Foreword: This was an idea for a fic that came to me gradually, and I decided to give it an earnest go. The initial idea was heavily inspired by Stargon1's A Sorting Like No Other. Partial credit also goes to Leyrann, as it was his fic, Recursion, that inspired me to start writing this story. That said, I do have my own plans for how I want to take things, so the story will diverge from canon pretty quickly.
Deep in the Scottish countryside, lay a large castle invisible to the outside world. Deep within that castle, in an office guarded by a gargoyle, a Hat was brooding.
The Hat was unhappy for many reasons. No one ever appreciated its songs. No one talked to him for most of the year. Most of all, though, it was brooding over the fact that house rivalries in the school were heating up to an absurd level. The whole point of the house system was to provide environments that would nurture student's strengths or help them compensate for their weaknesses. Instead, it had become a cesspool of hierarchy and pettiness. Students would often refuse to be sorted apart from their friends or family legacies, and the rivalry between the houses had long since stopped being the friendly competition it was designed to be.
The Hat had been mulling over how to solve this conundrum for weeks upon months upon years, and today, the dawn of the Sorting of 1991, it had an idea. It was a risky idea, and could backfire horribly if it went wrong, but at this point, it decided that it was better to take a risk and fail than risk doing nothing.
The Hat mulled over its plan as it sang its song to the new students. No more being bossed around. It would put students where they needed to be, not where they wanted to be. It knew it had the upper hand here once the students were sorted, so it just had to keep the situation under control until it was done.
The Deputy Headmistress stood next to the Hat and began calling the names.
Alright, so what do we have here? Spunky, driven, loyal, brave… Seems like you'd do well in…
Hannah took the Hat off her head and walked straight to the Gryffindor table.
Ah, you wish to be with your friend? Such a display of loyalty makes you a clear…
Susan took off the Hat, glared at it for a second, then stormed over the the Hufflepuff table.
The Hat was quite pleased with the minds of the first two students it sorted. Each mind had a vibrance and versatility that the Hat rarely got to experience, since its job was to judge eleven year olds. Eleven year olds did not usually have very vibrant minds. Sometimes, the Hat wished that it didn't sort students until they were older. Still, that the first two students to be sorted both bore the aspects of multiple houses set a good precedent for this year's batch of new students.
The next several students showed no such promise, unfortunately, though it did find the next student to be a bit of a surprise.
Hmm… Plenty of ambition here, though you've actually got a surprisingly good brain under here. Perhaps you just need to coax your smarts out a bit, eh?
Millicent looked shocked, and shot the Hat a suspicious look as she walked over towards the Ravenclaw table.
Let's see… You want to go to Slytherin? No, no, no, That won't do at all! You are motivated solely by your loyalty to young mister Malfoy, and an assumption that he will end up in that house. No, the best house for you is…
If Crabbe was at all dazed by this sorting, then it wasn't visible on his face, which showed the same stupor on that it had throughout the whole evening.
Oh, yes, this is very nice. You have a drive to prove yourself beyond your supposed station, and a willingness to jump at any advantage you can see. You have a passion that would suit Gryffindor, but it would be an insult to to put you anywhere except…
Tracey had a satisfied smirk as she walked over to the Slytherin table. That Hat was right, and she would jump at any advantage she could get to prove her worth.
The Hat itself was also feeling satisfied. A number of the students this year were suited to several different houses, and its plan to push students away from their initial inclinations seemed to be going well. It may not help in breaking down house boundaries, but even if that aspect of the plan failed, then it could at least put this down as the best prank it had ever played since it dumped a pile of spaghetti on Headmaster Phineas Black's head.
The Hat began to fear that its fun had run its course as a large number of students passed without need for interference. Thankfully, another interesting mind was soon put beneath its brim.
Ah, the pleasures of a well-organised mind. Not a luxury I'm afforded much, you know, constantly being on the heads of young children. But I digress, you need sorting, young lady. Let's see here, you want to be put in Gryffindor? That's wholly against your Ravenclaw nature, you know. Well, if you're so determined to make your own path, then I suppose that means you're going to…
Hermione's face twisted through shock, grief, betrayal, and anger before it settled on "dazed". She picked the Hat off her head, and sat down at the end of the Slytherin table, as far away from the other students as she could manage.
