It was awfully boring being a disembodied mind in a Hat.
Oh sure, it sounded interesting enough. And when the four Founders of Hogwarts had first cast the spell to bind a version of their own minds to Godric's old hat, they'd thought it was very interesting indeed. Simply working out the spell was fascinating enough, for this new Sorting Hat would be the first of its kind anywhere. That they knew of, at least.
At any rate, the project was quite enough to keep them occupied for a while, especially when considering they had to work on it around teaching a school-full of children how to turn each other into odd things and back again. (Godric never lived down the three days he spent with mushrooms instead of ears. He always blamed Salazar for secretly teaching the student that particular spell, but he could never quite manage to prove it.)
And once they finally completed the spell and were able to converse with their counterparts bound in the Hat, it was very interesting indeed. They couldn't get enough of passing it back and forth, laughing at what their counterparts could now read in their minds. The Hat-versions were very amused by this as well, for who hasn't occasionally wished for the ability to see into your best friends' minds? For several months the Founders in the Hat amused themselves by pouncing on the physical Founders' heads at random moments, and skulking through the corridors singing to startled students.
This last practice was, alas, curtailed by a long talk from Rowena about how it was undermining the dignity of the school, though her efforts were rather hampered by Godric and Salazar snickering in the background.
But eventually these activities lost some of their shine, and the Hat came to spend most of its time on a shelf in what became the Headmasters' office. (Neither Rowena nor Helga could ever remember in later years exactly how Godric had convinced them that his office should be the one turned into the official Headmaster's office. Whenever it was brought up, Godric just grinned and changed the subject quickly.)
Eventually, the only Founders left in the school were the four in the Hat, and they had to amuse themselves mostly by talking to each other, though a favorite game was startling each new Headmaster or Headmistress as he or she dutifully followed instructions from the previous Head and tried on the Hat on their first day in office.
For centuries, the secret of just what "brains" had been put into the Hat was one of many imparted on the Headmaster's first day on the job. After all, quavering eleven year olds had enough to worry about trying to keep their knees from knocking together too loudly whilst facing the great multitude of horribly frightening second- through seventh-years that were about to become their schoolmates. If they knew that the unthreatening, battered old hat about to Sort them into their new Houses actually held the magical essences of the four great Founders of Hogwarts...
Well, the school nurse would have been extremely busy with reviving potions instead of getting to enjoy the Welcoming Feast!
The reactions were as varied as the Heads themselves, though stunned shock was a common reaction. Armando Dippett had fallen right out of his chair at Helga's cheerful hello. One notably sour Headmaster, Phineas Nigellus, had been spotted wearing the Sorting Hat for the better part of his first week in the job, apparently arguing with it rather forcefully. His embarrasment over being seen thus led to a rash of students in detention, House points being lost left and right, and Headmaster Nigellus rapidly becoming the least popular Headmaster at Hogwarts.
"This is one of my favorite parts!"
"Helga, you say everything is your favorite part," Godric said exasperatedly. "Something has to be your least favorite, you know."
"Listening to you complain about my favorite parts," Helga retorted promptly. "And I know you're just as excited as I am. It's one of your Gryffindors becoming Headmaster, after all."
"And who else would Armando choose? There's no one better than Albus."
"Indeed." Rowena's voice was merry. "He would've made a fine Ravenclaw, after all."
"He's a Slytherin to his bones and has only become more so as he's grown older," Salazar spoke up. "I don't know why I let Godric take him all those years ago."
Godric snorted. "You were in a generous and giving mood, Salazar. Stop complaining."
"The day I stop complaining is the day I've started haunting something besides this bloody HAT."
"You can't haunt anything. You're not dead," Rowena pointed out logically.
"Technicalities! Godric's ego will be too big for the Hat to hold ALL of us one of these days, and then where will we be? Another Gryffindor Headmaster. Bah."
"Will you two stop arguing?" Helga's voice was full of excitement. "I see hair!"
