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Golden Age

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“Dumbledore never would’ve allowed this,” Ron said irritably. He stabbed his fork into a steak and kidney pie, splattering gravy across the table and barely missing Dean’s hand. “It’s outrageous!”

Hermione rolled her eyes. “What are you so afraid of, Ron?” she said, hiding the little smirk on her mouth by pulling her book up higher. She looked over the top and innocently added, “Do you think you’ll end up in Slytherin?”

Ron gagged. On the words, not the pie. Ron never gagged on pie.

“You probably wanted to be in Ravenclaw all along,” Ron muttered, and Hermione’s lips pinched in annoyance.

“I did not!” she said.

“Did too, I bet,” Ron said.

Meanwhile, next to Ron, Harry was quietly having a nervous breakdown. He stared at McGonagall’s moving mouth, and knew she’d already started talking about Quidditch trials coming up later in the week and blah blah blah, but the only words he could hear were a drumline of “Seventh and second-time-around seventh years - eighth years - shall submit to being re-sorted into a secondary house at the close of dinner tonight.”

“But why?!” Harry suddenly shouted, and everyone stopped eating and turned to look at him. At the head table, McGonagall snapped her mouth shut and gave him a pinched look. Harry felt the colour drain from his face.

“Why what, Mr Potter?” said McGonagall tersely. “You know why veteran players must try out for their teams each year.”

Harry glanced around the hall and, swallowing, said, “Why do we have to be re-sorted? Headmistress,” he added quickly.

McGonagall rolled her eyes so strongly that Harry could see the action all the way from his spot at the Gryffindor table. “Because, Mr Potter, school has been in session for a mere two days, and already three houses are in a constant war with the fourth. I won’t have it. I know in previous years that a blind eye has been turned towards these ‘little tiffs,’ but you will all soon find that this Headmistress shan’t be playing those games.”

This headmistress,” Ron muttered sourly.

“As I was saying–” said McGonagall.

“But is it mandatory?” Harry interrupted.

McGonagall was annoyed now. “Mr Potter, a year off from Hogwarts seems to have impacted your listening abilities. This is absolutely mandatory. All seventh years and all eighth years – yes, even those who defeated He Who Must Not Be Named – will be re-sorted into a secondary house in order to promote unity.”

Harry was on thin ice, but he’d been on thinner. “I just don’t understand how it can promote unity. Couldn’t we have, I don’t know, intramural Quidditch or something?”

McGonagall’s eyes flashed. “You will find that you have more in common than you thought once you’re forced to interact with others from different houses. And if this goes well, I will be implementing it as a requirement for all seventh year students from here on.” She paused to give the entire hall a glare. “So it will go well. Am I clear?”

There was a heavy silence.

Am I clear?” she repeated.

“Yes,” Harry muttered. Next to him, Ron huffed. The other students quietly echoed Harry, their yesses falling soft and staggered like little raindrops against the dining tables.

“And as for you, Mr Potter,” McGonagall continued, “since you are so invested in this experiment, you will be sorted first.” Harry gaped at her. “Come along, Potter. We shall start the re-sorting now, and give you all time to have pudding with your new housemates.”

Harry remained glued to his bench, one hand grabbing onto Ron’s leg in a death grip until Ron gave him a pointed look and he grabbed onto Hermione’s leg instead. He couldn’t be re-sorted. He couldn’t. There was no way in Voldemort’s rotting knickers that Harry would go up there and let that fucking hat call out ‘SLYTHERIN!’ for the whole hall to hear. Never.

“Potter!” McGonagall snapped, and as if under Imperio, Harry scurried up to the head table. McGonagall always was able to compel him to act right, he thought sourly.

His heart was pounding wildly as he climbed the few steps to the top of the dais where the podium, stool, and head table were. Just over seven years ago, he’d done this same thing, and not been half afraid as he was now. If he were sorted into Slytherin tonight, he’d never make it out of that dungeon alive. Surely McGonagall wouldn’t throw him to those snakes and leave him to fend for himself?

