Minervra McGonagall was tired. It felt like… no it actually was years, years since she could sit back and relax. The war was over. He was gone. Voldemort was gone. She closed her eyes and sunk into the headmasters chair… headmistress' chair.
"Oh Merlin... I'm headmistress." She said to no one in particular. As such she was shocked when she got an answer.
"Just like you said you would be the day I put you in Gryffindor."
Her eyes raised to see the Sorting Hat, sitting calmly on the shelf it always had, if a little charred.
"I see you're a little burnt." She didn't mean to say it. She always had such good control of her tongue, but the hat had always made her feel like she was still eleven, and she was oh so tired.
"We will all hold scars."
"Yes." She sighed heavily.
"We all should, they are momentums of things we should never forget."
Minervra fell in to a comfortable silence, half remembering the good times, and half letting all her stiffness retreat into relaxation.
"Do you regret letting me talk you out of Slytherin?"
The question startled herself for a second time. It had never really bothered her… at least not since she was much, much younger. She had never told anyone of course, she suspected no one ever did. She hadn't even considered that others might argue for their choice of house until Albus had told her Harry Potter had. She looked across at the empty frame of the late Headmaster, off spreading the word of the end of the war to those not present, like all the other paintings in Hogwarts. Those of them that could leave, anyway.
"I regret very few sortings, and only one in the last four or so centuries. He was much like you, you know."
"Hmm… oh yes, he would have done well in both Slytherin or Gryffindor, not that many would think it. Yes… Slytherin, Gryffindor, Slytherin. You would be surprised how many students would do well in both. Perhaps now, after the war I will be able to sort without worrying about their fear of blood."
"Was he a muggleborn then?" Minervra couldn't keep the curiosity out of her voice.
The hat laughed. "Oh he was a half-blood, but no one really thought of him like that."
"Ah." Minervra had an inkling about whom they were discussing.
The hat chuckled, appearing to consider her carefully.
"It's funny how easily the wizarding world is tricked into looking past things that are right under their noses. He was nothing like what they saw."
"No, we know that now." Minervra sighed.
The hat chuckled again. "Do you? You misjudged him yourself."
Now she was sure.
"Why Gryffindor?" she asked curiously.
"Because of his understanding of sacrifice. You would be surprised, just how deep that went. Because he was brave, and curious, despite so many influencing factors that stood against him."
"Really? I don't see it…"
"No?" The hat seemed infinitely amused. "Well I dare say you shall in the end."
Minervera bristled a little at that, at being expected to except Tom Riddle in with her little lions.
"There have always been snakes amongst the lions, and lions amongst the snakes. They do not belong to you, but you to them. I think that is a lesson that is too oft forgot."
She blushed a little.
"So why Slytherin then?"
"Other than the Parseltongue?"
She merely raised one eyebrow at the hat, which laughed at her in return.
"Ah, now that is a far more interesting question. Because he is Slytherin in the true sense of Salazar's ideal. Because he could keep things hidden, knew the subtle art of subterfuge, and maneuverability. Because he had faced more hardships than any child should bare, and had come out alive. Intact. Survival. Because he was cunning, and Sly, and because if he chose to, he could have the world at his feet, without the use of death and destruction. But most of all, because he had the strongest sense of ambition I have sorted in a long, long time."
"You're talking as if he's still alive!" said Minervera alarmed, and suddenly tense again.
The hat's amusement seemed to grow. "Oh calm your melon, I'm not talking dead or alive. I'm talking eleven and all the possibilities therin. You asked why I sorted him where I did. If I knew then, what I do now, I never would have made the same decision. And that is an occurrence that only repeats once every few centuries ago. The indecision of the moment is usually passed when I watch them grow. There are always possibilities, oh endless possibilities, but it is a rarity that I consider them, and even more so when I admit I would have preferred another. There are just too many variables."
"But you regret that decision. I'm not surprised. So many deaths…" She trailed off and was surprised to discover tears on her face, but only long enough to realise she hadn't noticed she was crying. Once she did, the act didn't surprise her at all.
The hat was silent for a long time, watching her mourn.
