Mags (magistera) wrote in hp_whatif,

FIC: "Sorted Differently", PG

Title: Sorted Differently
Author: magistera
Rating: PG
Warnings: none, unless you hate the Squid, or children's games, or something
Disclaimer: I do not own these characters. Which is probably good, or they'd have words for me.
Notes: Sliding just under the wire (in my timezone, anyway), this is for the "what if the characters were sorted differently?" challenge. Um. And I'm sorry. So very sorry. Thanks to thamos0 for the beta.

Part The First: The Sorting Squid
Summary: And Harry thought that currency was all he'd have to 'convert from' to join the wizarding world.

Harry stumbled as he climbed into the boat, still gaping at the castle. "Hogwarts," he breathed, and then shivered. Somehow saying the name while he was standing here, actually looking at it, made it more real than it ever had been in his mind. Taking a seat next to Ron, he jumped nervously as the boat started to move on its own.

Everyone was silent as the little fleet of boats glided out onto the lake. Looking around, Harry could see that a number of the children were staring at everything in wonderment, just like he was. The rest seemed to be holding their breaths, identical expressions of reverence on their faces. Harry thought he knew how they felt – there was something strange and wonderful about this trip, especially knowing what lay at the end.

When the boats reached the middle of the lake, they halted as one. Harry rocked forward slightly, thrown off-balance by the sudden stop. He glanced at Ron uneasily, but the red-headed boy just nodded at him, as though this was to be expected.

"Heads down!" Hagrid shouted, and most of the students, Ron included, bent their heads as if in prayer. Ron even had his eyes closed, Harry noticed. Confused, Harry continued to look around, trying to figure out what was going on.

"I said, heads down!" Hagrid repeated, louder this time. "An' close yer eyes!" he added.

Harry bowed his head quickly, realizing that he'd probably just committed some sort of faux pas without being aware of it. He shut his eyes, hoping that whatever he'd done, it wasn't too rude.

After a few seconds, he heard a splashing sound. A soft murmur started up from the boats, sounding like…chanting? Harry risked opening his eyes just the tiniest bit and risked a glance at Ron. The other boy's lips were moving, and if he strained his ears Harry could just catch the syllables falling out of his mouth, just above a whisper. But nothing Ron said seemed to make any sense. Harry let his eyelids fall closed once more and listened harder.

The chanting sound rose and fell, becoming more intense as the splashing sounds grew louder. Suddenly the night was split by a sharp cry; Harry's head came up and his eyes flew open at this, but Ron was sitting still as a stone, head down and eyes closed, seemingly unconcerned about the source of the noise, so Harry squeezed his eyes shut again, trying to quell his rising fear. Somewhere in the distance, his straining ears picked up what sounded like a faint cheer.

The splashing sounds kept coming closer. There were more startled-sounding cries and occasionally even screams that quickly faded into the distance, but no one seemed to think anything was awry: there were no other sounds from the other boats, and Harry couldn't hear anyone on his boat moving so much as a muscle. Several times more, Harry heard that faint cheer, and wondered who was cheering, and for what.

Then there was a splash directly behind their boat. He heard Ron gasp, and opened his eyes again to see what was wrong. But Ron was gone. His heart hammering in his chest, Harry looked around wildly, trying to see what had happened to him. Had he fallen into the lake? What on earth was going on? Why had he agreed to come to this school in the first place? If there even was a school. Maybe it was just a way to lure children out to – to do whatever had happened to Ron.

Suddenly, Harry was jerked upright in his seat by something that lashed out of the water and wrapped around his chest. Looking down in horror, he saw that a large, rubbery tentacle had thrown itself around his ribcage. He only had time to whimper quietly in terror before he was jerked into the air. He could feel the ridges of every single sucker digging into his skin through his robes as he was whipped rapidly back and forth in the air. Finally, he was yanked backward and then just as quickly shoved forward. The appendage that was holding him let go, and then Harry was flying through the air.

As he sailed over the heads of the students still sitting in their boats (heads still bowed and eyes still closed), he heard their chant one last time.

"Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wagn'nagl fhtagn...Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wagn'nagl fhtagn..."

