our walls, do not hesitate to ask any of your professors for help or advice. We may not be able to solve everything, but we're here to help. In particular, your Head of House will have office hours, marked on the schedule you will receive tomorrow morning at breakfast." 

Normally, at this juncture, it would be time to sing a song.

Dumbledore does not feel it is tonally appropriate. Regretfully, he closes his speech: "And that is all I have for you this evening. Good night."


Ophelia applauds the caretaker politely.  He has an important job, moreso because it's an overlooked one.


And then it is time to leave, it seems.

She finds herself wondering where they are actually going, however.


TO THE DUNGEONS ahem, uh, they're going downstairs. (So are the Hufflepuffs, though they split off in a different direction as soon as they reach the landing.)

Dolores Umbridge leads the way, speechifying somewhat stultifyingly about the grand legacy of Salazar Slytherin and the necessity of following the rules and so forth. She utterly ignores any attempts to interrupt or ask questions, but if one is to listen carefully the whole time to her droning repetition of what seems, like Shafiq's introduction of the Houses, to be a prepared speech, it is possible to detect a variety of carefully plausibly deniable implications. These are to the general effect that the school administration cannot be trusted (so if you have a problem go to a prefect), that if you get caught breaking the rules you will immediately get thrown under the bus (gotta keep up the facade of collective compliance with only a few exceptions!), that tutoring in illegal dark magic absent from the curriculum is probably available from older students but only if you prove you are both worthy and trustworthy (and if you don't you'll get reported to admin with a wide-eyed "and of course we would never countenance....") and so on.


...What a lovely House she has found herself inside.


"Go get the flock," she murmurs to the bird upon her shoulder.

She's going to need their help, to survive this place without getting her life ruined.


And her maybe-a-familiar departs.  She napped on the train; she's good for the flight back.


She will just have to hope that no-one has Shenanigans prepared for her tonight - because, frankly, she expects them to come.  She will make them fucking try for it...but she will inevitably make enemies, here.


At least she knows that - the person who's definitely a relative of Sirius and is also a Prefect - is surprisingly decent, because she warded off the rest of this lot with knives.


Dear probably-the-person-Sirius-only-referred-to-as-Andy,

I met your cousin?, Sirius upon the train.  I'm glad he escaped this snake pit, but I, out of some foolhardy drive to change it for the better, declined the Hat's offer to sort me somewhere else.


You may imagine what I expect this to lead to, since you've been here much longer than I.  Do you have recommendations for protective spells and/or words of advice?

--O. Prince

And then, her feet slowly edge her nearer, nearer, nearer through the crowd...


She's close enough.  The letter, with the gut-wrenching desperate twist she feels when she reaches for the magic inside her with only focus and possibly mind-control powers at work, slips into one of Andromeda's pockets in a flash too quick for any but the prepared observer to catch.


(Ophelia has ever stolen things.  She's - not proud of it, but she would have - if not starved-for-real, nonetheless been substantially worse-off.)


She - catches herself before she sags in relief, and unpockets some apple slices she brought from the table, not only to occupy herself with, but also to restore the energy she burned on that stunt.


Andromeda Black has not apparently been paying any attention to her surroundings, but she's a seventh-year Slytherin prefect who has never gotten on enormously well with her housemates even before last month. She is in fact paying exquisite, detailed, and continuous attention to her surroundings. So she has, at this point, a decent idea of what she's looking at, when she contemplates Slytherin's newest reckless little revolutionary. She seems the type who might even left to her own devices make a serious dent, but there's a lot of Slytherins and only one Ophelia. Andy didn't start disagreeing with her housemates out loud until she was fourteen and even then she had Bellatrix hovering protectively over her shoulder until she went a little too far. Ophelia needs allies, and fast, but Andy's going to graduate at the end of this year and associating with her is liable to put a ticking time-bomb of a target on the poor kid's back. Wise of her, to try to leave a note instead of talking to her out loud.

