Gryffindors took any excuse for a party, and returning to Hogwarts was as good a reason as any. The Weasley twins weren't here, but that wasn't any excuse for not using their crackers. Gin and Ron had brought enough for everyone. And enough pranking bits that the air was filled with feathers, and three people had black eyes.
It was loud, and boisterous, just the way Gryffindor should be.
Harry Potter sat in the middle, not like a king, but just another quiet kid. Hermione sat on the other end of the chaise, reading. Harry enjoyed the ottoman-like feel of the other side, where he could spin around.
Or, importantly, duck.
Which he promptly did. Across the room, Neville was sitting quietly, and Dean was drawing - when he wasn't laughing uproariously at Seamus. This was the way the Gryffindors always were - just amped to eleven.
In the midst of all the hubub, Harry felt keenly alone. It was nice, he reflected, to bask in the accumulated joy of the Common Room.
Harry didn't really know what he'd have felt like, if he'd actually been sorted into Slytherin. Certainly, there wouldn't be this sense of warmth, enfolding him. Harry couldn't help but imagine a different scene, that felt like one of those "Bad Kids" after school commercials. Malfoy smoking a fag, with Pansy on the arm of the sofa beside him, Goyle and Crabbe behind them both, as younger child after younger child tendered their regard. It was a silly vision, and hilarious at the same time, because it was so bloody plausible.
Harry's mind turned to the Ravenclaws. They'd be pouring excitedly over gifts, no doubt, horsetrading books they'd already read. All except for Luna, who'd be tracking down some monstrously weird creature.
The Hufflepuffs would probably manage some tears (probably not the boys, and definitely not Zach, with his pompous voice). The Hufflepuffs were so affable, they wouldn't need to bargain about playing with new toys. Harry figured their gifts were probably the nicest, too. It was what you got when everyone liked you.
Even peppermint humbugs and Butterbeer come to an end sometime, Harry reflected, as he stood and gently shook Hermione, "You might want to head upstairs, if you don't want to fall asleep right there." Harry said with his quiet smile.
Hermione gave a start, looked up at the detrius covering the common room. "Surely we ought to -?"
Harry smiled, wider, "Let me handle it, you should get to bed."
Hermione said, with a quick grin, "Thanks, Harry, you're the best!" She scarpered up to her room without a look back.
Which left Harry Potter alone in the Common Room, as intended. Softly, as he'd done in his relatives home when he wanted to see the stars, Harry exited the Common Room.
In his pocket, that sphere weighed heavily - as if it had absorbed all the thoughts and care Harry had put into the riddle of what it was.
Harry walked swiftly down the stairs, taking them lightly. It was slightly before curfew, and he wanted to see Snape. In his other pocket, a gift for the bitter old man lay nestled.
Softly on the stone, Harry Potter walked up to Snape's door, and knocked.
The door opened quietly, without a sound.
Harry swallowed, suddenly nervous, and entered.
[a/n: Snape doesn't mind being creepy. Keeping Gryffindors off balance is both fun and profitable.
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