All characters involved in this story belong to J.K.Rowling and whichever publishers she's handed it out to by now, but this particular interpretation belongs to me. Feedback is worshipped and adored at firstname.lastname@example.org."The Thinking Cap"
"So put me on! Don't be afraid!/ And don't get in a flap!/You're in safe hands (though I have none)/For I'm a Thinking Cap!"
Polite applause filled the Great Hall as the battered Sorting Hat bowed to all four tables, then sat still and silent in anticipation of the first student to be called forth for the Sorting. Professor McGonagall consulted a scroll of parchment, then called out, "Abbot, Hannah!"
A pixie-ish girl with fat blonde pigtails approached the Hat with mingled awe and excitement, pulling it on her head anxiously. While the whole Hall watched, she heard a gravelly voice in her ear. "Ah, the first student of a new year! Now where shall I put you? Hmm...such loyalty! Lovely to see. You're surely a HUFFLEPUFF!"
It shouted the last word to the entire Hall and the table on the far right burst into wild applause. Hannah's grinning face could again be seen as she removed the Hat and trotted off to join her new Housemates.
The same scene was played out every years, as the first years were Sorted into their Houses for their time at Hogwarts. No one ever really talked about the little voice some heard when they tried on the Hat, though some who doubted their placement took comfort in the Hat's comments.
What no one ever heard, however, were the four *other* voices arguing inside the Hat, before the first voice said a word...
"Oh, a new batch of students! I've been looking forward to this. It DOES seem that the crop of students has been a bit light lately."
"These things go in cycles, Rowena. I'm sure we'll have a good set."
"You're just happy because the first one was one of *yours*, Helga."
"And isn't that a good enough reason?" the second voice said cheerfully. It was a very nice sort of voice, bright and chipper, bringing to mind mischievous children and mothers who refused to actually grow up. It was a decided contrast to the coolly aristocratic tones of the first voice, though both were definitely female.
A third voice joined in the mix, male and brash and boisterous. "Of course it's a good reason, Helga. Now let's concentrate on this next one, hmm?"
"Yes, Godric," both women giggled in chorus, sounding for a moment like schoolgirls themselves, as the Hat they were housed in was placed on a new head, young "Bones, Susan".
A fourth voice joined in now, low and with a slight hint of hissing on the sibilants. "Sshe has ambition, but is as cunning as a rabbit," he said dismissively.
"So positive, as always, Salazar," Rowena said reprovingly, then began her own examination. "Hmm...well, not a bad mind, but NO desire to apply it."
"Oh! She has BADGERS!" Helga exclaimed, with the impression of hands clapping together excitedly. "Oh, I want her!"
"Is that all you care about?" Rowena asked in disbelief.
"Of course not. Look at how hard-working she is. She'd be a *credit* to my House. But she ALSO has *badgers*! She's perfect. Godric?"
Godric's voice had a definite grin in it as he replied, "She has no extraordinary bravery or daring. Go ahead and take her."
"Oooh, I *like* this one," Rowena cooed approvingly as they looked into the mind of Boots, Terry. "What a bright boy. Such a fine mind. And all he wants to do in life is create new spells!"
"Rowena's in love," Godric laughed.
"One moment," Salazar put in. "That *ambition* to create new spells is certainly a fine one..."
"Oh, you can't -- he's so -- you *wouldn't*, Salazar!"
Salazar laughed. "Just teasing you, Rowena. He's yours."
"Why do they always do this so quickly?" Helga complained. "It's just rush, rush, rush, one student then another! They should enjoy this."
"Remember how excited the new students always were? They just want to know which of our glorious Houses they'll be placed in," Godric assured her. "They still appreciate us. Speaking of which, I think I want this one. Absolutely fearless!"
"Muggle-born," Salazar sniffed at Mandy Brocklehurst. "Yes, you can have her."
"You really need to work on these prejudices, Salazar dear," Helga chided gently. "Muggle-born students can be just as powerful as wizard-born."
"They're *my* prejudices, I've had them for a thousand years now, and I'm quite happy with them!" he snapped in reply. "Besides, I tried a halfblood fifty years ago, and look how THAT turned out!"
"Right, then, so we're agreed?" Godric interrupted briskly. "She's mine."