She pulls an apparently unrelated book out of her pocket as if to check a reference, muttering to herself about the NEWT charms schedule, to read the note carefully folded into its pages, and then shoves it back away to contemplate her slightly more refined model of the kid she's trying to help. She quietly drafts a response note in her pocket (bless scribing charms) while Umbridge is talking, absently tracking other whispered conversations among the upperclassmen, and considers how best to deliver it. Right now the biggest lever she has, she suspects, is the fact that Narcissa cannot actually envision the experience of getting disowned and being pleased about that instead of horribly traumatized, which means that anything Andromeda does in the next, like, week or so will be taken to be irrational lashing-out behavior and clearly not a scheme.

What does she want Narcissa to think she very sincerely feels and is not doing schemes about?

... Oh, that's easy now that she puts it that way: she wants Narcissa to think she hates clever rude little Ophelia Prince, so that Narcissa will, spitefully, decide the shiny new revolutionary is her very favorite. Malfoy and Lestrange and so on will follow her off that cliff like stupid, evil little ducklings.

So she ostentatiously pulls the note from her pocket - quite as though she had not noticed it being placed there, so Ophelia can brag about that later if she wants to - and lights it aflame. As they're approaching the common room door, she strides through the small pile of first-years, cutting off the last sentence or so of Umbridge's speech with a dismissive flick of her wrist (this is not a spell, Umbridge just knows to stop talking when Andromeda says so). She lights the page on fire, dramatically, and shoves it into Ophelia's chest. This looks like it should hurt quite a lot, but doesn't actually.

"How dare you," she snarls, sharp and imperious and carrying, "little tiny unproven child, thinking you have any right to talk to me. Last warning. Next time you'll be hanging from the rafters by the skin of your ankles." Then, as she leans in threateningly, while her face is very close to Ophelia's, and her back is to the crowd, she grins a bright, conspiratorial smile, for a split second. "Andromeda, by the way," she murmurs, inaudible to anyone else, "Black, though not for long," and then blatantly swipes an apple slice from Ophelia's pocket (leaving her response note, of course, in its place) and stalks off in a very convincing huff.

Ophelia may not get an opportunity to read the note quite yet. Because, of course, Narcissa Black has at once swept over, cooing sympathetically, to tell her how brave and clever she is, don't mind Andy she's just like that all the time, did she need help with something, Narcissa will of course be happy to help, etcetera. 

In the near distance, Andromeda Black-but-not-for-long, stony-faced, does not smirk triumphantly.


Ophelia barely needs to act, to shudder appropriately when Andromeda invades her space - but she has to admit, that maneuver was masterful, and oh, the results -

The small, tenuous smile pinned to her face as she speaks to Narcissa, going on about oh how she had thought the trick with the knives was really neat and she was worried that her classmates would decide to hurt her for her associations (true, though not in its implications about which ones) so she wanted to learn about self-defense, but Andy was so mean and awful instead; oh, but she imagines that Narcissa knows a lot, too, about how to keep herself safe in such an environment (because she is in fact the danger, Ophelia's Second Thoughts - not that she knows them in precisely those terms - think, hidden behind the mask of an eager little snake), what with having had such a mean older sister all this time, could she teach her some of the things she's learned?  Her mother, (small sad vulnerable eyes) never did teach her the things good Slytherins ought to know, and she wants to be a good Slytherin, a credit to her House... 

That smile is because her plan, Andromeda's plan, is working.

(True and false, her last claim is - she wants to be a good Slytherin, rather than a good Slytherin.  She'll feign vulnerability, moldability, then take the knife Narcissa has helped her hone and stab it up through the ribs into Slytherin House's sickening, pustulent heart.)


Hook, line, and perfectly executed sinker, Miss Prince.

Narcissa is charmed, and beaming, as they sweep through the doors to the common room and she assures Ophelia that she will certainly help her with that. She won't personally have an enormous amount of free time this year, as she's got OWLs, but she can recommend her some library books and in the morning once they have schedules maybe she can swing a free period every couple weeks ... 

The Slytherin common room, it transpires, is aesthetically dominated by the breathtaking two-story windows covering a full two-thirds of the walls and a decent chunk of the floor and ceiling besides. Through them is visible, not the sky, but the lake, lit from within by an unearthly crystalline blue-green ambient glow. For something like thirty paces out into the water, an observer can clearly see a myriad of floating plants, a dozen kinds of increasingly bizarre fish, and occasionally, looming in and out of the darkness it fades into further away, the shadow of the giant squid. 