"Some deaths are inevitable, and would occur whether Slytherin or Gryffindor. I think I regret my choice the most because in this one instant he would have been so much different. Not because he would be any less brave or loyal… or even reckless. No, because if he had of been Slytherin, he would have been allowed to be sly and cunning as well."
"If he'd been Slyth–… but then… you can't mean–…" Minervra gaped at the hat for a long moment before shaking herself out of her shock. "But, then you are talking about HARRY POTTER!?"
The hat chuckled. "I told you that the wizarding world is blind to what is immediately under their noses."
"But… then, you don't regret making Tom Riddle a Slytherin?"
The hat scoffed. "Tom Riddle, like yourself, had attributes that would have let him fit into both Gryffindor and Slytherin, but like you, he would had been the same no matter which house. You would have been a Gryffindor in Slytherin, and he a Slytherin in Gryffindor. Both of you are boring."
Minervra spluttered and glared at the hat, who ignored her and her sensibilities.
"No, Harry interests me because if he had been in Slytherin, he would have been almost more Slytherin that Salazar himself. He would have been expected to be weak and reckless, which would have forced him to show his other side. He would have been able to exploit his power, as it is allowed to do so in Slytherin. He could have harnessed his fame, and his silver tongue, and brought an end to this war far quicker, and with far less blood that a Gryffindor Harry could ever dream of. He would have had connections, and given an option to darker and neutral families that didn't involve groveling on the ground for a smaller dose of crucio."
"Harry is a sorting I regret because in Gryffindor he is a true Gryffindor, but in Slytherin, he would have been a true Slytherin. But as a Gryffindor, living in this prejudiced world, he could never have shown his Slytherin side. In Slytherin his Gryffindor side would have been seen as a tool, and a means to an end, and would have been expected. Those reasons enough were to make me curious. But despite the many less deaths, and distinct changes that could have been, that is not why I regret it."
"You don't regret all those lives lost?"
"No. Death is but the next adventure."
"You're quoting Albus."
"No, you old fool, Dumbledore was quoting me!"
"Oh." She glanced back at the still empty frame, wondering what Albus would make of this conversation, and then, a moment later, whether or not he had already had this conversation. She wouldn't put it past the old goat.
"So why do you regret it?" She eventually asked. "If not for the lives of Hogwarts' children?"
"I regret it for Harry himself. For the conscious loss he mad when he begged me 'not Slytherin', and the many, many hurts he has survived because of it."
"He would not be who he was without them."
"No, but he would be just as interesting for it, and THAT is what makes me regret."
They went on to discuss many more things over the years, but that conversation always stuck in her mind. Many years later, when she was clearing out her desk a much older Harry stopped by to help if she needed, and the conversation was brought to the front of her mind. He was helping her sort boxes of old school files, when she suddenly had a desire to know.
"Do you regret choosing Gryffindor?" She could see that her outburst startled him.
"What?" he said, bemused.
"The hat, it said you chose Gryffindor over Slytherin."
Harry hummed a little, and a small smirk twitched at the corner of his mouth.
"Yes and no."
She huffed at that, and gave him one of her piercing stares. Harry just laughed, they had never truly worked on him like they had on all the others, but he conceded.
"Yes, because I lost so much potential, even if I would have had different friends to begin with."
Minervera immediately thought of the face of Ron Weasley at the last Order Christmas party when he discovered his daughter was engaged to Draco Malfoy's son.
"Yes, I imagine that you would have grown up in a different set."
"What do you think Alistair?" Harry said, turning to the shelf where the sorting hat sat. Minervra didn't show it, but she'd never even considered the possibility of the hat having a name. It was very Harry to have thought of it, and obviously to have thought to ask. The hat shuffled around on the shelf a little.
"Imprudent brat." It scolded. "I regret it, and I still do, and always will, stand by what I said then, you could have been great in Slytherin."
"You're right of course." Harry laughed. "I look excellent in green."
Minervra had never seen a hat glare before, but the sorting hat did for a moment, before considering Harry for a long time.
"Do you know you and he were not the only ones with the possibility in their genes to talk to snakes?"
"No?" Harry seemed truly surprised.
"Indeed. More than a few unwanted children and squibs have been erased off even the most carefully guarded family trees through the ages."
"But no others did speak with snakes."
"Only you spoke with snakes."