"Not so fast! We're being just as bad at rushing as they are," Rowena said with a haughty sniff. "We need to take our time and make certain that we Sort these children correctly. Their House can have a significant impact on their development as a witch or wizard."
"And you want this one," Salazar finished for her.
"I'm just saying that we should be sure!"
"And you want her," Salazar and Helga chorused together.
"Well...just because I think she'd be a better fit in my house than *Godric's*...I mean, honestly, Godric, there IS more to life than rushing blindly into things. Mature deliberation and reasoning will always see you through in the end."
"Which would be why you barricaded yourself in the library for a full year to figure out how to deal with that upstart wizard in the next town?"
"I found the solution in the end, didn't I?"
"AFTER I'd already dealt with him!"
"You accidentally knocked him off a cliff!"
"It *worked*, didn't it?"
Helga sighed. "They get into this every time they want the same student."
"You'd think they'd have worked this out by now," Salazar agreed. "Although it does get amusing when he picks up new slang from the students," he added thoughtfully as Godric shouted that Rowena was a pompous nimrod.
Helga giggled softly, then cleared her throat. "Ahem. I think Mandy's wondering if she's going to get Sorted."
Godric and Rowena kept shouting at each other, paying their fellow Founder no heed.
Helga shook her head. "Stiff-necked and stubborn, the both of you. "**QUIET!!**"
All other noise in the Hat abruptly ceased. "Now then," Helga continued primly, "if the two of you have finished shouting at each other, I believe we have a Sorting to attend to. Godric, Rowena, why don't you see what the *girl* wants?"
Moments later, the Hat was shouting out, "RAVENCLAW!", Rowena was gloating, Godric was sulking, and Lavender Brown was rushing forward to try on the Hat nervously.
The four Founders had worked together for a number of years even before being enshrined in the Hat, choosing their students according to their talents and temperaments. It had actually gotten easier since Godric's spell, since they now possessed the ability to look straight into the heads of the new students. They'd gotten their work down to nearly a science, able to Sort students far faster than they used to.
In the old days, a Sorting could take hours as they painstakingly sifted through each student's mind to identify the precise mix of intelligence, diligence, bravery, and ambition they possessed, and where those talents would be best used. Now some students took a bare heartbeat, their proper place instantly apparent.
Others, though, still took some careful thought...and argument.
"Why should *I* be the one to back down? 'Sweet Helga', 'dear Helga', 'kind Helga'! You mean PUSHOVER Helga! I'm not about to turn away someone so loyal to his friends just because YOU see bravery in him too!"
"Now, Helga, calm down," Godric said placatingly. "Think about what would be best for the boy."
"He's loyal and hard-working! He'd be perfect for my House."
"He's also extremely brave and chivalrous to the bone! He's a Gryffindor!"
"He's a Hufflepuff!"
"Helga, dear, not to side with Godric on these things, but the boy IS quite daring. Perhaps--"
"Oh be quiet, Rowena. You're just being nice to him so he won't argue with you next time!"
"Oh *really*, Helga, you're just being silly. Seamus is very Gryffindor. His mother was a Gryffindor. Godric wants him. Don't be difficult. He let you have that nice Muggle-born boy."
"Justin was completely unsuited to Gryffindor! Godric didn't LET me have him!"
"FINE! *Take* him, then. I hope he loses twenty points a DAY for you!"
"Gracious in victory and defeat, my lady."
"I'd stick my tongue out if I had one."
"I'm claiming the next one you want, you know, Godric," Helga promised darkly as the Hat was placed on the next head.
"You're supposed to be the cheerful one, Helga," he chided gently. "Let's have a look at this one now."
"I'm sick of being cheerful." Helga's mutterings trailed off as she looked into the newest student's head. "Hmm...well, *she's* certainly no stranger to hard work, is she? I like her already."
"She *memorized* her *textbooks*!" Rowena was nearly swooning in rapture. Well, she'd be swooning if she still had a body. "Just LOOK at that thirst for knowledge. She's *perfect*."
Salazar poked around a bit himself, musing aloud, "She's certainly one for ambition. Such a drive to be the best! A little too rules-bound, but she could overcome that with the proper stimulus...Oh." He sounded suddenly disappointed. "Muggle-born."
