"Harry Potter," Professor Minerva McGonnagall's sharp call, having been repeated twice already, forced the incredibly shy child up onto the dias, and onto the stool that was almost too high for him to reach, and into the very, very uncomfortable center of everyone's focused attention.
After a very uncomfortable moment of shifting under everyone's intense stares, Potter was incredibly relieved to have the sorting hat slipped on his head, even if it slid down over his eyes, despite the titters of amusement that he knew were because he was such a runt that even magical hats wouldn't hit him. He'd already guessed that he'd probably be the smallest in his class, again, from the way that Madam Malkin had asked him all of four times over whether he was certain that he was truly supposed to start classes this year.
"Now, Now, let's get down to business shall we, it does help if we are a bit less distracted," the sorting hat mumbled in his ear even as he could feel it's curious presence following that thought to another, focusing first on the word runt, then on another. He winced when he felt the hat find the word freak, and wanted to ask it not to look at those memories, but not really knowing how the sorting hat sorted, or what it looked at - he didn't dare. Still, it was ruddy embarrassing for the hat to see all the awful ways that he had disappointed his aunt and uncle and what a burden he'd been. What if the Hat told the Headmaster that he was ...
"None of That!" The hat barked sharply in his ear, before incanting the charm to place the preteen into a bewitched sleep. "Do be so good as the grab him, will you?" the hat fussed at McGonnagall, who was closest, but it turned out to be Severus Snape's swift action that prevented the child from actually falling to the ground while the Gryffindor Head of House wasted time questioning the hat's actions.
"I'll tell you what this about!" the hat shouted over the sudden upsurge of noise and confusion... "No, better yet, I'll show you. Put me on."
"What?!? Now? We're right in the middle of a sorting. Surely, now is not the best time!" She protested emphatically.
"If there is something pertaining to Mr. Potter, we can address it after the other children are sorted," Professor Snape who, though made curious by the unusual interruption, had no intention of pandering further to the child's need for attention.
"No," the sorting hat insisted, "I will not sort another child until the child's situation is sorted out. If that means that every remaining first year sleep in the Great Hall until you dunderheads realize that I will have my way, so be it."
From the Deputy Headmistress's suddenly stiff stance, Professor Snape suspected that the foolish, headstrong witch was apparently quite ready to challenge the hat's ultimatum - forgetting that the hat carried the essences of two of the most stubborn beings known in modern history: Godric Gryffindor and Helga Hufflepuff. Add to that Salazar Slytherin's cunning, and Rowena Ravenclaw's intellect ... and no matter how long the showdown lasted, knowing the current Gryffindor Head of house- that could be quite a long time, nevertheless, the hat would, inevitably come out on top. Although the thought of McGonnagall being taken down a notch (or ten) was marginally amusing, Severus raised his hand to interrupt the witch before she could issue any of the many comments that might prick the hat's fickle nature.
"Perhaps, there is a reasonable compromise available." Snape suggested, then continued in the ensuing silence as he settled Potter in Rubeas Hagrid's arms when the half-giant appeared at his side. "Allow me to see what you wish seen, then while I see to 'sorting out the boy's situation', you can oblige Minerva by continuing with the sorting."
"Wait till you see what I have to show, Snape, before you so readily slide the child to the back burner," the hat groused, but reluctantly agreed, almost hopping off Potter's matted mane. As Severus caught the hat and lifted it to his head, he had the briefest whimsical thought that from the boy's mane alone, he was destined for Gryffindor.
"No!" The hat startled him with a vehement denial in his ear, "that is the last place he shall go. True, the boy has an abundance of courage, else he would not have taken his one chance to escape, but a fearless lion he is not. No. See what I have to show before you judge the child. Lily's child."
