"For I'm a thinking cap!"
The whole hall burst into applause as the hat finished its song.
Professor McGonagall then stepped forward with a long roll of parchment and said. "When I call your name, you will put on the hat and sit on the stool to be sorted. Abbott, Hannah!"
Harry watched eagerly as the girl with blonde pigtails stumbled up to the stool and put on the hat. For several seconds all was silent. The hat seemed to shift a little, its tip rocking back and forth as Abbot, Hannah waited underneath it. Then…
McGonagall blinked for a moment but smiled and removed the hat from the girl's head and gestured towards the blue and silver trimmed banner and table.
Harry noticed the reactions of the students in the tables around them even as the Ravenclaws applauded.
"Abbots are always Hufflepuff-" "Maybe just a bookworm, nothing wrong with that…" "Bet you Bones joins her."
'Bones?' Harry thought. He looked at Hannah Abbot and saw a troubled look on her face. Maybe she was as confused as everyone else seemed to be.
"Bones, Susan!" McGonagall shouted.
Another girl, this time with short cropped red hair, went up to the hat. Another few moments of silence and then the hat shouted. "GRYFFINDOR!"
This time the hall was even more obvious in its surprise. The Gryffindors were still clapping and cheering -much more loudly than the Ravenclaws- but they were also talking about how there hadn't been a Bones in their House in the last century.
Harry started as a thought occurred to him. If everyone was sorted into Houses, then did all of the old wizarding families keep track? Ron had said everyone in his family had been Gryffindor and Harry thought he was just talking about his brothers. Maybe he'd been talking about all of the Weasleys. Harry wondered which House his own parents had been in. He hadn't even thought to ask Hagrid while in Diagon Alley.
The hall quieted again as the next First Year came up to be sorted.
Once more the lion table cheered as the older students talked. "Again?" "Boots go to Ravenclaw. Have since the 1700s." "Is the hat broken? It's broken isn't it?"
Harry's eyes widened. So the old families did keep track. And things… were going oddly this year.
The list continued and so did the oddly-ness.
Brocklehurst, Mandy was the first to be in Slytherin. This too caused something of an upset as she was apparently a 'half-blood'. Whatever that was.
Bulstrode, Millicent went to Ravenclaw much to that House's confusion.
Brown, Lavender joined Ravenclaw as well. She was the first student who didn't seem to cause a stir.
Crabbe, Vincent was sorted into Slytherin and the hall broke into surprised whispers about how expected that was.
Finch-Fletchley, Justin went to Slytherin as well and that seemed fine at first. Right up until it was learned that Justin was a muggleborn. Professor McGonagall had to order the Hall to be quiet so the Sorting could continue.
Hermione and her bushy hair were placed into Hufflepuff. Ron breathed a sigh of relief that she hadn't gone to Gryffindor.
Neville, the boy who kept losing his toad, was sorted to Gryffindor. He'd run over to the table with the hat still on his head and had to come back to hand it to Morag MacDougal.
Malfoy swaggered forward with a glance at Crabbe and Goyle, who had also joined Slytherin. The hat rested upon his head for some time before it finally shouted-
For a moment there was absolute silence in the Great Hall. Harry remembered what the boy had said at Madam Malkin's.
'I'll be in Slytherin, all our family have been - imagine being in Hufflepuff, I think I'd leave, wouldn't you?'
Harry's mouth dropped open in shock as Ron snickered loudly at the look on the blonde's face. There was no applause this time. The whole student body was talking and commenting. Apparently every Malfoy had been in Slytherin. Until tonight.
"I- I am not going to be in Hufflepuff. Sort-sort me again." Malfoy tried to bluster to McGonagall but the quaver in his voice betrayed him.
A rather dumpy-looking witch at the High Table leaned forward and frowned at him in disapproval, even though Malfoy couldn't see it.
McGonagall wasn't one to be intimidated. She stared the boy down until he lowered his gaze. She gestured at the table with the badger banner. The students of that table had heard what he said and didn't seem very pleased with having Malfoy.
Not that Harry could blame them.
Malfoy made a face as he stared at the Hufflepuff table… and at Hermione Granger who was regarding him with narrowed eyes. He looked as if he had bit into a particularly sour lemon. He walked over and sat across from her, silently daring her to say anything. Naturally she took up this challenge.
Over half of the students had been sorted by now and the names kept coming. "Moon" "Nott" "Parkinson" then a pair of twin girls, "Patil" and "Patil" then "Perks, Sally-Anne".
And then finally "Potter, Harry!"
As Harry stepped forward, talking broke out like little hissing fires all over the hall. "Potter, did she say?" "The Harry Potter?" "I've got a galleon the crazy hat puts him in Slytherin."