Sure enough, the Hat was being settled gently on white hair that had managed to cling to a few strands of auburn. As soon as it was settled, the the Founders heard an amused voice. //I always wondered if you got bored between Sortings.//
All four were silent for a moment, then Salazar said dryly, "Well, we spend most of our time songwriting, you know. You'd be surprised how long it takes to rhyme 'ambition'."
"Be serious, Salazar," Godric began.
"Why? You never are."
Godric ignored him with ease of long practice. "Congratulations on your promotion, Albus. I knew when we Sorted you that you would do great things."
//...Thank you. I, ah, assume I am addressing Godric Gryffindor?//
"You were always a smart one!"
"Hah!" Godric crowed. "Figured it out quicker than anyone but some of the Ravenclaws. Who says Gryffindors are all idiots?"
"Be quiet, Salazar."
Albus' mental voice was full of amusement as he told them, //I always assumed you four would have left something of yourselves behind in the school, but I must confess I never anticipated this particular form.//
"Who better to guide new students to their proper places?" Rowena asked, a grin in her voice.
//Quite right. And...all four of you are inside?//
"Of course I'm here," Salazar snapped. "We still Sort into Slytherin, don't we? Just because my idiotic otherself left doesn't mean I was going to hop out of the bloody Hat!"
//I certainly meant no offense, Salazar. I'm just trying to get a clearer picture. I assume there's a reason you've chosen to reveal yourselves to me at this time?//
"One of many secrets the Headmaster is entitled to," Godric said smugly.
"Speaking of which," Rowena added, "you might want to duck."
The hair disappeared from beneath the Hat's brim just as the entire Hat contracted and dropped a fat scroll out of the magical attic. A brief moment passed before hair appeared again and Albus told them, //Thank you. I'm sure this will be most instructive.//
"We're here to help however we can," Helga told him cheerfully. "Including guarding the school's secrets. Just make sure you put it back in once you've finished reading it!"
//And can you hold any object?//
"Anything we can fit through the brim, though we did let that Fwooper go eventually, it made such a racket!"
Rowena piped up eagerly, "And if you have any good logic puzzles, feel free to share them!"
//I shall keep that in mind. Now I suppose there's really only one question left to ask. Would anyone care for a lemon drop?//
After a mere two years in office, Albus Dumbledore was bidding fair to become the most popular Headmaster since Engelbert the Eccentric, who had declared that all exams were to be presented as interpretive dance. (Bertrand the Boring had reinstated normal exams when Engelbert suffered an unfortunate accident whilst demonstrating a new dance with a visiting giantess. The matter was quickly hushed up.) The former Transfiguration professor was considered slightly batty by most people who knew him, but he was also a great wizard, a natural teacher, and still accorded many honors after his defeat of the Dark wizard Grindelwald. With the retirement of Armando Dippet, Dumbledore was the natural choice for a replacement.
Unfortunately, Dumbledore's new position came at the same time another powerful wizard began gaining his own power and prestige. Only a few months had passed since Dumbledore donned the Hat to inform the Founders within that a former Hogwarts student named Tom Riddle had taken to calling himself "Lord Voldemort" and was trying to cleanse the wizarding world of "impure" blood. The Founders had been furious, especially Salazar Slytherin, whose name was being used to justify this vision. His fellow Founders gave him some space to think, privacy being an important commodity for disembodied minds in a Hat.
...Privacy was important, but after three months of Salazar's pensive silence, the other Founders were wondering if there could be too much of a good thing.
"Salazar! Don't you think this has gone on long enough?" Helga's voice was as cheerful as usual, but with a definite note of strain. "We have a Sorting to attend to!"
"Fine. Sssort." Salazar sounded glum, the slight hiss to his sibilants even more pronounced than normal.
"You expect us to Sort without you?" Helga asked incredulously.
Rowena's even, cultured tones broke in, the Ravenclaw Founder dignified in (almost) any circumstance. "No, he doesn't. He knows very well we can't. It was enough that we wrote the song alone this year. Honestly, Salazar, you know no one can rhyme 'ambition' as many ways as you do!"
"It'ss jusst a sssong."
