Hermione Granger walked to the front of the Hall with every bit of confidence she could muster, determined to stay calm despite the entire school watching her. The enchanted ceiling of the Great Hall opened up into the sky above her, and she felt very, very small. There was something mystical about this ritual, despite the mundane appearance of the hat, and her heart was in her throat as she approached the stool. She sat down, and with a deep breath, settled the hat on her head.
Oh ho, the Sorting Hat chuckled into her head. What do we have here? You're a mixed bag, to be certain. Clever, very clever, and brave, to be sure. But this longing… this ambition…
Slytherin, Hermione told the hat silently. I want to go to Slytherin.
Slytherin? the hat mused. Your cunning and ambition would fit well there, to be sure. You would face prejudice there, though. Such prejudice…
I am New Blood, Hermione told the hat determinedly. I can handle it.
New Blood? the hat queried. …why, look at that. You are New Blood. But your journey will not be an easy one.
Even though she'd been called the term before, it was still a jolt to hear it confirmed. She'd almost wondered if she'd made the whole thing up after all.
Nothing worth fighting for is ever easy, Hermione countered. I want to make Granger a powerful name up there with the rest of them.
Well, if nothing else, your ambition will find you in good company. The hat seemed almost amused. So if you insist…
Hermione hopped off the stool to the green table's applause, ignoring the scattered boos. She sat down next to Tracey Davis, who was next to Millicent Bulstrode – both already newly-sorted Slytherins. She offered both of them a smile, and she was gratified to see at least Tracey tentatively offer it back.
Greengrass, Daphne quickly followed Hermione, sitting down across from the other three girls with a dismissive sniff. Hermione watched Tracey's face fall slightly before she quickly schooled her features into a mask, and Hermione made a mental note.
Daphne's a bigot, she thought to herself. No real surprise there – she's on that special list.
Nott, Theodore joined the table, sitting next to Daphne, and Malfoy, Draco sat next to him. Parkinson, Pansy took her seat next to Draco, and Hermione was pleased when the last sorted (Zabini, Blaise) took a seat next to her, flashing her a smile. She was a bit disappointed none of the boys she'd met on the train made it into Slytherin (all three going to Gryffindor), but she'd be sure to catch up with them after classes.
The feast began, and Hermione did her best not to betray her surprise as food appeared on the tables. She served herself with her best manners, and as conversation began, carefully listened in.
"Weren't there two others?" Daphne asked, glancing down the table. "I counted ten sorted into Slytherin, not eight."
Blaise snickered, and Draco shot him a dark look.
"Goyle and Crabbe are sitting at the head with the prefects," Draco explained. "They got told off for fighting on the train."
Conversation turned toward everyone's hopes for the school year. Hermione was glad to see at least some of her classmates were taking their studies seriously – the boys she'd met on the train hadn't even opened their textbooks yet. Draco was eager for Potions, Theo was looking forward to Charms, and when Hermione offered that she was excited for Transfiguration, Theo had looked pleased and Draco had given her an approving nod.
"Transfiguration is challenging, but incredibly useful," Theo told her. "Be careful of the instructor, though – Professor McGonagall chooses favorites, and she favors her own house over the others."
"Her house?" Hermione questioned.
"Gryffindor," Draco said with a sneer. He gestured to the far table, with the students clad in red and gold. "Gryffindors and Slytherins don't get along, so be prepared for her to hate us all on sight."
"My mum said it's tradition for the Gryffindors to hate us," Tracey piped up. She offered Hermione a grin. "They think Slytherin is full of Dark wizards, and they all fancy themselves heroes. I wouldn't worry about it, though – it's not like a Gryffindor will ever be able to get the drop on a Slytherin."
"Slytherins stick together," nodded Theo. "We take care of our own."
Pansy glanced at Tracey, her pug nose sniffing in derision.
"And what did your dad say?" she said, her tone condescending. "Did he even know what Hogwarts was?"
Tracey fell silent, her eyes dropping to the plate. Hermione felt a flash of rage towards Pansy. Breathing steadily, she tried to keep her cool.
"And what are you?" Pansy said to Hermione, sneering. "Half? Quarter? Muggle?"
Hermione raised her chin, looking down at Pansy with as much contempt as she could muster.
"I'm New Blood, thank you very much," she informed Pansy.
Pansy, whose mouth had been half-opened with a prepared retort, paused.
"…new blood?" she questioned suspiciously. She glanced down the table quickly, then back to Hermione. "That's not a thing. You're lying."
Hermione sniffed with as much derision as Pansy had. "If the Parkinsons haven't taught their daughter about New Blood, that's hardly a reflection on me."
