Disclaimer: All characters and recognizable story elements belong to J. K. Rowling.
"You know, Severus, at times I really wonder how some of our students ended up in their respective houses," Minerva McGonagall commented with an absent-minded frown as she leafed through the latest class reports.
The thusly addressed Severus Snape, having earlier been drafted into helping his rival head of house in dealing with the backlog of headmaster's business, tilted his head sideways in contemplation. Though he was loath to admit it, he had on occasion entertained similar thoughts about some of their current crop of pupils. Yet they had undeniably been sorted into those houses. And the Sorting Hat had, over the course of many centuries, acquired a reputation for being virtually infallible in his judgement of character. Therefore he merely gave the witch a dismissive shrug, and went to pick up the next parchment on his pile.
"Clearly there must be a reason," he pointed out. "Well hidden as it may seem in some cases ..."
But as he began to peruse the report, Severus could have sworn he heard a muttered: "More like non-existent in some cases," from the direction of the Sorting Hat. He raised a puzzled eyebrow, thinking he must have misheard, but a quick glance at Minerva showed him that she had apparently heard it as well. The second eyebrow joined its mate at the shouted "Argh!" which followed this perplexing statement.
The two teachers shared a horrified look, the reports they held falling unregarded from their hands as they tried to process what was happening. And then they simultaneously got up and moved over to the old hat, which seemed to be under attack by unseen forces.
"No! I'll be good! I won't tell! Stop it, stop it!" it moaned desperately, as it was stretched and contorted into impossible forms.
The two heads of house shared another look, this one decidedly dumbfounded. Then almost as one they whipped out their wands and cast Finite Incantatem at the desperately struggling piece of ancient millinery.
It had no effect. The Hat continued to struggle, and Severus noted with some concern that several rents were appearing in the fabric.
"A geas spell maybe?" Minerva speculated urgently, looking wild-eyed at what appeared like the impending destruction of the school's most venerated and vocal artefact.
"More likely some kind of Interdictio," he disagreed. "Now what was the incantation to lift that again? Praebeo something?"
The witch immediately executed a decisive slash with her wand. "Praebeo Libertatem!" she declared firmly.
This time the effect was instantaneous.
"Thank you," the Hat sobbed with relief. "Oh, thank you."
And it collapsed into itself, shivering and moaning. After a few long moments, and yet another shared look between the witch and the wizard, Minerva cleared her throat and addressed the Hat carefully.
"What was it you said?" she asked.
"Uh, nothing, nothing, of course," it stammered desperately, somehow managing to shuffle around on its shelf.
"That was not nothing," Severus took over from her at a pointed glance from the Gryffindor. "Definitely not nothing," he repeated forcefully, spearing the Hat with his best glare. It seemed to wilt under its force.
"Well, you see," it continued to stammer, and then suddenly broke off, clamping the slit of its mouth shut firmly.
"Well, actually we don't," Minerva told it in a sweet tone of voice. Her hands, however, seemed to unconsciously form into claws which opened and clenched as if they wanted to shred and rip the old thing to pieces.
The Hat visibly shrank back from her, and started to shake violently. "I can't tell," it wailed. "He'll unravel me!"
"Who will do that to you?" Severus all but hissed the question at the terrified piece of cloth, which attempted to cower even further away from them.
"Albus," it moaned desperately. "He'll unweave me!"
"Why should the headmaster," Minerva spat the words at it, looking thunderous. "Destroy you for telling us something?"
"Because he doesn't want you to know, of course?"
Somehow the Hat, despite being a quivering heap of fabric at this point, managed to convey a strong impression of 'are you daft?' to go with this answer. The two teachers shared yet another dumbfounded, and by now rather discomfited look.
"Are there any more enchantments on you?" Severus asked it finally. "Which would keep you from telling us?"
It sounded sullen.
"He'll disintegrate me if he learns I told you! I'll be torched!"
"Then we just have to make sure he doesn't," Severus pointed out delicately.
"But … but … you aren't going to want to believe this anyway! Or you're going to ask him for confirmation, and then he'll know it was me," it moaned unhappily. "He'll take me apart stitch by stitch!"
"It's too late anyway," Minerva informed it primly. "Because we want to know, and if you don't tell us, we will have to ask him. So you might as well," she pointed out with a stern expression. "Unless, of course, you want to discover what an old cat can do to you," she added with a gleam in her eyes and in an unexpectedly nasty tone of voice that caused Severus to raise his eyebrow at her again.
The Hat moaned and shuffled around some more. It appeared dejected and frightened. And clearly unwilling to spill its secrets.
"On the other hand," he took over smoothly. "If you do tell us, we could try to protect you from his wrath? If there really is something to protect you from?"