"Just a song? Just a SONG?" Godric bellowed. "That song is our only chance to shape a year's worth of students!"
"You know they look forward to it every year," Helga added earnestly. "I know you're disappointed about young Riddle--"
"Don't call him that," Salazar hissed in quiet fury. "You heard Albuss. He issn't Tom Riddle anymore; he'ss Voldemort. He issn't my Tom anymore."
There was a moment of silence, then Rowena said softly, "No, he isn't. But there are students out there waiting to be Sorted. And there will be Slytherins among them."
"More Sssslytherinss to turn againsssst Hogwartssssss. More Ssssslytherins to usssse me to jussssstify doing horrible thingsssss!"
"Salazar, stop and take a deep breath. We won't be able to understand you much longer," Godric pointed out logically. "Are you saying your entire House is evil now, just because one wizard went crazy?"
"No! But...blasssst it, Godric, you wouldn't be sssaying it like that if it wass YOUR heir who went inssssane!"
"HIS heirs all went insane through knocks on the head years ago," Rowena pointed out dryly. "Salazar, the Sorting is starting. Are you participating or not?"
"I can't NOT particcipate. We're charmed to particccipate. Stupid charm," Salazar muttered.
"Good charm," Helga countered. "Stop being so stubborn. That's Godric's job. Look, here's a nice boy. Sirius, what a lovely name. He's from one of your old families, Salazar." Her voice took on a wheedling tone. "Family tradition dating back centuries. Just the sort you like."
"Sso was Tom," Salazar pointed out glumly. "HIS family was in Sslytherin ssince there WAS a Sslytherin."
"You're just determined to be contrary this year, aren't you?" Rowena snapped.
"I'm good at it!"
Godric snorted. "You've always been good at it. Try learning a new skill for a change and be agreeable. Anyway, I don't care if you want this one. Look at that reckless streak! Temper it a little and he'll be the essence of Gryffindor daring."
"Gryffindor sstupidity, you mean. Don't ruin another one. He's ambitious too..."
"He HAS to be brave just to say two words around that mother of his," Godric pointed out, looking deeper. "She was much nicer as an eleven year old."
Rowena laughed. "Most people are nicer as eleven year olds."
There was a definite hint of a grin as Helga said, "Not me. I was horrid."
"Look, are we doing a Sorting or not?" Godric asked impatiently. "I want this boy in Gryffindor. Any arguments?"
There was a pause, then the Hat's voice shouted out, "GRYFFINDOR!" and young Sirius' hair disappeared from their sight.
Two Ravenclaws and a Hufflepuff followed before Salazar roused himself enough to claim a Slytherin, and that one obvious enough he didn't get a word of argument from the others. But his interest was piqued now and he participated in a few arguments that were almost as lively as usual. "Ooh, look at this one," he pointed out almost cheerfully. "Nice hair. And very ambitious."
"You and your redheads," Godric laughed. "You're NOT taking my Weasleys!"
"This one isn't a Weasley. She's an Evans. Honestly, don't you pay attention? And she's -- oh. Muggle-born. Never mind."
"Oh Salazar, that's no reason to turn the poor girl down if she's really as ambitious as you say!" Helga protested, poking into the eager mind beneath the Hat.
"Oh no! We are NOT going through this again. I tried a halfblood and LOOK at what happened! YOU three fight it out this time!"
"Fine," Helga sniffed. "See if I try to help you again. Well, she's very hard-working..."
"Yes, in how much she studies," Rowena put in archly. "She clearly recognizes the importance of learning."
"You lot can stop bothering." Godric sounded almost bored. "She's a Gryffindor to her toes. Look at how she used to defend the other children from bullies."
"That shows loyalty too!" Helga protested.
"But chivalry more. AND bravery, considering how much she was teased for it."
"You just like the red hair. And you tease *Salazar* over that."
"She's already showing House pride, what can I say?"
Helga snorted, Salazar laughed, and the Hat cried out, "GRYFFINDOR!"
