Bloody hell!

Ron nearly said the words out loud, but caught himself just in time. He hadn’t been expecting Hogwarts to be nearly as cheery and welcoming as it had been his first few years, but he had been hoping for better than what he saw now. There were no suspended candles above the tables, no ghosts chattering away amiably with the students, and certainly no Dumbledore sitting serenely atop the head table. Instead, the room was cast in threatening shadows that danced mockingly on the walls, which held medieval looking torches Ron had never seen in the castle in his life. Snape sat in the headmaster’s chair, which was much too regal and respected for him, in Ron’s point of view. It took a great deal of self control for Ron not to scream at the man in rage for his betrayal. Instead, he inspected the students as he followed McGonagall up between the Hufflepuff and Ravenclaw tables.

The students looked absolutely horrible! Bruises and scratches covered many of the older years’ faces, and the younger years stared up at him in a fear that looked possibly perpetual. The poor first years! Even if the war ever ended, Hogwarts would probably never be a sanctuary for them like it had been for Ron. The worst affected were the Gryffindors–no surprise there, Ron thought–and then the Hufflepuffs, and the Ravenclaws. The Slytherins, in contrast, looked better kept that Ron remembered, or perhaps they just impressed compared to the rest of the student body. Nevertheless, he was up and sitting on the little stool McGonagall had pulled from nowhere before he could get a really good look at everyone. That was good, he decided, for he had a feeling his sister would be one of the more beat up ones and he didn’t want to catch her eye.

“Hogwarts welcomes Mr. Robert Brown as a transfer student,” a slow, drawling voice said from behind him, and Ron flinched. “Let the Sorting ceremony begin.”

McGonagall pulled out the Sorting Hat and placed it on Ron’s head.

No song? Ron thought. He had been hopeful he would have a little more time before the actual Sorting: now that he was staring out at the students he wasn’t sure he wanted to be in Slytherin. It was obviously the Slytherins giving the other students all those wounds. Would he be expected to do that, too? He had wanted to fly under the radar here, but that didn’t seem possible; there were two obvious sides sitting in front of him. The majority was the victimized side, but the power rested with only one slimy house.

Oh! Such complicated thoughts! an old, familiar voice said. How interesting to see you again, Ronald Weasley.

Good to see you, too, I guess, Ron thought back. But last time I hardly got a chance to talk to you.

Yes, well, an old hat can be bit rash in its decisions, the Hat responded. It was getting near the end of the line, and you were a large class.... Ron felt a chill go down his back. Ah, so I am not the only one guilty of a rash decision. You have changed, Ronald Weasley, and not all for the better....

I know, Ron thought miserably. I was a lousy git.

Unfortunately, yes, the Hat agreed.

I guess it’s too much to ask for a favor, then, Ron thought.

My boy, I said you had changed not all for the better, not you had changed for the worst. I see things here I only had an inkling of last time. You have matured.

The students were getting restless; they shifted in their seats and a few whispered to each other. McGonagall stood still as ever next to him. He wished she wasn’t staring so intently. He closed his eyes.

Oh, let them whisper, let them wonder, the Hat said. You would not be the first student to have a long Sorting. Why, Genevieve Smythe in ’76 took nearly thirty minutes! Most of the students and half the Professors had retired before I had made my decision. Now, what is your favor?

That I be placed in Slytherin.

A favor indeed. Only two other students have asked such favors.

Really? Who?

Tom Riddle and Harry Potter.

Ron actually groaned aloud.

Mr. Potter was the easier of the two. I could sense he would do well in Slytherin, but he was adamant that it was not for him. He kept rambling on about you, Ronald Weasley, telling him all the bad wizards went there. It was only years and years afterward that I realized I had been wrong in my first assessment of him. He is truly a remarkable Gryffindor. The Slytherin greatness I had sensed was not his own blood. Mr. Riddle, on the other hand, was much more difficult. I was sure he would be a successful lion–

You wanted to put Voldemort in Gryffindor?

Why, yes. It is what I should have done. With a little nurturing from kind upper years, he would have turned into a fine young fellow. But he was persuasive, that boy. Very persuasive. I should have seen his true intentions all along. It is one of my greatest regrets the way he turned out.

You can’t actually think you’re the reason he turned into Voldemort.

Oh, just part of it, the Hat said lightly. But back to you. You remember how your friend Mr. Potter took so long? That is because I was very hesitant about granting him his wish after having Sorted Mr. Riddle.

But you can see I’m not here for school, Ron thought earnestly. It doesn’t really matter where I go. It’s just a matter of practicality, really.

Ronald Weasley, do you really believe that I Sort with only academics in mind? the Hat said with a chuckle. Tell me, where does daring, nerve and chivalry come into play during your exams?

When I haven’t studied and I’m doing the whole thing on a whim, Ron responded immediately.

Well, well, well, that certainly rules out Ravenclaw, the Hat said disapprovingly.

Are you really not going to let me into Slytherin?

Relax, my boy. It is not so often that I come across such a mind. Albus said it but I never believed it: sometimes we Sort too soon. There are great things in store for you, Ronald Weasley, and it will take more than Gryffindor bravery to get you through. I’m afraid you’ll have to scrounge up some Ravenclaw traits from somewhere. Hufflepuff should come naturally, if you are driven to your cause. And Slytherin, well, those traits will be absolutely essential to your arsenal.

What are you talking about?

You told me yourself you’re not here for school, the Hat said.

Yes, but I’m just here for a poke around... nothing huge, Ron thought nervously.

No one who enters Hogwarts nowadays gets by so easily, the Hat said slowly. Exercise caution, Ronald Weasley. And do visit me again. I enjoy rummaging through your mind.


Ron opened his eyes. McGonagall looked stricken.

Wonderful,” Snape said, and Ron could imagine the sneer on his face. “Let the feast begin.”

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