A/N: And finally...the oh-so-awaited moment... THE SORTING CEREMONY!
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"Oh God. Oh Merlin, I'm so nervous. Pads, is there any way I could just – not go?"
It was the first day of the new school year, the first year sorting ceremony – and incidentally it was also Hermione's sorting ceremony. As a new student, that was a stage that she just had to go through. There was no bypassing it, yet Hermione had been actively – and mockingly – looking for a way to do just that since the morning.
"No, Hermione, there isn't. Now will you please just – let go of my arm?"
"Oh. Right. Sorry."
"You should be. Ow! Hey! Don't mess up my hair! Damn it Hermione, I've got to make a good impression on the first year chicks, and I won't be able to do that if you start acting like you're my girlfriend!"
"First of all – me? Your girlfriend? In your dreams, Pads. Secondly – Sirius, they're first years. They're, like, eleven years old, you pervert!"
He grinned at her, flashing brilliant white teeth. "For now."
"Oh – oh, Sirius, you're desperate."
The black-haired boy made an annoyed sound at the back of his throat. "Why does everybody call me that?! I am not desperate! I'm just – anticipating."
"Anticipating the days when you'll be old and senile and unwanted?" she teased him, looping her arm in his and squeezing his forearm playfully.
"Na, I'll have you to be senile with by that time, Stell. Hey, stop hitting me!"
"Not as long as you keep insulting me, Sirius Orion Black!"
Sirius winced at that. "Ouch. That's low."
"Miss Dumbledore," McGonagall's voice called before Hermione could give Sirius the less-than-courteous retort that burned the tip of her tongue. The Professor trotted up to them both, a pleasant smile on her face though her eyebrows were raised in slight disapproval at their antics. "May I please have your attention for a moment, in regards with how your sorting will take place during the ceremony? Mr Black, please go and join Mr Potter, Mr Pettigrew and Mr Lupin in the Great Hall. They have been expecting you for what I believe to be the best part of an hour."
Sirius nodded and gave Hermione a parting grin before dashing off, leaving the two Witches in front of the Head Common Room out of which they had just come out.
"Now," McGonagall said, and sighed. "Hermione, I truly wonder at times how you found yourself so well acquainted with my House's most active scamps. Truly, except for Remus Lupin, they are not of your standard." McGonagall chuckled at her own words, seeming delighted with herself.
Hermione grinned and replied, "I have asked myself the same question countless times over the past month, Professor, but I have come to the conclusion that it is their camaraderie that has helped me find my place within them. And, as for James and Sirius…there are more ways to be intelligent than by having books learnt off by heart or getting Outstanding in every subject."
McGonagall looked at her, her head cocked to the side in a striking resemblance to her animagus. "I recognize your worth in those words, Hermione." She looked away, and motioned for the young Witch to follow her as she led the way towards her office. "I sometimes forget that Albus must have had a reason to adopt you, more so than for the sole reason of you being a new student here. But you repeatedly remind me of that, and I am glad for it. I have to say…I have rarely seen Professor Dumbledore so excited about anything as he is about you. Years ago… Oh, but my, I'm getting side-tracked," McGonagall chided herself, smiling and shaking her head. "Hermione, my dear, how are you feeling?"
"A little nervous, Professor," the young Witch confessed. "I can't say I'm very confident about having to go up in front of hundreds of strangers to be sorted into a House. It's…a novelty to say the least." Hermione smiled wryly to herself.
"And…Oh, Merlin forgive me, I know I shouldn't be asking this question, but curiosity has always been my greatest quality! What House would you expect to be Sorted into?"
Hermione's smile widened and became more genuine. "Gryffindor. Without a doubt. I feel like I belong with the boys – with the Marauders."
"Oh," McGonagall said, seeming at the same time pleased and worried. "I think you belong there as well, Hermione – but I can't help but imagine how much worse those boys will be with you as the brains of their operations!"
"They already have Remus for that," Hermione laughed warmly. "I've found that I'm more the type to carry out the deeds rather than think them up."
"Well that's rather a surprise, I must say. Still, I wish you all the best in my House if you do get Sorted in Gryffindor – but please, try to leave the Castle standing in one piece? It has been standing for nearly a millennia, and I should hope that it will still be standing here in another millennia, though none of us will be there to see it. I would rather not appreciate being the Head of the House whose students pull this Castle apart, Miss Dumbledore. If you could instil some sense into those boys while you're at it, it would be even better."