Tracey and Daphne both snickered, and even Theo cracked a smile. Hermione was pleased to see Pansy's face flush with anger, but Pansy tossed her head and turned to Draco, asking if he planned on trying out for the Quidditch team.
As conversation gradually settled, becoming less confrontational and more casual once again, Tracey turned to Hermione, quizzical.
"New Blood?" she asked.
Hermione shrugged, nodding.
"A Seer told me herself," she said. "Which, of course, meant Slytherin was the only place for me."
Tracey nodded along slowly like she understood, but dropped the matter to quiz Millicent about her summer quickly enough.
After dinner, one of the Slytherin prefects called them all around to follow her to their dormitory. Hermione was mildly surprised to see that instead of up the stairs like the other houses, they were headed down. She hadn't thought the rumors of Slytherin House living in the dungeons were true.
After leading them through the corridors and deeper into the castle, the prefect paused in front of a perfectly normal-looking stretch of wall, raising an eyebrow to wait for everyone to catch up.
"Viper," she said, and Hermione nearly jumped as the wall suddenly opened.
The prefect led them into a large, low room bedecked in green and black. There were tables scattered around on which to do homework, large plush chairs and couches around low tables, and hanging lamps that gave off a sort of bright, inoffensive green glow.
"Alright. Listen up." The prefect clapped her hands, and the murmuring died down. "My name is Jade Rince, and I'm a prefect. Other Slytherin prefects didn't draw the short straw, so they didn't have to help you all down here, but you can recognize them by their badges. All prefects wear a badge like this."
She tugged at the silver shield on her robes, before looking back up at them.
"Dormitories are off to the left – girls on the left, boys on the right. As first years, you'll be the first floor you come to. Your things have already been brought up, so there are just a couple things left to go over."
She fixed them with a sharp look, and Hermione saw Tracey flinch.
"You're in Slytherin house. That means you're in the best house," Jade said. "We're the house of cunning, of creativity, and of ambition. We have the drive to go as far as we want and reach our goals, and our goals are always higher than those of the other houses. We usually win both the House Cup and the Quidditch Cup, and I expect this tradition to continue." She gave them another significant look.
Right – win House Cup and Quidditch Cup. Hermione made a mental note. Got it.
"Because of this, the other houses generally don't like us," Jade said, sniffing. "This is why the first rule of Slytherin is the most important – Rule #1: Slytherins stick together."
"Slytherins stick together," they all murmured back. Jade nodded satisfactorily.
"A Slytherin is always better than a student of another house," she said, tossing back her hair. "The other houses, though subconsciously, know this, and they will resent you for it. Conflicts with other students are to be expected. Because of this, the second rule is also very important – Rule #2: Don't get caught."
Hermione shared an amused look with Tracey, and, to her surprise, Blaise Zabini, who was shooting her a mischievous smile.
"So long as you don't get caught and don't leave proof behind, our Head of House, Professor Snape, will protect you from allegations from another student," Jade said. "He derives delight from it, but don't push him too far – it's better to remain completely unseen, so there's not even a student accusation to deal with."
Hermione blinked. Jade was basically giving them free reign to retaliate against other students who bullied them. It was… a new approach to bullying, to be sure. At her old schools, she'd always been encouraged to report any bullying activities to a teacher, who would handle it. The teachers never actually did handle it properly, and telling a teacher often made the problem worse, but the expectation had been there – tell an authority figure, who would put a stop to it.
Here, Slytherins were expected to take care of problems and handle any such issues themselves. Hermione hid a small smile, looking down at her wand. While that kind of approach would never have worked at a Muggle school, where physical size was largely what determined the winner of an altercation, here at Hogwarts, everyone had wands. Size wouldn't matter – your magical skill would.
And Hermione intended to be the best witch Hogwarts had ever seen.
"One more," Jade said. "Rule #3 – Slytherins are the best. Whatever it takes."
She gave them a fierce look, and they cowered as a group.
"Slytherin takes pride in being the best. It takes work, it takes networking, it takes cunning, it takes cleverness. Whatever your goal, whatever it takes, you reach it. Slytherins don't fail – they adapt, they re-evaluate, and they get what they want."
Hermione saw Pansy's eyes gleam as she looked over at Draco, who was looking at Jade, his own eyes hungry with ambition. Hermione resisted the urge to roll her own eyes – it would figure that Pansy's highest goal was to latch onto a boy.
"I'm a prefect," Jade told them. She tossed her hair. "In two years, I will be Head Girl. I will beat out all the other girls for the position, because I want it. And I will stop at nothing to achieve my goal."