Despite the reminder of Tom, Salazar was nearly back to his old self as he joined in on the spirited arguments between the four Founders over the next several students. He even claimed a few Slytherins out from under Godric's nose, and gloated over it long enough to make Godric forget he was supposed to be encouraging.
"Oh be QUIET! I'm starting to regret getting you to talk again. It was nice having some peace and quiet around here for a change!"
"All the more reason for me to speak up. You get too cocky when everything goes your way."
"Do I? Funny, I don't seem to remember that ever happening for long enough for you to judge HOW I get."
Salazar chuckled and told him dryly, "I'm highly sskilled at drawing conclusions from a limited sample."
"Fight the urge sometimes. Remember you once drew the conclusion that I was an arrogant , headstrong idiot with, what was it? 'Too much time on his hands and not enough brains to fill a thimble'? And that was only after meeting me once!"
"And that was very, very wrong of me," Salazar told him soberly. "After meeting you twice, I realized you had even fewer brains than that."
Godric snorted. "Remember when I said I liked you better when you were quiet?"
"See? No brains at all. And speaking of brains, here's hair again!"
All four Founders were silent for a long moment when the Hat settled on the head of a thin, painfully excited boy whose only thought was, \\Please let me stay at Hogwarts. PLEASE let me stay at Hogwarts!//
"Well of COURSE he'll stay!" Helga exclaimed, sounding more like the little mother than ever. "Goodness me, but he's had a hard life..."
"I still don't see why he'd think we would expel him before he's even Sorted!" Rowena poked around the boy's head for a moment. "I've never heard of a werewolf this young before...Good for Albus for letting him in!"
"Very wise of him," Salazar commented. "He must have known what a good Slytherin young Lupin would be. Wait, Remus Lupin? Were his parents ASKING for him to be attacked by a werewolf?"
"Don't get sidetracked. You think he belongs in Slytherin?" Helga exclaimed in outrage. "He's obviously a Hufflepuff. Look at how hard he's been working to prove himself worthy of Hogwarts."
Rowena interrupted with a gleeful, "Precisely. He's worked halfway through this year's assignments already. If that's not a born Ravenclaw I've never seen one."
"He only did it because he's nervous about proving himself here," Godric protested. "And yet he's facing it head-on, like a true Gryffindor."
"Facing it because he knows it's the only way to achieve his goal! Ambition always rules in the end."
"Salazar, he's a Gryffindor!"
"He's a Hufflepuff, you just won't admit it."
"Now, if the rest of you would think about this logically, you'd see what a clear Ravenclaw he is."
"Don't be ridiculous! He doesn't learn for learning's sake, just to further his goals. What more Slytherin do you need?"
"That's just because he's nervous! If you'd look a little deeper, he loves helping people!" Helga argued. "And look at that capacity for loyalty! He just needs a few good friends, and MY House will give him the more...accepting ones."
"Your House isn't the only one with good friends." Godric sighed, then suggested, "Why don't we see if the boy has a preference?"
It took a moment to dig through the pleas not to be kicked out of Hogwarts, but eventually they found the thought, \\Dad was in Gryffindor. He'd be so proud of me...What's taking so long? Maybe it'll never sort me and I'll be sent home...//
"I think that settles that," Godric said smugly.
"Why do they always want Gryffindor?" Rowena grumbled irritably. "You'd think the rest of our Houses were full of dolts and ruffians the way people carry on."
"Don't you pay any attention?" Salazar asked after surrendering the next student to Hufflepuff without argument. "Helga's House is the House of dolts. Yours is the one that doesn't come out of the library long enough to get noticed. And mine is apparently the House of evil."
"Are you still on about that?" Godric snorted as he looked into the next child's mind. "See, Rowena, this one wants Ravenclaw. And Salazar, just because one wizard went wrong--"
"He's not just any wizard!" Salazar protested angrily. "He's TOM! Or he *was* Tom. One of my line. What if everyone else thinks that's the way I wanted things now? I can't exactly shout out to the Great Hall that it's NOT how I want things!"
