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Halfway To Infinity by Eponine
Chapter 50 : Chapter Forty-Nine: The Sorting Hat’s Help
 
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Author's Note: Thanks, coolh5000 for being an excellent beta! This chapter is dedicated to Chris Baty.

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Chapter Forty-Nine: The Sorting Hat’s Help

The chamber was tiny and cramped. Lottie had barely enough room to walk four strides. It seemed more like a closet than anything. In the dusty silence, everything felt deceptively peaceful. There was no noise except for the rasping of Lottie’s breath. It was almost easy to forget what had just happened.

She spun around helplessly. This chamber had no windows. The only way in or out was through the fireplace, and surely the Death Eaters knew about that. Panic began to rise in Lottie’s chest. What was she supposed to do? She couldn’t stay here—surely she would die with no food and water, but she couldn’t leave either. The Death Eaters must have been waiting for her outside.

Lottie sat down against the cool, stone floor. If she couldn’t get back to headquarters, there had been no point to the trip. She had spent years of perfecting her Occlumency—and now everything was ruined. And—something constricted in Lottie’s throat at the thought—Ally had died for nothing.

Dully, Lottie glanced down at the Sorting Hat in her hands. Dully she thought about how Palmyitor would be so angry that she had lost two students, and didn’t even get anything in return. A few tense moments passed, but no Death Eaters came banging down the door, like she had expected.

Locked in a chamber with nowhere to go and nobody to help her, Lottie glanced at the Sorting Hat and slipped it on. Maybe it could help.

“About time,” groaned a voice from the Hat.

Lottie was so startled by this that she jumped from where she was sitting. She had, of course, read all about the Sorting Hat and knew how it worked, but it still caught her off-guard to be having a conversation with a hat. The Hat, of course, could read her mind—and she was sure that any sort of Occlumency she employed would not be sufficient. After all, even Snape, Palmyitor and the Dark Lord had been sorted.

“Interesting,” was all the Hat said. Lottie could feel it rifling through her mind, and did not like it at all. “So you’re related to Harry Potter.”

Lottie wasn’t sure whether to speak or just think her confirmation, considering the Hat did have access to her thoughts. “Interesting,” the Hat repeated. “You are very much like him, I see. Potential… thirst to prove yourself. And your heart’s in a good place… it seems.”

Despite her horrible situation, Lottie’s heart rose slightly. “I’m like Harry?” she asked aloud, even though she knew she didn’t have to. With a half-hearted chuckle, she said, “I suppose that would make me a Gryffindor, right?”

There was a meaningful pause, in which the Hat considered her proposition. It had not sorted people for years, Lottie thought. It was probably a little rusty.

“No, I do not think you would be,” the Hat said slowly. “You don’t have quite the determination or bravery… You’ve got Harry’s need to make yourself stand out, and the remarkable ability to survive. No, definitely not Gryffindor.”

“What then?” Lottie asked, her heart sinking once more.

“I think you know.”

Lottie’s breath hitched in her throat. She knew what the Hat was going to say; she recognized it deeply and did her best to suppress it. “Not Slytherin,” she whispered, almost pleading.

“Not Slytherin?” the Hat repeated. “And why not? You would fit in perfectly. No, I can’t seem to put you anywhere else—you would definitely—”

The disappointment that had surged through Lottie was swiftly replaced by boiling hot anger. She snatched the Hat off her head and threw it as hard as she could onto the ground.

How could she be a Slytherin? Death Eaters were Slytherins; Malfoy was a Slytherin; Snape was a Slytherin; the Dark Lord was a Slytherin.

A small nagging voice in the back of her mind reminded her—Palmyitor was a Slytherin. In fact, all of the good Legilimens she knew were. But was she destined to be like Palmyitor?

Lottie looked down at the stupid Hat on the grounds and gave it a kick for good measure. No, she couldn’t be a Slytherin. She just couldn’t.

But hadn’t she been expecting the Hat’s answer? Didn’t she know, deep down, all along? Where else would she fit?

Surely not in Hufflepuff. She was not very hardworking, and anything but patient. Not in Ravenclaw either—she naturally excelled at Occlumency and Legilimency, but not because she enjoyed learning. She just liked being the best at something. So that left Gryffindor and Slytherin.

But she was brave. She had done loads of brave stuff. She had saved Andrea from Death Eaters, and traveled to Paris. She was here, wasn’t she, at Hogwarts? But, the small nagging voice continued, she did have the strong survival instincts of a Slytherin—and she didn’t have the annoyingly superior moral beliefs of a Gryffindor. She had used Dark Magic… but wasn’t that okay in order to survive?