"I'll try, Professor, I'll try."
"Now! Back to the subject at hand, shall we? You'll be standing just outside the doors for the length of the Ceremony. The first years will take their turns, and once the last of them, a boy by the name of Gzeich Zamojski, has been seated, I will announce you as a last minute Sorting. You will walk in, take your seat on the stool in front of the Professors' table, and I will place the Hat upon your head. You will then be Sorted, and proceed to your new House. Have I made myself clear?"
"Limpid, Professor McGonagall."
"Good! Then, if you will excuse me, I must retrieve the list of first years from my office before taking my place in the Great Hall. Make your way to the Hall's main doors; to the best of my knowledge, when you arrive the first years will be inside and I will be in the process of calling them up to be Sorted."
Just outside the doors of the Great Hall, Hermione, wand in hand, sat on an uncomfortable wooden stool that she had transfigured from a chocolate galleon that Sirius had somehow slipped into her dress pocket. Beside her, Argus Filch stood with his back to the Door, his cat, Mrs Norris, royally spread around his ankles. Hermione had never before envied the man's ability to stand for hours on end without looking uncomfortable or bored, but she was starting to now. The waiting for really getting to her.
Funnily enough, Hermione wasn't panicking. In her heart of hearts, she knew, just knew, that she would end up in Gryffindor. Of course, she'd often thought back to the things that the black-haired boy had told her that first faithful day, before Dumbledore had adopted her. He'd called her a Slytherin. But the last month had brought her to reveal herself more and more, both to herself and to the Marauders. She genuinely enjoyed being with them, pulling pranks with them, laughing with them. And while she enjoyed Remus' cool headedness and intelligence, and often engaged with him in conversations and arguments that she could not have had with the other two, she had found that the onflow of knowledge that flooded her head during these conversations – things that she could not remember having learnt but that were there nonetheless –, made her feel uncomfortable and bound. In contrast, Sirius and James' attitudes to life were refreshing, and made her feel like she really belonged somewhere. She felt at home bickering good-naturedly with the two of them, and had come to know enough about the four Houses to realize that that would be something she would not see much of if she were to be Sorted into Slytherin. She didn't want to miss that; didn't feel like she could go without it when it had been her life buoy for the past month.
She belonged in Gryffindor. It was as obvious to her as it was to the boys, as it had been to all of those that she had met over the course of the last month. There was simply no way she would get Sorted into any other house than Gryffindor. Hermione smirked to herself, twirling her wand in her hand lazily. She leaned back against the wall and sighed, shuffling around as she tried to find a position that wouldn't hurt her backside as much, but having no success. She'd been pretending that she was nervous about this entire thing since the previous week or so, for the sake of the boys, since they seemed to be amused by her ridiculous antics, but the truth was that she wasn't worried. Eager, yes. Scared, no.
"Hey, Herm- Miss Dumbledore," Filch called suddenly from beside her. "Gonna go in soon?"
Wordlessly, Hermione turned her ear against the Door, listening in. McGonagall was at the letter 'W' of the alphabetical list of first years. "Soon," she confirmed, turning back. "McGonagall's at 'W'."
Filch nodded, looking straight ahead with his hands clasped in front of him. "Good."
"Eager for me to go already, huh?" Hermione teased, grinning sideways at him.
Then, in a gesture that would have surprised any of those who had ever known him, Argus Filch, the unattainable, detestable caretaker of Hogwarts, Appollyon Pringle's successor, looked at the bushy-haired Dumbledore and grinned right back at her. "You bet," he said conspiratorially.
Hermione smiled. This was a side to Argus Filch that she'd uncovered soon after her arrival at Hogwarts, when she'd been practicing with her wand in the green and had caught Filch spying on her. It had taken a lot of effort and time, but eventually, she'd found out that he was a Squib. For some reason Filch had warmed up to her, to the point that he'd actually initiated a lot of their conversations, dropping in on her in corridors supposedly by accident more than once. He seemed to enjoy her company, and she found that he wasn't as horrible as Sirius, Remus and James saw him and made him out to be. Of course, she'd never told any of them of the special relationship that she enjoyed with the caretaker. She had a feeling, however sombre, that Sirius and James at the very least would not be the nicest to him if they ever found out. So she kept it to herself.
Sighing, Hermione leaned her head back against the door, clasping her hands behind her head.
"Are we nervous?" Filch asked beside her, with that particular way he had of referring to others as more than one.