It still made no sense. Harry squeezed his eyes shut one last time and hoped that it wouldn't hurt too much when he died.

Then he was thumping down, much more gently than his flight should have allowed, in the middle of a group of first years. A cheer of "Gryffindor!" went up as soon as Harry landed. They were surrounded by the grinning faces of older children – other students, Harry realized. He could see several thatches of red hair in the crowd – presumably Ron's brothers.

"Harry! You made it into Gryffindor too!" a familiar voice exulted. Harry rolled over onto his other side to see Ron's beaming face. "I knew you would!"

"Ron – you – I –" Harry floundered for a minute, with too many questions trying to force their way out at once. Taking a deep breath, he tried again. "What was that?"

Ron grinned. "That was the Squid."

If anything, Harry's confusion deepened. "The what?" he said blankly.

"The Squid. Cthulhu. He lives at the bottom of the lake," Ron replied. "Every year, He Sorts the first years by tossing them into the House that they belong in."

"So you mean it – "

"He," Ron interrupted.

"He just picks you up and tosses you into the air, and wherever you land is where you spend your next seven years?" Harry tried to wrap his mind around the concept, but it was so utterly foreign that his brain was rebelling. Every time he thought he was getting comfortable with the idea of the wizarding world, something like this came up and threw him again.

"Well...yes," Ron said, sounding as if he didn't understand where Harry's questions were coming from. "They say," he continued, his voice gaining strength, "that He can read your innermost thoughts through the suckers on His tentacles. They say that He's never failed to Sort a student into the proper House. He's been there since the castle was built, you know. Maybe even before."

Harry gaped at him. It sounded crazy, but Ron's face was completely earnest, and nothing in his voice suggested that he was having Harry on. "So your House is all a matter of trajectory?" he asked, trying to understand. "But – er – isn't that a bit random? I mean, what if there's a stray breeze or something, and you get thrown off course?"

All of the friendliness disappeared from Ron's face, and his eyes turned hard. "We don't question the Squid, Harry," he said disapprovingly.

Harry's head spun with this new information, but he was even more taken aback at the idea that he might lose his first friend over yet another incomprehensible misstep. "Of course not," he said weakly, and tried for a reassuring smile.

Ron's face cleared immediately. "I knew you'd understand," he said. "Come on and meet my brothers, they're in Gryffindor too."

Part The Second: Sorting Musical Chairs
Summary: "Mad?" said Percy airily. "He's a genius! Best wizard in the world! But he's a bit mad, yes."

"Yes, yes, come on up here," Dumbledore said encouragingly, waving the line of first years toward the front of the Hall, where a number of chairs were arranged in a circle. "Yes – now all of you choose a seat, and I'll explain the Sorting."

Harry stuck close to Ron in the rush to find and grab a chair. They managed to claim two seats together in a fairly decent spot – near the front, but not too near. Harry took a moment to grin at Ron, receiving a slightly shaky grin in return, and then they both turned back to Dumbledore, waiting for the explanation.

"Wonderful!" the Headmaster exclaimed as the last student took her seat. "Now, here's what we're going to do. I'm going to play some music, and you're all going to get up and walk around the chairs. When the music stops, you all have to grab a seat. But there's just one complication."

He waved his wand almost negligently, and a chubby boy with blond hair landed on the floor with a thump as his chair disappeared from beneath him. Looking on, Dumbledore chuckled merrily.

"Yes, now you begin to see. There will be one less chair each time. And we shall be able to tell, each time someone is left standing, what house that person belongs in."

Harry turned to look at Ron in disbelief. Dumbledore had to be mad. Of all the things he'd imagined happening once he arrived at Hogwarts, this hadn't even crossed his mind as a joke.

Ron looked equally horrified as he stared back at Harry. "Fred and George never told me about this," he whispered urgently. "I'm no good at games; I'll end up in Hufflepuff for sure!"

"Everyone ready?" Dumbledore inquired, an eager look on his face. "Then let's begin!" He raised his wand like a baton and began waving it as though he were conducting a symphony. Music swelled out of nowhere, piping a cheerful melody throughout the Great Hall.