The last thing Harry saw before the hat dropped over his eyes was the hall full of people craning to get a good look at him. Next second he was looking at the black inside of the hat. He waited.
"Hmm." Said a small voice in his ear. "Difficult. Very difficult. I see, I see. There's talent, oh my goodness, yes - and a nice thirst to prove yourself. Now that's interesting... so where shall I put you?"
Harry honestly didn't know. He didn't want to be with Malfoy. Though even without him the older students of Slytherin seemed like a rather unpleasant lot.
"No decision, eh? No House you desire?" Said the small voice. "Are you sure?"
Harry pondered that question for a moment. Was he sure he didn't know what House he didn't want? 'Er, what?'
The voice waited a moment. "Well that settles it, then. Better be RAVENCLAW!"
Harry heard the hat shout the last word to the whole hall. He took off the hat and walked shakily toward the Ravenclaw table. He was so relieved to have been chosen and not put back on the train like he'd feared he hardly noticed that he was getting the loudest cheer.
Still, it sounded like he had gone into a House that no one really expected him to. The Weasley twins were fake sobbing all over each other, lamenting. "We didn't get Potter! We didn't get Potter!" Distantly he heard "My galleon!" Others were saying how strange it was because both his parents had been Gryffindor.
Harry felt an odd twinge in his gut at that. He wasn't in his parent's House… would they be happy with him if they were still alive? Had the hat made a mistake? Had it been making mistakes all night?
Harry looked up at the High Table, which he could see properly now. At the end nearest him sat Hagrid, who caught his eye and gave him a grin and a thumbs up.
Harry smiled weakly and took some comfort in that.
And now there were only four people left to be sorted. "Thomas, Dean," a black boy even taller than Ron, joined Harry at the Ravenclaw table. "Turpin, Lisa," became a Hufflepuff and then it was Ron's turn. He was pale green by now.
McGonagall hadn't even placed the hat on his head properly before it shouted.
The elderly professor actually dropped the hat onto Ron's head in surprise. It was tilted to one side as Ron's face alternated between ghost white and grass green. His mouth open and closed like a fish. He looked up at the Deputy Headmistress in silent shock.
For moment she stared back, unsure how a Weasley could be sorted into Slytherin. Eventually she picked the Hat off Ron's head and tried to give him a reassuring smile. Ron's brothers were all quiet as he walked woodenly over to his new House. Some people tried to clap politely, but Slytherin itself was quiet. Out of all the Houses they seemed the most upset over how the Sorting had gone.
Harry wondered if the Hat really was broken. According to the older students nothing like this had ever happened before. Some people were questioning the Weasley twins if they had pranked the Hat somehow but both denied it. They still seemed dazed at their brother's placement.
Finally the last student, a "Zabini, Blaise", was made a Gryffindor. The sorting was over.
Professor McGonagall rolled up her scroll and took the Sorting Hat straight up to Headmaster Dumbledore.
Even by the end of the feast, it took three magic booms from McGonagall's wand for the students in the Great Hall to stop talking and hear the Headmaster's announcements.
The next week was a flurry of activity. Harry had had a disappointing experience with Defense Against the Dark Arts, stayed up late for the Astronomy class, been thoroughly impressed in Transfiguration, fallen asleep in History of Magic, and intimidated by all the dangerous plants in the Herbology greenhouses.
Potions had been only mostly terrible as Snape seemed to keep picking him to criticize. The only good thing was that he'd managed to answer one of Snape's questions correctly. He might not have known anything about wormwood or asphodel or bezoars, but at least he knew there was no difference between monkshood and wolfsbane.
Harry reminded himself to thank the Ravenclaw Prefect who had pointed out that One Thousand Magical Herbs and Fungi was not for Potions class. It turned out the ingredients section was at the very last chapter of Magical Drafts and Potions.
One thing that Harry was looking forward to would be happening on Saturday. The Sorting Ceremony had caused such a fuss to so many old families that the Board of Governors had convened. Rumors had been flying around the school that Dumbledore had been forced to convince the Board that the thousand year old Sorting Hat wasn't senile and that no, they actually couldn't demand a re-Sorting.
It had eventually ended with something of a compromise. Many parents of the First Years had been invited to come to the castle on the weekend to discuss the Sorting with the hat itself and hear its reasons.
Harry, who had no parents, wasn't looking forward to being by himself. At least he might learn why the hat had put him in Ravenclaw. He didn't feel he was very clever or quick-witted aside from the insults he gave Dudley every now and then. He certainly didn't know even half the things some of the purebloods did about the wizarding world.