Much of the rest of the room is less interesting than that, but not at all uninteresting. It's a delicately arranged balance of filigreed silver wall sconces and decoratively twisted wooden furniture pieces that may actually be made of living trees, their branches reaching up to and through the non-glass parts of the ceiling. The noise of conversations in the stone corridors is damped as soon as the crowd crosses over into the room, softened by emerald green velvet wall hangings and upholstery and inch-thick grey carpets. As the older students disappear up the stairs, the faint crackling of the hearth, an apparently ordinary orange fire dancing merrily in ink-black brick, becomes audible.

Umbridge, once neither of the Black sisters is taking up her metaphorical floor, resumes her speech without a hitch, and it flows neatly into pointing them to their new dorms. One sweeping staircase for girls and one for boys, she explains, gesturing, and a series of doors across the balconies. Those ones on the end are theirs, and will be for the next seven years: they rotate with cohorts, rather than being fixed by year, so that you don't have to try to remember every year that a different door is yours. 

There's just three girls in Slytherin's new cohort, counting Ophelia, and four boys; the Sorting this year was distinctly lopsided, with seventy percent of the incoming first-years going Hufflepuff or Ravenclaw. (They're usually reasonably balanced, but everyone else who got anything like a choice, naturally, grabbed it with both hands rather than have to deal with being at war.)


(Oh, that would be lovely, she's ever so appreciative of the opportunity, she beams.  It's true, though not for the reasons Narcissa is thinking!)


" goodness.  There's so precious few of us," she murmurs, now that it has become so distinctly clear as she looks upon the sparsely-arranged beds.

Her voice picks up to a volume that is more meant to be heard by her fellow girls.

"We'll have to stick together, watch our backs.  Because - we're the weakest links; we can't defend ourselves with our knowledge of nothing whatsoever.  If someone wanted to hurt Slytherin House, they'd start here.  So we must - become stronger.  Become faster.  Become quicker of mind and fleeter of wit.  Sharpen the knives with which we carve our paths through the world.  And while the elder snakes of house Slytherin are fierce - they cannot, and will not, always protect us, even when they'd actually like to do so.  So we must protect ourselves.  To that end - I'd like to propose a pact, of sorts.  That whatever we are doing, and however fiercely we might feel about the necessity of what we are doing - this space, this bedroom, these beds, they stay off limits for any sort of shenanigans.  We do not prank eachother in here, we do not plot against people in here, we do not bring or cause trouble in this safe space, nor do we use anything we might learn from eachother in plots that would harm them - because we will need to be safe, here, from every enemy we make, if we want to survive seven years of war in the offing.  And I know I want you to survive this war."


Karina Dolohov listens appraisingly, neutral-faced and patient, to this proposal, and then offers a measured nod. She might have been less open to making firm commitments on day zero about this sort of thing, but she just watched her new roommate arrange herself from suspicious outsider to Narcissa Black's protégée in the span of two hours. This seems like the sort of rapidly coalescing political situation where if you don't commit hard and fast you lose. "Agreed," she says, and almost (kinda) manages to make it sound deep and serious and formal, like her dad does every time he talks. One unfortunately doesn't spawn out of the womb pre-equipped with that sort of thing.

Annette Wilkes, on the other hand, a gangly brown-haired girl whose greenish eyes have, to Ophelia's discerning view, the distinctly malicious light of someone whose favorite activity is hurting people, squints increasingly suspiciously at her throughout this short speech. She flings herself dramatically onto her assigned bed, kicking her heels up onto the bedframe. "Seems awful Hufflepuff to me, that," she complains.

Dolohov rolls her eyes. "Annie. Literally use any part of your brain." 

Wilkes scrunches up her face mulishly. "Fine, fine, ugh. I wasn't going to do anything anyway, who plays pranks, I'm not a Gryffindor."


Ophelia returns the nod to Dolohov, and gives her a small, thankful smile after she prods Annette Wilkes to think.