Harry leapt to his feet when he realized that everyone around him was doing so, and began marching around the circle of chairs. He felt rather stupid, but reassured himself that everyone else in the Hall had done the same their first year. Trying to distract himself from his own self-consciousness, he fixed his eyes on Ron's red hair, directly in front of him, and counted his steps as he walked around and around.

From time to time the music would swell, and Dumbledore would point his wand at a group of tables behind the circle of chairs. The students sitting at those tables stood up obediently and shouted their house name. Harry kept on marching, to the tune of "RAVENCLAW!" and "SLYTHERIN!"

After a minute or so, the music came to a sudden halt mid-crescendo. Harry froze for a moment, almost forgetting what he was supposed to do; then he scrambled to grab a chair before they were all gone. After a bit of a scuffle with a stringy boy who pulled his hair and tried to punch him in the face, he managed to secure a seat. There was a brief tumult as all the first years jockeyed for the few remaining chairs. Finally everyone was seated except for a pug-faced girl with dark hair, who was gently motioned by Dumbledore to join the Slytherin tables. A cheer went up from the other Slytherins as she took her place among them. Then Dumbledore flicked his wand, removing another chair (a dark-haired girl fell to the floor with a squeal), and the music began again.

So it went. Round after round, they marched around the circle of chairs, waiting for the moment when the music would stop and they'd all have to rush to find a seat. Sometimes it would happen almost immediately; other times they had to make circuit after circuit of their strange track before sudden silence provided their cue to dive towards the nearest chair. Throughout the odd ritual, Dumbledore beamed incessantly, childlike glee lighting up his face. Student after student was waved toward some group of tables or other, until only Harry and Ron remained.

This time, the music went on for longer than it ever had before. Ron locked eyes with Harry as they made their first circuit of the chairs, and their gazes stayed firmly fixed to each other's faces as they marched around and around in front of the entire school.

Harry's legs were tired; he had been walking for hours, even if it was only over a very small area, and he wanted nothing more than to sit down and rest. But he couldn't stop until the music did, so he kept on. Ron's face was tight and determined, as though this was some task he had sworn to complete, and he would die before failing. Harry's brow furrowed, trying to figure out why that was.

Just then, the music stopped. Conditioned by the interminable previous rounds of the game, Harry leapt toward the single remaining chair. From the other side of their (by now very small) circle, Ron did the same.

Even as he jumped, Harry saw something desperate in Ron's eyes. I'm no good at games, he heard in his head. Harry was close enough to the chair to grab the back of it, if he reached out. The expression on Ron's face changed to one of resignation.

Before he even knew what he was doing, Harry was throwing himself to one side. Just a little bit – to anyone else, it might've looked as though he'd missed his jump. But it was enough that he ended up a step away from the chair, and Ron claimed it with a glad cry, sitting himself down as carefully as if it were a throne. Harry felt something joyful and bitter rise up all at once in his chest as he accepted his defeat. He looked up at Dumbledore, waiting to be sent to the Hufflepuff table, which everyone he'd met so far had been keen to avoid.

Dumbledore's eyes twinkled and his free hand gestured, indicating which way Harry should go. Head down, Harry trudged in the direction indicated, only looking up when he saw a table in front of him.

He was greeted by a pair of identical faces, topped by red hair. "Welcome to Gryffindor," one of them said warmly, as the rest of the students at the table cheered.

"That wasn't so bad, was it?" said the other. "Dumbledore made us play some Muggle game called "Twister" our first year - Madam Pomfrey had to untangle a couple of Ravenclaws that time."

Harry's heart swelled at the realization that he'd made it into Gryffindor after all, only to shrink again at the realization that Ron had surely been Sorted somewhere else. But when he looked up, he saw Ron marching toward the very same table where Harry sat with his head held high and a grin splitting his face.

After the Feast, Harry ran after Dumbledore, catching his sleeve. "Please, sir," he said when the old wizard turned around. "I only – I wanted to know how the Sorting – that is – I wanted to know why Ron was sorted into Gryffindor."

Dumbledore smiled, his eyes crinkling in amusement. "Mr. Weasley was placed in your House because he had the courage to reach out for something he wanted, even though great obstacles stood in his way," he said.

