A/N: This is a departure from what I usually write here on ffnet, but I hope you enjoy it. Please review and let me know what you think, and as always J.K. Rowling owns Harry Potter.
The Sorting's Secret
The battered hat has survived centuries. Every wizard in Britain has had it on its head, has heard its songs and whispers. Professor Dumbledore wonders if it ever looked new as he places it back on its shelf. Sitting down at his desk, he peers up at the tattered fabric.
"Another year, another sorting," he says to the otherwise silent office. Fawkes sleeps quietly on his perch in the corner and even the portraits are still, most are away visiting other paintings in the castle. Now that the students have returned there is much more to see. He doesn't blame them for going. Even they are dumbstruck at the chance to see the famous Harry Potter for the first time. They may be only paintings but they know their history and they have seen and heard many things in this office.
"Indeed," says a voice. The headmaster looks up to see the Hat talking to him.
"Anyone I should keep an eye on?" he asks. He asks this question every year but this year his curiosity is tripled.
"Malfoy," comes the answer. "He's like his father—asked for Slytherin right away."
"That comes as no surprise, but I'll tell Severus." He sits for a moment more, wondering if the son will commit the same sins as the father. Lucius convinced many that he acted under the Imperius, but Dumbledore knows better. Even without his skill as a Leglimens he can tell. He is a firm believer, however, in that one's family does not determine one's fate; influence it, certainly, but it does not determine it.
But his thoughts soon turn back to the Sorting. He wonders if he should even ask about Harry, even though he knows he will be unable to help himself. He tries to stall the inevitable.
"Weasley followed family tradition as well," he remarks casually.
"Just how many of them are there?" asks the Hat incredulously. Dumbledore chuckles.
"One more yet," he answers. "I was surprised to see Miss Granger go to Gryffindor as well. Minerva visited the family before the term started to explain things and she said the girl was quite the bookworm. She thought for sure she would go to Ravenclaw."
"She was hard to place. She has the brains for Ravenclaw and the cunning and certainly the thirst to prove herself suitable for Slytherin," the Hat tells him.
"Slytherin is the last place she would fit in. She'll have a hard enough time as it is."
He wishes it wasn't so and he regrets not being able to change people's silly notions regarding muggleborns. But though he is a powerful wizard he has found that prejudices are the hardest things to change.
"So why Gryffindor?" he asks the Hat.
"You know why."
"Really? Interesting," he says.
"Apparently she had read quite a bit before getting here and is convinced that the greatest witches and wizards have all been Gryffindors." Dumbledore smiles.
"I'd have to agree with her, then," he tells the Hat.
"You're a little biased," it replies.
"So I am." He pauses for a moment. "What about Potter?"
"I told him he would make a great Slytherin, but he seemed determined to go anywhere but there."
The headmaster releases a breath he didn't even know he was holding. For ten years he has anticipated tonight, often wondering what would happen. He is a little ashamed to admit that he couldn't be prouder of the boy. As headmaster he isn't supposed to have favorites and he knows he will have to be careful when it comes to Harry.
"There is a lot of Tom Riddle in the boy," the Hat continues. Dumbledore senses that there is more that the Hat isn't saying.
"But he's also a Potter," it says.
"His mother was Lily Evans."
"Was she?" it asks, pausing. "I can see that."
"So Harry asked to be in Gryffindor?" he asks. Perhaps Hagrid has told the boy about his parents. He knows he has learned nothing from his aunt and uncle.
"No, he just said he wanted anything but Slytherin."
"I see," he says. "Do you think they will ever figure out the secret?" It is another question that he asks every year.
"No one has yet."
The answer is always the same. The Hat is right; even he had to be told when he started as Headmaster. Only he and the portraits in this office know the secret of the Sorting Hat.
"What do you do with the students who don't ask to go anywhere specific?"
"I whisper in their ear what they are good at; I tell them their strengths and their weaknesses. The founders did give me that ability. With that and what they have learned from my song they almost always ask me to put them somewhere. Others like Potter, ask not to go somewhere and I decide based on that."
"Don't you think we should tell them?" He has struggled with this since he first entered this office. "That it is their choices that define who they are."
"Perhaps, but they will be shaped by their experiences in their Houses. For the most part, life will happen and they will merely choose how to react. They won't be able to create their circumstances."
"And in the end it's comforting to be able to blame a tattered Hat than themselves if things go wrong," he says wryly.
"I am not tattered!"
Dumbledore chuckles once more. He stands, stretches, and gives a big yawn. It has been a long night and he is an old man.
"It was a nice song this year," he tells the Hat as he extinguishes the candles with a flick of his wand.
"Thank you," he hears it say as he shuts the door.