She sits on the bed she's been assigned in turn, and takes up a pose that just screams intense and important thought happening as she inclines her gaze towards Annie.  "The idea that we always gain in breaking the other Houses' virtues seems a bit short-sighted, to me, honestly.  Have you ever seen a swarm of bees attack something that disturbed their hive, some thing a thousand times larger than any one bee alone, and win?  Because they do.  That is Hufflepuff, as much as the cheerful welcome the ballad mentioned is, and we don't even have the size advantage should they become motivated to make our lives hell.

"To be properly ambitious is to use even tools you find distasteful towards your ends.  Though, I should note, first you do need to know what those ends are.  So I'll tell you a thing I want to do with my time at Hogwarts, and if it pleases you, you can reciprocate - you can share something you want to do, in turn, whether it's personal, political, or something else besides.  Then, we can consider how we could work together to accomplish our goals, and whether that's something we want to do.

"I want to make Slytherin House a House the other Houses of Hogwarts respect, rather than fear.  Or, rather, both at once - in that they rightly should be worrying where they'd be without our leadership, instead of casting us out to survive without them and worrying we'll bite if we find our way back in."


Wilkes makes a face like she's not entirely sure anyone has ever in her life asked her to have independent goals before. " .... wanna be the strongest?" she hazards after several minutes' thought on this question.

Dolohov, who seems increasingly likely to consider getting on a first-name basis with Ophelia but isn't there yet, settles cross-legged and straight-backed on her own mattress. "Interesting ambition you got there, Prince. I can't say I entirely disagree with it. Think I'd like to get to know you a bit better before I answer that question, though." (Is this because she doesn't have an answer yet, or because she thinks Ophelia might not like it? Remains to be seen!)


Ophelia gives a polite nod-and-smile to Dolohov.  She can respect that.  She's on the other side of dynamics like that often enough, what with her ongoing genderosity.

"That's fair, Dolohov.  Offer's open anytime."

As for Annette Wilkes...

"What, do you think, makes someone strong, if you will indulge my curiosity?"


This feels like it's probably a trick question somehow. She is at this point clear enough on what Ophelia is like that she's aware she's not asking because she doesn't already have an answer in mind.

However. Karina seems to think this girl is to be respected, and Karina is smart and frequently right about things, and so she won't just tell her to piss off.

"Depends?" she hedges. "Strong means not-weak means not losing whatever game is being played for who's-in-charge this year, better yet winning it, even if you don't actually use it for that. Game's not always fighting but that's usually a good bet. Like - like everybody knows if Arcturus Black and Abraxas Malfoy had a fight Black would win, right. Malfoy is in charge of things and Black isn't 'cause he doesn't want to, but he could, that's the kinda strong I want to be."

Perhaps more to the point, Arcturus Black IX, retired ex-Lord of the House of Black, is the kind of strong, metaphorically speaking as well as literally, where he gets away with actual murder. Everyone knows the healer who failed to save Melania Macmillan-Black got horribly tortured to death and there wasn't even a trial. Annette is obviously not going to say this out loud, though, even in the privacy of a dorm room containing no Macmillans or Blacks, because she is not, you know, suicidal.


Ah, but in this case, the trick of the question was indeed in answering at all.  Ophelia genuinely wanted to know her thoughts, because it would mean she was thinking them.  Not that it's really a trick, from Ophelia's perspective.


Ophelia nods.  "You want to have control over the course of your own life, to be the rock that endures within it rather than the pebble tossed along the banks of the flowing river.  I think, perhaps, that every member of this House was chosen for exactly this - that that is the core virtue of Slytherin, the thing the House is meant to cultivate.  That, ironically enough, Dumbledore is exercising that virtue when he chooses to be Headmaster of Hogwarts instead of taking up any of the myriad positions that would be happy to have him.  Though, once you have that power, when all of Britain recognizes you as the strongest wizard in its realm - I'm curious, do you know what you'd do then?   I think that's something worth thinking about."

She pauses, musing briefly.

"I think I'd have a garden, and a quiet little tower, and feed the crows from the balcony.  Perhaps do magical research, if the mood took me.  Brew potions.  Fix problems worth my attention, I suppose, if my power was the sort that came predominantly from might, or intellect - though being the lodestone of a culture, being the sort of person around whom others align, the sort it's worth listening to even if you hate everything they say, often helps solve otherwise intractable issues.  It causes new and exciting ones when, inevitably, intentions collide with reality and lose, but that's another matter entirely.  So do you have any dreams like that, Annette?  Whether or not you want to tell me what they are.  Because - power needs a purpose, or what's the point of having it?"