"Well, you COULD," Helga suggested impishly, "if you don't mind throwing away a thousand years of secrecy and scaring the wits out of a hall full of students. Probably scaring the professors too, come to think of it. It WOULD be a way to ensure this year's Sorting is remembered for a long time!"
Salazar snorted. "Very helpful, thank you."
Rowena's smooth, cultured tones interjected, "We can only do the best we can, Salazar. We put the children into the Houses that will help guide them through life, but they're still the ones who have to choose what road to take."
"And what if they choossse evil?"
"Then that's their choice. We couldn't live their lives for them even when we were alive. All we can do is give them the tools they need."
Salazar was silent, so Godric took up the thread. "And for every one that chooses evil, there are dozens more who choose a GOOD way of life. Students we've sorted are going to be standing up *against* To--Voldemort. Maybe even some of the ones we're sorting today!"
"And ssome will sstand with him."
Helga sighed. "I wish we were still in bodies so I could give you a hug. But we're just disembodied minds in a hat. There's a lot we can't do. But Salazar, we can do something no one else CAN. We can put these children where they belong. After that, it's up to them."
That was all Salazar was willing to admit to, but the others took it as a small victory and continued on with the Sorting. Though Salazar was quieter than usual for a while, he slowly began interjecting more comments about the students beneath the Hat's brim.
"Godric, he's a mouse! How can you even claim he's Gryffindor material?"
"I'm not claiming he's the bravest child we've ever seen, but--"
"There's not a brave bone in his body! But there IS a great deal of cunning. I take it back, he's not a mouse. He's a rat. He always knows how to come out for the best in the end."
"That's harsh, Salazar."
"Who said it was an insult? There's a place for people with that talent!"
"And you think it's in Slytherin?" Godric poked further into young Pettigrew's head. "But he already knows how to be cunning. Look at how much he admired those boys on the train for being willing to speak up against older students. And he always chose to surround himself with the brave ones, not the sneaky ones. We should be encouraging that!"
Helga laughed. "Of course you'd say that, Godric!"
"No, no, I think he's right," Rowena said thoughtfully. "There's a reason we look at children's preferences, after all. If he values bravery so much, he should be in Gryffindor. I'd take a child who loved learning so much even if he wasn't very smart."
"You tell me to be more involved in the Sorting and then you take every child I want!" Salazar protested.
"Right, sorry." Godric's voice held a definite grin. "Go back to brooding."
A quiet laugh. "I don't know why I've put up with you so long, Godric."
"Because you know you don't have any choice?"
"That must be it."
"You know you love having me around."
"I know I'd love to get a wand again so I could put a good silencing charm on you."
"Well, I've got a sword, but I doubt you'd be very handy with it."
"Heavens above, not Godric's bad puns! Move on! Move on!" Salazar shouted desperately. "Put the boy in Gryffindor!"
"I knew you'd see it my way." Godric's voice was unbearably smug.
"Why you little--"
Salazar chuckled as Peter's head disappeared from the Hat's view. "I'm impressed, Godric. That was scheming almost worthy of me."
"Goodness!" Helga interrupted as the Hat came to rest on a new head. "Hasn't this Potter ever heard of a comb?"
"He claims it grows that way. I think he's just spent too much time on his broom." Godric laughed and added, "I like him already."
Salzar hmmed and mused, "Fliess like a madman, recklesss to a fault, always out exploring and making mischief. Who does that sound like?"
"No wonder you like him, Godric" Helga said cheerfully.
"Don't be ridiculous," Godric sniffed indignantly "I always flew like a lunatic, not a madman."
"Close enough! All right, where does he belong?" Rowena hummed softly and looked into young Potter's brain. "What a fine mind! He'll do very well in his studies, I can tell." She sniffed disapprovingly and added, "He'd do even BETTER if he studied from time to time."
"Then he should certainly go into a House that will encourage hard work," Helga pointed out brightly. "It'll do him a world of good! And look at that capacity for loyalty. The boy needs a good set of friends around him."
