Stage 08 - The Sorting
If Kallen hadn’t already known how Hogwarts sorted students into their houses, she would have been very surprised and very concerned that they let a ragged hat falling apart at the seams decide who went where after delivering a musical number.
Instead, she was only regularly concerned.
Granted, the hat was supposed to possess some level of intelligence.
It presumably used an appropriate algorithm in its decision making process.
But that wasn’t the point.
These sorts of meaningless divisions never turned out well in the end.
She’d heard how bad the rivalry between Slytherin and Gryffindor had become, for instance.
Honestly, she didn’t know what house she’d end up in after some objective measure of her personality, if such a thing even existed.
But she did acknowledge she had a fair chance of ending up in Gryffindor.
She didn’t really have a problem with the house’s virtues and failings.
She could nitpick every house, after all. It wasn’t hard.
The Gryffindors were dumb jocks who never stopped to think before rushing into danger.
The Hufflepuffs were the insular rejects hostile to anyone not of their own.
The Ravenclaws were friendless bookworms living in their ivory tower.
And the Slytherins were wannabe dark lords who would inevitably turn evil in pursuit of their lust for power.
The point was she didn’t want to deal with the factionalism of this school more than she absolutely had to.
A nice, neutral house like Ravenclaw would be nice.
Hufflepuff would also be acceptable, she supposed.
Susan and Hannah were okay company for children, and they’d already gone to the badgers.
She could survive Slytherin if she ended up there.
If anyone who cared realised she was muggleborn, they would learn very quickly not to cause her problems.
She glanced at Lelouch beside her from the corner of her eye.
Really, she just wanted to avoid Gryffindor.
Kallen let out a long sigh.
She’d had her loyalty twisted, and bent, and tested, and ultimately thrown in her face.
Despite that, she’d still found her way back to her friend, her commander, her prince, her emperor, and her lover’s side.
The years here had also given her something to be proud of beyond her ability to kill people.
As Hermione Granger, she’d become a well-respected author with a love for both literature and knowledge.
She had plenty of ambition as well to consider.
The current status quo of the magical world wasn’t as bad as Britannia in most ways, but she was still going to burn it to the ground.
Shite. That was a Gryffindor thought, wasn’t it?
She sighed again as she turned her attention to the surprisingly long wait for Professor McGonagall to call her name.
This year’s crop of students was very skewed toward the beginning of the alphabet, wasn’t it?
At long last, Kallen approached Professor McGonagall. She sat on the designated stool. Then the professor placed the Sorting Hat atop her head.
“Well, isn’t this interesting.”
Kallen’s eyes widened in alarm at the voice in her head. Her hands were already in motion to tear the hat from its perch.
“Fear not. I will keep your secrets.”
With a frown, Kallen sceptically asked, Really? And, pray tell, why should I not set you on fire this instant?
“Do you honestly believe the parents of all these young politicians would consent to my use if I could reveal family secrets?”
That made more sense than Kallen felt she should allow a piece of tattered fabric. She got a strange but distinctly indignant feeling from the hat in return, but she stood by her opinion. More importantly, whether she burnt the hat to cinders or not, she needed to know how it got past her occlumency without her even noticing its intrusion.
“A not uncommon question from those I choose to converse with,” the hat admitted, “one whose answer I do not know. I sort children and nothing more.”
Needless to say, Kallen didn’t appreciate that response. But then she wasn’t entirely without her own theories. If the hat could bypass the known rules of mind magic, then that left three primary possibilities. Perhaps it knew some legilimency trick lost to time. Alternatively, it might be using an entirely different magical principle to communicate. But that was assuming it even played by the rules to begin with. It was possible, however unlikely, that Hogwarts’s founders had created the Sorting Hat inside a Thought Elevator where reality bent around belief.
“You’ve discovered the source of magic?” The hat sounded both surprised and curious. “Ah, I see. Very interesting, indeed, your world.”
You’re really not giving me reasons to spare you.
The hat laughed, unconcerned.
Do you even have a self-preservation instinct?
After a bit of humming, the hat concluded, “As my destruction would prevent me from sorting any future children, I believe so. Which, speaking of, we should get to. Consider me thoroughly threatened. Now you are a difficult case, Miss…” Kallen got the distinct impression the hat was frowning at her. “You don’t even know who you are anymore, do you?”
Kallen gave the hat the mental equivalent of a shrug. I’m me. Granger, Kōzuki, or even Stadtfeld is fine. In all honesty, she would accept Potter, Lovegood, Lamperouge, or vi Britannia as well. Unlike Lelouch, who’d had all of his ties to this world torn away, and C.C., who’d only relatively recently begun to sort of care, she’d solved her identity crisis by accepting every facet of herself.
“Very well, Miss Granger. That’s your own business. Now where to put you…”
Not Gryffindor, please.
“Hmm… But you are possessed of a noble and valorous spirit. Daring, certainly, and so much courage. You’ve faced overwhelming odds at the risk of your own life. You threw away a life of wealth and power to pursue justice. Granted, you were young and angry at first, but you shaped up in time. You even buried your heart to stay true to your principles in the end.”