Annette is slightly too distracted by the weighty question she's been posed to object to the familiar address. (Karina, quietly observing, adds this to her list of reasons to be impressed with Ophelia Prince. On the other side of the mental two-column chart, of course, the one of reasons to stay away even while impressed, she also inscribes, dubiously, seems to want to be Dumbledore. This is not necessarily a bad thing if you want to be Dumbledore in a Malfoy way and not in a McGonagall way but.... still.)

" ... the point," Annette says, after a moment, chewing on her lower lip, "isn't it, is that if you have one dream and you pick early you can probably get it if you try very hard, but you aren't going to get anything else, and if you have a lot of power you can get any dream you like, you don't have to pick now." 


Oh, Ophelia hardly wants to be Dumbledore, he's not ambitious enough when it comes to solving his problems!  He hasn't fixed Slytherin yet, and he's had years!  Decades!


...Huh.  That's actually an interesting take on it.

"...You know, that's actually a pretty solid point.  Not the one I was thinking to make when I said that, but I'm going to need to chew on that thought a bit, I think."


She does; she lets a few minutes pass in quiet contemplation.

"I think...I think there's only so much you can get, from having power for the sake of the choices it gives you, rather than choosing first and pursuing power to accomplish something.

"Because in the end, a lot of those expanded choices - they're not roads that lead in the direction of satisfaction with who you are.

"There's this phenomenon in the States, they call it 'keeping up with the Joneses' - where someone in one of their middle-class cookie-cutter houses gets this Brand-New Widget that only the rich people had before, and suddenly everyone in their little cul-de-sac Must chase after having one themselves - and no-one's happy; not even the Joneses, because they could be the next family to be outdone.  I don't think that's ambitious, even if it's still an exercise of power.  And I'd bet the really rich people have it too."


Neither of these wizard-raised eleven-year-olds is remotely familiar with the concept gestured at by the phrase middle-class cookie-cutter houses.

They're not from old money themselves, but the middle class of the magical Isles is composed primarily of skilled tradespeople (who usually live in profoundly unique handmade buildings in various middles of nowhere) and mid-level government functionaries (who usually live in weird enchanted corners of London apartment buildings). Well, that and, depending on your definition of "middle class", professional Quidditch players, which make up about 5-10% of the adult wizarding population at any given time and who have a distinct tendency to accrete into moderately nomadic piles like feral cats. None of these demographics produces anything like the American McMansion phenomenon.

Annette and Karina, therefore, both squint at Ophelia in moderate confusion.

" ... I guess?" says Annette.


Ophelia blinks, then pinches the bridge of her nose.  "Right, neither of you know anything about what Muggles get up to, you grew up here.  My apologies.  What would a good example be...

"...the minor nobles.  Always - chasing after the big houses, but in too precarious a position to ever think of enjoying what finery they've won.  I think that's unambitious, because - it's not their choices that they let matter.  They're following a blazed trail, and they daren't deviate therefrom."


Annette says doubtfully, "you mean like the Averys and stuff?"

Karina rejoins the conversation at this point. "No, hang on, I think you're missing something here, this is what I was saying at dinner. Some of them are like that, sure, but..." She taps a hand thoughtfully on her knee. "So take the Crabbe-and-Goyles. I wouldn't sign up for that job, wouldn't get me hardly anything just myself, but for them, it's not precarious at all, because it's a legacy. They get this guaranteed role where they're part of the Malfoy, like, organization, they get to marry in regularly, they get prioritized. They get a lot of the same benefits the Malfoys have without all the risky downsides, and yeah, it's exactly because they're following a blazed trail. The people who blazed that trail had an ambition that their children and their children's children and so on wouldn't have to do politics anymore to be safe, because they knew they had a comparative advantage and that wasn't it, and they got that, they have it now. I don't think it's fair to say that's a choice that doesn't matter, or that it's bad Slytherining."

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