"You lose out on the best ones that way, Salazar."
"No lectures please, Godric."
"Who's lecturing? I want her in Gryffindor. One less arguer is fine by me."
"And there he goes again," Helga muttered. "I swear, he waits until he knows WE want them to speak up!"
"That's not my only reason!"
"So you admit it's A reason?" Rowena spoke up sharply.
"...Well, after a thousand years, you need to take your fun where you can..."
"GODRIC!" two female voices shrieked in unison.
"Sorry! Look, all that aside, this Hermione is perfect Gryffindor material. If she goes into Ravenclaw, she's NEVER take her nose out of a book. It's a waste of all her other talents!"
"Oh, so she should go into Gryffindor so she can learn how to charge blindly into danger?"
"Taking a few risks is a GOOD thing!"
"Might I suggest," Salazar put in smoothly after the others argued for a while, "you see if the girl has any opinions on the matter? Not that I expect her to know anything useful, coming from Muggles, but--"
"An excellent idea!" Rowena bubbled immediately. "One so fond of learning will CERTAINLY choose Ravenclaw."
"She knows the value of hard work," Helga said confidently. "She'll be *thrilled* to be a Hufflepuff."
"She has a stubborn streak," Godric predicted. "There are more important things than books and cleverness."
\\I hope I'm in Gryffindor; it sounds by far the best...I suppose Ravenclaw wouldn't be too bad...//
"NOT TOO BAD?!" Rowena shrieked. "You little INGRATE!"
"At least she MENTIONED your House," Helga huffed. "What's wrong with hard work? Honestly, it may not be the most glorious, but..."
"Told you," Godric said smugly, as the Hat shouted out, "GRYFFINDOR!"
Rowena was still pouting by the time the Hat came to rest on the head of Neville Longbottom. Occasional mutters of, "Well I never!", "Use MY House as a second choice, will you?", and "Research and planning, that's the key!" came from her corner of the Hat, but the other Founders politely ignored her.
"Right, then. I don't think there's much question about this one," Godric said briskly, looking into the mind with satisfaction. "He's one of mine."
"A bit less confident than your usual," Salazar drawled, poking around a bit. "Isn't foolhardy confidence one of your traits?"
"You're just bitter, Salazar. Look at that family. His grandmother scares ME! But he faces them." Godric's voice rang with pride. "All set, then."
"...Not quite," Salazar said slowly, his voice full of disbelief. "Is he *arguing* with us?"
\\I don't deserve to be a Gryffindor. I should just be a Hufflepuff!//
"Helga, you can't kill me. I'm just a disembodied mind," Godric said swiftly. "It's not my fault, honestly!"
"WHY is it," Helga asked in a low and deadly voice, "that everyone seems to have gotten the idea that MY House -- my loyal, hard-working students -- is full of 'duffers', I believe that one boy put it? HONESTLY! Oh, be quiet and stop arguing, boy. You *clearly* don't deserve to be in MY House."
"He's arguing with the Sorting Hat. The Hat that was created by the Founders themselves." Salazar sounded incredibly amused. "Oh yes, he definitely belongs in Godric's house of idio--er, bravery." A mostly-stifled snicker. "Absolutely."
"Oh shut up, snake boy."
"...Dear, you might want to take the Hat OFF now," Rowena suggested gently. "Honestly. This is why he clearly isn't a Ravenclaw."
Helga quickly claimed the next student as her own. Godric had known her long enough not to even bother pointing out young Morag's chivalrous nature. Though they were disembodied now, it was easy to picture the fiercely stubborn expression on her face. Helga was sweet-tempered and kind...but like a badger, she was fierce if you riled her in her den.
Luckily they didn't come across any terribly questionable students for a bit after Longbottom, giving Helga a chance to repair her injured pride. Salazar was humming slightly, though the sound eerily came across as a sort of hiss. He was still pleased about the Malfoy boy, whose cunning and ambition were so clear that Salazar had simply shouted, "MINE!" and the Hat bellowed its answer before any of the others could protest.
(Not that any of them really wanted to.)
The Hat was currently perched on curly blonde hair as young Teagan Nott earnestly awaited her Sorting. "Hmmm..." Godric mused, poking through her mind. "I like this one. She's fearless."