So many years removed from that event and since reunited with her lost love, Kallen barely reacted. She should have known better, but she’d been young and hurt at the time. If Lelouch had only asked, I would have left with him.
“Yes, I can see the truth of that. It’s hard to make decisions when your loyalty is split, and oh, how strongly such loyalty pulls at your very being. I might even go so far as to say it’s the defining characteristic of your personality. Combined with your love for equality in law and your work ethic, you’d do well in Hufflepuff.”
That’s fine with me. Hufflepuff did sound like a nice place filled with friendly people from what she’d heard of it.
“Perhaps, perhaps…” It would seem that hat hadn’t finished with Kallen yet. “Let’s not neglect your intellect. Your temper has gotten you into trouble in the past, but you have a sharp mind when you stop to think. Impeccable grades. A thirst for knowledge where magic is concerned. And you’re an author?”
To be fair, Kallen said, that stemmed from a plan to find my lovers.
“True. Very resourceful of you. And that leads me to the remaining house. You are a stubborn, prideful girl with no less ambition than Salazar himself.”
Kallen bristled. And you’re an old rag.
“Yes, but which of us repeatedly threw herself against hopeless odds? Which of us lauds herself as the strongest knight? Which of us intends to conquer Magical Britain?”
As they were, Kallen could only glare at the brim of the hat atop her head. It was all true, but there’d been extenuating circumstances, not that the hat seemed to care.
“Decisions, decisions… Where shall you go…”
As with those before her, the students waited in patient silence for the Sorting Hat to cry out Kallen’s house. The seconds passed, and several of the older children carried on an interrupted conversation that simply couldn’t wait as teenagers were wont to do. This would be a longer sorting, clearly.
When the first minute elapsed, the whispering began. It settled into an indecipherable buzz from where Lelouch stood, but he picked out enough keywords to recognise truth distorting into rumour. The muggleborn knew of Kallen, of course, as did a few of those raised in the magical world. That information fed the gossip, mixed, and came out the other end entirely different.
Then the sorting became measured in minutes, not seconds. This was, apparently, unusual in the extreme and was known as a Hatstall. It was, some said, a sign of the hat deciding between where it should put someone and where it could put them to prevent the rise of a dark witch or wizard.
Lelouch rolled his eyes when he first heard that one. The standards for ‘dark’ in the magical world were laughably naive.
“What house do you think Hermione will end up in?”
“Gryffindor, probably,” Lelouch said. Glancing to the side, he could tell all the gossip had left Ron somewhat on edge. “I’m sure the hat is trying to decide whether her courage or her books are more important to her.”
“Yeah…” After a bit of thought, the worry on Ron’s face settled. “Yeah, you’re right. Tough call.”
Lelouch gave Ron a distracted but reassuring pat on the shoulder as he turned his attention back to Kallen. In truth, he suspected the actual decision would be between Slytherin and Gryffindor. Either would pose their own problems, but they would cross what bridges they must when the time came.
More importantly, Lelouch wondered how the hat made its decision. No one they’d spoken to before leaving for Hogwarts had revealed that information to them, much to their frustration. He suspected from Kallen’s initial reaction that it read her mind. They’d trained rigorously for years to avoid exactly this sort of scenario. But then who knew what a thousand-year-old relic could do?
A silence descended, much of it from surprise judging by the expressions Lelouch saw amongst the crowd of students at their tables. Kallen rose from the stool, removing the hat herself, and, with more gentleness than she obviously wished to use, returned it to Professor McGonagall.
It was only then that Kallen seemed to notice how quiet the hall was, and like a spell being broken, the students burst into applause as was custom. None clapped louder than the Hufflepuffs. The muggleborn in that house, Lelouch noted, seemed especially pleased. Professor McGonagall showed just a hint of disappointment while, at the High Table, Professor Sprout had a victorious air about her. Professors talked about students as much as students talked about professors, he knew, but he made a mental note that the heads of house were at least somewhat competitive with one another. Perhaps he should have been watching them to know who they expected the standout students to be this year.
At any rate, Kallen signalled that they needed to talk as she went to join the enthusiastic Hufflepuff table. He nodded and jerked his head slightly toward the hat. She nodded in return, and he fingered his wand. When they got the opportunity, they’d use legilimency on each other for a quick word in private.
The sorting continued.
In the opening the brief respectful silence of the sorting provided, Kallen made eye contact with Lelouch.
They nodded to each other.
With wands drawn, they waited until the hat would drown out the verbal component of their spellwork.
Lelouch whispered, “Legilimens,” with his wand held loosely at his side but pointed directly at Kallen.
With a guiding push from her, he slipped past Kallen’s occlumency barriers and found his way into her short-term memory where her current thoughts dwelled.
He helped her into his own mind in return.
After years of practice with each other, they had the process down rote.
In the privacy of his own mind, Lelouch asked, What happened?
“The hat will read your mind,” Kallen replied. “I didn’t even notice it enter. And now that I think about it, it wasn’t picky about what language I used, either.”
Lelouch frowned. That shouldn’t be possible. A few ideas surfaced in Kallen’s mind in response, but they could conjecture about such things another time.
The hat hasn’t exposed us yet as far as I can tell.