He knew, logically, that not all of the Slytherins had been in favour of Voldemort’s victory, but some had. And he was pretty sure that at least a couple of them had returned for their seventh and eighth years. Frankly, Harry was surprised so many had. It was as if they’d filled up their rosters out of pride and determination more than any real desire to be here.

But more than that, Harry just didn’t want the whole world to know his secret. He knew that Slytherins had to have some redeeming qualities. Probably. Malfoy had neglected to identify him to Bellatrix, after all… But there probably weren’t too many of those redeeming qualities. And Harry strived to be good. He was finally a free man, with no prophecy hanging over his head, no destiny to fulfil. And he wanted to start this new life out on a positive note. Not as a Slytherin.

‘Not Slytherin, not Slytherin,’ he chanted in his head as he approached the stool. McGonagall gave him a stern look and tossed her gaze towards the stool, directing him to sit. He did, under duress.

“After Mr Potter is sorted, he will join his new house for the remainder of dinner. We will thence go in alphabetical order until each and every seventh and eighth year student has been re-sorted.”

The hall was sullenly silent. Even the Hufflepuffs looked resentful.

She placed the hat on Harry’s head. ‘Not Slytherin,’ he chanted, eyes scrunched tightly closed.

‘Hello again, Mr Potter,’ the Hat said. This time, he was older and acutely aware of the feeling of another presence rifling through his mind. It felt like Snape using Legilimency on him, if Snape were to do it nicely.

‘Hullo, Hat.’

He felt like his mind was a Rolodex and the Hat was carefully fingering through each memory, pausing to look at some and skipping others. He could feel the flip-flip-flip of each memory, each personality trait, go by as the Hat looked him over. Harry squirmed under the intimacy of it.

‘Still not interested in Slytherin?’ asked the Hat, casually.

‘I’m begging you,’ replied Harry. ‘You can’t send me there.’

The Hat chuckled. ‘I only take requests once, my friend.’ It paused, apparently thinking. ‘Actually, I never take requests. Although sometimes making a request will show enough personality to definitively decide between two nearly equal choices. Now, let me see...are you cunning?’

‘Definitely not,’ Harry said, with some relief. The Hat could check all it wanted on that one and would find his answer to be true.

A series of memories flashed before him. He saw himself using the map to sneak down to Hogsmeade, a dozen instances of tip-toeing past Snape in his cloak, burning the planner Hermione got him for Christmas one year and telling her he must’ve lost it in Herbology, making Polyjuice Potion.

‘There’s a fair bit of cunning here,’ the Hat said pointedly, and Harry slumped on the stool. He was so fucked. And so it went. The Hat showed him his ambition, his resourcefulness, his resolution. It felt like he watched his Slytherin side for half an hour, but it couldn’t have been more than forty-five seconds. By the end, Harry was defeated and resigned. He imagined himself wearing green robes and having to share a Potions table with Pansy Parkinson.

‘Well I think I’ve seen enough,’ the Hat said.

‘Fine,’ Harry muttered.

“Hufflepuff!” it yelled, and Harry nearly fell off his stool.

‘What?!’ Harry said, reaching up to grab the Hat’s rim so McGonagall couldn’t tug it off him. ‘I thought you were going to put me in Slytherin.’

He could practically feel the Hat’s shrug. ‘I thought about it, but there is a theme to all of your memories, Mr Potter: you are as tenacious as an angry bulldog and just as hard working – well, except for your schoolwork, that is, but perhaps that will change this year? You have evolved from the boy I met seven years ago. Hufflepuff is your house now.’

And with that, McGonagall snatched the Hat from his head. Harry stumbled down from the dais as if he were weightless. He floated over to the Hufflepuff table and took a seat next to Hannah Abbott in a daze. And then, his face split into a grin. It wasn’t Gryffindor, but it also wasn’t Slytherin. He breathed a sigh of relief, and helped himself to some pudding, which tasted a little weird. He suddenly had an appetite again, and since Ron wasn’t at this table, there was food left.