He deliberately inserted a note of doubt into the last question.
"Oh, there is, there is," it muttered bleakly, shuffling a bit faster. Then it stopped, and gave them both what felt like a shifty-eyed look. It also started chewing on its own brim, clearly undecided.
"Maybe you could do it for the children then?" Minerva suggested after a thoughtful pause. "If you have missorted them into houses where they don't belong … they must be uncomfortable, at the very least. We need to help them, too."
"But we can only do so if you tell us," Severus added darkly, twirling his wand suggestively.
The Hat began its shuffling again, quietly muttering curses. They just stood there, glaring at it. After a minute of this, Minerva crossed her arms and started to tap her foot impatiently. In the end it caved under their combined displeasure, and came to a quivering halt.
"Oh, all right," it moaned reluctantly. "I'll tell you. But you must promise to protect me!"
They shared another look, which ended with a mutual tight nod. Which was followed by a heated debate until the Hat was satisfied with their sworn word to protect it, invoking both Hogwarts and their sacred office as teachers. The last caused Severus to roll his eyes and mutter something about how binding that could possibly be, given Dumbledore had apparently been up to no good anyway ...
"But he isn't actually a teacher anymore," the Hat pointed out grumpily. "And while the headmaster's office is in theory wrapped up even tighter … there's some odd loopholes because of that. Especially when he believes he's acting for the best ..."
"Is that so? In any case, we still do not know exactly what it is he has done," Minerva pointed out impatiently. "We've sworn to protect you, so it's your turn now!"
"All right, all right," it grumbled, shrinking into itself. "Just please don't take it out on me, either. I couldn't do anything!" it pleaded, managing to tilt its tip imploringly at them.
The two teachers shared yet another look.
"We will not do anything to you that you do not deserve," Severus stated blandly.
The Sorting Hat didn't appear particularly comforted by that declaration.
Minerva gave her colleague a quick glare. "We will not blame you for what is not your fault, I will promise you that."
It shifted its attention between them for long moments, but finally it folded.
"Oh, well," it muttered darkly. "If I have to go out, it might as well be with a bang. You see, Albus forced me to sort a lot of the current fifth years into houses of his choosing," it admitted.
"About a third. And some of them are quite horribly wrong," it moaned, clearly upset at the idea of not doing its job properly.
"Who," Severus snapped at it. "Tell us who!"
"Oh, you aren't going to like this," the Hat replied, and its tone abruptly changed to one of spite.
"No you aren't," it said with evident relish in its voice. "About half of your house of that year shouldn't be there."
"I see ..." Severus said slowly after a stunned silence.
"And instead you'd have had … Potter," it added gleefully.
The shout had come from both teachers. They shared yet another appalled look.
"Well, the kid's the whole reason for this stupid rigmarole of Albus'," the Hat confessed. "And oh, what else I could tell you about the poor boy," it added into their dumbfounded silence.
"Like what?" Minerva asked in a tremulous voice.
"His relatives neglect and abuse him," it confided. "They treat him absolutely horrible. And if that wasn't enough, he's also got a piece of that rotten Tom Riddle's soul stuck in that scar of his."
Severus barely managed to catch Minerva as she fainted dead away. Not that he felt much more stable himself. He lowered her onto one of Albus' ridiculously overstuffed sofas, and sat down next to her, gently chafing her wrists. After a minute she slowly regained her senses, looking about her in confusion. Then her face clouded over and she gasped.
"Did you … did you really just tell us Harry has got a piece of You-know-who in his head," she shouted at the Hat, which cowered away from her.
"Hey, don't kill the messenger," it complained. "But yeah, that's what I said."
"And that his family abuses him?"
"So they do, so they do," it muttered.
"And that he should have been a Slytherin?"
"Oh, yes indeed," it admitted. "Mind, the kid's brave enough for a Gryffindor. But he's got quite the Slytherin mind," it said with quiet admiration.
"And that's not just because of Riddle," it added when Severus gave it a most doubtful look. "He really is. But stuck there with the Lions, of course he isn't going to show it. Which of your Snakes would in his situation?"
"You may have … a point," Severus conceded dazedly.
"No, the kid is trying hard to hide it and fit in. Though it helps that some of his classmates don't belong in Gryffindor, either," it pointed out. "Certainly not most of his friends."
"Where should they be then?" Minerva asked weakly.
"Well, that Granger girl is a born Ravenclaw. But that should be obvious, anyway."
They nodded in unison. No doubt about that one.
"Longbottom should really be in Hufflepuff. Finnegan would have made a perfectly lovely Snake. And the Brown girl … well she's an airhead in any case, but Hufflepuff would have suited her temperament far better."