Before Severus could loose a sneering comment about the doubtlessly pampered prince, the hat poured a stream of the child's earliest memories through his mind, giving him barely the time to sort one out before moving to another, showing him flash after flash of a frail, undernourished, unloved child routinely hid his worst bruises and injuries, in fear of being taken away by a nameless, faceless system - all the while struggling to keep his spirit and innocence in few peaceful moments that he found staring up at the slanted ceiling of the dirty crawlspace that he had christened with a surreptitiously drawing that read 'Harry's room". By the time the stream of memories had finished running through his mind, Severus was hardly surprised to find himself on his knees. Or, if he were to be completely honest, if he were ever to consider such a ludicrous gesture, he would have admitted that he was surprised to have even stayed on his feet.
For the memories had not been dry flattened images, but accompanied by the screeching hate-filled remonstrations of Potter's relatives, and worse, with Potter's own heart-breakingly frequent recognitions that his own family hated him and felt he was a burden even though he had tried his honest best to make them happy with him... even long after realizing it was a hopeless quest. No, by the time the stream of seemingly endless, hopeless images stopped, Severus felt quite ready to curl up into a tight ball, in the corner of his deepest chair, clutching the thick green quilt that was the last connection he had to his mother's memory for comfort. Severus knew all too well what it felt like to know with absolute certainty that you were unloved, and memories of that time were not ones he happily chose to wake.
"Severus, Lad?" McGonnagall shook his arm lightly, glancing back and forth between the unsorted cluster of students who watched the scene of the famously fierce Potion Master brought to his knees by what he'd witnessed.
"What ever could be the matter?" she asked with growing concern.
"The hat..." Severus glanced up, attempting to decide how to explain everything, then realized he truly did not have adequate words to explain what he'd been shown.
"Minerva...Put it on," he finally sighed. "Severus, really, that is not what we agreed to."
"I know, but they're right... All of the founders, they're right." He continued, realizing that she probably needed the reminder.
Just when it appeared as if the Deputy Headmistress was about to refuse again, Professor Sprout piped in, " I do believe that I would like to see what the hat has to show as well. May I?"
"Of course," Severus agreed, only too glad to get rid of the hat before it could feed him even more memories to fuel his nightmares.
No sooner than she had placed the hat on her head, Professor Sprout gasped and started murmuring under her breath, "the Poor Dear, oh the Poor, Poor, Dear," as the hat showed her glimpse upon glimpse of the child valiantly trying to win his family's love and approval through tireless effort, flagging hope, and quixotic guilt at the thought of leaving his unloving family without someone to do their chores - even as he dreamed of finding someplace that he could finally make a friend. Tears rolled copiously down her cheeks, without reservation, but the Professor hardly noticed the fact, nor the effect it was having on her concerned students.
Even as Severus drew out a handkerchief from an inner pocket, though, Professor Fillius Flitwick had charmed his colleague's cheeks dry, and offered her a small conjured glass of sipping sherry that he attempted to hide from the students' notice, behind his small hand, before Severus obligingly stepped to the side obscuring their view. "There appears to be an interesting development to be investigated; May I?" he asked in the high polite tone that anyone who truly knew him would recognize as distressed.
As the diminutive professor took the hat, Severus was somewhat heartened to see that the stolid, stable, most-even-tempered instructor on staff, was only too glad to depart with the hat as well. The Ravenclaw Head of House gasped as well as he inwardly studied the pattern of images, discerning a bright young mind being unconscionably worn down and wasted on the most mundane of matters that would bore even a house elf, but that would incur unreasonably harsh punishments if not seen to with ridiculously idealized standards of perfection. Nevertheless, the child's bright intelligence still stood out - cooking a full meal at 3 1/2 when few children managed to neatly fill their cereal bowls; persevering to master not only the basic alphabet and numerals from a discarded letter chart that the infantile cousin refused to use but also their phonetic connotation from brief glimpses at the tele when the aunt forced the cousin to watch something called 'Sesame Street' while the child swept and dusted the family and sitting rooms; later, using chalk against the rough undersides of the stairs framed into his cupboard to practice his spelling and vocabulary; and many other glimpses that both stirred Filius's ire and his desire to claim the child for his house.