“Ms Abbott, if you please,” said McGonagall. Harry’s table-mate squeaked and scurried up to the front before the hall had even had a chance to react to the first eighth year being re-sorted. Most of them passed in a blur. Hermione did end up in Ravenclaw – as if anyone would’ve thought otherwise – but Goyle ended up in Gryffindor, which was a total surprise for, apparently, the entire school.

The Hat called Hufflepuff for Neville, too, thank Merlin. Harry would have at least one friend here. But, instead of coming to their table, he ran over to Professor Sprout, whispered something to her, and then they’d both rushed out of the Great Hall. Still alone at his new table, Harry looked over at Gryffindor and gave Ron a desperate look; he didn’t know what he was trying to say with it except ‘This is actually kind of horrifying’. There was a chance Ron would come here, too, but Harry was trying not to get too hopeful.

Luna went to Hufflepuff, too, as did, unfortunately Malfoy, who sat as far from them as possible. Theodore Nott to Ravenclaw, no surprise there; he always did look like a swot, Harry thought. But Bulstrode? To Ravenclaw? Was the Hat mad?

“I’ve always wanted to be in the same house as you, Harry,” said Luna, taking Hannah’s abandoned seat. Poor Hannah had ended up in Slytherin, as did Susan Bones. It was highly suspicious.

“This will be so fun. I hear the Hufflepuffs have neat things in their den,” Luna continued. “Why did the Hat put you in Hufflepuff? He told me that I’m patient and loyal. I think he forgot that I’m also mysterious, like Hufflepuffs.”

“Mysterious?” said Harry.

“You’ll see,” said Luna. “It has to remain mysterious for now.”

Pansy Parkinson went to Ravenclaw, which sent eyebrows up all around, but fewer were surprised by Zacharias Smith going to Slytherin. They finally got to Ginny. Harry watched her sorting avidly. They hadn’t got back together yet, and they might not ever, but there was still something between them, something that he couldn’t ignore, even if it was just that she felt like family. He liked having her around, even if he probably didn't want to kiss her.

‘Slytherin!’ called the Hat, and Harry frowned. Maybe he should’ve guessed that. She gave him a little smile as she hopped down from the dais and went to join a gaggle of Hufflepuffs and the spare Ravenclaw at Slytherin.

And then there was Ron. He looked like he was barely keeping his thoughts about the entire ordeal to himself. He was pissed off and determined; Harry could see the flat set of his mouth all the way from his new seat. Ron sat on the stool and crossed his arms over his chest stubbornly.

Harry watched his face contorting as he spoke to the hat and the hat spoke back. Ron wasn’t budging. After several minutes – certainly longer than anyone else’s sorting – the Hat called out, “Gryffindor!”

Ron smirked.

McGonagall huffed and snatched the hat from Ron’s head to glare directly at its eye hems. “Hat, this is a re-sorting. You are to re-sort Mr Weasley into the house appropriate for him today.”

“I did,” said the Hat. “This one is a Gryffindor.”

“Surely he has a secondary house,” said McGonagall.

“Nope,” said the Hat. “Definitely Gryffindor. Not a smidge of the others.”

Hat,” McGonagall said flatly. It was her I-am-done-with-you voice. “Sort Mr Weasley at once.”

“Headmistress, I did, and that’s all you’ll get from me,” said the Hat. It turned and looked over the hall. “Now I see we only have Mr Zabini left. He’s to stay in Slytherin as well. No, no, boy, no need to come up. I can read you all the way from there. Merlin have mercy, these two are the absolute caricatures of their houses.”

And with that, the Hat slumped, de-animating. McGonagall shook it once, and then sighed. “Mr Weasley, return to your table.”

“Yes!” said Ron.

She sighed again. “And Mr Zabini, I see you skulking nonchalantly back there. Do stop. You’re safe.”

Zabini smirked, and right then, Harry was certain that Ron and Zabini shared a moment across the Great Hall. His chest flared with jealousy. Ron was his best friend, damn it, not Zabini’s. Quickly, Harry turned to the Ravenclaw table and saw Hermione and Theodore Nott already talking animatedly over a book. Jealousy flared again. Damn all these people trying to steal his best friends while he was unable to protect them.