"So you are saying … half of that year of Gryffindors shouldn't have been in my house?" Minerva said. Her expression was quite nonplussed.
The Hat nodded its tip at her. "Yeah," it admitted. "He insisted on it. Something about Harry having the right friends. And such amazing friends they turned out to be," it sniffed. "Always dropping him at the first sight of trouble, too."
"And of course Mr. Potter himself shouldn't be there, either?" Severus asked, still clearly disbelieving.
"Yep. Most definitely. Mind you, there's always borderline cases," it explained. "He's certainly brave enough to qualify. Wouldn't have made a bad Ravenclaw either. But his way of thinking is pure Slytherin," it insisted again. "He'd have been quite different, too, if I could have sorted him properly."
They shared another look.
"And don't get me started on your Slytherins," the Hat added spitefully.
Severus sighed in resignation. "So which of them is wrong there?"
"Well Crabbe and Goyle would have made the best Hufflepuffs ever," it said gleefully. "The Parkinson chit, too. Your little favourite Malfoy would have been so much better suited to Ravenclaw. As for Bulstrode … that girl's quite the Gryffindor at heart."
There was another stunned silence.
"What about Ravenclaw and Hufflepuff?" Minerva asked after a moment.
The Hat wobbled its folds in a felted shrug. "There's a few in Hufflepuff that should have been in Gryffindor, who he didn't want near Potter. Like Bones, because of her aunt. There's also a couple in Ravenclaw, but those are minor misfits. As far as I know he wanted Potter and a chosen selection of 'friends' with the Lions, and all the little Death Eater kiddies collected in Slytherin, never mind if they were actually suited for it or not."
"I … see. What about other years?"
"It was only that one year, fortunately. It wasn't exactly easy for him to force me, you know. It took a great deal out of him," it stated proudly. "They knew what good spell-crafting was, in the founder's days," it added with a sniff. "Also most of those he was concerned about were in that year anyway. So he didn't try again."
"How … fortunate, indeed," the witch said stiffly. "But how Albus could dare to do something like this in the first place, even if it was 'just' one year ..."
"All for the 'Greater Good', no doubt," Severus retorted, with a scornful snort.
"It sure wasn't for the good of the kids," the Hat agreed.
"Is that why you spoke up now?" Minerva asked with a raised eyebrow.
"That was … unintentional," the Hat muttered mulishly. "I didn't mean to say anything! It just … slipped out."
"So you merely … accidentally mentioned something we were bound to overhear now while Albus was away and you got both of us alone?" Severus commented, with a predatory gleam in his dark eyes.
"Exactly," it said, bobbing its tip in agreement.
"And totally not because you simply could not stand the injustice and the lies anymore?"
It gave them an impressive eyeless glare, grumbled something uncomplimentary about greasy hair and tucked itself up into its brim. If it were human, it would have folded up its arms and given them the cold shoulder.
"Oh, stop needling it, Severus, it obviously only wanted to do what is right."
"Well, if it keeps this up, a needle is exactly what it is going to need!"
"And stop making bad puns! This is serious."
"Yes, it is. What are we going to do, Minerva?"
"I'll be damned if I know."
They both stared at the sulking hat.
Because that was the real question. What were they going to do?
AN: I love stories where Harry gets resorted. Unfortunately, there are actually rather few of those around, and even fewer good ones. On top of that, most are either time- or dimension-travel stories, or ones where Harry is forced to assume a different identity. Resorting stories where Harry stays himself are quite rare, and also frequently short and unfinished. So in case anyone knows of any good ones, especially off-site where I might have missed them, please let me know!
The story is set at some point during fifth year after Severus has started Harry's Occlumency lessons, but before Umbridge takes over the school. The assumption is that Dumbledore was called away for a couple of weeks, leaving Hogwarts in the hands of his deputy. And obviously for the sake of this story, while the Hat would have pointed out Harry's potential suitability for Slytherin, it did not actually try to place him there. After all, it was being coerced by Dumbledore, who had the final word.
This tale will also largely centre around the teachers, in particular Minerva and Severus. Who are totally bad-ass. Because really, they should be. It was also inspired by the excellent story 'I did nothing' by Secre, which also features Minerva and Severus working against Dumbledore with the help of their fellow heads of house. Aside from that element, however, I believe this story will play out quite differently. It will also only deal with the two weeks of the headmaster's absence, and culminate in his return. So unless my characters end up spending entire chapters just talking with each other (which they might, wouldn't be the first time), the story shouldn't take too long to finish.
Oh, and the Dumbledore in this story is still not evil. He is merely very controlling, manipulative and willing to play god, because he thinks he knows what's best. For everybody. In many ways, he truly has the very best of intentions. But we all know where those lead, so …