The group of first years crowded close together nervously outside a little anteroom off of what must be the Great Hall - a great chorus of voices could be heard from a doorway to their right, the rest of the school must already be there, but there was a door to a much smaller room in front of them.
“Welcome to Hogwarts,” said Professor McGonagall. “You are about to pass into the Great Hall and join your classmates, but before you take your seats in the Hall, you must be Sorted into your houses. The Sorting is a very important ceremony because while you are here, your house will be something like your family within Hogwarts. You will take classes with the rest of your house, sleep in your house dormitory, and spend free time in your house common room.
“At Hogwarts, any triumphs will earn you points, while any rule breaking will lose house points. At the end of the year, the house with the most points is awarded the House Cup, a great honor. I hope each of you will be a credit to whichever house becomes yours.
“This year, however, we have decided to instate the Sorting Ceremony slightly differently. In the past, you would pass through those doors and be Sorted into a house in front of the rest of the school -”
Harry suddenly felt rather sick.
Professor McGonagall gave a wry little smile as she saw the color drain from more than one face. “However, this year, the rules have changed.
“One by one, you will go into this anteroom. The Sorting Ceremony implement awaits you inside.” Harry wasn’t sure if it was his fear or not, but ‘implement’ sounded distinctly sinister. “It will tell you what house you belong in. This has been instated to give each student more personalized attention when it comes to the Sorting process. You will then take what is inside that room to the door at the other end of it, and it will announce your housing to the entire school. Your house table will clap for you, and you go to sit at your seat. See? Simple.”
It was, Harry had to admit, better than being Sorted spur of the moment in front of the entire school.
“We have also started a second rule this year. Anyone whose housing is uncertain at first will be placed within two houses at the implement’s discretion, not one. This person’s things will be moved and they will alter from one house to the other from day to day, from one table to the other during the dinner and dessert parts of feasts, and between houses in any house competitions.
“That should be all. I will call you in one at a time. Oh, and one more thing.” She paused as she took out a scroll. “When you enter the room, you will see a scroll sitting by the door. Please pick it up and read it before being Sorted.
And so it began. One by one, in alphabetical order, students were called into the other room and they never came back out. There was no noise, really - they just never reappeared.
“How exactly do they Sort people into houses?” Harry murmured to Ron at last, irrationally afraid that people were being killed in there.
“Some sort of test, I think. Fred said it hurts a lot, but I think he was joking.”
A test that hurt? But was silent? Harry imagined being strangled by something magical and yes, now he was definitely sick to his stomach. He wondered if there were a house for people who felt a bit queasy. He wondered if he wouldn’t be up to snuff, if he’d be turned away at the door or - worse - if he never came out at all.
Finally: “Potter, Harry!”
Whispers suddenly broke out among the first years. Everyone made way and stared, wide-eyed, as Harry stepped up slowly and uncertainly from their midst. He swallowed, took a deep breath, and walked into the anteroom past Professor McGonagall, closing the door carefully behind him as the other students had.
The room was surprising. It was empty except for a table near the door that had a scroll atop it… and a stool in the center of the room. Atop the stool sat a very frayed, patched, dirty pointed wizard’s hat.
Harry would have had to take up the scroll now in any case. He was desperately confused. He took up the scroll of parchment, unfurled it, and read silently:
You may not think I’m pretty
But don’t judge on what you see
I’ll eat myself if you can find
A smarter hat than me
You can keep your bowlers black
Your top hats sleek and tall
For I’m the Hogwarts Sorting Hat
And I can cap them all
There’s nothing hidden in your head
The Sorting Hat can’t see
So try me on and I will tell you
Where you ought to be
You might belong in Gryffindor
Where dwell the brave at heart
Their daring, nerve, and chivalry
Set Gryffindors apart
You might belong in Hufflepuff
Where they are just and loyal
Those patient Hufflepuffs are true
And unafraid of toil
Or yet in wise old Ravenclaw
If you’ve a ready mind
Where those of wit and learning
Will always find their kind
Or perhaps in Slytherin
You’ll make your real friends
Those cunning folk use any means
To achieve their ends
So put me on
Don’t be afraid
And don’t get in a flap
You’re in safe hands
Though I have none
For I’m a Thinking Cap
“So… I try on the Hat, and it tells me. That simple.” Harry was so surprised he said it out loud.
A flap near the brim of the Hat opened wide like a mouth and Harry physically jumped. “Correct,” said the Hat.
“Okay… can I ask a question?” said Harry tentatively.
“Yes.” The Hat sounded puzzled.
