Disclaimer: I make no legal claim to the Harry Potter series, which is owned by JK Rowling and various publishers and media conglomerates. This fanfiction is a fair use of the Harry Potter world, however, but strictly for entertainment purposes. I make no profit off of it, though I do lay claim to the story line and the differing characterizations of main characters and the portrayal of what were only minor characters in the primary series.
What if Hermione was sorted into Ravenclaw, and she and Harry and Ron never became the Golden Trio?
Rowling completely ignores the academic competition aspect of Hogwarts. Especially if it is true that good academics can also earn house points, we can see that, at least in Ravenclaw, there would be stiff academic competition for best grades. But other than to continuously assert that Hermione is the smartest witch of her age and the top student at Hogwarts (which is sometimes portrayed in a bad light!), Rowling doesn't go further. Even if she were so smart, it is clear that Hermione needs to put in quite a bit of effort to retain this moniker (even going so far as to burn herself out with the Time Turner Third Year) – which Rowling again does not address. This fic will attempt to address the lack of characterization in this aspect, and attempt to introduce a more complete portrayal of Hermione as a student and Hogwarts as an educational institution. And what that means for the HP world and, in particular, her friendship with Harry and Ron. Operates on a year by year basis, so as to avoid unnecessary detail and explanation.
As such, I take several liberties with canon. Not everything is accurate, but please point out inconsistencies to me as much as possible. This fic was inspired by another story on Portkey in which Hermione is a Gryffindor but not friends with Harry and Ron and secretly helps them research for their adventures.
The Ravenclaw Chronicles: Year One
Hermione sat on the Hogwarts Express with her best friends, Padma Patil and Anthony Goldstein. They were the most academically gifted students in their year, ranking first, second and third respectively.
While Hogwarts did not officially produce rankings, the students of Ravenclaw House published their own. While unofficial, The List (technically, lists, as there was one for each year) was extremely accurate, as it was a tradition for students to anonymously report their own grades. The List was posted in the common room for all to see, and had a truth enchantment that prevented students from lying. Those students who successfully bypassed the enchantment (only five in the history of The List) and lie about their grades were always caught by either their peers or by professors (who sometimes 'unofficially' confirmed or denied class rankings).
Despite a rough start, Hermione had a wonderful first year at Hogwarts. On her first train ride to Hogwarts, she'd met Harry Potter, Ronald Weasley, and Neville Longbottom. She'd spent most of her train ride attempting to help Neville find his toad, Trevor, and had run into Potter and Weasley in the process.
She'd introduced herself and tried to become friends with them. But Potter had had little knowledge of his own history, and had been somewhat off-put by all the information she'd found on him. (She'd been interested in his story, and done some research, that was all!) But he treated her as if she were a stalker or something.
Ronald Weasley hadn't been much better. He'd called her a bossy know-it-all. Later on in the year, she'd learned that anyone would be a bossy know-it-all compared to Ron Weasley, because he was just so lazy, unmotivated and unintelligent.
When Ronald had said he wanted to be in Gryffindor, Hermione had decided that she definitely did not want to be in Gryffindor - even despite all the good she'd heard about it - and stuck to her original plan of Ravenclaw. After all, she'd been looking forward to being among peers who enjoyed learning as much as she did. Besides, she doubted that Neville, who she did like, would be in Gryffindor.
She'd been very surprised when Potter, Weasley, and Neville all made it into Gryffindor and became somewhat of a 'Golden Trio' towards the end of their first year. Those three spent almost all their time with each other. Still, Hermione and Neville remained friendly - probably because Neville hadn't been friends with Potter and Weasley until they'd saved him part-way through the year from a troll - but did not see each other much, between her classes and his escapades with Potter and Weasley.
So when she was first sorted into Ravenclaw, she'd been ecstatic to be among other students who valued their academics as much as she. However, she soon realized that that was a double-edged sword. Exactly because Ravenclaws valued their academics as much as Hermione, for the first time in her life, she had academic competition. She attempted to help a couple of students her first week on their Transfiguration homework but was rapidly rebuffed because they did not need her help. They either quickly got the hang of it themselves, or were too proud to accept her help and practiced further on their own time to learn the correct wand movements. Back at home, lots of kids asked for her help but then called her a bossy know-it-all behind her back. But here in Ravenclaw it didn't matter that she was a know-it-all, because everyone was smart. And so she had no one to boss around, because no one needed her help.
She had had a lot of trouble adjusting to this new reality, and had put some people off with her bossy attitude. Everyone who she tried to help saw her as interfering with their own learning or claimed that she was being patronizing. As a result, Hermione had few friends at first. One evening, Prefect Penelope Clearwater took her aside and explained that while the other students might not want her help, they might enjoy all studying together and helping each other.