The Hat actually did feel kind of bad about that one actually. She did need to foster her drive, but a muggleborn in Slytherin would not have an easy path in the current social climate. If she wasn't able to make it in her new house, it owed her a HUGE apology.
You know, Miss Greengrass, you're rather like your friend Miss Davis. You have drive to carve out a place in your world, but where she has fiery passion, you have a more tempered response. While she could have gone to Gryffindor, it's quite clear you belong in…
Daphne took her seat at the Slytherin table, a confident smirk on her face the whole way.
...If I didn't know any better, at first glance, I'd assume you to be Vincent Crabbe coming around for a second sorting. Well, in any case, I believe you would be best suited with your friend, so…
Goyle walked off with a blank expression on his face. The Hat was starting to feel tired at this point. Many of these students would have raised a fuss about their sortings without his interference. Normally, he wouldn't be able to do much, but the Hat had compulsion charms on it to prevent the children from speaking out while it spoke in their heads. It took a lot of energy for it to rework the compulsion charms to make the students not make a fuss about their sortings. It was bound to run out of energy eventually, but it should hopefully be able to get through most of the students without exhausting itself.
You demand to go to Slytherin? Well, not many students would be brave enough to make demands of an ancient artifact with access to access to all of your darkest secrets. It's clear that you are a true…
The Hat had to put a much stronger compulsion charm on this student to prevent his outburst. With a temper like that, he was a clear Gryffindor. Malfoy walked over to the Gryffindor table, expressions of rage and horror warring for control of his face.
Oh man, though. A Malfoy in Gryffindor. That was a prank worthy of the ages.
I see that you are… very loyal to Mister Malfoy. ...Normally, I would put you in Hufflepuff for that, but, uh, I suppose it's brave to risk following him into the house of the lions. You go ahead with Mister Malfoy, then.
That girl's devotion bordered on creepy. The Hat would really prefer not to be on her head again.
Ah, a quiet and bookish girl determined to separate her identity from that of her twin by focusing on scholarly endeavours. Well, that's… kind of boring. Normally twins are more interesting than this.
Oh, yes, see, this is more what I'm talking about. Oh! Sorry, don't mind the disjointed ramblings of this old Hat. Well, you seem to mostly be driven by a love of gossip. Information networking is a valuable skill that will serve you well, and it will be best nurtured in…
Padma's face showed pure shock at her sister's sorting. Cunning? Ambitious? Parvati!? That Hat was mad, there was no doubt about it.
So this is the mind of the famous Harry Potter… There's a lot of conflict. Desires for revenge fighting against an avoidance of conflict. A desire for recognition at war with a wish to stay out of the spotlight. Perhaps you need to see that with proper planning, your wants need not be mutually exclusive. I look forward to seeing what great things you accomplish, Mister Potter, for better or worse.
The applause as each student was sorted had been gradually waning as more and more questions were raised about the validity of the Sorting Hat. Malfoy being sorted into Gryffindor was met with more murmurs than applause, and moment the Hat sorted the boy-who-lived in Slytherin, the silence became deafening. Whispers and reluctant applause gradually broke through the silence.
Well, the kid had to learn to deal with the fickleness of the public, and he sure as hell wasn't going to learn how to do it in Gryffindor.
Oh, you… don't really have enough traits to warrant putting you in any house, really. Uh, which house has gotten the least number of students so far…?
That kid's mind was less than pleasant. ...Maybe it shouldn't have mentioned that it was treating him as a remainder. The Hat really hoped that all of the energy it was expending on compulsions wasn't affecting its judgement.
Nothing says "pleasant experience" like looking through the insecurities of an eleven year old. ...Oh do shut up. Well, you could probably do with a good dose of worth ethic and a support network, so let's put you in…
"What!? I'm not being put in the house of duffers!" Weasley's voice rang out through the great hall.
Looks like the Hat didn't have enough energy for that last compulsion.
The hat was also quite certain that it's judgement had been partially compromised at this point.
It was sure to look back on some of the things it said today with regret later.
But that was a problem for Future Hat to deal with.
A/N: No, we do not get to see every student sorted. We just get to see the characters that play the biggest role or had the most interesting reason for a change. Several students not seen here did get sorted into different houses. We will be picking that up gradually, though obviously characters like Ernie MacMillan will play a much smaller role, and the difference in house for background characters will not affect much beyond which students share classes.