"Tom spoke with Nagini." Minervera was surprised at Harry calling him Tom, he always called him Voldemort in public.
"No, just like with all other snakes he spoke to her. He spoke with his horcrux." the hat snarked. Harry ignored the tone and considered the statement for a long while. Minervera watched on, seeing Harry in a different light than usual. The two seemed to be in their own world of debate, and she was gaining more knowledge of Harry's character through observing this conversation than she ever had during his schooling.
"We will have to agree to disagree," said Harry, "I never managed anything else with Dumbledore either. He could never admit Tom could feel love either, and I still don't believe that was 'the power the dark lord knows not'."
"We are getting off topic." The hat pointed out. Harry nodded.
"Purposely I suspect." He winked at the hat. "Why didn't they speak with snakes?"
"Because you had to be Slytherin, in character, to do so."
Harry considered that statement for a long time before nodding decisively.
"Then, arriving back at the original point, I don't regret it."
"Oh?" The hat seemed genuinely surprised after that.
"No. I'm mildly curious about where Slytherin would have taken me, but I think you are wrong. I could have had Gryffindor elements within Slytherin, as I wasn't allowed Slytherin ones within Gryffindor, but I couldn't have been Gryffindor. And from your last argument, you admit that despite the prejudice, I still managed to be Slytherin in Gryffindor despite all."
"You're mind works in funny ways child."
"You just don't want to admit that I'm right." Harry grinned.
"Keep on believing that." The hat snarled, but Minervera could hear the delight underneath the snark.
Harry winked at the hat. "It doesn't matter anyway, for I believe that it all comes down to one thing."
"And what is that."
"You and I, neither of us, can regret the choice."
"Because the sorting, while an incredible influence, changes nothing. We are sorted into houses while we learn, but we are all a little of each. No matter the colour our robes take during those seven years, we will still be who we are, and none of us are only Gryffindor, or only Slytherin, we are just one before the other."
"Wise words from an upstart."
"Words are mere games for us Slytherins." Harry laughed.
"Not a Gryffindor?"
"Oh that too." Harry nodded.
"It comes back to why you and Dumbledore won't believe Tom could love." Harry spoke up a little later.
"And how do you make that then brat?"
Harry smiled. "Because when we look in the mirror and see evil, we don't want to admit that it's human. Tom would still have been Tom in Gryffindor, Ravenclaw or Hufflepuff. He would still have been Slytherin too."
"So you are calling me superfluous?"
"Oh no." Harry shook his head strongly, "You have your purpose, and despite myself, I would not go without you. Tom told me when I was still eleven, not long after you sorted me, that 'there is no good, nor evil, only power and those to weak to seek it'. He was right, only he didn't understand that there are many forms and types of power. I think perhaps Dumbledore understood that, but not Tom's statement."
"And that relates to houses because…"
"Because in Slytherin I would have been forced to show my Slytherin side, making me less Slytherin because of it. Perhaps I wouldn't have been Slytherin if I had been a Slytherin."
"An interesting thought." The hat really seemed to consider it.
Harry agreed. "Exactly. We are what we are, but that doesn't define us. I think I would like to amend Tom's statement. There is no good nor evil without power to constrain it." Harry smiled surprisingly fondly, looking off into memory. "Sorting merely defines parameters. It doesn't define if I'm Slytherin or Gryffindor, or Hufflepuff of Ravenclaw. It merely helps me decide how I use the 'houses' I have."
The three sat in contemplative silence for a long while. Eventually the hat made discontent noises. "I'm annoyed at you child."
Harry smiled. "I thought you might be."
The two seemed to understand each other completely, but Minervra was still in the dark. "Why?" She couldn't help but ask. Harry smirked at the hat, which gave the distinct impression of rolling eyes at him (an impressive feat for an object without any).
"Because now I really regret sorting him in Gryffindor."
Minervra didn't even have to ask again before Harry explained.
"Because now Alistair's not even sure if I might have been in Ravenclaw too."
"You are impossible!" The hat seemed to agree.
"Impossible is my specialty." Harry agreed.
"Now that I can easily attest." Minevra agreed.
The hat made some grumbling noises, but settled back down into silence again, and the conversation was left be.