"For some reason, no," Hermione said, grinning.
"Confident that we're gonna end up a Gryffindor, are we?"
She laughed, pleased. "You got that right."
"Good luck with those four boys, then," Filch said, grinning and nodding as though to himself before going back to staring straight ahead.
And with his mention of 'those four boys', Hermione was unpleasantly reminded of the fact that she had not met all four of the Marauders. Peter Pettigrew was the missing piece in the perfect frame that was the last month, and she found herself apprehending their encounter. She'd never met him, but despite the rare words that she sometimes caught the three other boys saying about him before she walked into a room, there was a part of her that never wanted to see him, that never wanted to even hear about him ever again. She had begun to suspect that, before becoming amnesiac, she had known him, and had for some reason hated his guts. And whatever the reason was, she tended to believe it, and her instinct, and did not share in the impatience and eagerness of the three boys when it came to seeing him again.
Somewhere inside herself, she often wondered if this – her reluctance when it came to Peter – came from a jealousy and a fear of losing the place that the boys had offered her in their group. In just a month, she had become a Marauder, had become a part of their group as surely as if she had known them all for years and not weeks. Yet with the true fourth Marauder returning home, she found herself threatened by the arrival of a part of that group that had not met her, that perhaps would not like her as the three boys had and would incite Remus, Sirius and James to reject her.
Hermione did not know this, but her fears were unfounded. The Peter of this era, the young Peter, with his plush cheeks and innocent smile, had nothing of the traitor that she had known in her first life. Had she simply gone on to meet him without fearing their encounter, everything that followed in the timeline that we knew – including his betrayal of James and Lily – could have been avoided with her influence. Am I implying that Hermione Dumbledore – Hermione Granger – had a hand in the unfolding of the First Wizarding War? Who knows? Perhaps I am. And perhaps not. Either way, her use of the time turner changed what she knew – what we all knew. Whatever happened now would have a consequence; whatever decision she made would result in death and horrors. It was up to her how many deaths. But since she did not know this then, as she sat outside the Great Hall of Hogwarts in 1977 and waited for the young Minerva McGonagall to call her name, she made her own decision. For better or for worse would be revealed later.
From behind the door, Hermione suddenly heard her name. Pushing her ear against the door, she caught some of McGonagall's words, heard her name again, and stood. She waved her wand, and in an instant the wooden stool she'd been sitting on disappeared, and Sirius' chocolate galleon spun upward and into her extended hand. She caught it, pocketed it, and just as she looked up, the doors to the Great Hall opened.
In front of her, set in four parallel lines, were the four Houses' tables. She had only ever seen them empty and calm before, and now, as she walked into the Great Hall and felt the weight of four hundred students pressing her into the ground, she found that, although she had not expected this, had no conscious comparison to capturing the undivided, judging attention of hundreds of people, it was still a simple affair to hide her nervousness from those watching her.
She had her head held high as she walked toward the place where McGonagall stood atop the dais, in front of the Professors' table, not meeting anyone's eyes, her steps careful and measured. She pretended not to notice James and Sirius' waving arms and catcalls when she passed their table. She ignored the critical eyes of the Ravenclaws, the bright smiles of the Hufflepuffs, and the falsely uninterested looks of the Slytherins. Her eyes were fixed on the stool, on McGonagall, on the worn-looking Hat that she held in her hand, ready for it to be set on her head as the Professor announced, "–Hermione Dumbledore, a new transfer student – and I would ask you all to please keep any indiscreet, improper and untimely questions to yourselves."
And the Gryffindors, with their suddenly exponentially inquisitive eyes and whisperings and their clear intent to intrude on her privacy, suddenly frightened her. Were she to be sorted into Gryffindor, there would be no keeping her amnesia a secret. The story of her lycanthropy would be through the castle and back seven times within a day of her joining them. It was a mystery to her, at this moment, how Remus had managed to keep his secret for so long.
And the Ravenclaws, all cold evaluation and haughty looks, would be to her nothing more than tormentors and slave-bearers, regardless of her intelligence. Secrets had not their place in Rowena's House.
And the Hufflepuffs, with their amity and loyalty and their innate ability to forgive everything and everyone, unnerved her and made her feel unworthy of their unconditional acceptance. She could never belong with them.
It occurred to her then, a possibility that she had never even so much as considered in the past month, ever since she had gotten her wand with the Marauders and really began to feel a part of their group. What if that boy, with his dark, steel grey, unflinching eyes, had been right? What if she really did belong in Slytherin?