“... What if I’m not any of it?” said Harry in a desperate kind of bewilderment. “What if I’m not… brave, or just and loyal, or quick witted, or cunning and ambitious… what if I don’t have any nerve? Do I have to go back?”
To Harry’s surprise, the Hat chuckled. “In all my years, I have never seen one person who is ‘not any of it,’ Mr Potter,” it said, clearly amused.
Harry suddenly jumped again as a round of screams echoed behind him.
“That will be the ghosts,” said the Hat, “floating toward the Great Hall for the opening feast.” It sounded almost bored.
“How long have you been doing this?” Harry asked curiously.
“A thousand years. This change in the rules is the most exciting thing that’s ever happened to me,” said the Hat flatly.
“Oh,” said Harry. “Er - sorry.”
“Thanks,” said the Hat. “Just sit down and put me on. Now I’m curious about you. Do you know, no one else has asked me anything, in spite of the increase in personal time?”
Not sure if this was a good thing or a bad thing, Harry walked over and took up the Hat. He sat slowly down on the stool and put on the Hat. It slid right down over his eyes. He was looking at the black inside and he waited.
“... Well,” said the Hat, “you are different. But not in a bad way. There are two ways I can do this. Let’s have you decide with me. The first way would be standard. We argue over whether you belong in Slytherin or Gryffindor.”
“And what’s the second way?” said Harry quickly.
“Well… I’m doing this because I like you, Mr Potter, but also because you have more potential to change things than most. I see placing you in two houses as being of particular significance to you and to the wizarding world. I could place you in those two houses… if you trust me, a thousand year old mind reader, that everything will work out for the best in the end.”
“I trust you,” said Harry immediately. “But… how would I be put in a house I don’t belong in?”
“I would have to do a few mind modifications,” said the Hat carefully. “Little things. No big changes to your personality. But they would make you a little more…”
“Wizardly,” Harry interpreted.
“Sort of,” said the Hat. “They would help you fit in better with your two new houses. You strike me as someone who wants to make something of himself, Mr Potter, who wants to prove himself as more than just a name, and let me give you a hint - no one at Hogwarts can read my mind, but certain Professors can read yours. So if you want a leg up on them, you’ll want it now, before anyone has read your original mindscape.”
“... No one’s read my mind yet?” said Harry. His heart thundered and he was thinking fast.
“Mr Ollivander did. But Mr Ollivander has no great personal stake in your life, Harry. He gave you a very powerful wand - the emotional, volatile holly and the remote, independent phoenix core are a unique and potent combination, to say nothing of your core’s connection to a certain other powerful wizard’s wand. Ah, but you don’t like to think of that, do you?” There was a little smirk in the Hat’s voice now.
Harry’s hands clenched the stool. “No,” he said in a hard voice. “He killed my parents.”
“Very well. So you do not want to become him. You don’t have to. But Mr Ollivander had the most significance in your life he will probably ever have, Harry. Minerva McGonagall wouldn’t read your mind out of respect and politeness. With others in your future… I cannot be quite so reassuring.
“Do you agree or not?”
The door suddenly opened. “Mr Potter, are you a Hatstall?” said McGonagall’s voice, and Harry jumped.
“Yes, he is!” the Hat snapped aloud, and Harry suddenly realized this entire conversation had been going on in his mind, in his ear. “Get out!”
There was an exasperated sigh and the door shut again.
“I agree,” said Harry quickly, desperately. “Anything that will get me through all this - yes, I agree. I do want to prove myself - as more than just a name.”
“How quick. You don’t care of your mind being tampered with?” said the Hat softly.
Harry thought about it. He went through it all in his mind - the traumatizing early memories, the horrid life with his magic-fearing Muggle relatives, the feeling that he’d never quite fit into this wondrous new world he found himself in. And did he particularly like himself? … No.
He paused at the memory of his fun time with Ron.
“Make sure I can still feel love,” he whispered, “and friendship. For my friends… and my parents.” He felt a twinge.
“Oh, that’s not a problem. All the houses can feel that,” said the Hat.
“Even Slytherin?” Harry was surprised.
“Even Slytherin,” said the Hat dryly. “Mr Potter, there is a rivalry between Slytherin and Gryffindor, and I am afraid all of your friends so far have been Gryffindors. I’m not saying they were bad people -” he added when Harry started to speak. “Everyone has their biases.
“In fact, if you really want to make a difference, one of the houses I’m going to have to place you in is Slytherin.”
Harry swallowed. “... He was in there.”
“The one who killed your parents, yes. So was Merlin, a famous medieval Muggle rights advocate and a Light wizard. I’m sure you’ve heard of him?” said the Hat contemptuously.