But her real social breakthrough didn't come until they were given an extremely difficult Potions project. Professor Snape was infamous for his greasy hair and harsh teaching methods. He seemed especially annoyed by her eagerness to answer questions, and had sometime in their first week determined to make an example of her. Snape ridiculed her constant hand-raising, to the pleasure of the other Ravenclaws, and found creative excuses for finding fault in her work and taking off House points. That made her even more unpopular in her house and increasingly miserable. It didn't help that he assigned her the most difficult subject for their first potions project, the Pepper-Up potion being at least an OWL level brew. While she had always been socially inadequate, she had always been able to rely on her smarts and grew despondent when it became clear that she was out of her depth when it came to potions.
That day in the library, she'd become increasingly frustrated as she was unable to find out whether hellsbane or toad skin was the best ingredient for a modified Pepper-Up potion. She'd almost broke down and cried, until Padma Patil walked over with a book and patiently explained why toad skin was the better option. Rather than resenting Padma for her intelligence, Hermione was simply relieved and accepted Padma's offer to study together and form a mini-potions study club. Padma had admitted to being impressed by Hermione's ability to quickly catch onto these completely new, magical concepts - in all their classes, but especially in potions. Skill in potions was either innate (inherited) or came from years of exposure, as was the case with Padma, whose father specialized in importing and exporting rare potions ingredients.
This was the beginning of a wonderful friendship, as they began studying together for all their classes, finding each other extremely intelligent. Anthony had been paired with Hermione for a DADA project, and she invited him to join their study group upon realizing how skilled he was at the subject. They each had their strength and weaknesses – Hermione was best at Transfiguration, Herbology, and Charms while Padma excelled in Potions and History of Magic, and Anthony, in Defence Against the Dark Arts and Flying.
All in all, Hermione was convinced she'd not only learned a lot about being a witch this year, but that she'd also improved her social skills and now had two true, best friends. This was a big accomplishment for a girl who'd been isolated at her elementary school for having buckteeth and being a bossy know-it-all. She knew that some students at the school – mostly Gryffindors and Slytherins – still regarded her as such, but now she had real friends who knew the truth. And she had improved her behavior in the past year, and was no longer so overeager to demonstrate her mental superiority over her peers. She was more confident in her intelligence, and didn't feel the need to show off her knowledge to know that she was smart.
Ravenclaw had few classes with Gryffindors, and she could hardly be bothered about the opinion of a house known only for its rash 'bravery.' And even though they had most of their classes with the Slytherins, she had also grown used to worse taunts from them – like 'Mudblood.' They were pureblood, inbred bigots - most of whom were quite dim - and not worth her time. 
Turning to look at Anthony, she replied, "Sorry. Just lost in my thoughts."
"No problem," said Anthony, smiling.
"So what do you think, Hermione, about Harry Potter? My sister, Parvati, in Gryffindor, says he almost got Longbottom killed by Professor Quirrell!"
This had been the subject of all discussion at Hogwarts in the past week, apart from exams. Apparently, Harry Potter, Ronald Weasley, and Neville Longbottom had disobeyed the headmaster and ventured into the forbidden third floor corridor.
"Well, Quirrell did skip off before giving us our final exams..." offered Anthony.
"Parvati also said that they overcame a series of challenges set by all the teachers, but couldn't figure out the last one, a riddle about potions..."
"They could've used a Ravenclaw, then," laughed Anthony. He was referring to the fact that Ravenclaws regularly had to solve riddles to gain entry into their common room.
"And then he was attacked by Quirrell?" questioned Hermione.
"No, Potter drank the wrong potion and wasn't able to move on, so he ran to get the teachers. Longbottom continued on, and was almost killed by Quirrell until Professors McGonagall and Dumbledore fortuitously intervened." 
"Wow, that's quite a tale..." said Hermione and Anthony, together.
"I wonder what they were doing there..." murmured Hermione, remembering a book she'd seen Harry Potter leave behind in the library, on Nicolas Flamel.
"Vati had no idea," said Padma.
"Do the 'Golden Trio' narrate their adventures to the whole Gryffindor common room or something?" asked Anthony.
"No, Vati heard from Lavender Brown, who was talking to Ron Weasley about it one day. I think he was trying to impress her..."
They all shuddered. With his bad manners, poor grades, and lack of any tact whatsoever, Ron Weasley was a much maligned character in their group. Harry Potter was famous for defeating You-Know-Who as a baby, but apart from Quidditch and DADA, had hardly proven himself to be extraordinary. He was a lackluster student. And worst of all, he was best friends with Ron Weasley, who only cared about food and Quidditch, things of much lesser importance to Ravenclaws.
But Potter had been to the library one or two times this year. Oddly, he had not seemed to be researching for class – she didn't think any of their assignments this past year had anything to do with the Flamels – but for something else. Which had apparently turned out to be a disaster. No, the events of this year confirmed her thinking on the train, when she had first met Harry Potter and Ronald Weasley. Harry Potter was interesting but much too different from her to be friends. He seemed to always be getting into trouble. She, on the other hand, was determined to preserve her reputation as the top student in her year and would not let anything distract her. 
The conversation began moving toward more pleasant topics, such as summer plans and next year's classes. They planned to meet up in Diagon Alley in September to all shop for new school materials together. Hermione also had plans to visit Padma at her house for a week in August. Padma and Parvati were visiting India with their family for most of the summer, and Anthony had plans to visit South America with his parents and to stay part of the summer with his cousins in Germany.
