Riddle of the Thinking Cap
Disclaimer: All characters herein sprang from the fertile mind of J.K.Rowling, but I'm hoping she won't mind my playing with them a bit after all I've spent on HP! I, of course, make no profit, though feedback is always welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org
This is the third sequel to The Thinking Cap. It will probably make more sense if you read the rest of the series first, but each is technically a stand-alone story. Many thanks to Persephone Kore and Alan Sauer for their unfailing support!
Riddle of the Thinking Cap
Hogwarts was an... unusual school, to say the least, in ways that had little to do with the fact that it was a school for magic. Actually, that was probably the most normal thing about it. No, Hogwarts was a prime example of how, as Muggleborn students often put it, the wizarding world didn't have an ounce of logic.
Unlike the rest of the wizarding world, however, Hogwarts never pretended to be more serious than it was. It was a school where staircases changed directions on a whim, walls pretended to be doorways, and suits of armor occasionally held jousting matches in the front hallways for the amusement of all. It was populated by a gleeful poltergeist who sang off-key and a headmaster who was, many of the students and staff alike said fondly, absolutely barking.
There was one part of each year, however, that was carried out with absolute solemnity and ceremony. As the first-years went up one by one to be Sorted into their new Houses at the start of each new year, everyone watching knew with absolute certainty that beneath the tattered brim, the Sorting Hat was duly weighing and considering each student's qualities with all the seriousness due the solemn occasion.
...Of course, "everyone" was sometimes wrong.
"Honestly, will you two ever grow up?" a refined female voice asked in exasperation from deep inside the Hat.
"We tried once," a male voice spoke up, rich with suppressed laughter. "It didn't agree with us."
"I've known you for over a millennium, Godric Gryffindor, and you've never been grown up!"
A new voice jumped in now, male again, with a bit of a hiss on the sibilants. "There was about a month in the early twelfth century, I'm ssure of it. Perhapss you were asleep, Rowena."
"As fascinating as all this is," yet another voice spoke up dryly, "perhaps all three of you might recall we're in the middle of a Sorting? You have all year to be ridiculous, and only one day to be serious."
"Yes, Mum," the two men chorused with a definite grin in their disembodied voices.
Rowena sniffed once more at Salazar and said primly, "Quite right, Helga. I have the feeling a perfect Ravenclaw is up next."
It was, however, a Gryffindor who next tried on the Hat, and the next girl, though Rowena argued passionately about her intelligence, went to join the Hufflepuff table. Rowena was mentally rolling up her sleeves to fight fiercely for the next child, but as the Hat was dropped onto the neatly-combed black hair of a scrawny boy, Salazar gasped in incredulous pleasure.
"A Parselmouth! Look at him, he's a Parselmouth! Oh, I haven't seen one in ages. And look at that ambition! It's shining so brightly I can almost taste it."
"Mixing your metaphors there, Salazar," Godric interrupted in amusement. "Did he breathe at all during that?" he added in an aside to the women.
"I'm a disembodied mind in a Hat; I don't have to breathe," Salazar retorted distractedly, looking more deeply into the boy's mind. What he saw next would've made his heart stop if he'd still had a body. "He's one of mine!"
"So we see," Helga said cheerfully. "Ambitious, cunning, and a Parselmouth to boot. A born Slytherin. Shall we move on?"
"No, one of MINE! He's Mary's son! Mary, Marvolo's girl. Marvolo--"
"Descended from Salazar Slytherin himself. Yes, I remember. Your descendants are always full of themselves, aren't they?" Rowena teased gently.
"As opposed to yours, who are so busy reading they forget to reproduce," Godric laughed.
"And yours," Rowena shot back, "who just get hit in the head so often while they're out there being daring they can't remember they were in your line."
"Why do you think I put metal lining in all his hats?" Helga murmured with a grin.
"I knew I wasn't imagining them getting heavier," Godric muttered. Then louder, "So put the boy in Slytherin already."