The ire may have been the most predominant feature in his eyes, however, when he turned back to the Deputy Headmistress, for whatever protest she might have been prepared to spout, quite visibly, died on her lips as he held out the sorting hat. What images they might have shown her, they could have only guessed at, though each had a strong idea of what the general pattern would have revealed as she quickly paled and stumbled back, and pulled her hand over her mouth before shooting a uncertain, anxious look at the Headmaster, who had been watching the scene with an intensely calculating, but seemingly unconcerned gaze. Finally, as all eyes fell on the headmaster, she quickly divested herself of the hat and held it out to the headmaster with a trembling hand.
"Albus..." "Minerva, certainly now that each of the heads of houses has seen what you've needed to see, you will be able to discuss the appropriate house placement for Mr. Potter, and we may resume the sorting." he waved their attentions back to the students waiting to be placed, ignoring the curious grumble of students, who had been quite affected by the sight of their Head of Houses so unnerved.
"Albus, really..." Professor Sprout applied most coaxing tone to urge the Headmaster to step forward. "This is a most serious matter."
She broke off, though, after Filius glanced over the Headmaster utterly cool expression and laid a hand on her wrist.
"We are quite the center of attention, Headmaster. Are you certain this is the impression that you wish to set?" Severus asked in a stilted tone, quite aware that his own tack with his students had just been drastically changed.
"Severus, My Dear Boy, I have no qualms in showing that I have the utmost faith in my staff, and can trust then to deal with any matter that may arise."
It went without saying, at least to Severus, that refusing to view what the hat might reveal would enable the Headmaster to play down the wisdom or necessity of any decision that he or the other Heads of house might make in relation to what they had viewed. Flitwick's eyes narrowed as well and Professor Sprouts lips narrowed to a very thin line at the comment; although, McGonnagall seemed almost persuaded by the weak diversion.
When she turned to call up the next student, seeming to take the Headmaster at his word; however, the sorting hat, it appeared, had had its fill.
"I have had enough. You had one shot, Dumbledore. One last shot, to prove that you could put your students' welfares above your own warped ambitions. You were warned when you refused to take my advisement regarding young Thomas Riddle, and then again with another talented young Slytherin, who should have had your protection from the moment he stepped of the train but whom you constantly and willingly overlooked in favor of ... others who turned to be little more than troublemakers with lackluster skill, and finally yet another truly talented child meant for Slytherin if you had not already worked to poison his mind against a house that both his nature and experience suited him for- and you see fit to - yet again - ignore his needs. You are no true headmaster, and your refusal to wear me only shows me proof positive that you fear what I would find if I were to peer into that age mottled mind." "I do believe that you are taking this to unnecessary..." the Headmaster interrupted with a seemingly mild tone, but Severus noticed the unusual surge of emotion behind his eyes.
"Silence!" The sorting hat roared, surprising even the staff and the Headmaster as Hogwarts highest windows shook warningly. "No, Dumbledore, you'll not talk yourself out of this. You are hereby stripped of your title, role, and welcome in this school, " the hat proclaimed- overriding the cascade of voices that had picked back up. "Your wand and wardrobe will be brought to the gate for you, but all other accoutrement that you have collected from the Hogwarts vaults over the years will remain in your office as will certain items left in trust for certain students - under the care of the Headmaster. The Phoenix familiar- whom you, as a duly appoint head of house, transfigured from a Gryffin when you were unable to tame it - may choose to return to his natural form, for there will be a new head of house equal to the task of caring for such a noble creature... or it may choose to bond with the child who suffers all to great a need to heal."
The Great Hall would have broken in a roar of protests, at that moment, had not Hogwarts herself dampened the sound and with a push of magic propelled the ancient wizard from the dais, and pushed him swiftly down the gap between tables. Whatever protests the irate and disbelieving students might have voice died at the site of the Headmaster being picked up by the Hall's ambient magic, with no thought of sparing his dignity as he twisted back and forth in it's hold like a frustrated infant until he was deposited none to gently on the other side of the Gates. The sorting hat was far from done yet; however, and turned to McGonnagall, who eyed it apprehensively but with proud expectancy.