“... Yes,” said Harry, conceding. “I can’t believe I’ll have to put up with Malfoy… what’s the other house?”
“I don’t feel particularly brilliant.”
“Give it a minute. You’re sure you want to go through with this, Mr Potter? It is, I’m afraid… irreversible.”
“Love and friendship aside, and I don’t know where I got that, there’s nothing in my past worth keeping anyway,” said Harry darkly. He took a deep, bracing breath. “Go ahead.”
“Alright. Now…” And all of a sudden the outside world faded away. “This will be a surprisingly interactive process,” the Hat’s voice echoed through Harry’s mind in the sudden blackness. Harry found himself standing in a dark, empty space. “I have frozen time,” said the Hat. “I can only do it for so long, so let’s make this as brief as possible.
“Here’s what has to happen. The number of your Slytherin responses has to exactly sync up with the number of your Ravenclaw responses, and that number has to win out. Then I can Hatstall and double-house you. So you are allowed other responses, but all the numbers have to allocate correctly.
“So I ask you a series of questions and give you a list of possible answers. Each set of questions will fit in a tally mark with a number above it - look, you’re very confused, so let’s just start. It’ll seem simpler once it’s shown to you.”
“Er - okay,” said Harry at last.
Four questions appeared floating in glowing letters before Harry. Two answers for each question were highlighted, out of the four possible.
“The highlighted are recommended, if you think you can manage it. Notice that one highlight is green and one is blue. Blue for Ravenclaw, green for Slytherin. Get it? So you try to choose -”
“Two of each. Right,” said Harry, determined. “Alright. So…” He peered at the questions.
How would you like to be known to history? Which of the following would you most hate people to call you? Given a choice, would you rather invent a potion that would guarantee you which of these things? After you have died, what would you most like people to do when they hear your name?
He looked at his primary choices. “I can live with… being called The Great by history… and a dislike of being called ordinary. So my other two choices would be Ravenclaw. A potion that would guarantee me wisdom sounds less sketchy than a potion that would guarantee me power. And… saying it doesn’t matter what people say about me after I’m dead sounds so cold… so I’m going with ‘think of my achievements.’ I… do want to achieve things. It’s not untrue. And I do want to prove myself. So I can live with that.”
The four answers were highlighted and the questions disappeared. This time they were replaced by new ones, with more blue and green answers particularly highlighted.
“This is the next set,” Harry realized.
“Yes,” said the Hat simply. “Set one and set two both take one point. So far, both Slytherin and Ravenclaw therefore have one point.”
Harry looked at the new questions.
Once every century, the Flutterby bush produces flowers that adapt their scent to attract the unwary. If it lured you, it would smell of?
Four boxes are placed before you. Which would you try and open?
What kind of instrument most pleases your ear?
Four goblets are placed before you. Which would you choose to drink?
You enter an enchanted garden. What would you be most curious to examine first?
“One of these has to belong to another house,” Harry realized. “So…” He examined his answers. “I’ll choose two Slytherin answers just because they sound interesting and magical. The goblet I choose is the inky visions goblet and in the garden I go to the luminous pool first.
“My two Ravenclaw answers will be the sound of the piano and the scent of fresh parchment.
“That leaves my one final answer - the box answer. I almost thought of going to the box with the squeaking animal… but I think I’ll go to the simple pewter box. It reads, ‘I open only for the worthy.’”
“A Gryffindor answer,” said the Hat. “Very well. Ravenclaw and Slytherin win out, so one point more each to both Slytherin and Ravenclaw.”
The questions faded away and new ones replaced them.
“The third and fourth question sets both have two points each,” said the Hat. “So double that of sets one and two.”
A troll has gone berserk in the Headmaster’s study at Hogwarts. It is about to smash, crush and tear several irreplaceable items and treasures. In which order would you rescue these objects from the troll’s club, if you could?
Which would you rather be?
Which of the following do you find most difficult to deal with?
“... This is going to have to be the one where I go off-script,” said Harry, determined. “One two pointer in favor of another house shouldn’t hurt anything, should it?”
“It shouldn’t, but it’s a risk,” said the Hat. “Not much leeway after this.”
“But this is… horrifying. Of course I choose the dragon pox cure. Then Merlin’s book of runes. Then the student records. In that order.
“I would rather be trusted - much more than being things like liked, imitated, envied, or feared.
“And… I don’t want to be affected by emotional things, like being ignored or boredom or loneliness… so I’ll go with hating being hungry. Being hungry reminds of times without food at the Dursleys’. And hating cold would be rather inconvenient in a castle in the middle of nowhere.”