A month ago, after she had fainted during the episode in the Three Broomsticks, she had told the boys of how she feared being a spy – even unconsciously so. It was possible. Even now, she knew that it was a probable reason to her sudden arrival here, without any past memories. And what if it was true? What could she do about it? If she were sent in Gryffindor to join the Marauders, she would only be putting them in danger. She was a potential risk to them – no matter the outcome.
Better safe than sorry, after all. And being in Slytherin would provide her with the possibility, unacceptable in other houses, to maintain her secrecy; to hide in the shadows until her memory returned and she no longer had to remain hidden because she had nothing to account for her existence.
So if intelligence could not win her a place with the Eagles; and if forgiveness was to her too heavy a burden to support; and if one of the last two options could potentially be a risk to her only friends; then maybe the future was not as hard to predict as she had first thought.
And as she finally reached the steps leading up to the dais were sat the stool, and where McGonagall stood with the Sorting Hat in her hand, Hermione figured that, perhaps, if her own, small sacrifice could save the people she loved most here, then maybe that sacrifice wouldn't be as much of a sacrifice anymore. Maybe it wouldn't be as painful.
And, maybe, maybe, maybe that was okay.
She sat on the stool. And McGonagall placed the Hat on her head.
Welcome, Miss Dumbledore.
Hermione shuddered, the Sorting Hat's deep baritone of a voice filling her head and resonating down to her very core. It had been easy to hide her nervousness when she had been in movement and not yet at the site of her doom, but now – now it was as though she had been stripped of everything. Her skin, her bones, her flesh – everything peeled off her like the skin of a banana, leaving only her heart to shiver and beat under the eyes of the world.
Hermione jumped as something closely resembling a laugh rumbled through her head.
Miss Dumbledore, trust me when I say that you have nothing to fear of me.
Hermione swallowed past the lump in her throat. The Hall was staring at her. Staring fixedly, as though there was only her there to look at. It was slightly unnerving. She closed her eyes. Took a deep breath. And pushed everything but that warm and foreign presence out of her mind.
An Occlumens, huh? And a skilled one at that.
Huh, thanks, I guess.
Oh yes, oh yes, thanks indeed. I must say, I was truly not expecting your presence here this year, Hermione. It seems to me as though you do not exactly belong here, now do you? But no matter, you'll soon make new friends and make your place here, just you watch.
Do you know where I'm from?
Now now, my dear. One thing at a time.
Hermione huffed mentally. You sound like my- like Albus.
There was a silence, and then-
You were about to say, 'my father', weren't you?
It's alright. You're entitled to it, after all.
But he's not my father.
He is. Here, he is. Forget about the past, Hermione. Forget about everything else but the now and the instant. I know you are worried that you might be a spy for The-One-Who-Cannot-Be-Named; I can assure you, without a doubt, that you are not.
At those words, Hermione felt something swelling in her chest, swelling and growing like a bubble of something warm and comfortable and something that made it hard for her to breathe. I… I'm not…
No. You're not. If you were, I would be able to see it in your head. And she didn't need to see its face to hear the smile in the Sorting Hat's voice. Hermione let out a breath she hadn't known she'd been holding, a small smile tugging at her own lips. Now, now. On with business, shall we?
Shhh, it's my job after all, isn't it?
Hermione nearly laughed at that. Because it was true, wasn't it? No matter how much she'd worried about what House she belonged in, in the end, she wouldn't be the one making the decision.
From what I can see, you are friends with James Potter, Remus Lupin, and Sirius Black. Gryffindor seems to be the best choice for you, doesn't it? But, beyond where your friends are, is that where you really belong, Hermione Dumbledore? Don't answer. I know everything of the dilemma you face. It is true that you would belong in neither Rowena's nor Helga's Houses. Godric, or Salazar? The choice would at first seem easy, but…
Years and years and years ago, there was a boy. An incredibly smart boy, whose one purpose in life was to protect his best friend and leader. That boy recognised that Slytherin would help him achieve that goal, would help him to learn any number of things which he could not have learnt in any of the other three Houses. One of those things was how to survive alone. Another of those things was how to understand those who survive alone. Without this, he would never have become the great Wizard that we know today as Merlin.