Very quietly, sounding as if he might cry, Salazar said, "He's a half-blood."
"...Oh dear." Helga paused for a moment to consider, then suggested tentatively, "Couldn't you take him anyway?"
"His father was a Muggle!"
"It's the twentieth century, Salazar," Rowena chided briskly. "Times have changed. Try broadening your horizons!"
Helga chimed in with, "There's more to life than purebloods, Salazar."
Godric interrupted impatiently. "You were dancing over him ten seconds ago. If your descendants have relaxed enough to marry Muggles, you can put one in your House."
Salazar was silent for a moment, then the Hat's voice suddenly called out, "SLYTHERIN!"
Salazar muttered under his breath, "I hope this isn't a mistake...."
But the little boy trotting eagerly over to the Slytherin tables heard nothing of this. Tom Marvolo Riddle repeated the Hat's words to him over and over in his mind. "Hm, Slytherin's own blood? Well, blood always tells in the end. Better be worthy of it."
"I'm telling you, you'll never guess." Godric's voice was supremely confident."
"You haven't stumped me yet, Godric," Rowena vowed. "Is it animal, vegetable, or mineral?"
"That's the best question the wise Ravenclaw can come up with?"
"Oh be quiet!"
Salazar chuckled and interjected, "Is it bigger than a breadbox?"
Godric snorted. "That's the only thing you ever ask. Be more creative. And no."
After a few more of Rowena's questions, Salazar spoke up again. "Is it smaller than a breadbox?"
"Stop being foolish, Salazar," Rowena chided. "I almost have it!"
Godric just laughed and answered, "No."
"...Godric, is it a breadbox?"
"And Salazar wins! You're slipping on us, Rowena."
"Salazar just understands how your strange mind works," Rowena huffed.
"My turn!" Helga exclaimed cheerfully. "I'm thinking of something...black!"
"A blackbird," Salazar suggested immediately.
"A blackberry," Godric countered.
"A straw hat."
"A Sorting Hat!"
Helga hmphed loudly. "You don't have to make fun of me."
"Wait, I have an idea!" Rowena proclaimed. "It's a daring guess--"
"Watch your head," Godric interrupted.
Rowena ignored him. "I may even be going out on a limb, but I'm a disembodied mind anyway, so it won't hurt if I fall off. Could it possibly be...a badger?"
"You got it!" Helga cheered. "How did you guess?"
Rowena giggled, but was interrupted by Salazar's quiet hiss of warning. "I see hair, and it's too early for the Sorting."
//I'm afraid I have some bad news.//
"Hello, Albus," Helga greeted the current Headmaster quietly. "What's wrong?"
//I wanted to inform you that Hogwarts may be in danger soon. A new dark wizard has begun gaining power.//
"You don't think he'd come after Hogwarts?" Godric asked. "He'd have to be stupid."
//Unfortunately, he was one of the more brilliant students here.//
There was an immediate uproar inside the Hat. "A former sstudent?" Salazar hissed furiously. "Who?"
The Hat fell completely silent. After a long moment, Salazar said softly, "...Tom? But -- he was doing so well. Arnando told me he'd made Head Boy. He was so promising... I thought we'd be Sorting his children soon...." Another long silence, then plaintively, "My Tom?"
//I'm afraid,// Dumbledore replied heavily, //that he seems to be playing on that. He has taken to calling himself "Lord Voldemort" and claims to be carrying on Slytherin's task of cleansing our world of Muggle-borns.//
"He WHAT?!" Salazar shouted so loudly the other three Founders wished they could cover their ears. "Of all the stupid, idiotic--"
"Thank you for informing us, Albus," Godric said around Salazar's rantings. "We'll do whatever we can to help, as always."
//Thank you, Godric. All of you.//
Albus's hair disappeared from beneath the brim, leaving three of the Hat's occupants to listen to the fourth rage about idiotic grandchildren. When he finally seemed to have ranted himself out, Helga spoke up tentatively. "Salazar?"