“Well, quite,” said the Hat, sounding amused. “So… that’s two points to Hufflepuff.”
“Hufflepuffs must not get enough credit just for being decent people,” Harry muttered.
The questions disappeared and new ones took their place. Set four, Harry remembered - two points.
What are you most looking forward to learning at Hogwarts?
If you could have any power, which would you choose?
Which of the following magical beings would you most like to study?
“I want to be the kind of person who learns every area of magic I can,” said Harry, determined. “I want to do well here.”
“Very well,” said the Hat. “That was a Ravenclaw primary, Slytherin secondary answer. So now you have to choose the reverse… and then one that has nothing to do with either of them.”
Harry examined the highlighted answers for a moment.
“I choose the power to change my appearance at will, a reverse answer. Then I choose to study werewolves - which is neither Slytherin or Ravenclaw.”
The answers faded and new ones took their place.
“One point for set five,” said the Hat.
One of your house mates has cheated in a Hogwarts exam by using a Self-Spelling Quill. Now he has come top of the class in Charms, beating you into second place. Professor Flitwick is suspicious of what happened. He draws you to one side after his lesson and asks you whether or not your classmate used a forbidden quill. What do you do?
Which road tempts you most?
A Muggle confronts you and says that they are sure you are a witch or wizard. Do you?
Late at night, walking alone down the street, you hear a peculiar cry that you believe to have a magical source. Do you?
You and two friends need to cross a bridge guarded by a river troll who insists on fighting one of you before he will let all of you pass. Do you?
Which nightmare would frighten you most?
“So. Three answers per house,” said Harry, getting tired but determined not to flag. This was important. “Let’s see…
“My Slytherin answers are: The narrow, dark, lantern-lit alley. Draw my wand and stand my ground. Suggest all three fight - cheating, essentially.
“My Ravenclaw answers are: Tell the Professor the truth when he asks. Ask the Muggle what makes them think that. And the nightmare of standing up high with no handholds would frighten me the most.”
“Alright. Six and seven are easy,” said the Hat smoothly, as if sensing Harry was getting tired. Harry relaxed in relief. “Pick one house for one set. Pick the other house for the other set. If I may recommend Ravenclaw first, based on what I can gather from your mind?”
The old questions faded and news ones appeared - they were simple, one word answer, either-or questions.
“Moon over stars, forest over river, dawn over dusk,” said Harry. Then, when set seven came, “Black over white, left over right, tails over heads.”
The last questions faded away and he slumped in relief.
“Those last two sets were half a point each, so that totally ties you,” said the Hat triumphantly. “Your pet is a female snowy owl, which is the other standard piece of information to know.” Then it paused. “... Are you ready for this?”
“Yes,” said Harry, tired. “Just do it.” He was done with this life - ready to move on to a new one. It seemed fitting, to become a new person in this new wizarding world.
Then, suddenly, it was like every nerve in his brain was electrified. He sat bolt upright. He felt this weird shift inside him.
Then, slowly, he took off the Hat. He felt different, though he couldn’t define why. Slowly, quiet and cautious, he stood up. He felt more dignified, somehow - calmer, softer, and more certain. But he didn’t feel like a bad person - whatever that was, he thought frankly.
“Well, Harry,” said the Hat. “Let’s go announce you. Oh, and for your information - the other two Hatstalls so far have been Neville Longbottom - your polar opposite, a Gryffindor Hufflepuff hybrid - and Hermione Granger, a Ravenclaw Gryffindor hybrid.”
“Right,” said Harry quietly, frowning. He wasn’t sure yet what to do with this information. “Okay.” He took a deep breath. “Let’s do it.”
He took the Hat and walked out of the far door - into the magnificent Great Hall. Everyone turned around to stare at him.
“Harry Potter is -!”
Whispers broke out among the students.
“A Hatstall!” called the Hat. “He is Sorted into both Ravenclaw and Slytherin!”
Great shouts broke out among the students. Harry stood, uncomfortable, and then walked back into the anteroom, setting down the Hat on the stool. He could feel, hear, thundering cheering begin behind him.
“... Thank you,” he murmured to the Hat. “I hope you were right.”
“I haven’t been wrong yet,” said the Hat smugly.
McGonagall suddenly burst in. “Potter, are you sure?!” She must have heard. Everyone, including Ron, was staring at Harry from behind her.
Harry looked expressionlessly at Professor McGonagall. “Yes, Professor,” he said simply. “Everything’s fine.”