Harry let that soak in for a moment, and then hurried to catch up with the Headmaster again. "But sir," he said confusedly, "then – I mean – why was I sorted into Gryffindor? I – I gave up," he finished, awkwardly. "I let Ron have the last chair."

Dumbledore chuckled, and winked at him. "As for you, Mr. Potter," he said, still laughing quietly, "you were sorted into Gryffindor because it was the last name called out before the music stopped."

Part The Third: Sorting Personality Test
Summary: Harry really hates tests.

Harry bent his head over his parchment, trying to resist the urge to glance over at his neighbor's answers. Nervously, he dipped his quill in his ink bottle again; he still hadn't got the hang of this quill thing, and he was constantly afraid of running out of ink. His test paper was already impressively decorated with blotches of various sizes. Professor Snape strode up and down the rows of tables, his robes billowing, glaring menacingly at anyone who dared to meet his eyes.

Harry sighed. It sounded unnaturally loud in the hush of the Great Hall. He rolled his eyes up toward the ceiling for the fourteenth time. It was still raining. He bent his head back to his test.

Your mother, who is ill, sends you to buy some milk. The grocer gives you a Galleon too much in change. What do you do?
a) Return the money; honesty is the best policy after all.
b) Give the money to your mother; she needs it to pay for her potions.
c) Keep the money, and put it in your "New Broomstick Fund".
d) Bet it on the upcoming Quidditch match between England and Belgium; you know how to make your money work for you!

Harry sighed again. He didn't understand how these questions had anything to do with what he was supposed to be studying at Hogwarts. He thought he'd come here to learn magic, not to answer an endless round of apparently pointless questions. He circled (a) on the parchment, and a new question appeared below the one he'd finished.

You're hiding from Death Eaters in the Forbidden Forest. The centaurs say that they'll protect you, but only if you cast an augury for them. You know how to cast an augury, but you don't have a sheep handy. What do you do?

Harry let his head fall forward until it hit the table. He knew he was going to fail this test. He didn't even know what Death Eaters and auguries were, and he only had a vague memory of reading about centaurs in one of Dudley's books (before Aunt Petunia had snatched it away from him, screeching about silly fantasies and things that didn't exist). He lifted his head and rolled it on his shoulders, trying to relax them just a bit. Inadvertently, his gaze met Snape's. With a swish of his robes, the man sniffed and turned away, marching down the next aisle in search of cheating students.

The bushy-haired girl he'd met on the train was the first to finish; she walked up to the high table and thrust her scroll at Professor McGonagall expectantly. She looked a little put out when McGonagall gestured for her to step away from the table while her test was tabulated. Harry tried to pretend he wasn't watching, flicking his eyes back to his own paper every time one of the participants in this mini-drama looked up.

Professor McGonagall pored over the parchment for several minutes before enlisting outside help. "Filius, could you come here, please?" she called finally."

A very short, white-haired man hurried over to the high table. "Yes, Minerva?" he asked in a high-pitched voice.

"I could use a little help with the decision here," McGonagall said, pushing the scroll over towards the little man.

He looked at it for a few moments, then raised his head to meet McGonagall's eyes. "I should think the decision would be clear," he said in his squeaky voice.

Just then Snape swept past Harry's table, and Harry had to lower his eyes to his own test, although his ears still strained to catch the conversation going on at the front of the hall.

"But you see, this question here…"

"Nonetheless, given the response to this one, I simply have to say…"

"Well, I suppose you're right. Miss Granger! Come here, please."

Harry risked a glance as the bushy-haired girl approached the high table, looking apprehensive for the first time. McGonagall said a few quiet words to her and a smile broke out across her face. Head held high, she marched back past the rows of students still taking their tests. Harry wanted to turn and see where she'd gone, but Snape was still nearby, and he didn't dare. Instead he looked down to read the next question.

A small village has hired you to track and kill a vampire that is stealing its children. When you discover its lair, you find that it has a young child from the village in its clutches. You can either kill the vampire or rescue the child. What do you do?

Harry suppressed a groan as he dipped his quill into the ink bottle for the twenty-fifth time.
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