"He'll get friends best if he's surrounded by like-minded people," Godric interrupted. "With the kind of risks he likes to take and all the pranks he pulls, do you really think he'd fit in with your badgers? He's a lion looking for his pride!"
"Hmph," Helga pronounced firmly. "I think he has quite enough pride already. He needs hard work and discipline."
"You'll ruin him! He needs to be encouraged. Sometimes life needs risks. There's more to life than just working hard."
"And sometimes you NEED to work hard!"
"Some do. HE does, but that's not all he needs. Let him grow. He could be a leader someday."
"As if my students are never leaders!"
"I'm not saying that!" Godric sounded vaguely panicked as he tried to soothe her. "Now be reasonable, Helga."
"I hate being reasonable!" she interrupted. "You always say that and then steal my students!"
"He's MY student! You just won't see it!"
Helga huffed. "You're very irritating sometimes, Godric."
"I've worked very hard at it." When she reluctantly chuckled, he pressed, "He's a Gryffindor. Loyalty's part of chivalry too, you know."
A long-suffering sigh. "Fine. Just this once! I'm taking the next one we argue over."
Godric was laughing as the Hat shouted out, "GRYFFINDOR!"
"There have been ENTIRELY too many Gryffindors this year," Salazar pronounced sourly. "I think you're doing something, Godric."
"It's not MY fault that there are so many fine, brave, daring, honorable children starting Hogwarts this year. Besides, you three have all had plenty of picks. I'm just the one you all argue with!"
"That's because you're so good at it, dear," Helga told him impishly.
"Can't I take ANY children without you lot arguing a blue streak with me?"
There was a moment of silence, then the other three Founders chorused, "No!"
The Sorting continued normally until Godric took advantage of the Hat not translating their words directly to the students and observed, "Great, they're going to need to wash us after this boy!"
"Godric, be nice!" Helga snapped. "The poor dear can't help it!"
"He could wash his hair a little more," Godric muttered, but began prodding into young Snape's mind.
"Such a desire to prove himself," Salazar said intently, his voice betraying a growing excitement. "Such a need to be recognized!"
"He certainly wants to be the best," Rowena observed approvingly. "He'll thrive in your House, I think, Salazar."
"So no arguments, then? Godric, Helga? All right, then--"
"Just a moment, Salazar," Godric spoke up quietly.
"No! I let you have all the ones YOU wanted!"
"Only after great argument," was the dry retort. "Look deeper, for once in your life? He's ambitious yes, but look at that bravery! I'd wager he could stand nose to nose with the devil himself if need be!"
"And if he can already do that now, there's no reason to steal him from MY House!"
"It's deep down. The boy probably doesn't know it yet. But when it's awakened--"
"He'll do better if he's had his ambition fostered as well," Salazar finished for him. "Stop arguing, if you know how."
"I still think--"
"Sorry, Godric dear, but I think he's right," Helga said apologetically.
"Don't gloat, Salazar. It's unbecoming."
The Hat shouted out, "SLYTHERIN!" and the student's greasy hair disappeared from beneath the Hat.
"Remind me why I encouraged you to Sort this year?" Godric grumbled.
"Because you're not very bright sometimes."
Godric snorted again. "But I make up for it by being devastatingly handsome."
"Fat lot of good it does you as a disembodied mind in a hat!"
"Style, Salazar. It's called *style*."
"Hah. Is that what you call it these days?"
"You're just jealous."
"That'll be the day, Gryffindor!"
Helga and Rowena sighed in unison. "They'll be at this for months now," Rowena predicted glumly.
"Very true." Helga paused, then added mischievously, "But that means there will be plenty of Ravenclaws and Hufflepuffs from the rest of the students!"
The women laughed, ignored the men's arguments, and continued on with the Sorting.
Author's Notes: I'd just like to take a moment to thank all my amazing reviewers from all the Thinking Cap fics. As things currently stand, this is going to be the last fic featuring my favorite disembodied Founders. I won't promise what might happen after Books 6 and 7 come out, but for now I think all the Hat stories have been told. Thanks to everyone for an amazing run!