"Hasn't one foolish argument caused enough trouble by now?" Salazar snapped. "Jusst...leave me alone."
It was hard to get privacy when one shared a hat with three other beings, but the others respected Salazar's wishes and withdrew into pensive silence.
"Did he win?" Godric asked enthusiastically. "I want to hear every detail! How many points did Potter win by?"
"No, Diggory!" Helga cheered merrily. "I know Potter's exceptional, but Diggory had six years of hard work behind him!"
"Either of them, as long as it was one of them," Rowena laughed. "Hogwarts' honor is at stake!"
"If the three of you would be quiet, he could tell us," Salazar reproached. Then eagerly, "Tell us all about it, Albus!"
Albus Dumbledore's words sounded very old and tired as he slowly replied, //Mr. Potter and Mr. Diggory tied for the Cup.// He had to speak the next words over cheering from all four. //But I'm afraid there were...complications.//
"...What do you mean, Albus?" Rowena asked slowly.
//An agent in Hogwarts -- who is now dead -- arranged for the Cup to be turned into a Portkey. When Mr. Potter and Mr. Diggory took it, they were transported away. Mr. Diggory...was killed--// Here Helga gave a sharp cry, //--and Mr. Potter barely managed to escape after witnessing the ritual that brought Lord Voldemort back to full strength.//
All four Founders released sharp curses, Salazar's nothing more than a low, virulent hiss Dumbledore would've liked to hear translated out of Parseltongue. Godric said grimly, "So it begins again."
"We stand ready to help Hogwarts however we can, Albus," Rowena added.
//Your aid is, as always, appreciated. And now I must go deal with Cornelius. Perhaps this time I can convince him Mr. Potter is not delusional. I will update you when I can.//
"Thank you, Albus," Helga said softly as the long white hair disappeared. She sighed sadly. "How can Fudge doubt Potter if Albus believes him? I'm beginning to wish I'd never chosen that ungrateful boy for my House!"
"We all have students like that, Helga," Salazar said quietly. "I wissh I'd never let that halfblood into Slytherin!"
"Salazar," Godric spoke up darkly, "I love you like a brother, but it was talk like that that gave Riddle his start in the first place!"
"I thought it was safer! I didn't want to kill people just because they were Muggleborn!"
"Of course you didn't." Rowena's voice was very sad. "But after a thousand years, messages tend to get...muddled."
"I wish my blasted otherself had never left the school!" Salazar exclaimed fiercely.
Helga sighed again. "We all do. But you and Godric weren't the only ones arguing, Salazar. We'd all started having problems. If his leaving hadn't startled our otherselves so badly, they might all have split off eventually."
"Instead we get to sit and watch House rivalries grow worse and worse with each year," Rowena added with an exasperated huff. "The Houses were supposed to make things easier, not divide the school like this!"
"If ever they've needed unity, now is the time," came Godric's prediction. "Riddle's trying to sow mistrust."
Salazar hissed wordlessly. "Ssstand united or fall divided," he agreed. "I think perhaps it's time for another ssspecial song."
The four friends were silent for a moment, each aware of the difficulty -- and perhaps futility -- of truly changing things with a song. But their songs had welcomed a thousand years' worth of students to Hogwarts, and each one left a tiny mark in the students' hearts.
"Sometimes all you need," Helga at last said quietly, "is someone to get things started."
"And the four of us," Salazar added with a smile they could feel deep inside, "are the best there ever was at starting things."
The others laughed and it was with a great deal more cheer that Godric said, "Right then. Let's get started."
"Can I call Riddle a nimrod?" Salazar asked eagerly.
"That might be hard to find a rhyme for." Rowena's voice turned sly as she added, "But if we can get him to try the Hat on again, maybe Godric will let you drop something on his head!"