 From my experience, students always have a good idea of who's the smartest in the year, even in schools without official rankings. This is especially true when there is a lot of academic competition, as students compare each others' grades and try to out-do each other. (I went to a pretty competitive high school, where we did a lot of this. Of course, we all got better in college, where class ranking ceases to matter as much.)
 Without the influence of Harry and Ron, I think Hermione would simply ignore the Slytherins as she often tries to do in the books (her primary role in these confrontations is exclaiming to Harry or Ron that the Slytherins are not worth it [presumably, not worth a point deduction, their time, energy, etc.]).
 In this story, Neville is the third part of the Trio. Presumably, Ron is knocked out in the chess game and Neville and Harry are left to figure out the Potions puzzle. I don't think either are smart enough to do so, so they attempt to guess - but guess incorrectly. So Harry goes and gets the teachers, while Neville moves on and attempts to confront Quirrell. I'd presume that he also ends up with the stone in his pocket, but is tortured and beaten severely by Quirrell when he refuses to give it up. Dumbledore and McGonagall arrive just in time to stop Voldemort from stealing the stone, killing Quirrell and dispossessing Voldemort's spirit. Neville is greatly injured, while Ron and Harry are mostly unharmed. I'm assuming that rumors travel fast and Ron has a loose mouth, so the other houses hear the story through rumors but are unclear about the specifics. In this case, Hermione and Anthony hear a fairly accurate version because Padma's sister Parvati is a Gryffindor and Ron can't shut up.
 Hermione would be attracted to Harry as a friend because he's such an interesting character, a wizarding celebrity really. But given that Ravenclaw is such a competitive academic environment, that would be her first priority as she is most consistently exposed to other students striving to steal her academic standing. So while in Gryffindor her focus was Harry and Ron, in Ravenclaw her focus is ever more her academics. So she decides not to go out of her way to befriend Harry. At the beginning of the school year, it is because she's focused on fitting in within her house. And towards the end, its because she's decided he's too much trouble and she wants to focus on her academics.
This story operates on several premises/notes about canon:
1. Hermione is a stronger, rational character. She doesn't want to be an outsider, so whenever possible, she will find a way to fit in. We can see this in canon - she is an outsider as a bookworm initially in the first book, but then begins to 'fit in' with Harry and Ron and jumps on that for the rest of her school years. In this story, she will make similar, rational decisions about her social life and her academic life. She will avoid people who put her down (i.e. Ron) and stick with people who have similar interests and understand and like her. Later on, as she develops into a young woman, she will actually develop into a young woman. Not only will she begin to be interested in the opposite gender, she will also be interested in maximizing her own attractiveness. Not because she is shallow, but because she recognizes that one's appearance is an important part of oneself and that you should always attempt to get the most out of all of your attributes so as to maximize your chances in life.
2. Hermione is intelligent, and focused on intelligence. Rowling kind of skips over all of the academic stuff in the HP series. For example, some of my pet peeves about canon -
a. We are consistently lead to believe that Hermione is the only one ever in the library. (i.e. Viktor takes notice of her because she is always studying rather than spying/going fangirl on him. So supposedly there is no one else - or at least, no other girls - in the library who are just there to study.) Even if Ravenclaws have their own study room, they would still need to go to the library to borrow books for assignments. Presumably, some would get bored of studying in their common room or would prefer to study in the library for easy access to materials. I thus conclude that Ravenclaws also make consistent use of the library. And if so, after seven years of seeing each other in the library, Hermione must have made some acquaintances in the library, if not some friends.
b. In the HP series, it seems like Hermione has no friends other than Gryffindors. Is the House system that divided? Also, it seems like Hermione has no real friends other than Harry, Ron and, arguably, Ginny and to an extent Neville. In a school of over 100 children, you'd assume that they'd make more friends or acquaintances over seven years. And given Hermione's propensity toward studying and righteous, equal-minded personality, it makes little sense that Hermione would not make friends with people from other Houses and especially, Ravenclaws. (Since we are led to believe that studying is embraced by that House, and that Hermione 'should have been' a Ravenclaw.)
c. Finally, at least in my high school, the 'smartest' students often banded together to study to accrue the cross-benefits of other peoples' expertise. And because they didn't want to be stuck in other study groups with people in less advanced classes, or with less intelligent people that they'd have to go out of their way to help (and would thus detract from their time available to study productively for their own classes and projects). Hermione has no smart friends (Harry and Ron don't count). That certainly makes no sense at all...instead she spends all her time tutoring Harry and Ron... -
Rowling seems to wave a magic wand and have Hermione be so super intelligent that she can be top of her class and the smartest witch of her age even with all the crazy stuff that goes on with Harry and Ron and their insistence on slacking. We are led to believe that somehow, she has no difficulties with the coursework, and is entirely capable of juggling everything - homework, research for Harry and Ron - all on her own. In this story, Hermione is intelligent but has to work hard to be number one. She is not the best in all of her classes, and must compete hard with other students to come out on top.