"A good mind, but no focus," Rowena dismissed.
Helga poked around next and made a generally approving noise. "Well...she could stand to apply herself a bit more, but she is still young, after all. Very commendable family loyalty. She'd do well in my House."
"But she'd do *better* in mine," Salazar put in firmly. "Look at that -- a budding artist, and she wants to be the very best in the wizarding world. She needs my House to nurture that ambition."
"She'll be a timid follower there! She needs a chance to try out her nerve or she'll never know it's there!"
"Your lions will tear her to shreds, and not do a THING to encourage her talents. She needs to be *guided*, not thrown in the river to see if she can swim!"
"She has ambition *and* bravery," Helga put in, ever the peacemaker. (Well, at least once her ruffled feathers were smoothed.) "But which will do *her* the best to encourage, Godric? I'll let Salazar have her."
"Ach, if you're going to gang up on me...Fine, take her."
There was a bit of good-natured bickering between Godric and Rowena over a pair of twin girls, resulting in each taking one of them, then Helga argued hotly with Godric until Salazar and Rowena both had to step in to place Sally-Anne Perks in Hufflepuff. If they'd still had bodies, Salazar would have sat up and crowed when the hat dropped on the next head.
"A *Parselmouth*! I haven't seen one in fifty years! This is wonderful! And here I thought it was going to be just another Sorting." Salazar was dancing a mental jig as he poked around young Harry's mind. "Oh, I like this Potter. I remember his father; he was a real little hellion." He cackled. "What an addition to Slytherin!"
"Weeeeeeeell..." Rowena dragged the word out consideringly. "He has a fine mind. Mmm, he could do well..."
"Oh relax, Salazar, I'm just teasing you. He's a far better Slytherin than Ravenclaw."
Helga laughed merrily. "He *does* have a commendable capacity for loyalty, but I agree. He'll do well with your serpents."
"Excellent." Salazar rubbed his figurative hands together.
"Just a moment please, Salazar," Godric interrupted quietly.
"Oh come off it, Godric, Rowena already tried that."
Salazar spluttered for several seconds before he could formulate any words. "Godric! You're not seriously protesting my claim on THIS one? He's a *Parselmouth*, for Merlin's sake! What use do you have for him in Gryffindor?"
"The same use I always have for someone so brave and daring! The boy is nothing but a giant nerve. He'll brave *anything*. Look at what he's gone through already! Face it, he belongs in my House."
"I will NOT face something so patently untrue! You're always trying to steal my best students. I won't HAVE it, I tell you!"
"YOU won't have it? Listen, Salazar, you have to accept--"
Suddenly, without any of them prompting it, they became aware of a thin voice chanting resolutely. \\Not Slytherin. Not Slytherin. Please, anything but Slytherin.//
Godric tried desperately to restrain himself, but wild laughter escaped nonetheless. "I think that answers that, old friend."
"But--he's a PARSELMOUTH!" Salazar wailed, even as the Hat called out, "GRYFFINDOR!" "Wait, wait, come back, try the thing on again properly. You couldn't possibly have meant--"
But the Hat was already coming to rest on another head, and the other three Founders were quietly snickering at him. "Don't you have anything to add to this one, Salazar?" Godric asked solicitously.
"Oh shut up."
"Really, Salazar, you're taking this awfully persona--"
"'Not Slytherin. *Anything* but Slytherin'," Salazar quoted in a high voice. "Honestly, what did I do to deserve THAT?"
"Do you want that alphabetically, categorically, or chronologically?"
"Be nice, Godric. He's sulking," Rowena advised.
"See if I ever side with YOU again!" Salazar snapped at her. "I am NOT sulking!"
"Good, does that mean I don't have to be nice?"
"FIVE minutes out of this bloody hat, Godric, with or without a wand, and I will make you regret every bloody--"
"BOYS!" Helga snapped. "There ARE children present."
"They can't hear us!" Godric and Salazar roared in chorus.
There was a moment's pause, then all four started laughing. It took a very long time to sort Hephanion Ranyon, and it wasn't because they couldn't agree on a House.
"Are we *done* with this group yet?" Salazar asked irritably a short while later.