Luna handed him a caramel apple. He chomped into it desultorily. Down the table, Malfoy and Su Li were small-talking over their pudding. They didn’t look nearly as miserable as Harry felt. How was he going to get through a year of this?

 

-x-

After dinner, they all had to be led to their new common rooms by the sixth year prefects, since everyone else was re-sorted. In Harry’s case, he was now in the capable hands of a Mr Addolgar Rees and a Ms Delta Ashwood. They were not impressed with non-Hufflepuffs entering their domain.

Rees eyed the newcomers warily once they’d all exited the Great Hall. They stopped at a door leading off from the Entrance Hall and the prefect hesitated. He and Ashwood seemed to have a prolonged, telepathic conversation.

Rees sighed. “It’s down this way,” he finally said.

Torches flickered to life. A stairwell curved down and it took Harry a moment to recognize the corridor leading to the kitchens. He hadn’t seen this place in so long he’d almost forgotten about it.

Somehow, they’d lost all of the other first through sixth year Hufflepuffs over the course of dinner. Harry hadn’t even noticed it happening; one moment, their table was full, and the next it was just the newly sorted Hufflepuffs and two bleak-looking sixth year prefects.

They travelled the length of the corridor and paused by a stack of barrels where the pair of prefects hesitated again.

Ashwood pursed her lips. “Before we let you in, I should like to inform you that not a single non-Hufflepuff has entered our den in over a thousand years, when Godric Gryffindor burst through the door upon learning that Helga Hufflepuff was with child. As he had assumed they were in a relationship at the time, and he had been away fighting the Muggles for twelve months, this caused a stir. There was a terrible row, and as Helga was under the effects of great hormonal changes and never one to suffer Gryffindor for too long anyway, she flung him from the den and cursed the entrance against anyone not sorted Hufflepuff.”

Ashwood paused and eyed them all sternly to make sure they were paying attention. Harry, mouth agape, could not have spoken if he wanted to. Helga Hufflepuff and Godric Gryffindor? Next to him, Malfoy snorted – and when had Malfoy come up next to him? Or had Harry come up next to Malfoy? Great, already his guard was down. How many nights would he sleep through before Malfoy murdered him in his bed?

He’d survived Voldemort, only to die embarrassingly by a Hufflepuff-Slytherin sharing his dorm room. He would probably be drooling on his pillow when it happened. He looked around for a friendly face – where was Neville? Harry hadn’t seen him since he and Professor Sprout rushed from the Great Hall. Was he contesting his sorting because Malfoy was here, too? That was an excellent idea; Harry should try it with McGonagall in the morning.

Ashwood continued: “You must be true Hufflepuffs for the Hat to have sorted you here, for it knows the curse on the den entrance. Addolgar and I have our doubts. We shall see if you pass the test.”

She eyed them, and then, abruptly, nodded her head at Luna.

“Ravenclaw,” she said, to Luna. “I have a good feeling about you. You can try first. Come here.” Luna stepped forward, and Ashwood continued, to the group, “There is no password for entering Hufflepuff. The entrance is the second barrel from the bottom in the middle row. You only need tap it in the rhythm of our founder’s name. Hel-ga Huff-uhl-puff. It’ll open and we can all crawl through.”

“No password?” said a seventh year Slytherin. “And you trust that?”

Addolgar smiled. “As we said, any non-Hufflepuffs who try to enter will be summarily cursed. After you, Ravenclaw.”

Luna tapped the middle barrel and the lid swung outward. She peered inside, then leaned out to give Harry a thumbs up before crawling in. The rest of the group waited for the tell-tale screech of a curse landing or splat of goo dropping on her inside the barrel. At the first sound of distress, Harry would rush in there and help, but…

Rees made an ‘ugh’ sound. “Really? No one’s going to follow? None of you are decent Hufflepuffs. I can’t believe you left your fellow badger to go through alone. We have our work cut out for us.”

“At least we like work,” Ashwood said on a sigh. It didn’t sound like they liked it too much, Harry thought. These Hufflepuffs were a weird bunch.

“Potter,” Rees said. “You’re a big hero. You next.”

And that’s how Harry became a Hufflepuff.