She looked at them with a cross between pride and determination, and Hermione felt inspired herself, just looking at her. Hermione smiled up at her without realizing it, and to her surprised, Jade gave her a small smile back, before seeming to shake herself out of her moment.
"All right – that's the basics. Go ahead up to your dorms and get your things set up, and try to get some sleep tonight if you can. Be down here for breakfast at seven sharp – the prefects will lead you up to breakfast. Do not try to get to the Great Hall on your own." She gave them a smirk. "Otherwise, we will find your lost skeleton years later. Do not try on your own."
She dismissed them, and they all scrambled to their dorms.
Hermione reached the dorm second, right after Pansy. The beds were arranged in a semi-circle, and with a screech, Pansy threw herself on the bed closest to the door, yelling, "This one's mine!"
Hermione quickly took the one the furthest from Pansy, entirely opposite, and the one closest to the bathroom door. As the others filtered in, Daphne took the one next to Pansy, Tracey took the one next to Hermione, and Millicent took the one that was left, dead in the middle. The girls all looked around, quietly judging that this arrangement was okay. Hermione felt a sense of relief at everyone's quiet approval of the sleeping arrangement – she hadn't wanted to have to fight for her bed.
Light conversation broke out as the girls arranged their things. Hermione's night stand had an intricate green stained-glass lamp and doubled as a small bookcase, and she put the books she thought she'd use the most on its shelves, as well as a couple favorites to fall asleep reading. Tracey was putting her hairbrush on her own nightstand, and Hermione was unsurprised to see Pansy chatting with Daphne and casting snide looks across the room, entirely unconcerned with arranging her things.
"Granger," she said suddenly.
Here it was.
Mentally gearing herself up, Hermione looked up.
"Yes?" she asked.
Pansy smiled sweetly, and Hermione nearly snorted. It was so overly saccharine and fake that she doubted such a smile would fool anyone.
"What did you say you were, back in the Great Hall?" she asked. "I've never heard of it, so perhaps you wouldn't mind explaining it to me?"
Hermione straightened her shoulders, putting a proud expression on her face.
"I'm New Blood," she said. "Judged so by both a Seer and the Sorting Hat."
Pansy and Daphne shared a look. Daphne looked mildly confused and intrigued, while Pansy looked disbelieving.
"But what does that mean, 'New Blood'?" Pansy insisted.
Hermione took a deep breath.
"It means that my blood is destined to be the start of a new Great House," she told her, tossing her hair back. "It means that my magic was gifted to me by Magic itself, and isn't a spontaneous cropping up of magic through a dormant squib line."
"You were gifted your magic?" Tracey asked, her eyes wide.
"I was gifted with my magic directly," Hermione corrected. "Magic expects great things of me, for me to found a new Great House, and Magic has gifted me with the ability to use it more easily than others."
"Wait – not a squib line," Pansy said. "That means you grew up with Muggles?"
Hermione didn't flinch, her nose in the air. "I did."
Pansy laughed incredulously.
"So you're just a Muggleborn," she denounced, laughing. "One with delusions of greatness, but a Muggleborn nonetheless."
Pansy exchanged a smirk with Daphne, but Hermione remained carefully unfazed.
"Muggleborns are born from squib lines," she informed her. "Squib lines that Pureblood houses have long since lost track of, but from connections to magical blood nonetheless. I am New Blood – a spontaneous outcropping of magic with no previous connection to magic at all."
Pansy rolled her eyes, and Hermione shrugged.
"Don't believe me if you want, but you'll see," Hermione promised. "All great houses had to have been founded somewhere, didn't they? Where did the founding Parkinson get his magic? All great houses start with a New Blood somewhere."
Pansy laughed, but Hermione could tell that she'd managed to plant a seed inside her – Pansy was somewhat unsure.
"Anyway, let's all get to bed," Tracey suggested, her eyes darting from Hermione to Pansy to Hermione again. "We have class in the morning, and the last thing we want to do is not be at our best. Jade would kill us on our first day."
With murmurs of agreement, they all settled in to go to sleep, clicking their lamps out one by one.
As the others began to succumb to sleep, Hermione remained awake, her eyes staring up at the draped canopy of her four-poster bed.
She'd managed her first challenge – planting the seed with the other girls that she wasn't a Muggleborn. Even just a seed, a sprout of doubt, could blossom into full-blown belief if she managed to pull off what she was hoping to.
Hermione had read about the prejudice against Muggleborns. And she'd be damned if she became a witch just to hit a glass ceiling over and over again.