He knew he wasn't alone in his Sorting woes. Ron, Finch-Fletchley and Brocklehurst were being given a hard time in Slytherin. McGonagall had supposedly intervened after a few days but no one knew what exactly she said or did. Afterwards the other students of Slytherin left them alone. The First Years were still very aware they weren't welcome.
Ron and Harry had found each other in a courtyard one afternoon. The boy had nearly broken down about how he must 'secretly be a terrible person and a future Dark Wizard who would spend the rest of his life in Azkaban after killing all of the unicorns everywhere'. Harry didn't know what Azkaban was, how you could be a terrible person and keep it secret from yourself, or why Ron would suddenly decide to kill unicorns. He tried to comfort his friend all the same.
He saw Hermione and Malfoy far more than he wanted. Hufflepuff and Ravenclaw shared classes and Hermione seemed dead-set on pairing with him. She would rattle on and on about how she wished she had gotten into Ravenclaw and all the things she knew and he didn't. Many of the other students in Hufflepuff had started to avoid her due to her bossy nature. Harry, who had lived with Petunia and Vernon Dursley all his life, thought Hermione had much to learn about being bossy. He wisely kept this to himself.
Malfoy himself alternated between trying to bully his classmates –especially Harry and Hermione- and being extremely subdued. One time Professor Sprout caught Malfoy saying something horrible about Harry's and Hermione's parents. She had taken no points and given no detentions. Instead she'd looked at Malfoy with such grave disappointment that even Harry felt guilty. Malfoy hadn't insulted anyone after that for a whole three days.
Ravenclaw seemed torn over Bulstrode and Brown. One was thickheaded and the other seemed to have very little in her head at all. Harry tried to be polite to both of them and wound up in the unenviable position of Lavender's minder. He still wasn't sure how it happened but he was supposed to help the girl with her homework and keep her focused in class.
Before he knew it the first week had come to an end. He could successfully make his way to the Great Hall without being lost, he had his first homework assignments about magic, and he had plans to practice turning a matchstick into a needle over the weekend. He had no desire for Hermione Granger to give him any more pointers or advice.
Then Saturday evening came.
Harry was surprised at all the parents and relatives who had arrived at Hogwarts. Most were from the old pureblood families and a handful were from muggle/magical marriages. Seamus Finnegan's mum had come simply to see her son and couldn't care less about his sorting. A stern looking witch by the name of Amelia Bones had chosen to attend for similar reasons. After introducing herself to him she spent her time talking to her niece Susan. Harry had managed to avoid a very imposing woman with a vulture hat whenever she came by with Longbottom.
But there were plenty of parents who were upset. Mr. Bulstrode was nearly the size of Hagrid and had simply looked down upon his daughter with frustration and regret. Mrs. Zabini, who was a recent widow for the fourth time, was chatting with several married men and openly decrying her son's placement. Crabbe and Goyle Sr., who looked just like their sons but bigger, were apparently on the receiving end of the other families' displeasure. Their children were the only ones who had wound up in Slytherin.
Harry was waiting with Ron for his parents to come up to the Great Hall. Ron seemed to enjoy the fact that being in Slytherin hadn't pushed Harry away. His older siblings had pranked him twice in the first week and hadn't spoken a word to him. When Arthur and Molly Weasley came up the stairs Ron ran up to his parents to hug them. "Dad!"
He stopped a foot in front of them. He was suddenly unsure about what to say. "I'm… I'm in Slytherin. I'm sorry."
Molly huffed once –"Oh, Ronald."- and then swept him into a fierce hug.
Mr. Weasley leaned down after his wife finally released Ron.
"Ron, it doesn't matter what House you're in. I'm still proud of you and I always will be. Don't ever doubt that."
Ron nodded rapidly. He'd never say it but his father's words meant a lot. It meant that being in Slytherin wasn't the end of the world or that his family wouldn't talk to him anymore or that Fred and George wouldn't keep pranking him mercilessly.
…maybe not that last one.
"Unless you become a fan of the Appleby Arrows. Then I'll disown you."
"Arthur!" Mrs. Weasley swatted the back of her husband's head even as he chuckled.
Despite himself Ron laughed as well.
From a distance Draco Malfoy watched, his face carefully blank. He didn't notice as his father came up the steps to Great Hall until the elder Malfoy was right next to him. Draco startled and looked up at his father in silence.
The blonde man looked at the gathering of Weasleys and his lips curled into a sneer at the sight of the silver and green trim on Ron's robes. He looked down at Draco and the black and yellow crest. His mouth shifted to an angry scowl. "Come along, Draco. Your mother will be along in a few minutes." He walked past his son and into the Great Hall.