“It says it can’t reveal your secrets.”
But words were cheap. Do you believe it?
Kallen offered a noncommittal, “I guess.” Lelouch could feel her reluctance to voice the words as she added, “Do we have a choice but to trust it?”
They did have few options. If they destroyed it – if they could destroy it – they would inevitably face legal action and a very significant cultural backlash even if they made it look like an accident. Nor was there much one could threaten or bribe a hat with. Another idea did occur, however.
I could slip my wand inside it when I take it off and use a memory charm.
Kallen considered that for a few moments, her thoughts racing through what she knew of the spell. Underlying it was the desire to pass the question off to C.C., their resident expert in mind magic. Centuries of living with a code had given her an absurd amount of experience with manipulating the human psyche in both the metaphorical and literal sense, and her skill had largely crossed over.
“I don’t think it would work,” Kallen eventually concluded. She didn’t sound particularly sure of herself, but she knew more about offensive magics than he did, so Lelouch took her word for it. “Probably better not to try and, in failing, risk giving it permission to reveal our secrets as threats to the school or something.”
Then discretion would be the better part of valour for today. Lelouch wasn’t particularly inclined to trust a sentient article of clothing, but it appeared they had no other viable choice ready at hand. By the time they could do something about it later on, it would either have already exposed their history or demonstrated that it would keep its brim, he supposed, shut.
Lelouch broke eye contact and, as a consequence, ended the legilimency spell connecting him with Kallen. When he turned back to the sorting, he noticed that Neville still wore the Sorting Hat. It hadn’t been nearly as long yet as Kallen had taken, but the clock was ticking.
Apparently, there was an official metric for a Hatstall, and Neville had fallen short of it by about thirty seconds. So claimed the grapevine.
It did come as a surprise that Neville had gone to Gryffindor, however. Lelouch personally wouldn’t have considered him for the house.
Watching the Gryffindor table, he noticed Neville fade into the background of the conversation around him without outright removing himself from it.
That boy would bear watching.
In Lelouch’s experience, those with hidden depths often bloomed brightest if nurtured.
After all, he’d had a large hand in molding an angry terrorist into a woman he would have been proud to have as his empress.
Well, that was fast. The Sorting Hat couldn’t have had time for more than a polite greeting before calling out Draco’s house.
Lelouch turned his attention to the High Table, observing the professors one by one.
Three, Lelouch found, were of primary interest.
Professor Sprout, of course, was Kallen’s Head of House and their Herbology professor. At a glance, she might be the shortest amongst the staff were one to first exclude Professor Flitwick. She’d dressed up for the feast, but she still had a somewhat earthy look about her which he couldn’t quite put his finger on. Clearly, she enjoyed working in her greenhouses, although she’d somehow managed to put on a fair amount of weight despite the physical labour required.
The woman otherwise looked to be of a polite and kind disposition. What the Weasleys had told him of her matched Lelouch’s own first impression as well.
On the other end of the table sat a man who obviously wished to be elsewhere. Professor Snape, the Slytherin Head of House, had a greasy look about him that could only come from far too much time in the potions lab. Kallen had once managed to work herself into a similar state before the entire family had promptly shunted her through the emergency disposal hatch into the lake below her lab.
A permanent scowl had etched itself onto the man’s face, and it only intensified when he caught Lelouch looking in his direction. Far back in his memories, Lelouch vaguely recalled Lily mentioning the dour man on occasion. He was fairly certain the two had once been fast friends while Professor Snape and James had been as close to enemies as school children could be. He could only imagine what her wedding had been like.
Lelouch made a note to see what he could do about curbing whatever resentment Professor Snape held against him.
Then at the centre of the table upon his golden throne sat the Headmaster of Hogwarts, Albus Dumbledore, in long, embroidered robes and a purple cloak. He gave the man points for trying, but the entire ensemble didn’t quite come together as it should. Nonetheless, for a man well over a hundred years old, he looked to be in remarkably good health.
Lelouch was unsure what to make of Dumbledore, the man who was in all but name King of Magical Britain. He led the Wizengamot. He was both the British representative to the magical equivalent of the UN and the leader of that very same body. He’d retained possession of the headmaster position at Hogwarts despite his decades long involvement in time-consuming political offices. Most of Europe treated him as their saviour for defeating Grindelwald, and Britain all but worshipped him outright.
Despite all that power, Magical Britain had descended into a civil war which had dragged on for eleven long, brutal years and still infected their society to the present day. Most of the insurgents hadn’t even gotten a slap on the wrist after Lily had defeated Voldemort. Something didn’t add up. Lelouch had a few theories on what, some which he gave more credence to than others, but he had very little credible information to go on as yet.
Everyone sat a little straighter and turned in interest to watch the Boy-Who-Lived approach Professor McGonagall. Lelouch sat on the stool and patiently awaited his own conversation with the Sorting Hat.
Lelouch barely felt the hat touch his head when it cried out, “Slytherin!”
A goblet slipped from someone’s hand at the High Table. Its ringing echoed throughout the Great Hall as it bounced and rolled across the floor.
Lelouch shrugged. “That’s fair.”