Rowena snorted at him. "*Try* to have a little patience, Salazar. This is actually a small class. Remember back in the 1800s when we had that population boom? The Sorting took *hours*!"
"Given that Godric has been cleaning up this Sorting, I'm anxious to have it over and done with so I can start ignoring his gloating as usual."
"Gloat?" Godric protested in a highly offended tone. "*I* do not *gloat*, Salazar. Just because I happen to remind you on a semi-regular basis how fortunate my House has been in recent years does not mean that I'm *gloating*. Honestly. We should've enchanted a dictionary in this bloody Hat too."
"Oh *look*!" Helga exclaimed, trying to distract the others before their shouting could give her a headache. Well, a disembodied-mind-ache. "I can see that hair without eyes! It's another Weasley."
There followed groans, laughs, and a muttered, "How many of them *are* there, anyway?" Helga thought that sounded an awful lot like Rowena's voice.
"Let me guess," Salazar said sarcastically. "Gryffindor."
"So glad you agree, old friend. Since that's settled--"
"HOLD ON! I'm not giving up *another* Weasley without a fight, you--you--*nimrod*." Salazar pronounced that name with great relish. "You *always* take the Weasleys. Barely even give me a chance to *argue* anymore. Those twins would've been perfect in my House! Cunning, sneaky, and so ambitious. Planning a joke shop at age eleven!"
"Yes, but so *brave* as well. You can't have *all* the pranksters, Salazar. Nobility and a sense of humor are NOT mutually exclusive, whatever you may argue."
"You took the twins! You took the little boy who wanted to be Minister of Magic. Fine, I'll give you the dragon tamer -- *that* kind of stupidity can only come from a Gryffindor -- but you can't have them ALL! This one is *very* ambitious."
"His chief ambition right now is a new set of robes, Salazar."
"Look *beyond* that, you prat! He wants to outshine all his brothers. If that's not ambition, I don't know what is."
"If you'd look past your obsession with ambition for one bloody minute, you'd see he's just *reeking* with bravery as well."
"Yes, reeking is *exactly* how I'd describe your--"
"CALM yourselves!" Rowena barked. "For heaven's sake! You'd think you were children yourselves, not grown wizards more than a thousand years old. Honestly. We'll settle this calmly, as we always do."
"You weren't so calm when you were arguing over those Patil twins," Salazar muttered.
"*Ahem*. As I was saying..."
"All his brothers are in Gryffindor," Helga spoke up, having spent her time actually looking at Weasley's mind instead of arguing like the others. "The poor boy will be *crushed* if he's the first in his family sent elsewhere."
"Have a heart, Salazar," Godric said winningly.
"IF you'd pay attention to these children's thoughts all these years, you'd see that I'm completely evil," Salazar snapped. "I *don't* have a heart." He managed a very gusty sigh for someone who no longer possessed lungs. "Fine. But the *next* Weasley that comes along, *I'm* taking."
"Not if he's been trained by the same parents these have," Godric said smugly.
"I think this is the last one," Helga said cheerfully as the Hat came to rest on the head of Zabini, Blaise.
"Salazar, weren't you just complaining that this was taking too *long*?" Rowena snorted.
"I think he was hoping for another pair of Weasley twins," Godric gloated. "Maybe next year."
"And he wonders why I ignore him."
"Oh, I don't wonder at all."
"If you still had a face, Godric, I'd come wipe that cheerful smirk right off of it."
Rowena snickered and looked into Blaise's head. "Hmm....*quite* intelligent...Hrmph. I think he's one of *yours*, Salazar. *No* desire for research or study."
"But very cunning," Salazar pronounced approvingly.
"Also quite loyal to his friends...and willing to work hard for his goals," Helga added.
"Helga..." Salazar's voice was pleading.
She laughed. "Oh, Salazar, you can sound *so* pathetic sometimes! All right, all right. You can have him."
"You were always my favorite, Helga!"
"HEY!" Rowena and Godric protested together.
"Don't try to sound insulted, Godric. Honestly, between the Parselmouth and the Weasley, I may not speak to you for the rest of the year!"
"Do you promise?"
The Hat was filled with laughter as McGonagall placed it back on the stool and removed it from the Great Hall. Another year, another Sorting.