"Oh, how tall you stand! How proud and brave! How ready to take on a task...." the hat paused seeming to appraise her, before continuing in a caustic tone, "that you have not earned. No, Former Deputy Headmistress, you as well were content to ignore the needs and concerns of the students I spoke of earlier. The only reason that you may be retained as an instructor, should the new Headmaster deem it reasonable, is that you were not completely unaffected by the child's plight, and that you were not completely aware of the child's circumstances... even though you were sufficiently forewarned by what you witnessed the day before you placed him with his relatives. Can you honestly say the same for the other two students mentioned, or did you allow your blind faith in the former Headmaster to blind you to all reason?"
"I... there were..."
"No justifiable excuses that you may give for your behavior. Remember, Minerva, I have seen into your mind." Silenced by that, Professor McGonnagal, nodded and stepped back.
"Shall we get on to the sorting, then?" the hat chirped cheerfully.
" 'Ere Now," Hagrid interrupted. "Down't we need to sort out a New Headmaster, and a New Professor McGonnagall." Flushing as several students tittered at his inelegent phrasing, Hagrid backstepped a bit, saying "Owt, I shouldna said that. I meant a deputy headmater like she was." Unaware of the problematic gender reference, Hagrid frowned when more titters broke out, and turned his eyes down to the boy still held in his arms. Somedays, it just didn't pay to open his mouth.
"Rubeas is quite right," Severus interrupted casting a sharp glare over the entire hall with special emphasis on his own students.
"Aye, that he is, and I said we'd do a sorting. So, Minerva, if you'll do your duty one last time, if all of the staff will join us."
Flushing with shame, as the her colleagues lined up across the dais eschewing the use of the children's stool, Minerva began with Filius, certain that the hat must have been referring to him when it stated that they would choose a new Headmaster. As soon as the hat dropped on the elf's head, it began burbling and chirping little amused comments, "Yes, yes, I see. A fine mind, and great skill, but too many dueling contests and too many grandchildren to ever commit to the position seriously. Quite Right. Quite Right. I know where to put you. Head of Raven Claw House."
The house proclaimed startling more than a few who'd been certain that he would have been chosen as Headmaster. Madam Pomfrey was next, having edged between Filius and Hagrid to check on Potter.
After trying to wave the hat away with an impatient gesture, she finally submitted with a growl that turned into surprised choking as the hat muttered a moment in her ear before calling out, "A caring soul, diligent, and loyal, but whose skills go unused through much of the year. Yes, yes. I know where you belong. Head of Hufflepuff House."
After a moment of shock, the Hufflepuff table erupted with exuberant cheers as they realized that there was only one likely reason that the mediwitch had been promoted to Head of Head of House so that their own Head of House could be promoted even Higher. The mediwitch, not completely guessing the reasoning behind their welcome flushed brightly and quickly pulled the hat off handing it back to Minerva. Only by custom, Minerva paused in front of Hagrid, but it was apparent to all, in the slow speed of how she raised the hat to put it on his head that she thought the gesture meaningless. The hat disagreed.
"Oh yes, here we are. The fierce bravery of a lion in the face of any opponent be it beast or man, but a gentle respect for all. Willing to tame the fiercest heart with kindness and trust, but wary of its boundaries as well and willing to give it the space it needs... I can see no better model than you as The Head of Gryffindor House."
The hat's earlier comment about the new Head being able to tame a Gryffin suddenly made sense, and the Gryffindor table quickly erupted in cheers, both in welcoming a favorite staff member and out of excitement at the prospect of possibly having a gryffin as a mascot.
Severus tightly repressed the smile that threatened when he heard Hagrid, who had befriended him in his youth, as well, ask the hat, "Blimey, are you sure about that?"
"Rubeas, I can't think of a better choice. I've often said that your house was filled with ravening beasts, who better to tame them than a beast master?"
Hagrid chuckled in response, for a couple of moments, before he realized that as the new head of house it might not be politic. "Ere now! They're a good bunch, just a mite high strung."
"Precisely. You're perfect for the job."
Flushing and not entirely certain what to say, Hagrid simply shrugged and answered, "Er. Thanks."
