Hermione Granger knew all about the houses at Hogwarts. After all, she'd read Hogwarts: A History cover to cover. Multiple times. She'd spent some time thinking about what house she'd be sorted into.
Slytherin was clearly out; their apparent obsession with bloodlines combined with her being Muggle-born made that a no. She didn't think she was nice enough for Hufflepuff; it seemed like a dreadful thing to say about oneself but she was reasonably self-aware and she didn't think she had quite the right spirit for that house. She'd considered Ravenclaw; she knew she was bright and that seemed like a sensible result, if maybe a bit predictable. What she really wanted, though, was Gryffindor. To be brave and bold sounded wonderful.
And beloved. She could tell that the Gryffindors were the darlings of the school, even with a quick glance. They were laughing at their seats, all golden and glorious, as she waited, standing with the boys she'd met on the train as they scared themselves into ridiculous fits over the sorting ceremony. She'd never really had friends, not good friends, and that's what she wanted more than anything.
She figured it would probably be Ravenclaw but still hoped for Gryffindor.
When the hat barely made it on to her head before it shouted out 'Slytherin' she had to ask it to repeat itself. Off you go, girlie, it said. You'll be great in Slytherin.
She stood up and looked, shakily, at the table of her new house. She'd only taken a few steps towards them when the booing started. She spun around and some ginger boys at the Gryffindor table were actually booing her. She pinched her lips together trying not to cry and looked back at the boys she'd met on the train. Neither would look at her.
Oh, this was just great. Bloody hat.
She walked with brisk steps towards the table she'd been assigned, sat down with a loud thunk and glared at the rest of the room, blinking away the water. "Don't mind them," an older girl said. "Fucking arseholes, all of them. You're one of us now."
"I'm Muggle-born," Hermione choked out, figuring she might as well get it over with.
There was a pause – long enough to be incredibly awkward and for her to consider whether dropping out was an option - until a plain girl in her year shrugged and, as the snotty blond boy from the train sat down, one of the older boys said, "Yeah, well, you're our Muggle-born now. We take care of our own."
She heard some other kid mutter, "We have to."
"Muggle-born?" the blond kid looked at her and she sighed, expecting some kind of harassment, but he stuck out his hand. "Draco Malfoy."
"Hermione Granger," she said, taking his hand. He yanked her closer to him on the seat to make room for a lanky boy with dark hair.
"Theo," he said. "We got a Muggle-born in our year."
"Sweet," was all the newest boy said.
"I saw you with Weasley on the train," Draco continued. "It was his older brothers that booed you," he added and she clenched her jaw and glared back across the room at the golden, laughing bastards. "What's he like?"
There was another pause and she could tell their end of the long table was listening to her answer. "He chews with his mouth open," she said, slowly, "and he mostly seemed to want to suck up to that Potter kid."
Laughter floated up the table and she heard someone say, "Figures. Loser."
"Want to get even for the booing?" The dark haired boy had shoved further over to make room for a dark skinned boy and now she was pushed right up against Draco's side.
"Yeah," she said. "Got any ideas?"
He grinned at her, a mean little grin, and she found herself grinning back. Hufflepuff would, after all, have been a bad fit but this, well, she could do this. The plain girl across the table leaned forward to hear and Hermione was tucked into a group of cheerful, plotting delinquents. A group, she thought, of friends.
. . . . . . . . . .
A/N – I was thinking about how peculiar it is that a magical hat has so much power in the Harry Potter world, and how one little sorting change could have made a tremendous difference in the outcome of the story. Take away the brainpower of the golden trio and shift her loyalty to a different set of kids who accept her and suddenly you have a whole different trajectory. That's a lot of power to give to a hat.