Before Lottie even finished the thought, she had a sinking realization. But she couldn’t be a Slytherin—she wasn’t evil.

Lottie leaned against a shelf and stared at nothing in particular. She didn’t really know what to think or feel now. All she was aware of was a mild numbness spreading up her body. She was locked in Hogwarts—probably the most dangerous place for her to be. The Death Eaters knew she wasn’t a student, so she couldn’t use Occlumency and she just found out she was a Slytherin.

The Hat couldn’t be wrong either—it read her thoughts—it had been on everybody’s head—it probably knew more about Hogwarts than anybody…

Lottie sat straight up. The Hat knew everything about Hogwarts. Maybe it would be able to tell her to get out.

Lottie picked it up and swept it onto her head. “I’d wondered how long it would take you to figure that out. Incidentally, I can probably help you in more ways than one. How’s that?” The Hat recited Lottie’s unasked question. “You are searching for Lord Voldemort’s Horcruxes, are you not?”

The Hat gave a wheezy laugh. “How do I know, you wonder? I can peer into the deepest thoughts in your mind—no, not Legilimency. Occlumency cannot stop me.” Lottie was beginning to get annoyed by the responses to her subconscious thoughts.

“I know that Lord Voldemort has a Horcrux hidden in this very castle. How?” Lottie rolled her eyes and the Hat laughed at her frustration. “Since the start of his reign, he has put me on several times, looking for secrets hidden in the minds of old students. He did not realize, however, that he transfers everything he knows to me every time he does it.”

“Where is the Horcrux?” Lottie breathed. Even though she knew she didn’t have to speak aloud, it was a bit of a habit.

“The Room of Requirement.” There was a significant pause, before the Sorting Hat continued. “He placed his Horcrux there, believing he was the only student to ever access it. How do you get there, you wonder? It is on the seventh floor. You must walk past a certain stretch of wall three times, concentrating on what you need, and the door will appear.”

Lottie’s heart sank. It was great that it was on the seventh floor, but she was on the first.

“Aha, but here you have become extremely fortunate,” the Hat said. “It just so happens that the chamber you are in right now is a secret passageway that leads to the seventh floor.”

Lottie’s heart leapt again. This was better than any of them had imagined. She was able to get the Sorting Hat and a Horcrux back to everybody… but… how would she get back?

“I am confident you will find a way to get back from the Room of Requirement,” said the Hat.

Lottie stood up and pulled out her wand. If she was going to do this, it would be with a game plan. After all, to get to this room, she would have to go out in the open, and that would be tricky. “Okay,” she said aloud. “How do I get to this passageway?”

“The shelf on which you were just leaning,” said the Hat. “Push it aside.” With effort, Lottie managed to achieve this, and revealed a narrow crawl space carved into the wall. Lottie dropped to her hands and knees and squeezed through. The path was extremely dusty and dark. She did not dare light her wand, though—if the passage suddenly opened up, she did not want to make herself an easier target. Cobwebs caught in her hair, and it took a lot of effort not to sneeze from the dust.

The path soon became a steep climb. Lottie panted as she crawled at the severe angle. “Nearly there,” said the Hat encouragingly. As if on cue, she hit her head with a thump against a very thick wall. “That’s the exit,” said the Hat. “You have to push the bit of wall aside.”

This was a very delicate part of the operation. If any Death Eater spotted her, she would be dead. Heart thumping wildly, she placed both hands against the wall and gingerly pushed it out. No shouts or curses flew, so Lottie carefully poked her head out. The corridor was deserted.

Unable to believe her luck, Lottie silently crawled out of the hole with the Sorting Hat still on her head. Behind her, the passageway sealed itself. “That’s it,” said the Hat. “The room is just slightly to your right, across from the tapestry of the trolls in tutus. Walk past it three times, concentrating hard.”

As quickly, but quietly as she could, Lottie trotted past the morbid tapestry, thinking desperately about escaping Hogwarts and finding Voldemort’s Horcrux. After the third time, she wheeled around, and with a wonderful jolt of joy, realized that a door had appeared.

Lottie slipped through the door and bolted it behind her. Heart racing, she looked around the room. It had to be the oddest place she had ever seen. The room was cavernous—Lottie couldn’t even see the end of it, and in every possible inch, it was crammed with magical objects. Reading her thoughts, the Hat said, “Generations of Hogwarts students have hidden their forbidden objects here.”

The artifacts ranged from the clearly dangerous (dress robes that had been “enhanced” with barbed wire around the collar) to the innocent looking (a pile of brightly colored candies). Lottie gazed around desperately, as though she hoped a giant sign with the words ‘Hocrux’ would appear.

“The object you are looking for is a very ancient one,” said the Hat. “It is an object of Rowena Ravenclaw’s herself. A diadem.”