After one last glance at the Weasleys and Potter, Draco followed his father. He wished his mother had shown up first.
The families and First Years slowly gathered in the Great Hall. Harry had chosen to let Ron be alone with his parents and joined Hermione and some of the other muggleborns. Most of their parents didn't really understand the importance of sorting or simply couldn't spare the time to make a trip up to Scotland the muggle way.
Headmaster Dumbledore cleared his throat to gain everyone's attention. The Sorting Hat was next to him on its customary stool.
"The Sorting Hat has put students within their proper House for a thousand years. It has always been an impartial judge about where to place each student. While this year has gone markedly different than expected, I believe we all owe it to the hat and to the Founders who crafted him to allow him to explain his reasons."
"It, Dumbledore. They crafted it." Mr. Malfoy interrupted.
"I'll remember that when I'm sorting your son's child." The hat sniped from its… his stool.
Mr. Malfoy pursed his lips at the hat's backtalk but didn't say anything else.
"But fine, if you're all in such a mood. Every year I look at all the new students and see what they have and what they value and what House they want. Of course, I also see what they lack or don't place much value in. Normally I base my sorting on the former. This year I did the latter. It's not too difficult to understand."
Headmaster Dumbledore was looking at the hat as if it were an interesting puzzle. "So you sorted the students based on what they didn't have- but might gain?"
"In a word? Yes." The hat answered.
Dumbledore made a small 'ah' sound and nodded his head. Many of the Slytherin alumni glowered at the explanation. They seemed unhappy that wanting a House seemed to make it impossible to get.
The Headmaster ignored their irritation. "A delightful idea. By placing the students in the House they aren't expecting or particularly suited for, they will gain the traits of that House. Making a much more well-rounded individual. I admit I've thought of it myself a few times but I never thought you could change how you sorted."
"Well you never asked, did you?" The hat harrumphed.
Dumbledore looked pleasantly abashed at that. Like he was some scolded student who was still happy at the result.
"And if we demand you re-sort?" Harry wasn't sure who asked the question but there were many sounds of agreement from the Slytherin parents.
The folds of the hat shifted slightly. The hat looked a little self-conscious. For a piece of ancient headwear at least. "Er, you can't. And I can't."
"Can't?" Mr. Malfoy drawled.
"Can't. It's woven into my fabric. One student gets one sorting. No more, no less."
Mr. Malfoy grimaced. The people around him traded glances with each other and shot dirty looks at the hat. Harry was sure the hat would be bursting into flames any second.
"Then may I ask what my son lacked that he was sorted into Hufflepuff."
"Father!" Draco yelped.
"Lucius, really." A pretty blonde woman shot a look at Mr. Malfoy. Harry hadn't noticed her at first. From the way she had her hands on Draco's shoulders she was probably his mother.
"I thought you were enchanted to not tell anyone about what you saw in students' heads!?" Someone squawked.
"That's right. I'm really not supposed to talk about students or what I see in their heads. That's part of my enchantments." The hat defended.
"Just as you were supposed to sort students on their merits instead of their shortcomings?" Lucius Malfoy ignored his wife's silent glare.
The hat's mouth flap ruffled. "Fine. Draco Malfoy was raised being told he was special. He doesn't respect the average witch or wizard that makes the magical world keep running. He doesn't believe in the work it takes to build wealth and keep it. Hufflepuff will help him with that. If he takes Helga's lessons to heart, his efforts will take your family to even greater heights."
Draco seemed to perk up at that. His father didn't.
"The Malfoys earned their place long ago. As have many other families. I question how much 'greater' our families can become." Mr. Malfoy smoothly spoke. A few other parents nodded but after hearing of 'greater heights' from the hat they seemed much more content with the hat's selection about their children.
For several long moments the hat didn't answer.
"…Armand's son, Hyperion, would have slapped you silly for saying that."
Harry didn't know who Armand or Hyperion was, but Mr. Malfoy seemed to. The man's mouth dropped open as he stared in mute shock. Headmaster Dumbledore seemed to smiling behind his large beard. Several of the other families snickered before quickly covering it up with coughs.
Dumbledore took a step forward. "Are there any other questions? Have we all come to terms with the hat's decisions?"
To the surprise of his parents, Ron Weasley raised his hand. "Umm… how did I get into Slytherin? If you don't mind?"
The hat tilted towards him. "You wanted to be in Gryffindor, so I certainly wasn't going to put you there. You want to be seen for your own achievements but you felt daunted by your brothers and all they've done. Now you have the opportunity to stand on your own merits. And Slytherin will help you on the way to greatness, no doubt about that. It won't be easy, no. Of course, growing up never is."
