The other day, I wondered how the world of Harry Potter would be different if all students were sorted every year, rather than only in their first. So I wrote this.
Little is changed from Harry Potter’s first year at Hogwarts. Still he sits under that hat, thinking, not Slytherin; still the Hat considers his potential before sending him to Gryffindor. Still he is joined in Gryffindor by Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger, still the Slytherin he so feared to be in will hold Draco Malfoy. Little is different about the placement of the older students, for all the Sorting Ceremony is made longer, and the Hat’s song a little changed, with their participation. Fred and George Weasley, like their younger brother, are still in Gryffindor. Ambitious Percy Weasley may be in Slytherin by now, maybe not yet, but he is a Prefect regardless. Oliver Wood or someone like him will still be Harry’s first Quidditch Captain.
In Harry’s second year, he and Ron are in more trouble than ever for missing the Sorting Ceremony. Now the Hat must be got out again to Sort these two boys who have caused such a stir, to confirm what surprises no one: both will remain in Gryffindor this year. (This time, Harry is once again thinking his wishes to the Hat, but instead of not Slytherin, he is pleading, Gryffindor, Gryffindor – picturing the warm Gryffindor common room that is the first home he has ever known, the first place that has welcomed him rather than shut him away. The hat, once again, obeys his wishes.) Both boys are relieved to find their House much the same as they left it; Hermione Granger is in their midst again, joined by Ron’s shy little sister Ginny.
Neville Longbottom, who had been plagued throughout his first year in Gryffindor by doubt as to his right to be there, is with them again, too. They missed his silent drama at the Ceremony, too, as the boy sat under the Hat that could see into his mind and reflected on the end of term. He had remembered standing up to the three classmates he thought he could call his friends, only to be left behind – hexed, as he so often was, ridiculed. More proof that he did not belong in the brave House. But he remembered, too, Dumbledore’s voice at the end-of-year feast – praising him for doing what was hard. He remembered being awarded House points for this simple act, and with the meagre sum, winning Gryffindor the House Cup. That heady feeling of being, for just one moment, a celebrated hero – that was like nothing else. That was worth a year and more of self-doubt. So Neville now unpacked his bags in the Gryffindor dormitories again, and, like Harry, he felt for the first time that he was home.
Harry has grown complacent, all his friends staying with him from his first year to his second. He hears the warnings of the older students on his Quidditch team (some of whom go from one House’s team to the next from year to year), the reminders that he will need to make new friends soon, but he does not really believe them. He cannot imagine his world changing even more than it has.
This is why he feels as though his stomach has dropped out of his body, as though he has fallen into some bottomless pit, when things change in his third year. He is still in Gryffindor, yes, and still with Ron, thank goodness for that, but Hermione Granger is no longer of their House. Hermione, who spent the last term of her second year as a statue, whose research was the only part of her that got to be a part of the battle in the Chamber of Secrets, who scrambled and sweated when she was unpetrified to pass all her courses in the remaining days of term – despite the promises of the administration that classes missed by the basilisk’s victims would not be held against their grades. Hermione, who had been called an “insufferable know-it-all” so many times that it had almost stopped hurting, who had felt so frustrated with the cavalier attitude her fellow Gryffindors took to classwork. She was now a Ravenclaw, the blue insignia on her robes matching that of Ginny Weasley, who seemed to have shrunk in on herself after the events of last term. (Ginny, like Harry in his first year, sat under the Hat in her second year thinking not Slytherin, not Slytherin, but then she had paused, and thought, not Gryffindor, too, because Riddle had possessed her despite her red-and-gold robes, and because she did not feel brave.)
Ginny, Hermione, and Luna Lovegood (here is one girl the Hat cannot imagine placing anywhere but Ravenclaw, though it will surprise itself in years to come) soon find each other in the Ravenclaw common room, and form an odd, but tight, bond over the first few weeks of term. Hermione finds that it is nice to have close friends who are girls; she never had this in her two years in Gryffindor. She still finds time to talk to Harry, to help him with an essay in the library or to keep him company on restless Hogsmeade weekends or to walk with him to Hagrid’s hut. They are still friends, and good ones; no disparity of House can change the bond forged in fighting a mountain troll together, and all they have been through together since.
She explains this, at last, to Ron Weasley in the days before Christmas vacation, when the dark looks he has been sending her all term finally come to a head in a shouting match outside the Divination tower. Ron, too quick to view matters in black and white, had seen her Ravenclaw badge as a betrayal, a defection. Had imagined that this was her choice, rather than the honest assessment of the Hat. Had felt left behind, discarded, second-rate, dismissed like his brothers’ hand-me-down robes that he wore. With Harry to remind him not to be an ass, to remind Hermione that Ron was always like this, they made up soon enough. Hermione laughed and called Ron an idiot, but fondly; and he laughed back, and told her that the blue and silver only made her look more the nerd. The trio were reunited, even if they were in different houses.
And, after that fight at least, perhaps the difference of house was a blessing in disguise. Crookshanks could not worry at Ron’s rat when they lived in different common rooms. There was no fight between Ron and Hermione about their pets; when Scabbers went missing, there was no talk of foul play, only an agreement between the three friends that they would try to find him. The three were still present in the Shrieking Shack, two Gryffindor children and one Ravenclaw, to bear witness to the true identity of Scabbers, to bear witness to the reunion of the three living Marauders. They still saved Buckbeak; they still lost Pettigrew.