“A what?” Lottie asked, her frustration mounting.

“A diadem—it looks like a tiara—a crown.”

That did not help. As she looked around, Lottie thought of the thousands and thousands of nick-knacks hidden here—how would she find a little crown? And then the image jumped out at her immediately. The sight was so strange that Lottie almost wanted to laugh.

There, right across from her, sat a bust of an old wizard, with a wig sloppily slapped on top. And on top of that wig was—

“The diadem,” Lottie breathed as she took it gingerly into her hands. The metal was freezing cold and had its own magical aura—Lottie could sense it. Yet even in the victory of this discovery, Lottie did not forget the delicacy of the situation. Here she was, in the middle of Hogwarts, a castle full of Dark Wizards, trying to steel a segment of the Dark Lord’s soul.

“Just think,” said the Hat. “How did you get here?”

“Brooms,” Lottie said automatically. “But I lost them—oh.” Lottie looked around. There were a thousand things in here—there must have been at least one broomstick. “Accio broom!”

In an instant, a broomstick hovered beside her. Lottie mounted it, but then sighed. Being quite an unskilled flyer, she would need both hands to steer, but with her wand in one hand and the Horcrux in the other…

Delicately, Lottie took the Hat off her head, and replaced it with the diadem. “Thanks,” she said to the Hat (though she wasn’t quite positive it could hear her) before shoving it in her pocket. Lottie rushed to the window, magicked it open, and held her wand between her teeth. With that, she mounted the broom again and took off into the night sky.

Even in the rushing wind, the tiara did not fall off—it didn’t even wobble. Lottie cast wary looks around, but there were no Death Eaters tailing her. They were probably searching the corridor through which she had disappeared—and would soon realize she took a passage up to the Room of Requirement. They would probably realize in a minute or two. With that thought, Lottie put on another burst of speed and flew into the thick trees of the forest.

Her mood worsened with the dwindling moonlight. As she swerved between the trees, Lottie thought of her failed attempt to save her friends. Hannah Finnigan had already left the school. How could she be so stupid? And that one mistake had cost Ally her life. Lottie felt a rush of numbness at that thought, and had to hastily swerve to avoid colliding with a branch.

She had never particularly liked Ally, but that didn’t mean she wanted her to die. And now it was her fault—all her fault. She imagined Ally’s look of fear as she got hit with the Killing Curse. She imagined having to tell her parents. She imagined Palmyitor expelling her, calling her a murderer.

These thoughts carried her to the entrance of the hideout, and she landed rather clumsily. Still with her wand extended, Lottie heaved the stone out of the way and clambered down the ladder.

“LOTTIE!” Andrea’s full force tackled her, and she stumbled to the wall from her weight. Andrea looked a little worse for wear; her glasses had fogged up and she had tear tracks all across her face.

“Get off me, would you?” Lottie snapped, not quite sure where this aggression was coming from.

“Lottie—what—” Any offense Andrea took was cut off by the look of confusion she had when she looked at the tiara. It must have been a ridiculous sight—Lottie, bruised, bloody, and wearing a tiara. “What is that?”

“It’s a Horcrux.” Lottie carefully lifted it off her head—and felt her mood rise suddenly. Her irritation with Andrea faded and was replaced with a deep-seated gratitude for her friend’s loyalty. She even smiled weakly.

“A Horcrux?” Andrea repeated. “How—”

“The Sorting Hat told me,” Lottie said, pulling the Hat out of her pocket. “It told me everything—how to get out—how to find the Horcrux—everything.”

Andrea looked with wide eyes at the Hat. “You got it?” she asked. “You didn’t lose it when the Death Eaters chased you? Wow.”

Lottie gave a shaky laugh. “Yeah—I guess the mission was a success—the Hat and the Horcrux—except—well—” Lottie felt a plunge of guilt. “Ally died.”

“I know,” Andrea said kindly. “But that’s not your fault, Lottie.” Her eyes traveled back to the Hat. Lottie knew she was wondering the same thing that she had when she had first gotten a hold of it too. Lottie hoped, for Andrea’s sake, that she wasn’t also sorted into Slytherin.

“You want to try it on?” Lottie asked, holding out the Hat.

Andrea nodded slowly and took it gently. It was so big that it slipped over her head and covered her eyes. They stood there for a good thirty seconds, before Lottie heard a dull thunk, and Andrea cry, “Ow.”

Perplexed, Lottie watched as Andrea pulled the Hat off. She rubbed her head and picked up what had caused the damage. Even in the dull light, it seemed to glimmer, as if it were fresh from battle. Lottie looked with wonder at the ruby encrusted sword.


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