"Albus Potter." Uncle Nev—Professor Longbottom's voice was calm, but it did nothing to soothe the boy's turmoil. What should I do? Father said I could choose, but how?
As he walked shakily to the stool that Scorpius Malfoy had just vacated ("Slytherin!" the hat had cried after half a minute of deliberation), a buzz of conversation filled the Great Hall.
"He looks just like him!" a Hufflepuff cried.
"He's ours, for sure," a Weasley cousin boasted from the Gryffindor table.
The last thing Albus saw before the hat dropped over his eyes was the hall full of people, craning to get a look at him.
"Well, well. Another Potter. You should be an easy decision," a knowing voice murmured in his ear. "You certainly strike me as being similar to your father, but you lack the taint of Riddle. Don't worry... I know where to put you."
Al could swear he heard it draw breath.
"Wait!" he cried. He somehow knew his voice wouldn't be heard by anyone other than the hat.
"Wait? What do you mean, 'Wait'? Don't you wish to be placed in your father's House?" The hat sounded indignant.
"He said I could choose!" Al retorted.
"He said I could choose!" Al repeated.
"Of course you may... but why would you want to choose otherwise? Your father selected Gryffindor. Do you think you're better than he is? I offered him Slytherin because of the taint. But he was a true Gryffindor; he proved that in the end. And your brother arrived expecting to be Sorted into Gryffindor. No trouble at all, was young James. He's just like his grandfather, in so many ways. You're like your father was. Unpredictable. Possibly irrational."
"He may have been. But I'm not my father. And I'm not my brother, or my grandfather, for that matter. And if I want to be trouble, it's my right."
"Get on with it, then... tell me what you want to do. But I'll expect an explanation for why you are rejecting my Master's House," the Hat said snidely. "It's not everyone who is worthy of Gryffindor, you know. You'll have to persuade me."
Al's heart sank briefly at the words, but suddenly his resolve hardened as he was battered by memories... James taunting him... Uncle Ron joking about disinheriting him... James and his friends picking on Scorpius Malfoy, once the train was well underway...
"Stop, James," Albus shouted, causing his brother to turn away from the boy. "Leave him alone!"
"Stay out of this, Al. He's nothing but a dirty Slytherin. Didn't you hear Uncle Ron?"
"He hasn't even been Sorted yet! And what if he is a Slytherin? You don't know anything at all about him!"
"You just don't get it, do you, Al? Didn't Dad and Mum give you the talk last night? About what Dad did? Well, the Slytherins all betrayed him. None of them fought for the Order... they all fought for Voldemort. If you make friends with a Slytherin, you'll be betraying your House and you'll be betraying Dad!"
"That's not true! Dad told me that people from all the Houses fought with the Order. And he told me that Headmaster Snape was the bravest man he ever knew. That's why he named me for him."
"You'll see, Al," James said, turning. He signalled his friends, who followed him down the narrow corridor, leaving Al alone with the smaller boy.
They studied each other in silence for a moment. Finally, Al extended his hand.
"Albus Severus Potter," he said politely.
The other boy's grip was firm. "Scorpius Malfoy."
The hat was silent for a moment after viewing Al's memories. Finally, it gave a sigh.
"You'll make plenty of friends in your rightful House, boy. You don't need young Malfoy."
"You don't get it, Mr Hat! None of these kids was alive when my dad fought Voldemort, but everyone thinks it's okay to beat them up, just because they're in his House. But if Harry Potter's son is a Slytherin, that excuse would go out the window. Because nobody would accuse Harry Potter's son of being a Death Eater, would they?"
He rather wished he was as certain as he sounded. Still, he knew with each passing second that this was the correct choice and that, even if no one else understood, his father would.
The hat sighed again.
"You do realise that you've just proved to me that you are truly a Gryffindor, do you not? Although your logic is twisted enough for Slytherin House," it added grudgingly.
"It is your choices that show who you truly are," Albus countered, his tone virtuous.
"Last chance... Right, then. Slytherin!" it bellowed, then muttered, "You're as bad as your father."
Al smiled and walked to the table he had chosen.
A/N: Many thanks to Ferporcel, Machshefa, and Somigliana for reading through these and helping me find the right voice for Al. Many thanks also to the Philadelphia Electric Company, whose transformer explosion left me disconnected from the internet for several hours (horrors!), so I was able to write. There's a lesson in there, somewhere!