Madam Hooch practically stepped forward as the hat was placed on her head, and laughed when the hat commented, "Sorry old girl, there's no place for you but the air. You'd be like a falcon on a short lead if we forced you to come in side more than once a day. Flight Master."
Professor Trelawny was next, and Severus smirked as he heard the hat groan slightly as it was rested upon her head. "Get back to your smoke and mirrors, cards and shining balls, Dear Lady there's no place for you, here, among the earth bound. Divination."
While few of the wizard born would have recognized the phrase smoke and mirrors, Severus did and stocked the amusing fact away.
Even his inner smile, though, died an instant later when the hat settled on Professor Sinestra's head, and announced. "Too much ambition here, not to be put to good use, Head of Slytherin House."
Unlike the welcome of the other houses, Professor Sinestra's appointment was met with angry hisses from students, certain that the hat was using the opportunity to get rid of their Head because he'd been known to be hostile to Potter, and apparently Potter was going to be getting special treatment from the hat.
A quick glare from Severus silenced his students, but he had appreciated their response. It wasn't truly a surprise, though it had come quicker than he had expected, but once the hat had seen into his thoughts there was no way he could have denied being perfectly prepared to hate, deride, and humiliate Potter solely on the basis of his paternity, sight unseen. Given the hat's reaction to the Headmaster's mere disinterest, out right hostility was unlikely to be tolerated.
Turning to Professor Sprout, he tendered his congratulations with as much grace as he could offer. His involvement in the event that had lead to the Headmaster's eviction was hardly likely to insure a favorable review from his former employer, even after a decade of unstinting service. The Hufflepuff's good graces might the only sinecure he had to a favorable prospect for any other employment.
He didn't quite understand her startled and confused expression, but wrote it off to her surprise that he wasn't reacting in his normally harsh manner.
"No, Severus." The hat murmured in his ear before he realized that McGonnagall had even shifted it from Sinestra.
"She's put two and two together," the hat continued, "and is surprised that you didn't before her. Still, she has had a few seconds longer than you to put things together. That, and she truly doesn't have any idea how difficult a time you have seeing your own good traits. If you had followed my advice at your first sorting, and gone into the same house with your dearest friend, I don't think that would have been a problem, but against my advice, Dumbledore let those two malcontents bully you and several other students out of their proper house assignments. Not that you haven't borne up admirably and proved a fine addition to Slytherin as well. Just look how defensive your stolid little snakes have gotten, to even show their displeasure in public. My, my, it would be good for the heart if I had one."
The hat paused for a moment, before raising his voice: "A wizard of hidden depths, and a credit of all houses, if you could have been sorted into more than one. A fine intellect, none can dispute that. Loyalty still in oaths made even to those long dead. Staunch and tireless bravery in defense of those in your charge, but never foolish enough to summon danger. Ambitious enough to be the youngest Potion Master in this Century and the youngest Potions Professor at Hogwarts in Seven Centuries. Not one to suffer fools either. Nor the ministry's puppet. You haunt Hogwarts more often even than Binns and no doubt know her secrets and secret passages better than any person living. There's only one place that we can put all of your skills to work as the New Headmaster of Hogwarts .... and Guardian to its Newest Ward."
Silence almost erupted around the room as strangely loud as any of their cheers had been while the gathered audience tried to understand the announcement. Snape's appointment in and off itself, the first Slytherin in..... Ages and Ages, but that Potter was claimed by the castle as a ward?
That hadn't happened in almost... twelve maybe thirteen centuries.
The revelation was so stunning that no one, including Professor Sprout, seemed to even notice her appointment to Deputy Headmistress, and the students that followed seemed were sorted and separated to there tables with few at their respective tables even noticing... until it finally came time for Headmaster's traditional speech.
With all of their eyes fixed on him, ignoring as the tables filled with an abundance of delicacies, Severus finally stood and questioned, "Do you really need to be told to eat?"
When the students realized that he intended to say nothing more, they tucked in, and life went on at Hogwarts.