Slytherin House is not everything that its rivals make it out to be, Hermione. It is so much less, and so much more at the same time. Yes, it has produced its share of Dark Wizard, but so have the other three Houses; they just don't like admitting it. Slytherins are just like their emblem, the snake. Sleek, powerful, and frequently misunderstood. There are so many things still to be discovered, Hermione, so many things. They are very similar to Gryffindor in their loyalty to each other – something that neither Godric nor Salazar wanted to acknowledge. The Hat chuckled at that. It's true, really; if you belong in Gryffindor, then you also belong in Slytherin.
But you, Hermione. I truly believe that Slytherin fits you. You have greatness in you, a greatness that you have not even begun to unveil. You have a potential for learning, and a thirst for it. You want to believe that you belong in Gryffindor, solely because your best friends are in it. You are loyal and true, and you would do anything to keep them. Anything at all. Wouldn't you? Let me tell you one thing; if you are strong enough to keep your friends despite their views on Slytherin, then you will know that you truly belong there. I, for one, believe you do. Shall we make that a bet? Come back to me when the time is right. Come back to me one day, and tell me that you have won the bet, and we can reminisce about old times and enjoy each other's presence and I can tell you that I was right and then you will smile and laugh and tell me that, yes, I was indeed right. Shall we?
And, before Hermione even had the time to panic, the Sorting Hat's voice rumbled through her head, in such a way that she knew instantly that he was not alone speaking to her, but to the entire Hall; announcing his final decision.
And as the Hall broke into applause and the Hat was removed from her head, and her feet began moving of their own free will, her eyes singled out four boys in the erratic crowd, four unclapping boys sitting at Gryffindor table and staring at her as though they had only just seen her properly. And no matter how much her eyes begged them silently to understand, they kept on staring at her, staring and staring and staring as though the rest of the world had ceased to exist and their universe had become one big brothel of disappointment and confusion and horror. And she could see that they did not understand, she could see them starting to hate her as their eyes fixed her to a timeless place and poured all their pent up resentment into her betrayal of them.
So Hermione lowered her eyes, and without ever having noticed that she had started moving, she was suddenly sitting, having her back clapped by people her age and younger with green and silver emblems on their uniforms, and she stared at her empty plate as the last of the applause died down and her father, because that was what he was, stood and declared the first dinner of the year started.
This was who she was. A Slytherin. And it didn't quite matter who she had been before, because perhaps she had always been a Slytherin, and perhaps this new life had given her something that she did not have before, but either way it did not matter, because the past and the before were nothing she could see nor change, and all that mattered now was the new her and the future that she could see outlined before her. And with this new development she decided to ignore the cold stares of the four Gryffindors burning into her back, and she lifted her head and was proud and resilient and she dug into the plates of succulent food around her and ate and forgave and forgot.
And that was all.
"Welcome to your first class! I will be your Advanced Potions Professor for the rest of the year! My name is Horace Slughorn, but you may call me Professor," the big-bellied man joked good-humorously. "Now, I will assign you to your seats! Listen carefully for your names, and sit from the first two rows up as your names are called. Evans, Parkinson! Selwyn, Lupin! Dumbledore-"
Hermione tuned out as soon as her name was called, heading for a double desk behind a redhead which she recognised as Lily Evans, and a black-haired girl called Evangeline Parkinson that she knew from her dormitory. As she sat at her desk, pulled her Potions book out of her bag, and set it in front of her, she was startled by Sirius' voice saying her name as he sat in beside her. His obvious intent to talk to her was cut short by their Professor's booming voice.
"Ah, I'm sorry Mr Black, I should have made my meaning clearer. It was the other Mr Black I was calling."
Hermione looked back down, not immediately processing Slughorn's words as she only registered with some relief that Sirius wasn't going to be the one sitting beside her for the rest of the year. However, when the seat beside her was once again filled, and she looked up to meet twinkling grey eyes so similar to the ones that had just left, she couldn't help but stare.
"Well, well," Regulus Black mused, the tiniest smirk twisting a corner of his mouth, "did I not tell you that you belonged in Slytherin?"
A/N: REACTIONS? ;DD Well done to the few people who guessed correctly on the black-haired boy's identity a few chapters back. Most of you thought it was Snape, so congratz to those who guessed correctly! ;D
Also, what do you think of Hermione being sorted into Slytherin? What are your expectations as to this new development? What do you think is going to happen now? Is there anything in particular which you would WANT to see happening?
PLEASE REVIEW GUYZ! TELL ME EVERYTHING THAT GOES THROUGH YOUR MIND ABOUT THIS CHAPTER!
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