"Oh." Ron said blankly as his ears turned red.
Mr. Weasley stared at his son with a gentle smile as his wife hugged Ron from behind. He'd speak to Ron about this afterwards. He shouldn't try to hold himself to the accomplishments of his siblings.
At that all of the parents seemed to want to know what the hat had to say about their own children. The gathering changed from demanding answers about the sorting to demanding insight about it. The professors tried to organize it and keep the parents from badgering the hat with little success. Eventually they managed to convince everyone to just take turns.
Even from the back of Great Hall Harry could tell the hat seemed rather put out at all the attention. He and the muggleborn students waited in the rear with Professor McGonagall and Flitwick. They had all decided to let the ones with parents talk to the hat first. Eventually, finally, Harry had a chance to speak with it.
"Umm… can you tell me…" Harry hesitantly asked the sorting hat. He wasn't quite sure if wanted to know why the hat had put him in Ravenclaw, since it might mean the hat thought him stupid.
"Ah, Mr. Potter. You've got talent, plenty of courage, not a bad mind either. And a thirst to prove yourself."
Harry interrupted the hat. "You mentioned that part before."
"I did. Which meant Slytherin and Gryffindor was right out." The professors blinked at that and the hat elaborated. "It's true you would have flourished there, but you have that drive and courage no matter where I put you. I think you will do fine without those House's aid. No, I put you in Ravenclaw because wit is where you lack."
Harry felt insulted. That he was being insulted by a hat made it worse. "I got good marks in school, you know."
The hat chuckled in response. "True, true. But how often did you get the best marks? Or more importantly, how often did you try to get better marks than say… Dudley?"
Harry was silent. Both of the professors noticed it.
"Potter?" McGonagall asked gently.
"…my relatives didn't like it when I did better than their son in class." He spoke quietly. He still did get better marks than Dudley. It wasn't very hard to do. But that didn't mean he enjoyed the yelling and punishments from the Dursleys.
McGonagall's mouth thinned and the jovial Flitwick had his face furrowed in a thoughtful frown.
The hat spoke again. "Just so. And so I put you in the house where learning matters most. Because you did do well in school and then you tried a little less when you did better than your cousin. And a little less and little less until you barely tried at all. To your credit, you still did very well in class. You just stopped trying to."
Harry felt like running out of the Hall at the hat's bluntness and the professors' silent glances to each other. But he wasn't going to let it have the last word. He wasn't sure if he was talking to the hat or the teachers or himself but he wanted to say it.
"I'm going to be a great wizard." He declared. Harry turned and marched away from the hat. He heard its response but didn't turn back.
"I look forward to it."
As the parents departed and the students went off to bed, the staff reconvened in the Great Hall. The Sorting Hat rested on its stool and waited and listened to the complaints and conversations of the professors.
Honestly, it was like the world revolved around the Houses. It was the whole reason he'd decided to change things around. A part of the hat, perhaps the brim, felt the staff and students had forgotten why the Sorting had been done.
It wasn't arbitrary nor was it something the Founders did just for fun. It was meant for the students. It was supposed sort each one so they could learn and grow in the most conducive environment.
Rowena was proud and knowledgeable and she wanted to teach only the ones who could actually keep up with her intellect. Godric felt that talent and power meant little in the face skill and valor; that it was nobility and honor which would shape the future. Salazar had no patience for such recklessness and was displeased when students payed more attention to their books than to him. Helga had thought the whole thing somewhat silly and said she'd help anyone who asked.
Each Founder had their strengths and failings. They would teach the ones most similar to themselves. It was supposed to be for the good of the students and the ease of the teacher. And it had been. Then.
But times changed. Years had rolled into decades and then centuries and then a full millennium. The school had grown, the staff expanded, and students enrolled until the castle was brimming. The Founders… the Founders were gone.
Students had started to try and fit themselves for certain Houses and that just wasn't the point. The hat had held reservations about splitting the students for over a hundred years now. It also didn't want to just toss the tradition away.
So it had an idea and ran with it. A conducive environment so the children could grow. So they didn't try to fit a mold they thought they wanted.
"Pleased with yourself?" McGonagall scowled at the piece of headwear but there was no real heat in it.
"Very." The hat responded smugly.
"Beg your pardon?"
"I mean why this year? Why not last year or next?" The Deputy clarified.
"Oh. I thought this year was nice." The hat answered. Which wasn't really an answer at all.
"And what exactly makes this year 'nice'?" Headmaster Dumbledore joined the conversation after overhearing.
"Well, it's been a thousand and one years since the school was founded. Changing things around on year one thousand would have been just tacky."
AN: Just a little something I worked on in my spare time. Hope you enjoy!